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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I am pleased to announce this joint response from the Government, the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly of Wales to the report of the independent review of avian quarantine, or the "Dimmock Report".
On 26 October of last year I commissioned an independent review of the UK's avian quarantine system. On 15 December I was pleased to announce to this House the publication of that review's report, the Dimmock Report. The report is very thorough and makes 32 recommendations to the Government, the majority of which we accept, or accept in principle.
The Council unanimously adopted conclusions on the Thematic Strategy on Air Quality, which set out the Commission's vision for EU policy on air pollution up to 2020. Discussion largely focused on a call for the conclusions to take account of their concerns for a stricter approach in the proposed air quality directive on the control of fine particles and more time to meet existing standards. A presidency compromise to examining possible flexibilities was accepted by Council.
Council conclusions were adopted on the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and on Biosafety. These conclusions seek to secure better protection of biodiversity in marine areas
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beyond national jurisdiction and the COP will consider, amongst other things, access to genetic resources and sharing of benefits from their use. Council conclusions on the Third Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, seeking in particular detailed documentary requirements for the identification of GMOs in bulk agricultural shipments, and the associated Council decision were agreed without debate.
Discussed over lunch, Council adopted conclusions following-up the 11th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in conjunction with the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (in Montreal in December 2005). Ministers agreed to restate commitments on future pathways from the 2005 Spring European Council, with the UK and others resisting efforts to weaken the EU position. The restatement on emissions reduction pathways for 2020 was important for forthcoming discussion of the future action of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
Conclusions were adopted by Council on the Preparations for the Spring European Council. Here, the UK, most other member states and the Commission argued successfully for a more forward-looking text on climate change to reflect the agreed conclusions reached at lunch, highlighting the EU's future role, the determination to follow up actions from the climate change conference during the UK Presidency of the EU and further work on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. As well as climate change there was also a discussion on energy where the UK, with support, successfully secured a reference to future energy policy ahead of energy efficiency targets. A reference was also included to considering renewable energy targets.
Council conclusions on the Second Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants were adopted without discussion. The Conclusions cover the intention to include new substances within the Convention, and set out the EU position on compliance mechanisms, technical issues relating to, amongst other things, sound waste management, and enhancing co-operation with other UNEP programmes.
The Council held a policy debate on Euro V, the proposed regulation calling for harmonised vehicle emissions reductions, a longer-term perspective and include a second stage of stricter NOx emissions limits in Euro VI in particular. Most member states spoke, the majority calling for the inclusion of a tighter second stage of NOx limits. We intervened to strongly support this measure, and stated that a limited extension until the introduction of Euro VI to the derogation for certain heavy passenger cars was necessary to allow industry to catch up. Some member states had concerns with the additional costs involved and that it was too early to be calling for the early inclusion of a second stage. The Commission stressed that the available technology was not well developed and that there should be a further review of emissions limits with a substantial impact assessment in keeping with the better regulation agenda.
The public debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) discussed a Presidency paper on the role of the European Food Safety Authority and the EU's
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decision-making process. During a full roundtable the UK acknowledged public sensitivity over GMOs and expressed its support for the work of EFSA, noting that its work was still improving and that more could be done on risk communication and transparency. We also voiced our support for the current collectively agreed comitology procedures to regulate the release of GMOs, again calling for greater transparency. A few member states raised their concerns over the long-term effects of GMOs, and several member states expressed serious reservations over the EU process, and also questioned the credibility of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). A majority of member states pressed for more publicly funded research.
There was a policy debate on the review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS) focusing on the ambition and scope of the strategy. The UK supported the Presidency's ambition for a single, coherent strategy that focuses on the delivery of existing commitments rather than introducing new initiatives. We pressed for balanced impact assessments and a shared responsibility for ensuring coherence in the economic, environmental and social aspects of Community policies. There was a call for the revised Strategy to open up trade to assist developing countries and should address agricultural, fisheries, biomass and biofuels policies. The Presidency noted that the Lisbon and Sustainable Development Strategies were separate but mutually supportive.
The Council also held a first debate on the Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste, and the proposed Directive on Waste. Member states welcomed the proposals but had misgivings. Most member states shared concerns over the hierarchy of waste priorities, the life-cycle of waste and the Commission proposal to repeal the Waste Oils Directive. A few called for simplification of the waste process. The UK, supported by several member states, raised concerns that the proposed EU-wide minimum standards for waste disposal and waste recovery operations could jeopardise plans to increase recycling levels throughout the EU, and that barriers to using recycling material should be removed. Following a member state's concern over the import of illegal waste transport, the Commission noted that individual member states should take action to avoid such imports.
The Presidency presented a progress report on the proposal for a Directive on the Assessment and Management of Floods, and stated its intention to try to secure political agreement at the June Environment Council. The Commission explained its view that member states' existing flood management systems could be built on, to form the basis of an integrated Community-wide system, whose scope should not differentiate between transboundary and national waters. The UK, supported by several member states, argued that the Directive should focus on the problem area of transboundary waters; this was where the added value of Community action lay. Coverage of all river basins and coastal zones was a disproportionate response in relation to the geography of some member states such as the UK, and did not sufficiently respect the principle of subsidiarity. Others also stressed the primary importance of co-operation on transboundary
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waters, and spoke of the need to fully recognise action already taken at national level, avoid expensive duplication, and avoid undue administrative burdens.
There were seven AOB items, where Spain with some support, asked the Commission to analyse and consider EU-level standards to combat water scarcity and droughts. Belgium found some support for their concern that the Financial Perspectives deal agreed at last December's European Council might have a detrimental impact on funding for Natura 2000, and the Presidency updated Ministers on the Biomass Action Plan and Communication on the EU Strategy for Biofuels; EU conferences on "Greening Events" and "Environmentally-Friendly Travelling in Europe"; and the outcome of the First International Conference on Chemicals Management held in Dubai in February.
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