Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and Regions

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum dated 15 May which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 10 June. Sub-Committee B's remit covers energy, industry and transport and it is approaching this social affairs subject from the point of view of the possible consequences for industry.

  As you know, the Scrutiny reserve on this document has already been lifted, but we were somewhat concerned that you have been prepared to support the de minimis limit in principle, even when this might have unknown financial implications for UK industry, which may turn out to be significant, and when the full socio-economic impact is not known. We should be grateful, therefore, if you could let us see the Regulatory Impact Assessment which is currently being prepared. We are concerned that this was not expected to be completed before a common position was achieved at the Employment and Social Policy Council on 3 June.

19 June 2003

Letter to the Chairman from David Jamieson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport

  Thank you for your letter of 19 June about the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) dated 15 May on the proposal to include a general prohibition in the above proposed Directive and your request to see the Regulatory Impact Assessment. I would like to explain why a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) based on a de minimis limit is not at present required.

  Progress in the Council's Social Questions Working Group (SQWG) had been fast moving under the Spanish Presidency and the UK government supported Spain in its objective to reach political agreement to common position during its Presidency. However, in considering the options for a proposal for a general prohibition, the UK workers who were exposed to asbestos where it was added intentionally and not those workers who may be exposed to asbestos where it occurred naturally in other minerals. Although the Marketing and Use Directive (1999/77/EC), and the UK implementing legislation, prohibit the supply and use of asbestos and products containing asbestos where the fibres are intentionally added, this approach may not protect workers from inadvertent exposure to asbestos fibres. The UK Government therefore decided that we should support a position that would extend the current UK prohibition and prohibit any product containing a quantity of asbestos which would give rise to a risk to the worker (ie a de minimis limit).

  The Government shared the Committee's concern about the unknown socio-economic impact of introducing a prohibition using a de minimis limit. During discussion in Europe the UK confirmed its support in principle for a de minimis limit but said that we were not prepared to agree setting an arbitrary de minimis limit without further scientific research to establish a limit that protects workers and without assessing fully the socio-economic impact. However, if the Presidency was to achieve its objective to reach common position this was not possible.

  The UK's position was not supported and, at the Employment and Social Policy Council on 3 June, the UK supported a Council common position text which included a general prohibition based on an "intentionally added" qualification.

  The Council's common position is still subject to second reading by the European Parliament. If adopted, the Council's text will maintain the status quo in the UK and so a Regulatory Impact Assessment based on the introduction of a de minimis limit is not necessary at this time. If the UK Government decides to revisit the possibility of extending the current UK prohibition by using a de minimis limit it will only do so following consideration of the full socio-economic impact in the UK and in consultation with stakeholders, including industry.

  I hope the above is helpful and I will ensure that the Committee is alerted to any changes to this proposal.

9 July 2003

Letter from the Chairman to Mr David Jamieson MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 9 July which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 22 July.

  We regret that the UK's position was not supported at the Employment and Social Policy Council on 3 June and that you had no choice but to subscribe to a Council Common Position text which included a general prohibition based on an "intentionally added" qualification.

  We are pleased to note the promise you make in your penultimate paragraph that if the Government were to reconsider the possibility of extending the current UK prohibition by using a de minimis limit, it would do so only after considering the full socio-economic impact in the UK and in consultation with stakeholders including industry.

23 July 2002

Letter to the Clerk from R J Church, Health and Safety Executive

  I wrote to you on 12 November 2002, to report that the Agriculture and Fisheries Council adopted a common position on the amended proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 83/477/EEC on the Protection of Workers from the Risks related to Asbestos at Work on 23 September 2002. A copy of the common position text is enclosed.

  This proposal was the subject of Explanatory Memorandum COM (O1) 417 (submitted on 15 May 2002). It was last considered by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee on 22 May 2002 (31st Report, Session 2001-02) and was considered not to raise questions of sufficient legal or political importance to warrant a substantive report to the House.

  The Explanatory Memorandum cleared scrutiny in the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union on 21 May 2002 (1,104th Chairman's Sift). Sub-Committee B considered it on 10 June and 22 July (Lord Brabazon's letters to Dr Alan Whitehead of 19 June and 23 July and Dr Whitehead's letter of 9 July to Lord Brabazon refer).

  Since I wrote to you in November there has been significant progress with the proposal.

  On 11 November 2002, the Presidency met the EP rapporteur to discuss and agree the possibility of a second-reading deal on the amendment to the asbestos worker protection directive to avoid conciliation. The deal was to be based on the Council's agreement to three amendments.

  One of the amendments the EP proposed was the reintroduction of a time period in article 3(3)—article 3(3) exempts specified work activities from the full requirements of the Directive. During negotiations in the Council's Working Group, one of the UK's main objectives was the removal of the time period in this article that we managed to achieve. There was therefore concern that the Presidency was proposing, and possibly receiving support, for a second-reading deal that reintroduced this time period. Ireland shared this concern.

  However, at a Social Questions Working Group meeting on 18 November, the UK and Ireland received widespread support in our opposition to the time period. The Presidency did not receive support for the amendments as proposed by the European Parliament.

  On 20 November, UK Rep confirmed that the EP rapporteur, was still interested in a second reading deal, but he wanted his concerns about Article (3) addressed. The Presidency prepared a further amendment which would introduce a new article 3(3a). The new text would require Member States to lay down practical guidelines on what is meant by "sporadic and low-intensity exposure". This approach was acceptable to the UK and we were able to support the new Presidency text.

  On 22 November, COREPER agreed a Presidency compromise text, with two small amendments, and on 26 November UKRep reported that the EP Committee on Employment and Social Affairs accepted the Presidency text. On 27 November, UKRep further reported that the EP report (incorporating the Presidency text) was adopted unanimously in Committee.

  Finally, during a Plenary debate in the European Parliament on 16-19 December 2002, the EP adopted amendments based on the Presidency text and agreeable to the Commission, clearing the way for a second reading deal. A copy of the Council's Information Note recording the decision in the Plenary is enclosed.

16 January 2003

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