Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report


The Commission

156. The Commission set out its policy on chemicals in its White Paper published in February 2001, following a number of stakeholder meetings. Mike Barry from Marks and Spencer felt that there was insufficient discussion beforehand: "the retail sector … was insufficiently consulted when REACH was being drafted. Since the REACH draft was put on the internet consultation has been very good but, in effect, the words had been written in tablets of stone by then".[237] This is confirmed by Dr Colin Church at DEFRA, who told us that he suspected that alternatives to REACH were not discussed widely before publication of the White Paper: "the Commission's openness to discussing this with Member States and other stakeholders has increased dramatically over the last three or four years from a position of traditional - if I may put it this way - 'It's our job, leave us to do it' to a much more open and engaged process".[238] Dr Delbeke from the Environment Directorate General told us that engaging with stakeholders was not easy as some players only start to take an interest when there are firm Proposals on the table. It took a while for downstream users to realise that there was an issue for them and make the effort to assess the impact for their companies.[239]

157. The consultation document published by the Commission in May 2003 attracted a large number of responses. Commissioner Liikanen told us that the changes as a result of the internet consultation were "the biggest ever in the Commission's history" and defied us to identify a piece of UK legislation for which there had been wider consultation.[240] As a result of the submissions, the Proposals are considered by many, including the UK Government, to have moved some distance in making the legislation workable.[241] Thus the changes have been more welcome in industry quarters than among the environmental NGOs. The CBI says that "significant improvements have been made to the proposal since the '2003 internet consultation'".[242] The CIA says that the text in the consultation would result in an "unrealistic system [that] would seriously damage the EU's attractiveness as a location for the chemical industry and all its customer industries in the manufacturing supply chain. Whilst the revised legislation … demonstrates some progress towards a more sensible scope for the legislation, [the Commission has] not addressed the fundamental issue of workability".[243] Submissions from industry have generally indicated that more progress is needed. Leigh's Paints argues that "the measures set out in the White Paper are more likely to achieve the direct opposite of the stated objectives, despite efforts in the latest revision to 'tone down' some of the more onerous requirements".[244]

158. The WWF is less positive about the value of the consultation. Andrew Lee told us that it was industry that dominated and that "the cost and workability arguments have been given too much weight and the regulation has already been watered down to a level where it is in danger of not delivering what it needs to do".[245] Greenpeace says it is "concerned that in its current form it is unlikely to deliver any real benefits, either in terms of protection of health and the environment, or of stimulating innovation towards safe chemicals… as drafted, REACH will permit continued manufacture of toxic substances that accumulate in the human body even when a safer alternative is available".[246]

159. The Commission has made great strides in its openness and its responsiveness to suggestions. While we regret that alternative models to REACH were not considered in any detail before the White Paper was published, the Commission has shown itself open to constructive criticism of the REACH Proposals. We hope that this continues during the co-decision process, as the legislation still needs improvement.


160. The REACH legislation is unusual in Europe for having two Directorate Generals -Environment and Enterprise - involved. The missions of these Directorates are distinct:

    —  To promote sustainable development, preserving the rights of future generations to a viable environment;

    —  To work towards a high level of environmental and health protection and improvement of the quality of life;

    —  To promote environmental efficiency; and

    —  To encourage the equitable use, as well as the sound and effective management, of common environmental resources.[248]

161. Dr Delbeke acknowledged that there were tensions between economic and environmental/health concerns and described the "heated discussions" with his opposite number in the Enterprise DG, particularly concerning impact assessments. There is a danger that Enterprise and Environment are seen, at least, as representing the interests of industry and the green NGOs respectively. Dr Delbeke indicated that there was some truth in this but that both DGs realised that it was important that they could buy into the same product and that compromises would have to be made.[249] Dr Delbeke's candour is welcome and gives us more confidence that his DG is showing admirable pragmatism in its approach to the legislation.

UK Government

162. The UK has played an important role in the development of the legislation. We have already noted that the process was initiated at the Council of Environment Ministers in Chester during the UK Presidency in 1998. DEFRA is the lead Department on the legislation and WWF congratulates it on having "invested much time, effort, and expertise, in co-ordinating the views amongst the different Government departments, and in synthesising the views of different stakeholders".[250] The WWF describes the Government as a "powerful positive force for change" but expresses concern about the DTI's "increasingly pro industry hard line". The EEF supports the DTI's downstream users' group but has complained that DEFRA has not included all industry groups in its consultations.

163. The Prime Minister has taken an interest in the legislation. On 20 September 2003, he wrote a joint letter, with President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, to Romano Prodi, President of the Commission. In particular, the letter expressed concerns that:

    a)  The legislation was too costly and bureaucratic;

    b)  There was insufficient prioritisation of the handling of chemicals.

164. The WWF argues that the Prime Minister's signature on the trilateral letter to the President of the Commission demonstrates that the UK is "prioritising the concerns of a dinosaur industry over and above the needs of human health".[251] The trilateral letter is said to have had a significant effect on the development of the Proposals.[252]

165. WWF has expressed concern that the Department of Health and the Health and Safety Executive have given little support to the new legislation: "It is a well-known fact that the vast majority of substances traded in the EU do not have available adequate toxicity data to make even a basic risk assessment". WWF also laments the lack of visibility of the Department of Health.[253] Dr Church denied that these Departments' input had been inadequate and described a "series of concentric rings of interested departments and agencies". He said that "the HSE is part of the inner ring …, as is the Department of Health …[which] has been superb in offering us advice on some of the testing issues, some of the general public health issues. The Health and Safety Executive have a lot of experience because they run the new substances regime, so they have been giving us expertise there".[254]

166. Andrew Lee from Greenpeace told us "Whilst behind the scenes we hear a lot of very clear and good messages from DEFRA, when the Prime Minister intervenes we see criticism, with the government seeing this as a problem and a barrier".[255] We asked Mr Michael about the role different Departments have played, only to be accused of indulging in "the time honoured sport of trying to put pieces of cigarette paper between either the Prime Minister and other Ministers or between Government Departments". We fully admit to testing joined up Government: the Minister should recognise that presenting a disjointed and inconsistent negotiating position is unhelpful, not least if the Prime Minister expresses views that are distinct from the lead Department, if only in tone.

167. The Government has played constructive and important part in the development of the legislation. The trilateral letter signed by the Prime Minister played an important role in making the Proposals more workable but the UK Government needs to keep up pressure to improve workability.

237   Q 54 Back

238   Q 293 Back

239   Q 115 Back

240   Qq 176-179 Back

241   Ev 52, Ev 85 Back

242   Ev 91 Back

243   Ev 66 Back

244   Ev 55 Back

245   Qq 41-42 Back

246   Ev 57 Back

247 Back

248 Back

249   Qq 130-131 Back

250   Ev 83; Several other Departments have strong interests, including the DTI, the Health and Safety Executive, the DoH and the Environment Agency. Back

251   Ev 32 Back

252   Q 117 Back

253   Qq 43-44 Back

254   Q 295 Back

255   Q 40 Back

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