HL Deb 08 July 1993 vol 547 cc69-71WA
Lord Clark of Kempston

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Environment Council on 28th and 29th June.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my honourable friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside represented the United Kingdom at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 28th—29th June. The council discussed a lengthy agenda and achieved positive results.

The council adopted a common position, by qualified majority vote (QMV), on a directive on the control of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions resulting from the storage of petrol and its distribution from terminals to service stations (the so-called Stage I Directive). This will control VOC emissions which contribute to the formation of ozone at ground level. Ozone is the main constituent of photochemical smog and a damaging pollutant. The directive will introduce a closed system of petrol distribution under which petrol vapours are recovered and regenerated into a petroluem product instead of being vented into the air as at present. The agreed text meets the Government's concerns, including the need to protect small service stations in rural areas; to allow the continued use of existing vapour recovery units; and to allow the continued use of measuring dipsticks for existing road tankers.

The council agreed unanimously a directive on hazardous waste incineration which sets combustion conditions and emission limits for incineration plant and other plants using hazardous waste as a fuel. The directive is an important contribution to securing incineration as an environmentally acceptable waste disposal route. The Government secured a number of important changes to the text which are intended to achieve a proper balance of costs and benefits. These relate in particular to the scope of the directive emissions limits and the discharge of waste water. The directive will come into force for new plant two years after its publication in the Official Journal of the Communities and for existing plant 3½ years thereafter.

The council discussed two measures on vehicle emissions. Ministers agreed by QMV the text of a directive, amending Directive 70/220/EEC, which will set new exhaust emission standards for light commercial vehicles below 3.5 tonnes maximum weight. The new directive will require the same catalyst technology introduced for cars in 1992 to be applied to light duty vans and trucks, and will result in a significant reduction in traffic pollution from these vehicles. The standards will come into effect in October for the approval of new types and will apply to all models sold from 1st October 1994 In the text, the council also agreed that additional provisions should be applied in a further stage for introduction in 1996–97. Ministers also made substantial progress towards agreement on a further directive on standards for passenger car emissions. This would introduce new limits for implementation in 1996–97, and provide for further measures to be considered in the year 2000.

The council agreed unanimously that the Community and its member states intend to ratify the Biodiversity Convention by the end of the year. The decision to do so is dependent on achieving essential safeguards concerning the financial provisions of the convention and will be kept under review. The council discussed proposed minor revisions to the annexes to the wild birds directive, but was unable to reach agreement. The issue has been referred back to the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) for further discussion, with a view to early adoption in the future.

The Commission presented to the council new proposals for the implementation in the Community of the Montreal protocol on ozone depleting substances with reference to HCFCs and methyl bromide, and for Community ratification of the relevant amendments to the Montreal protocol. The Government welcomed the Commission's presentation, but will wish to consider the proposals in detail, especially as regards methyl bromide. In discussion, however we were able to support the proposed cap on HCFC supply at 2.5 per cent. and a phase-out by 2015.

The council held a full discussion of the problems caused by the German packaging ordinance for the paper and plastics recycling industries in other member states, based on an oral report by the Commission. The majority of member states agreed that early action was necessary on a Community-wide basis. They welcomed the intention of the incoming Belgian presidency to give high priority to the proposed packaging and packaging waste directive. The Commission will be bringing forward a revised draft to take account of amendments proposed by the European Parliament.

Among other matters, the council:

formally adopted the regulation establishing a voluntary Community scheme on eco-management and audit;

noted the good progress which had been made on the Commission's proposal for a revision of controls on the wildlife trade (the "CITES Regulation") and invited COREPER to take the discussion forward;

adopted conclusions on follow-up to UNCED and to the Conference of European Ministers for the Environment held in Lucerne in April;

heard a report from the presidency on progress over the last six months on a number of proposals relating to climate change;

adopted Conclusions welcoming follow-up action in accordance with the Commission's communication on a Common Policy on Safe Seas;

heard a report from the Commission on their preparations for a possible Community strategy on coastal zones; and

welcomed a presentation by the Commission of new internal measures they have introduced to improve the integration of environmental concerns into other Community policies.

The commissioner announced that the Commission had adopted criteria for the award of Community eco-labels for the first two product groups under the Community scheme (washing machines and dishwashers) and that the scheme was now in operation.