Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to James Clappison, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment

  The European Communities Committee and its Sub-Committee C (Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection) have considered the Commission's Green Paper on Noise and your Explanatory Memorandum of 10 December 1996. We have also seen the Report by the House of Commons' European Legislation Committee

  We consider that the Green Paper raises a number of important issues which might well merit an enquiry at a later stage. In particular, the application to the Commission's proposals of the principle of subsidiarity will require critical examination, since, as the Memorandum says, they open up a new field of potential Community action. We agree with the Government that for the most part dealing with noise is a matter for national and local initiative. However we feel it would be an over-simplification to dismiss the idea of a Directive on noise assessment and possible noise exposure targets as being per se contrary to Article 3b of the Treaty. There are also competition and single market considerations to be taken into account. Indeed, successful pursuit of the policy of integrating environmental considerations into other areas of policy - such as health, for instance - must, in our view, inevitably lead to some enhancement of the Community role in setting common standards which nevertheless respect relevant national cultural differences.

  Like the Government and the Commons' Committee, we are very concerned about the absence of any proper scientific and cost-benefit analyses to support the Commission's proposals. We too would wish to see the results of the assessments by the Department of Trade and Industry, including a formal compliance cost assessment, as soon as they are ready. Depending on the conclusions from this further work, we recommend that the Government should discourage the Commission from proceeding too far with its consultation exercise without first having produced a much more rigorous scientific and technical justification for its proposals, and a proper assessment of the costs and benefits to the Community and to Member States. The unsatisfactory standard of argument in the document also raises the question whether the Commission has the capacity, with all its other commitments, to enter this new territory at the present time.

  Meanwhile, we are maintaining the scrutiny reserve on this document, at least until we have had an opportunity to study the information commissioned by the Commons' Committee from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

7 February 1997

Letter from James Clappison, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 7 February, reporting on consideration of the EC Green Paper on future noise policy and related documents by the European Communities Committee and its Sub-Committee C.

  I have noted the Committees' concerns, particularly on subsidiarity and the lack of scientific and cost-benefit justification for many of the Green Paper proposals. Our formal response to the Green Paper will reflect the strength of concern expressed on these issues. We will also be expressing concern to the Commission that the assumptions underlying the Green Paper proposals fail to take account of the complex interaction between noise and health. Your Committee will see that this point is made in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology paper. Our response to the Commission will describe our own proposal to seek a consensus view on the health impacts of noise from scientific experts and to identify further areas for research in this area. Investigation of noise and health issues by the Commission as part of its suggested enhanced role in relation to research and exchange of best practice could usefully complement our own national action.

  I will of course keep the Committee informed of the future progress of the Green Paper, following submission of our formal response in March, and is made aware of any further information that becomes available.

20 February 1997

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