Sixth Environmental Action Programme

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Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which should be answered by the process currently employed. By the time the Commission makes a proposal, extensive lobbying has already

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taken place in Brussels both by UKREP, the United Kingdom representation, and by companies. All major companies have liaison representatives in Brussels, because they know the importance of the legislation that comes from there. Therefore, such measures are not produced out of the blue. I would expect any alert company—and a non-alert company will not survive long in the market—to seek details and put its views strongly to the Commission about the viability of a proposal, and to suggest alternatives to meet particular problems.

Secondly, when a measure has been introduced, it must go through the working groups in Brussels, which is an exhaustive and rigorous exercise. Key officials, who are of high rank and take instructions from the Governments of member states, will exhaustively press their points. The process will depend on liaison with industry. All Governments regard the purpose of making representations in Brussels as being the protection of their industries. Perhaps they do so more than they should, but that is how they see it.

Thirdly, the matter comes to the Council of Ministers. Most of the problems have been cleared away. There will be some outstanding issues and the role of Ministers—a role that I have taken many times—is to resolve them. Where one's own industry is threatened unreasonably, where the time scales are too short and the requirements will lead to closures or severe impacts that are considered unreasonable or unfair, it is for Ministers to negotiate, because in the end matters have to be settled by all member states, although qualified majority voting does operate on environmental matters.

Often, other countries are suffering from similar problems. If the pressures are too great, one can in nearly all cases find enough countries to block a measure if need be. There is a good atmosphere in the Council of Ministers, of which I have been a member for nearly five years. There is an understanding that in reaching the environmental acquis, we should have genuine regard for real problems. If a Minister can make a case convincingly, other member states will provide either a derogation or some reconsideration to assist.

The impacts on business should be taken into account in all those ways when matters such as the target dates for tyres are considered. The hon. Gentleman made the point that one should not pass a directive—which, after all, is a law—until everyone is aware of how it will be implemented. I accept that to a degree. However, the concept of technology forcing is important. One gives industry a time scale within which it is believed that a certain technology can be developed to meet a certain requirement. It is a matter of judgment as to whether the time scale will be long enough and whether the development is practicable. I believe that it often is. A classic example comes from California, where only cars with no emissions or low emissions are to be allowed to use the roads after a certain point. Manufacturers must produce at least 10

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per cent. of their cars to meet those targets by 2005, otherwise, their cars will not be allowed to use the roads.

That is a compelling example, and the United States, or at least the state of California, was prepared to put it into operation. There is a real argument for technology forcing. The period for development should not be so tight as to be impractical—the time scale should be long enough for industry to meet the requirement.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned fridges, and I am sure that the Prime Minister will be glad to know that he will be asked a question on that topic this afternoon. The fridge issue is slightly different. There is a requirement to remove ozone-depleting substances from all equipment, including fridges. That was agreed in 1999. There was no mandatory requirement to remove ozone-depleting substances from the foam. It remained a matter of doubt as to whether that was the case. The UK was convinced that the terminology did not require it, but in order to be certain we asked the Commission about the matter at the end of 1999 or in early 2000. We repeatedly pressed for an answer, but did not receive a final answer until July 2001.

Contrary to all our expectations and beliefs, the answer was that ozone-depleting substances had to be removed from the foam. We have, therefore, put in place measures to deal with the matter as rapidly as possible in compliance with the EU regulation. The Commission let us down over the time that it took to deliver an effective answer. I shall not comment on its final conclusion, although we have our own views. However, it would have been easier for us to comply had we known the Commission's views a great deal earlier.

The technology is available in some member states, and we expect the first plant in this country to be operational this month. We know that several businesses are looking to supply plant in the spring, and we have clarified the technical standards that it must meet. We have told local authorities of their duties on matters such as storage at amenity sites. We have also provided funding until at least the end of the current financial year, and we are urgently considering what future requirements they may have. We are also studying how to put in place conditions to restore retailer take-back. We are, therefore, trying to deal with the matter as rapidly as possible.

The hon. Gentleman's final point was on producer responsibility, which could apply to fridges. There is no question but that producer responsibility must be carefully costed. That is not simply a matter for the Government; it is for the industry to say what it can and cannot do. Some industries and companies are not as fast in that regard as they should be, and the best example of that is end-of-life vehicles. Much to my surprise, car companies in the UK and across Europe did not alert themselves quickly enough to the implications of that issue. That lesson has now been well learned.

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Dr. Gibson: My right hon. Friend said that we had made a significant contribution to the programme. Could political and economic events in this country make our contribution more significant or accelerate matters, or would those things happen anyway? Could matters move on in the next year if the Government made political and economic decisions about our relationship with Europe, or are they independent of that?

Mr. Meacher: The framework document is an incremental aspect of a continuing process. This country remains, under all Governments, a scrupulous participant in the affairs of Brussels, and we make our case strongly and vigorously. In many cases, we change the form of decisions that are issued in directions and regulations, but once something is agreed, we will comply.

The same painstaking and thorough process is not used in other cases, and the Commission has said that it will pay more attention to that overarching issue. We want a similar process to be implemented across the whole Community. Clearly, new acceding states—they will take us from 15 to 25 member states—will need some time to reach the required standards of implementation, and there may be a transitional period. The same standards must, however, apply across the whole Community. One cannot simply rely on the culture that exists in one member state, and the framework document will assist that process.

Mr. Viggers: What are the comparative rates of duty on aviation fuel and vehicle fuel? Does the Minister agree that if aviation fuel is less heavily taxed, it is being subsidised by the more sophisticated nations at the cost of environmental pollution?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman asks a question to which he already knows the answer, but I shall repeat for him and the Committee that there is a high rate of tax on petrol and diesel for cars—so high that it can, as we have seen, produce political responses—but a decision was made in the 1950s to assist the civil aviation industry by imposing no tax on aviation fuel.

Aviation has considerable environmental consequences with respect to climate change—we believe that carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft probably account for 5 or 6 per cent. of the world's greenhouse gas emission production, and that is growing fast. We accept that some means of limiting that is necessary. Such a means could be a tax on aviation fuel or an emission permit trading scheme, but it is illogical—and if this is the hon. Gentleman's point he is right—to impose high taxation on cars and a nil rate on aviation. That must change.

The problem is that the proper forum for investigating the question is the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which has been examining it for several years. It is deadlocked because the Americans and others are simply unwilling to agree to a tax on aviation fuel. It is proposed that if no decision should be reached by the end of 2002, action should be taken in another forum. The Government support that.

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The Chairman: It is time for the discussion period.

11.31 am

Mr. Meacher: I beg to move,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 5771/01, a Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Sixth Environmental Action Programme of the European Community: 'Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice', and a Proposal for a draft Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the Community Environmental Action Programme 2001—2010; considers that co-ordinated action at a Community level is the most effective way of addressing the main environmental objectives of the programme; welcomes the strategic approach; agrees with the objectives, particularly the identification of the four priority areas; endorses the emphasis on climate change as an outstanding challenge of the next 10 years and beyond; supports the Government's efforts to ensure that policy is developed on the basis of full analysis of the issues with consideration of the full range of instruments; endorses the Government's position that the programme should be ambitious yet achievable, and that where analysis has not yet been completed detailed targets should be set out in thematic strategies to be developed later; and supports the Government's aim that the programme should give a clear steer on improved and consistent implementation and enforcement.

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