Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 304)



  Q300  Mr McWalter: That would be very interesting for the rest of Europe if you could do that.

  Dr Church: If you take as a model the process that is used in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in its chemicals programme where member countries submit hazard assessments and they are basically circulated electronically to the key experts in other member states who comment or do not comment beforehand electronically and then you have one meeting every six months or so just to run through the points of difficulty. The advice from our experts who actually participate in that is that after an initial stage of getting to know the system this works exceptionally well and they now have a very high level of confidence in the output that comes out of those processes. They do not feel they need, for example, to crawl over every dossier from every country.

  Alun Michael: That fits very much with what the Prime Minister was saying about making sure that we get maximum effectiveness for minimum bureaucracy, and what bureaucracy there is is related to the outcome. Obviously it is important that the Agency would be able to maintain oversight and be able to make judgments about the adequacy of the work being undertaken and the consistency of the work across different countries. Unless you have a pessimistic approach that believes it is impossible to do anything properly and consistently across Europe, it is worth everybody's while to help to push in that direction.

  Q301  Mr McWalter: Would these regulations have stopped CFCs or DDT and should they have done so?

  Dr Church: No and yes. No, they would not have stopped CFCs and yes, they would have stopped DDT.

  Q302  Mr McWalter: Should they have done so?

  Dr Church: Yes and yes.

  Q303  Dr Turner: There have been concerns raised about the impact on innovation in the chemical industry of the regulation. Some people are worried that it might discourage it; others see potential opportunities if the framing of the regulations is right. Do you have any comments?

  Alun Michael: I think essentially that is one reason why the issue of balance is so important in relation to substitution. If you make the threshold so high that it is virtually impossible for people to get through the tests in order to substitute, then there is not going to be the innovation. If you put it too low then you are not going to be certain—as I said in response to an earlier question—that the substitution is actually beneficial. It is very important to get that balance right.

  Q304  Chairman: We have been sitting for quite a while now listening to all the different interest groups and where they see it all going. When are we going to get some kind of agreement? There are still wide differences of opinion about it. How are we going to achieve some kind of negotiated settlement or will we ever?

  Alun Michael: Inevitably it is difficult because you are talking about a variety of organisations with different interests. You are talking about government departments with different responsibilities, although I think across government we have been doing rather well at making sure that the different issues were addressed properly, that environment, health, competitiveness are part of an integrated approach. Then there is the interest of the Commission, the interest of Parliament in the issue. I have been to discuss it with a number of members of the European Parliament on a recent visit. It is not one of those things where two plus two equals four and there is the conclusion and everybody knows where they stand. There are bound to be disagreements from time to time; there are bound to be disagreements about the emphasis that is placed on different evaluations, but our expectation is that the EU process will finish in 2006 and registrations will start in 2009. I believe that fits with what the Commission said about its expectation in the process.

  Chairman: You are confident that those will be achieved? Who knows? You may not be here to see it, neither might we. Thank you very much for coming and helping us with our inquiry.

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