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Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 14 March; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [222546]

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 14 March 2005. Ministers responsible for fisheries and agriculture in Northern Ireland and Scotland were also present.

The Council agreed a proposal concerning establishment of an EU Fisheries Control Agency, which the European Council had previously agreed to sit in Spain. We were able to support a compromise proposal for commission representation on the Agency's administrative board.

The Commission reported progress in negotiations with the Russian Federation to agree certain plant and animal health controls. While the UK has not so far been among the member states most affected by Russian requirements, it was encouraging that progress was being made to resolve the remaining differences.

The main item for discussion at this Council was Rural Development. The presidency focused discussion on a small number of issues in the current proposal to revise the Rural Development Regulation, principally
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focusing on the LEADER reserve and inviting ments on the Rural Development Strategy which it is planned to table in June. I reiterated the importance we attach to devoting at least half of the financial resources under the Regulation to environmental work, expressed some doubt as to the level of the LEADER reserve proposed and supported others in giving a general welcome to the likely shape of the strategy framework.

The Commission presented a progress report on implementation of the EU forestry strategy. Member states took note.

The Commission also presented proposals for EU measures to address market crises through new risk management techniques in the industry. This was a brief presentation, with substantial discussion planned for later in the year. The Commission made it clear that it opposed extending any kind of generalised safety net provision such as that found in the current beef regime. It also indicated that the use of any modulated funds would only be possible in the context of rural development programmes and measures that were compatible with the WTO Green Box.

Under Any Other Business, we raised the question of cetacean by catches and the need for greater protection of dolphins. The Commission undertook to call for international research on the subject to be accelerated. Portugal drew attention to the difficulties that prolonged drought had caused in its rural areas.

Over lunch, the Commission updated Ministers on the WTO agriculture negotiations. I welcomed recent progress and reminded the Council of the importance of making progress in good time for the Hong Kong Ministerial in December.

Environment Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Environment Council on 10 March; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [221922]

Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attended the Environment Council on 10 March 2005.

The main outcome of the Council was the adoption of two sets of conclusions. One set forms a contribution from the Environment Council to the Spring European Council (scheduled for the 22 and 23 March 2005) and is a response to four Commission communications: the Mid-Term Review of the Lisbon Strategy, the 2004 Environmental Policy Review, an initial review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy and a report on implementation of the Environmental Technologies Action Plan. The second set of conclusions represents the Environment Council's recommendations to the Spring European Council on climate change, specifically medium to long term emission reduction strategies and targets.
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Council conclusions on the Environment Council's contribution to the Spring European Council were adopted after a full discussion. Almost all delegations supported the presidency text and emphasised that environmental protection and economic growth went hand in hand. The Secretary of State supported the idea of a statement of principles for sustainable development, but emphasised that these should be integrated into the revised EU Sustainable Development Strategy. In this context, the Secretary of State referred to the recently published UK Sustainable Development Strategy, an executive summary of which was circulated to delegations.

Council conclusions on climate change were adopted following a debate. The conclusions reaffirm the December 2004 Environment Council conclusions, referring to the global nature of climate change and the requirement for international co-operation, and to recent scientific research under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations required to meet the 2degrees centigrade objective. Drawing on this research, the conclusions suggest the consideration of pathways to 2020 and 2050 for greenhouse gas emission reduction in developed countries. The agreed text makes clear that the EU wishes to explore the future framework with others and that the language on emissions reductions is an evidence-based assessment rather than a prescriptive call for action. The conclusions also invite the European Commission to continue its analysis of costs and benefits of reduction strategies, including the costs of inaction.

Council adopted a Decision on a negotiating mandatefor the second Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, which is scheduled for 25–27 May 2005 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Council also adopted a negotiating mandate in preparation for the second meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, scheduled for 30 May-3 June 2005 in Montreal. The negotiating mandate was adopted under qualified majority voting procedures, following a presidency compromise which included the addition of UK-proposed wording.

Council conclusions were adopted in preparation for the first conference of the parties to the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants, which is scheduled for 2–6 May 2005 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The presidency thanked the UK for chairing the preparatory work for this conference on its behalf. Council conclusions were agreed unanimously following a small amendment to reflect the concerns of two delegations.

Minister John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), Chair of the 13th Session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD 13), briefed the Council on preparations for the next session which will take place on 11–22 April 2005. An exchange of views followed, in
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which member states and the Commission stressed the importance of links between CSD 13 and the Millennium Review Summit to be held in September.

Under Other Business, the presidency gave an update on negotiations on the REACH chemicals strategy and Belgium presented items on the import of wild birds and illegal logging. Germany raised the proposed Services Directive, arguing that country of origin rules presented a threat to national environmental standards, and should not result in levelling down, a view which was supported by some other member states. The Commission referred ministers to the recent statements to the Competitiveness Council and European Parliament on this issue, and other delegations took the view it was too early for Environment Council to discuss the scope of this measure. Austria, with support from a number of member states, raised an issue concerning the Commission's approach to national safeguard actions in relation to GM maize variety MON 810. The Netherlands set out concerns about the possible dilution of EU standards in a current review of the automotive industry ('CARS 21') and the Czech Republic announced a forthcoming conference on Acid Deposition.

Environmental Standards

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she takes to ensure that regulatory impact assessments of new policies accurately reflect the economic effects of high environmental standards. [222385]

Mr. Morley: Since 1 April 2004 all new policies have been accompanied by a regulatory impact assessment (RIA). The RIA replaced the integrated policy appraisal (IPA). All RIAs must include an assessment of the environmental and social costs and benefits, in addition to the economic costs and benefits of a new regulation. The full RIA for all policies which affect businesses must also include an assessment of the impact on competition within UK markets.

The majority of UK environmental legislation derives from Europe. Defra and the UK Government are promoting the Better Regulation agenda in Europe, including the use of detailed impact assessments for all policy proposals. The UK will be using its EU presidency to advance this work.

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