HC Deb 06 July 1999 vol 334 cc438-40W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the outcome of the Environment Council held in Luxembourg on 24–25 June; and if he will make a statement. [89125]

Mr. Meacher

The meeting of the Environment Council on 24–25 June reached political agreement on common positions for seven proposals which will now go forward to the European Parliament for a second reading. The Council also reached conclusions on several other matters.

Political agreement was reached on the proposal to amend Directive 90/220 on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms. This amendment provides improved risk assessment procedures which will now include an assessment of direct, indirect, immediate or delayed effect of GMOs. The agreement introduces a post-market monitoring regime, recognition of the precautionary principle, and recourse to a Commission committee on questions of a general ethical nature. It also includes a more comprehensive labelling regime for GMOs. The Commission's review of the Directive in 2003 will include an assessment of whether sufficient experience has been gained to consider differentiated procedures for marketing release. Of key importance, the voice of member states will be strengthened in the Commission chaired regulatory committee responsible for resolving objections lodged by one or more member states (referred to as the comitology procedure). GMOs subject to authorisation under other EU product legislation will be exempted from authorisation under amended Directive 90/220 only where the relevant product legislation provides for equivalent risk assessment requirements to those in the amended Directive. Likewise, such exemptions will apply only where equivalent safeguarding provisions to those in Directive 90/220 apply. These allow member states to take unilateral emergency action in the event of new evidence of risk. The text provides for the identification and phasing out of antibiotic marker genes which are harmful to human health and the environment. It provides for first time consent to be time-limited to a period of up to ten years. In addition, the text provides clear timetables for the taking of decisions on marketing of GMOs; this will make it easier for industry to invest and plan. The UK made a statement for the minutes calling on the Commission to consider, as a matter of priority, the feasibility of a liability regime to cover the release and marketing of GMOs.

The Council reached agreement on a proposal for a directive to minimise adverse environmental effects from the incineration of waste. The agreement will extend EU controls to virtually all waste incineration plants, update the requirements of the 1989 municipal waste incineration directives and, by merging them with the 1994 Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive, consolidate incineration controls into a single piece of legislation. It sets stringent minimum emission limit values for a range of substances emitted from incineration and co-incineration processes, including a 10 fold tightening of the dioxins limit currently set by the Environment Agency.

Agreement was also reached on a proposal concerning noise from outdoor machinery which will set noise labelling requirements for 57 types of machinery and noise limits for 22 of these. A further agreement will set controls for the first time on diesel exhausts for agricultural and forestry tractors and set emission limits in line with those already agreed for non-road mobile machinery.

The regulation governing the EU' s funding programme for projects which improve environmental quality, known as the LIFE programme, has also been updated, and agreement was reached on a budget of 613 million euros over the next 5 years.

Revisions to two voluntary schemes were also agreed. Political agreement was reached on a revised EU ecolabelling regulation, governing the scheme which enables products to display the EU eco label symbol if they meet agreed environmental criteria. The UK made a statement for the minutes recording disappointment that it had not been possible to agree better arrangements for promoting convergence between the EU ecolabelling scheme and various national labelling schemes which will continue to run alongside it. Political agreement was also reached on a revised regulation to govern the EU eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS), which gives recognition to companies and organisations with good systems for environmental management and reporting.

Council deferred a decision on a common position on the draft end of life vehicles directive which should now be decided under the Finnish Presidency.

The Council agreed conclusions on EU Chemicals policy, as part of a process begun at the informal Environment Council at Chester under the UK Presidency; on negotiations with Japanese and Korean car manufacturers concerning a voluntary reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from new passenger cars; on the Convention on Biological Diversity; on the proposed Biosafety Protocol; and on the environmental situation in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

The Council held a policy debate on a proposal for directive on the environmental assessment of plans and programmes and noted presentations from the Commission on the integration of the environment into the internal market and on the implementation of the Kyoto protocol on climate change.