Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report


Letter from Glenda Jackson CBE, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  In Baroness Hayman's recent Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum (9856/96), she informed the Select Committee of the successful progress which had been made in dealing with certain unacceptable aspects of the Commission's proposals for car emissions and fuel quality standards from 2000. I am now writing to inform you of the negotiating position which the Government propose to adopt at the Environment Council on 19-20 June.

  Since the Commission's original proposals were published in June 1996, there have been a number of developments with regard to the positions likely to be adopted by other Member States and the position of the European Parliament - in favour of strengthening of the standards - which appear likely to affect the terms of the agreement on the Common position which will probably be adopted on 19-20 June. The degree of that strengthening has indeed already been foreshadowed in the Presidency's compromise proposals which have been tabled for the Council meeting and which are likely to form the basis for that agreement. In parallel with this the European Parliament has, by absolute majority votes, favoured a degree of strengthening which goes even further than that contained in the Presidency proposals, and which suggests the possibility of a lengthy and difficult conciliation session.

  It now appears certain therefore that the Commission's proposals will be strengthened, especially in respect of certain of the fuel quality parameters. To hold the line in favour of those proposals, especially with regard to these parameters, is not a realistic option. To do so would damage our credibility and thus our ability not only to secure items in the package which are vital for UK manufacturers but to resist those which would impose a very high cost on the UK refining industry. There are also more important benefits in other areas to be obtained from a more positive approach on the Auto-Oils proposals especially with regard to the concurrent negotiations on the EU acidification strategy which, if implemented as proposed, would impose a considerable cost across the whole range of UK industry.

  For these reasons therefore, coupled with evidence that there are real air quality benefits to be obtained, it is our intention to signal to the Presidency our preparedness to support a further strengthening on the sulphur content of petrol. This is a key element in their package and is important to present any future exhaust treatment technology. We also propose to agree to the Presidency proposal for tightening on benzene. It will have a positive air quality benefit to the UK, it is a relatively low cost option and it will secure important negotiating benefits for us.

  By agreeing, or indeed, if necessary leading, on these items we then propose to signal flexibility on other items in the dossier subject. As I have indicated, this overall approach will place us in a better position to resist measures in the dossier which would be especially damaging to UK industry or produce limited environmental benefit and be firm on those amendments we strongly wish to see adopted. By way of example, we shall continue to resist any strengthening of car limits - particularly those for diesel cars, which would impact severely on UK industry. We also hope to secure agreement on the key issue of indicative standards for sulphur in diesel from 2005 which should be subject to confirmation or modification following the Commission's review in 1998-99.

  It is therefore our intention to negotiate on this basis at the Environment Council. I shall of course write to inform you in full of the agreement reached and the position which we have taken on all the detailed issues which will be considered. In the meantime the Government believes that, whilst scrutiny clearance of the Presidency proposals has not been obtained, in order to secure our position in these difficult but crucial negotiations, it is essential that we should proceed and vote in accordance with the strategy outlined above. I hope that this will be acceptable to your Committee.

18 June 1997

Letter from Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B, to Baroness Hayman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  As you will no doubt be aware, Lord Tordoff, the Chairman of the Select Committee, wrote to your predecessor, John Bowis MP, in December last year about certain key aspects of the above proposals.[3] The Sub-Committee was particularly concerned by the proposal to ban leaded petrol from 2000, and Mr Bowis suggested in a letter of 13 February[4] that various alternatives to a ban were being actively considered.

  The Sub-Committee was therefore encouraged to note from your Supplementary EM, which it considered at its meeting this morning, that a limited concession has now been secured for the benefit of owners of historic or classic vehicles. Nevertheless, the Sub-Committee's concerns were broader than this, and we would urge you to press for further amendments that would secure the continued availability of leaded petrol to all those whose cars can be shown to be unsuitable for conversion to unleaded fuel. We do not believe that an exempton of this scope need have a significant impact on the environmental benefits that the proposed Directive is intended to achieve.

  On 20 March this year I wrote to Mr Bowis[5] to express the Sub-Committee's concern that the proposed vehicle emissions Directive would have the effect of giving car manufacturers exclusive control over the access codes to the on-board diagnostic systems which the Directive would make mandatory for new cars from 2000. In that letter I asked Mr Bowis to let me know whether the Government was successful in their stated aim of securing changes that would ensure that access codes were available to the repair industry, Mr Bowis promised to do so in a letter of 26 March [not printed] but I note that your Supplementary EM does not mention this point. Are you yet in a position to say what progress has been made?

  I note that these proposals are being considered at the Environmental Council today and tomorrow. Perhaps you could let me know in due course whether a Common Position has been reached and, if so, what provisions it contains on the aspects of particular concern to the Sub-Committee.

  We shall maintain the scrutiny reserve for the time being.

19 June 1997

Letter from Baroness Hayman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B

  Thank you for your letter of 19 June about the proposed ban on leaded petrol and the proposals for on-board diagnostic systems (OBD) which are included in EU proposals for Directives respectively on fuel quality and motor vehicle emissions.

  In its approach to the negotiations on the ban on leaded petrol, the Government, whilst being fully supportive of the desire of the EU to phase out its general use on health grounds, was aware of concerns raised by the Committee as well as by owners of older vehicles who may find it increasingly difficult or impossible to obtain continuing supplies once the ban has come into effect. I am pleased therefore that, as indicated in my Supplementary Explanation Memorandum (SEM), we are successful in negotiating the concession in the proposal which will allow 0.5 per cent of total petrol sales to be provided, in perpetuity, as leaded petrol for users of vehicles of a characteristic nature". The final agreement reached at the Environment Council was also helpful in deleting reference to usage being tied to membership of particular official organisations.

  I realise that this concession does not go as far as the Committee or others may have wished but it does reflect the negotiating realities in Council working group discussions in which support for a ban had gradually firmed up to the extent that the UK was the sole advocate of special treatment for classic/historic vehicles. In achieving this hard fought over concession, the UK used up considerable negotiating capital in what was one part of a general directive on fuel quality, where vital matters of concern to the UK refining industry as well as air quality were at stake. In the circumstances this concession was, I believe, the best deal that could be obtained.

  The general view of Member States was that any older cars which cannot run on unleaded petrol could make use of non-lead additives. Indeed the experience of countries such as Germany and Sweden indicates that most vehicles can safely use premium or super-unleaded petrol as an alternative; if necessary with the addition of a lead-replacement additive if it is felt necessary to afford a degree of protection against the possibility of increased valve seat wear. However, such risks are unlikely to arise if the engine is kept in a good state of tune and if the vehicle is not driven for long periods at high speed or under high load. Such additives are expected to be increasingly offered for use by older vehicles, either as a direct addition to the fuel before it is retailed, or as a product which can be separately added during refuelling.

  With regard to the on-board diagnostic proposals and the question of access to fault codes etc, I regret that due to an oversight the position prior to the Council was not covered in my SEM, but am pleased to say that the Government was successful in securing the inclusion of amendments in the common position which should meet the concerns raised by the Committee and by the repair industry generally. These amendments will ensure that vehicle manufacturers use the most appropriate diagnostic fault code from an internationally available standard (ISO DIS 15031-6) and that interrogation of the OBD system by standard off-board scan tools used by the repair industry is possible.

  The Government also supported inclusion in the common position of a commitment on the Commission to address the question of replacement parts for emissions related components, and a requirement for vehicle manufacturers to make available repair information at reasonable cost to interested parties. Although not in our view the direct subject of the current proposal - which concerns type approval of new vehicles and, in the case of repair information, already the subject of EU legislation - the Government took the view that inclusion of these matters should be supported to provide the extra degree of reassurance which has been sought by the repair industry and some Member States.

  I hope that the Committee will be pleased with this outcome.

9 July 1997

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee to Glenda Jackson CBE MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter of 18 June. I am grateful to you for keeping us informed of developments on this issue and have referred your letter to Sub-Committee B.

7 July 1997

Letter from Baroness Hayman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Glenda Jackson's letter of 18 June 1997 informed you of the negotiating position which the Government proposed to adopt at the Environment Council on 19-20 June in respect of the proposals on passenger cars emissions and fuel quality standards from 2000. I am now writing to inform you of the outcome of the discussions.

  I am pleased to report that agreement on a common position on the proposals was achieved on terms acceptable to the UK Government. As suggested in Glenda Jackson's letter, this was broadly on the basis of the Presidency compromise. In respect of the emission limits for passenger cars, Michael Meacher joined a unanimous vote in favour of retaining the Commission's mandatory 2000 proposals and indicative 2005 proposals so that the industry has the best possible lead time in order to meet these extremely stringent standards. I am pleased that pressure from some Member States for even tighter car standards, especially for diesels, which would have impacted severely on the UK industry, did not win the day.

  The Government also supported the agreement on the review of vehicle emission standards to be carried out by the Commission by mid 1999 to confirm or revise the 2005 emission limits in the light of the latest developments in air quality forecasts and the technical capability of manufacturers to meet the limits.

  We were also able to secure as part of the package the right for small volume manufacturers to approve to equivalent Californian standards, a measure which will go a long way towards meeting the concerns of manufacturers such as Rolls Royce who would otherwise have been faced with very costly duplicate approval requirements. In respect of the addition of a new test specifically to check emissions under very cold conditions, the Government was able to support a proposal which limited the test to type approval only but with a delayed implementation date of 1st January 2002 to allow vehicle manufacturers adequate time to invest in new test facilities.

  In respect of the fiscal incentives provisions we were regretably unable to secure deletion of the article or to restrict its operation to the mandatory standards and had to make do with entering a Minutes Statement expressing the view that Article 100A was not an appropriate Treaty base for such a provision.

  I am writing separately to Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub Committee B, regarding the outcome on the on-board diagnostic proposals and the leaded petrol ban about which the Committee had expressed concern.

  In respect of the fuel quality proposals the agreement reached resulted as expected in strengthening of certain of the fuel quality parameters. The main features of this were the agreement on 150ppm sulphur content in petrol from 2000 (Commission proposal 200ppm), one per cent benzene, (Commission proposal two per cent) and 42 per cent aromatics (Commission proposal 45 per cent) together with the inclusion of indicative standards from 2005, subject to review, of 50ppm sulphur in petrol and diesel and 35 per cent aromatics in petrol.

  As indicated in Glenda Jackson's letter, the Government regards sulphur content as a key element in respect of improving vehicle emissions not only with regard to the existing fleet but to maximise the effectiveness of new anti-pollution technologies such as de-NOx catalysts that are currently under development. The agreement reached on this parameter, whilst in respect of the 2000 standard not being as stringent as the Government would have wished or as the Presidency had proposed, does nevertheless send the right signals to the oil industry and the motor industry and provides a solid base for future progress. The agreement on the indicative standards, if confirmed by the review process, will allow the phasing in of ultra low sulphur diesel from 2005 which should allow industry time to adapt to a measure which I know will have a very significant impact on their production capacity and costs but which will nevertheless lay the basis for further improvements in air quality.

  As expected, most delegations were able to support a one per cent benzene limit but there was also strong support for reducing aromatic content below the 45 per cent Commission figure, which the UK resisted and which we were successful in limiting to 42 per cent. In terms of the 2005 standard the 35 per cent indicative limit agreed does not reflect the range of values which we consider necessary to meet UK refinery needs and there will be some cost implications for UK industry. However, this is a matter which will be addressed as part of the review process which will confirm or modify the standards.

  All in all I believe Michael Meacher achieved a good package both for the environment and UK industry. I hope your Committee will be pleased with the outcome.

14 July 1997

Letter from Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B, to Baroness Hayman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter of 9 July, in which you explained how the common position reached at the Environment Council on 19-20 June affects those aspects of the above proposals on which the Sub-Committee had expressed particular concern and about which I wrote to you on 19 June.

  The Sub-Committee considered your letter at its meeting on 17 July and noted the concessions you had achieved in relation to leaded petrol and access to on-board diagnostic systems. I have also seen the letter you wrote to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Select Committee, on 14 July and I am grateful to you for the trouble you have taken to keep us informed of developments on this important matter.

22 July 1997

3   Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 5th Report, Session 1996-97, p24. Back

4   Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 12th Report, Session 1996-97, pp 11-12. Back

5   Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 12th Report, Session 1996-97, p12. Back

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