§ Mr. Hayward
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the current state of negotiations within the EC with regard to the Commission proposal 91/7 on the marketing and use of bromine-based flame retardants; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Baldry
The proposal is for an immediate ban on the marketing and use of seven polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBBEs) with three more (pentabromobiphenyl ether, octabromobiphenyl ether, and decabromobiphenyl ether) banned after five years. The Government's position on this proposal was debated in the House of Commons European Standing Committee A on 17 July 1991. The proposal was last discussed in the EC in a Council working group meeting on 1 October.
There are two major problems with the current proposal. Firstly, due to a technical oversight in the wording, the three substances which the Commission had intended should remain on the market for a further five years will effectively be banned immediately. Secondly, the efficacy and safety of substitute compounds has not been addressed. The United Kingdom is concerned that, prior to a final ban, substitutes are assessed to ensure that they are effective flame retardants and demonstrably safer to man and the environment. A ban should only follow if the efficacy and safety criteria are met.
I understand that the European Parliament Environment Committee has decided to defer consideration of this proposal until a directive on flame retardant materials used in soft furnishings is drafted. This directive will help to inform the debate on the efficacy of substitutes.