Select Committee on European Communities Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Mr John Battle MP, Minister for Science, Energy and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  The above proposal was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting this morning.

  In your Explanatory Memorandum, dated 26 March, you state that "the UK supports the main aims of the directive" but you go on to raise a number of concerns about the proposal. The Committee would appreciate clarification of your strong objection to the use of ISO standards in the proposal. ISO standards are internationally agreed and the Committee would like a clearer explanation of the reasons you have for believing they are too complicated in this case.

  We would also appreciate being kept informed of developments on this proposal. In the meantime, this letter maintains the scrutiny reserve.

7 May 1998

Letter from John Battle MP, Minister of State for Science, Energy and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 7 May concerning the proposed Directive relating to noise emission by equipment used outdoors. In your letter you ask for clarification as to why I have raised strong objections to the use of ISO standards.

  I do not object to the use of ISO standards in general, or indeed to EN standards. However, I do object to the mandatory use of one particular standard referred to in the proposed Directive, namely ISO 4871. My objection is based on the fact that ISO 4871 is an inappropriate choice for this type of Directive, because it is overly complex, very difficult to achieve, and adds significant unnecessary costs to industry.

  The standard is not supported by UK industry. Indeed, of the 250 companies identified within our Compliance Cost Assessment, none of them has used ISO 4871. Moreover, none of the UK Notified Bodies (the expert organisations who will conduct the test) have used this standard. Without exception, all of the UK industry organisations consulted opposed the use of ISO 4871.

  We must remember that agreements within ISO are reached on the understanding that all standards are voluntary. This principle is being overlooked by the Commission who have also chosen to add their own additional stringent requirements, which have not been subject to the due process of international standardisation.

  Furthermore, the mandatory use of ISO 4871 is a departure from normal "New Approach" style Directives. New Approach directives allow manufacturers the choice to use relevant standards or other methods to demonstrate compliance. This choice is no longer available to manufacturers under the proposed Directive. ISO 4871 is also inconsistent with the current practices of existing noise Directives—manufacturers will be required to apply different noise measurement practices depending on the Directive in question. It is inconsistent that under the Machinery Directive manufacturers are trusted to undertake noise measurements at the operator position for health and safety reasons (ie noise exposure levels can severely damage hearing), and that under the proposed Directive, which deals with environmental noise nuisance (ie passers by, or periodic exposure) manufacturers are not to be trusted.

  As I outlined in Annex A to the Explanatory Memorandum, ISO 4871 requires three decibels to be added to noise measurements. It also requires the manufacturer to demonstrate compliance of production runs by undercutting noise limits by three decibels (ie 50 per cent), otherwise the production batch has failed. (Note—a three decibel reduction in noise represents a 50 per cent reduction in noise level due to the logarithmic measurement scale).

  The UK supports a less expensive option whereby more trust is afforded to manufacturers, and that those who abused this trust would be caught by appropriate enforcement of the Directive.

14 May 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Mr John Battle MP, Minister of State for Science, Energy and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your letter dated 14 May on the above proposal which was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting on 4 June.

  In your letter, you sought to explain your strong objection to the use of internationally agreed ISO standards in the proposals. The Committee remains unconvinced by the explanation given. Furthermore, we are concerned that the consumer's perspective is under-represented in both your letter and in your Explanatory Memorandum dated 26 March. Accordingly, we have invited some written evidence on the proposal.

  In the meantime, this letter maintains the scrutiny reserve.

5 June 1998

Letter from John Battle MP, Minister of State for Science, Energy and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 5 June concerning the proposed Directive relating to noise emission by equipment used outdoors.

  Your letter informs me that the Committee remains unconvinced by the explanation given in my letter of 14 May regarding the use of ISO 4871. It also mentions your concern that the consumer's perspective is under-represented in my letter and in my Explanatory Memorandum.

  In my explanation I sought to convince you of my reasons for opposing the use of ISO 4871 based on many factors. These include its complexity, significant extra cost, unanimous objection by UK industry and Test Bodies, its mandatory use and modification by the Commission without regard to the normal consensus processes of standardisation, and its lack of consistency with other noise Directive measurement procedures.

  I remain convinced that the above reasons are sufficient to object to the mandatory use of this standard, but it may be helpful to put the Directive and ISO 4871 in context, particularly since you have raised a new concern of the Committee regarding consumers.

  The proposed Directive is concerned with the reduction of technical barriers to trade, and with reduction of noise in the environment. Most of the products within its scope are industrial products. Only a small number are directly supplied to consumers, such as lawnmowers and trimmers. Although consumers have an interest in the environment, they will not be in a position directly to exert choice in the selection of the majority of products covered.

  The removal of ISO 4871 from the Directive will not weaken the noise limits set by the directive. However, if it is allowed to remain, it will have a serious affect on the price a user will have to pay for new equipment as it is a very expensive standard to meet. It is reasonable to assume that this extra expense will be passed on to consumers.

  ISO 4871 deals solely with the noise level guaranteed by the manufacturer—not the noise limit imposed by the Directive. The limits set by the Directive will remain and all manufacturers will continue to meet them, whether ISO 4871 is used or not. The Directive already makes use of many internationally recognised, and frequently used, test procedures and ISO standards that will be used by manufacturers and test bodies to ensure that all equipment will be measured in a harmonised manner and conforms to the limits set. Test results in all member states will be comparable, and made known to users—which is one of the objectives of the Directive ie to inform users and thus allow a more informed choice in their purchase of noisy equipment.

  ISO 4871 however, is an additional requirement beyond the noise measurement procedures, which forces all manufacturers to demonstrate (by sampling techniques) that future production (of the same model, already verified by independent third party) continues to meet the recognised test requirements outlined in the paragraph above. It is this sampling process that is particularly unfair and costly. I explained this briefly in my letter, and in more detail in Annex A of my Explanatory Memorandum, but it may serve to use a useful analogy on one aspect of ISO 4871 to illustrate my point.

  Publicans must provide a full measure of alcohol. If we consider a pint of beer, the publican must serve a measure equal to or greater than a "pint", but never less than a pint. Before obtaining a licence publicans would test their measures and have them confirmed by an independent test body. If we subjected Publicans to the same requirement as described in ISO 4871, they would need to demonstrate, by a single random sample, that all subsequent measures of beer would never be under a pint. In order to prove this, ISO 4871 would require 50 per cent more beer to be delivered in each measure. If the sample delivered 49 per cent extra the Publican would fail the test and would not be allowed to market their beer, even if every pint served from this measure was clearly more than a "pint".

  ISO 4871 requires manufacturers to demonstrate that they are more than 3 decibels within the Guaranteed level (note, not 3 dB under the limit). This is, in effect, 50 per cent as decibels are measured using a logarithmic scale.

  I hope you would agree that this type of requirement is too stringent because a 50 per cent reduction (on top of the reduced limits that the Directive already sets), will be particularly costly. This cost will be passed on to users who will be faced with paying more for a quieter machine, and might therefore be forced to prolong the use of existing noisier machines. We must find a simpler method of allowing for noise measurement uncertainty, and also place a little more trust in the manufacturer. A Declaration of Conformity for example, made by the manufacturers after equipment has passed an independent test, should suffice to convince us that they have not changed the production method or design of the product and that further production of the same model shall not result in a noisier machine than the one selected for independent testing.

  For equipment subject to limits, the tests themselves will be verified by an independent test body. In the UK such bodies are appointed by the Secretary of State, drawing on advice based on a rigorous assessment by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service.

  I might add that the UK is not alone in opposing ISO 4871. Similar concerns on costs were expressed at the first Council Working Group on 11 June 1998 by other Member States. Additional concern was also expressed regarding implementation—the more complex the requirement the more difficult it is to understand, translate into 13 languages, and implement into 15 national Regulations. Imports from countries external to the EU would also need to comply. Such difficulties could result in a certain degree of mis-interpretation and thus failed harmonisation. A fragmented market would not assist in consumer benefit. A simpler method stands a greater chance of being implemented properly.

  Turning more directly to consumers, you are right to suggest that my Explanatory Memorandum did not mention consumer perspectives. At the time of submission, we had not yet completed our consultation and it would have been improper to include an incomplete reference. As I have mentioned the Directive is dominated by industrial use, and not particularly directed towards consumers. The compliance cost assessment therefore concentrated on the extra costs to manufacturers. My Explanatory Memorandum also mentioned that a full Regulatory Appraisal would soon be underway, and any benefits to consumers will of course form part of such an appraisal. Having said that we have since undertaken a consultation with consumer groups, which included: BSI Consumer Policy Committee; Institute of Consumer Advisors; Institute of Consumer Affairs; Consumers in Europe Group; National Consumer Council; Consumer's Association; and, the National Federation of Consumer Groups.

  The BSI committee responded, and also attended our industry consultation day on 23 March. We have taken many of their points on board. Only one of the other groups responded (National Consumer Council) who had "no comments to make at the present time".

  I remain confident that our line during negotiations, and the concerns that I raised in my Explanatory Memorandum, are well balanced between the needs of industry, consumers, and the environment. We will of course revise our position if necessary as a result of the Regulatory Appraisal. I recognise of course that costs to industry are inevitable from directives of this nature, but hope that single market benefits will outweigh these. I will, however, continue to oppose unnecessary costs.

  I hope this further explanation helps the Committee to understand my reasons for opposing ISO 4871. This topic is technically complex and very difficult to explain briefly. If it would help the Committee, my officials who deal directly with the Council negotiations would be happy to assist you in better understanding the issues at stake, and providing you with the information you require.

  I also note that the Committee has invited written evidence. My offer of assistance is of course extended to the parties involved.

13 July 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to John Battle MP, Minister of State for Science, Energy and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Your Explanatory Memorandum (EM), dated 14 December, on the above proposal was considered by Sub-Committee at its meeting yesterday.

  The Committee raised a number of issues on which they would appreciate clarification:

    —  paragraph 15 of your EM states that the Government has "indicated its concern" to the Commission over the lack of consistency with the Machinery Directive. What was the Commission's response on this point and to what extent does the Government intend to pursue this issue in negotiations to ensure consistency is achieved?

    —  in paragraph 17 of your EM you reiterate your opposition to the use of ISO 4871 and state that "simpler measures should be adopted" whereby a manufacturer should be able to make an EC Declaration. We would like to know how you envisage regulating a system of self-declaration and what, so far, has been the outcome of discussions in Council Working Group;

    —  the Committee would like to know whether the Machinery Directive addresses the effects of vibration on people nearby other than those operating the machinery itself (paragraph 28);

    —  paragraph 30 states that the United Kingdom negotiating line "has been supported by a number of Member States". We would like to know to which Member States this statement applies; and

    —  finally, your EM identifies a subsidiarity problem in paragraph 14 which you state is being taken up in Working Group. What progress has been made to date in resolving this problem?

  Until clarification is received on the above points, the proposal remains under scrutiny.

18 January 1999

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