Select Committee on European Scrutiny Seventh Report


COM(01) 17

Amended draft Council Decision establishing a list of priority substances in the field of water policy.

Legal base: Article 175(1) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 16 January 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 18 January 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 6 February 2001
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EM of 14 February 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (20997) 6054/00: HC 23-xii (1999-2000), paragraph 10 (15 March 2000)
To be discussed in Council: 7-8 June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  20.1  Council Directive 2000/60/EC[58], which established a framework for Community action in the field of water policy, required the Commission to submit a list of priority substances thought to pose a risk to the aquatic environment and to human health (and which would thus become subject to harmonised quality standards and emission controls). The Commission accordingly put forward in February 2000 a proposal, based on a procedure involving combined monitoring-based and modelling-based priority setting (COMMPS), that 32 substances should be classified in this way. Since the Explanatory Memorandum provided at that stage by the Government indicated that the UK was content with the basis on which these substances had been selected, and it was clear that the impact of the proposal could be assessed only when the Commission had come forward with more detailed proposals on the measures needed to deal with these substances, we decided on 15 March 2000 to clear the document without drawing it to the attention of the House.

The current proposal

  20.2  The format of that earlier proposal reflected the text of the proposed Directive as it stood following the Council's adoption of a Common Position on 22 October 1999. However, as a result of further discussion between the Council and the European Parliament, the measure eventually adopted included a further provision requiring the Commission to identify "priority hazardous substances" thought to present a particular risk by virtue of their toxicity, persistence and liability to bio-accumulate, the aim being to phase out their discharge and emission over a period not exceeding 20 years. The Commission has, therefore, proposed that eleven of the 32 substances on the original list should be categorised in this way, with a further eleven (which have similar properties, but about which more information is required) being ear-marked for further review. The remaining ten substances on the original list retain their previous status.

The Government's view

  20.3  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 February 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr Bob Ainsworth) says that there needs to be a clear and identified rationale for action at Community level leading to the cessation of emissions and discharges of particularly hazardous substances, but that the Government considers that the selection procedure used by the Commission incorporates criteria which respect this principle.

  20.4  The Minister also makes the point that, as with the earlier proposal, the presence of a substance on the list in itself has no impact, other than to indicate those for which existing standards may come under review, or for which new European controls and standards are likely to be put in place. Thus, the impact of the proposal on individual substances, and the processes producing or using them, will depend on the nature of the controls proposed and the level at which standards are set. However, he draws attention to a study published by the Commission, which suggests that, for some particularly hazardous substances, phasing out would have "potentially vast" implications, depending on the interpretation to be placed on the term "cessation". He also says that, although a Regulatory Impact Assessment covering individual substances is being prepared, final cost-benefit studies for individual substances are difficult to complete in the absence of specific proposals, but that it should be possible to make a fuller and more precise assessment as proposals to give practical effect to the current document are brought forward.


  20.5  As with the proposal which we cleared in March 2000, the impact of this document will depend upon the further proposals which the Commission is expected to make setting out detailed controls and standards for the various substances on the list. However, the latest document differs from its predecessor both in identifying within the list a number of particularly hazardous substances, and in setting a time-scale for the eventual cessation of their emission and discharge. In view of this, we think it right, in clearing the document, to draw this potentially significant development to the attention of the House.

58   OJ No. L. 327, 22.12.00, p.1. Back

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