Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Lord Rooker, Minister of State for Sustainable Farming and Food, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Chairman

  I am writing to inform you of developments on the above dossier, which achieved Common Position at Environment Council on 27 June. Your Committee considered Explanatory Memorandum 15409/03 of 17 December 2003 and Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum 15409/03 of 17 April 2004 on 6 January and 27 April 2004 respectively and gave scrutiny clearance on 10 November 2005.

  My Department last wrote to you on 8 December 2005[92] outlining the key changes made to REACH as part of the political agreement. These have now been formally adopted on 27 June as a Council Common Position.

  REACH remains a high priority for the UK and we will continue to negotiate towards a regulation that protects public health, the environment and industrial competitiveness.

  The European Parliament has now begun its deliberations in preparation for Second Reading. The Finnish Presidency has stated that it will aim to broker a deal leading to adoption of the Regulation by the end of 2006. Given the great deal of convergence between the positions of the European Parliament and the Council, I strongly believe that achieving a balanced outcome at this stage, without the need to enter into a lengthy conciliation, is very much in the UK's interest.

  During its development, REACH has been the subject of over 50 impact assessments across the EU. The UK partial impact assessment estimated direct costs to UK industry would be £515 million over 11 years or just over £47 million per year. We have now updated the partial impact assessment in light of the Common Position. It indicates that the overall savings of the Common Position compared to the original Commission proposal amount to £469 million across the EU, equivalent to savings of £111 million within the UK. A further study that we have commissioned into the indirect costs—which are more problematic to assess accurately—has concluded that the costs of REACH are likely to be absorbed by industry without having a significant impact on competitiveness, investment in the UK, or market structure. However, although the number of substances withdrawn from the market may not be high, this was most likely to affect low volume substances and those produced by SMEs. REACH will also lead to simplification of the current regulatory regime by replacing over 40 pieces of existing EU legislation and will result in a harmonised system of chemical management across the EU.

  The text agreed in Council last year was an excellent outcome for the UK, with the inclusion of key elements of our proposals including those on "one substance, one registration" (OSOR), and mandatory reviews for all authorisations. Our aim is to maintain the main elements of the current Council text in the forthcoming discussions, in particular by resisting attempts to weaken the OSOR provisions on data sharing or attempts to further reduce the testing requirements at all tonnages.

  Registration is the part of REACH most critical to achieving the essential core data around which decisions can be taken about the safe handling and use of substances. It is also the area which has the potential to impose significant burdens on industry, particularly SMEs, and to require a high level of animal testing. The Common Position results in significant savings to industry, largely by incorporating the main elements of our proposal for OSOR and adopting a more risk-based, targeted approach to the registration of lower volume substances. In addition, the benefits have been maximised by focussing on substances that are suspected or known to be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) or very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB) in the first phase of registration.

  Authorisation will allow a limited use of an otherwise banned substance. These will be substances of very high concern because of their known effects on human health or the environment, and there is a consensus that the controls on them should be tough but pragmatic. It is these substances that we had already agreed should be substituted whenever practicable, while recognising that in many circumstances it may not be possible to find acceptable substitutes, for instance for certain metals and metal salts. Many of the proposals made by the UK have been included in the Common Position. These include limiting the need for authorisation to substances of very high concern, using mandatory reviews for all authorisations, and listing the substances meeting the authorisation criteria.

24 July 2006

92   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 360-361. Back

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