Documents considered by the Committee on 20 June 2018 Contents

2Drinking Water Directive

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the quality of water intended for human consumption (recast)

Legal base

Article 192(1) TFEU, QMV, Ordinary legislative procedure


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Number

(39487), 5846/18 + ADDs 1–5, COM(17) 753

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

2.1The EU’s “Drinking Water Directive” is designed to ensure that drinking water across the EU is wholesome and clean. While it has been relatively well implemented, its approach to monitoring water quality at the point of consumption uses parameters determined over 20 years ago. Following a review, the European Commission proposed to revise the Directive in order to improve the quality of drinking water, modernise the approach to monitoring water quality and provide both greater access to water and information to citizens.

2.2We first considered this proposal at our meeting of 7 March 2018 and agreed to issue a Reasoned Opinion, considering that the provisions on access to water breach the principle of subsidiarity—i.e. action should only be taken at the EU level where it cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States at national, regional or local levels and there is greater benefit to taking action at the EU level. More information was set out in our Report from that meeting,

2.3Subsequently, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Dr Thérèse Coffey), wrote to us on both 21 March and 22 March 2018.35 In her second letter, she was clear that the Government would support us in submitting the Reasoned Opinion and agreed that the final legislation must be “unequivocal in its compliance with the principle of subsidiarity.” The Reasoned Opinion was debated on 26 March36 and agreed by the House on 28 March.37 We have yet to receive a response from the European Commission.

2.4In addition to our concerns about subsidiarity, we also asked for further information from the Government concerning: the quality parameters proposed by the Commission; the provisions on access to justice; and whether the Government supports the proposed legal base.

2.5The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice) has responded.38 Regarding the proposed quality parameters, the Government considers that, in most instances, “the Commission has taken a precautionary approach to water quality parameters which is unnecessarily constraining and could have unintended consequences.” As an example, he points to the requirement to analyse all water supplies for perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which is a by-product of firefighting foam. These are currently only monitored where they pose a risk to health as contamination is often localised to specific areas. The UK would prefer to maintain the current risk-based approach.

2.6Looking to the future, the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan confirms that decisions on managing risk will be proportionate and based on the weight of evidence. The Minister notes that any alignment with others’ standards is yet to be decided, but UK standards will remain high.

2.7Regarding access to justice, the Government does not believe that the relevant provision should be included in the Directive as the UK and other Member States must already comply with such requirements under the Aarhus Convention on access to justice in environmental matters.

2.8Finally, the Minister confirms that the Government is supportive of the proposed environmental legal base, noting that it allows for the adoption of environmental policies which protect public health.

2.9We acknowledge the Government’s support for the Reasoned Opinion that we recommended on the proposal and for the timely debate which allowed the House to adopt the Opinion within the eight-week deadline.

2.10We are aware that some Member States have expressed concern about the obligation to ensure access to drinking water for “vulnerable and marginalised groups”, which the Commission defines in its explanatory memorandum as “refugees, nomadic communities, homeless people and minority cultures such as Roma, Sinti, Travellers, Kalé, Gens du voyage, etc., whether sedentary or not”. Concerns expressed do not relate, we understand, to the concept of universal access but to the risk of defining these terms within EU environmental legislation. We would welcome the Government’s observations on this issue.

2.11As to the other matters that we raised, we welcome the Government’s response but ask for information on the extent to which the concerns are shared. We would welcome that information within an update on negotiations following the Environment Council on 25 June 2018 at which we understand that there will be some discussion of this proposal.

2.12We retain the proposal under scrutiny and draw this chapter to the attention of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the quality of water intended for human consumption (recast): (39487), 5846/18 + ADDs 1–5, COM(17) 753.

Previous Committee Reports

Eighteenth Report HC 301–xviii (2017–19), chapter 1 (7 March 2018).

35 Letters from Dr Thérèse Coffey to Sir William Cash dated 21 and 22 March 2018.

36 European Committee A, 26 March 2018.

37 Votes and Proceedings, 28 March 2018.

38 Letter from George Eustice to Sir William Cash dated 24 May 2018.

Published: 26 June 2018