Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs First Special Report


APPENDIX (continued)

REDUCING THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF CONSUMER PRODUCTS (ELEVENTH REPORT - SESSION 1998-99)

The Committee asked for a report on recommendations (c); (d), (e) and (f); (g) and (h); and (l). It also asked for a report on the activities of the Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the environment (ACCPE).

ACCPE was appointed in September 1999, with a wide remit to advise on the development and co-ordination of policies to reduce the environmental impacts of consumer products, and the priority areas for research and future action in these policy areas. The Committee is chaired by Dr Alan Knight, Head of Sustainability at B&Q, and has 13 other members from business, environmental and consumer backgrounds.

Over its first year ACCPE has given detailed consideration to many of the issues referred to in the recommendations listed above. It will be publishing a report in the autumn setting out its conclusions on its first year's work, and the Government will consider then how best to take forward the work in these areas.

Recommendation (c) - To date, the Government has failed to provide the necessary leadership in attempts to reduce the environmental impact of consumer products. We believe that a coherent framework of policy measures must be put in place to encourage more environmentally responsible actions from consumers, retailers and manufacturers

The Government's response to the Select Committee report drew attention to the strategy for sustainable development, A better quality of life (May 1999), which sets out a high-level vision for achieving a more sustainable development. Over the past year, the Advisory Committee has looked in more depth at a key element of this strategy, the sustainability of goods and services, with a view to creating a framework in which product-related measures complement each other and positively support sustainable development objectives. The Committee has looked in particular at the scope for developing more integrated approaches to product policy. As an essential first step, it has identified the key environmental issues most affected by consumer products and the range of product-related measures available to tackle these. The Government will consider ACCPE's conclusions in this area, contained in its first annual report.

The Government has continued to encourage a more strategic view about goods and services to be taken at EU level, and looks forward to the European Commission's green paper on Integrated Product Policy, expected to be published shortly.

Recommendation (d): In the absence of a credible EU scheme, and in line with our predecessor Committee's recommendation in 1991, we believe that the UK Government should develop a national ecolabelling scheme. The scheme should be publicly funded to ensure that the cost of products does not increase and the label achieves maximum take-up. (Paragraph 20)

Recommendation (e): We recommend that the national ecolabelling scheme should include a generic label based upon the whole life-cycle of a product. Given the need for prompt action in this area, we urge that such a scheme be launched within the lifetime of this Parliament. (Paragraph 22)

Recommendation (f): In addition to introducing a generic ecolabelling scheme, we recommend that the new Government advisory panel should consider which product areas would be suitable for labelling according to specific product attributes or environmental issues. Such an approach will only be appropriate in a limited number of instances where the issue, or the need for information, is clear-cut and straightforward. (Paragraph 28)

The Government asked ACCPE to give early priority to the consideration of measures for improving the environmental information available to consumers, drawing on two studies commissioned by DETR on the lessons to be learnt from ecolabelling schemes operating in different types of market. The Advisory Committee has some interesting ideas for different ways of providing information for consumers and the Government will consider its detailed proposals before deciding how to proceed.

Recommendation (g): We recommend that, as a matter of priority, the Government should provide the Green Claims Code and any successor codes with statutory backing. (Paragraph 34)

Recommendation (h): We are disappointed that no real progress has been made on the issue of fair trading as it relates to green claims, despite widespread acceptance of the problem. In his evidence to us, the Minister assured us that there was no disagreement between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department of Trade and Industry on this matter. We welcome this statement but emphasise that action should be taken within the lifetime of this Parliament and must precede the introduction of a national ecolabelling scheme. (Paragraph 35)

In its response to the Select Committee, the Government said that it had commissioned the National Consumer Council (NCC) to survey the market in the first year of operation of the Green Claims Code to see how effective that guidance had been. The NCC's report, published in October 1999, showed evidence of some improvement in the position. Although in some areas there were still many examples of vague and unhelpful claims, the situation had improved considerably in a number of key product areas since the Code was introduced.

The Government believes that best practice guidance will continue to have a vital role in improving the standard of environmental information. Since the Select Committee's report it has published a revised version of the Green Claims Code, updated to take account of the new international standard on green claims, ISO14021, which was published in September 1999. The revised Code sets out the principles of good practice in making green claims and is supported by the CBI, the British Retail Consortium, the local authority trading standards body (LACOTS) and the British Standards Institution. The Government has written to major manufacturers and retailers to draw it to their attention and encourage firms to use it when making green claims.

To help promote a more challenging public attitude towards environmental claims, DETR has also published a new leaflet for consumers "Hi, I'm green" explaining what labels to look for and how to complain about claims which seem unhelpful or confusing.

With regard to a statutory code, the Government said in its response to the Select Committee that DETR and DTI would work with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to see whether powers under the Control of Misleading Advertisement Regulations could be used more effectively to combat misleading green claims. The OFT has not so far identified a case which it considers would be in the public interest to pursue under the Regulations, although it has established that the Regulations could be used to combat environmental claims which are overtly misleading. The exercise has illustrated how traditional consumer protection legislation is not well suited for tackling the unhelpful kind of claims which do not conform with standards of good practice and which may deflect consumers from exercising a sound environmental choice. The Government is therefore considering whether other approaches might be more effective in tackling bad practice and improving the standard of information, and is seeking the views of ACCPE on possible options.

Recommendation (l): We recommend that the Government examine what additional steps can be taken to enable "green" procurement practices to be adopted within central and local government. Clear guidance should be provided to authorities on this matter. (Paragraph 42)

The Government has taken a number of additional steps over the last year to enable the adoption of "green" procurement practices across its estate. DETR, for example, is continuing to work with the Office for Government Commerce to promote best practice and to liaise with international organisations. DETR has also organised events and is currently arranging a major seminar to promote green procurement. Initiatives taken include:

  • Michael Meacher announced in July that the Government's policy on procuring wood is now a binding commitment on all Government departments and their agencies. Each Government department will also have to report annually on its purchases of timber and timber products and the process will be monitored by an independent group reporting to the Committee of Green Ministers;

  • development of a pilot project by the Buying Agency to market recycled copier paper throughout the Civil Service. A collaborative procurement project led by DETR has resulted in the award of a number of framework contracts for the supply of recycled paper for printed publications. These are open for use by other Government departments and their Agencies;

  • publication of further information on green vehicles, alternative fuels and emission requirements in DETR's Green Guide for Buyers and encouraging fleet managers and their suppliers to join the Government backed "Motorvate" scheme designed to reduce fuel costs and CO2 emissions. A "Cleaner Vehicle Demonstration Day" was also held for Government fleet managers in January 2000;

  • a new Good Practice Guide on minimising the running costs and impact of office equipment which was launched at a seminar for public sector IT managers in the British Library in December;

  • The Government' Construction Client Panel has placed new targets on Government departments for "Achieving sustainability in construction procurement".

Information on many of these initiatives is given on the greening government pages of DETR's web site which has been extended to provide more advice on environmental issues in procurement.

ACCPE has also looked at ways of "greening" public procurement, both in terms of improving the information available to procurers for drawing up environmental criteria for product specifications, and in strengthening specific guidance to departments in areas where are established and verifiable criteria available.

MULTILATERAL ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENTS (SIXTEENTH REPORT - SESSION 1998-99)

Following the response to recommendation (C), the Committee would be grateful if the Government would: i) list the MEA negotiations which have taken place on which a) the Government has set out its position by means of a PQ (ie. those "where decisions are likely to be taken") and b) they have not; and ii) for each case where the Government has not set out its objectives, explain why it was not felt appropriate to do so.

The Government should also report progress on resolving the potential conflict between MEAs and WTO trade rules (recommendations I, J, K and L); and make statements both of its position in relation to the French EU Presidency suggestion of a "World Environmental Organisation", further to recommendation (Q), and on the position and role of UNEP, further to recommendations (O) and (P).

MEA Negotiations (Recommendation C)

A  MEA negotiations (ie Conferences of Parties or equivalents) which have taken place since publication of the Government response in January 2000 on which the Government has set out its position by means of a Parliamentary Question or a Ministerial statement:

i  Convention on Biological Diversity, Extraordinary Conference of the Parties on adoption of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 24-29 January 2000; a written Ministerial statement on the outcome of the Conference was provided to Parliament on 9 February 2000.

ii  Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 11th Conference of the Parties, 10-20 April 2000; the UK position on issues for consideration at the CoP was set out in an adjournment debate on 21 March 2000; subsequently a reporting PQ was tabled on 9 May 2000 informing Parliament of key outcomes and major decisions.

iii  UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), meeting on UN Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS), 30 May - 2 June 2000; a PQ was answered by the Deputy Prime Minister on 25 May 2000 which set out the outcomes expected from the meeting.

iv  OSPAR Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic, 26-30 June 2000; a draft inspired PQ was prepared before the OSPAR meeting as indicated in the Minister for the Environment's Written Parliamentary Answer of 5 May to Mr MacGrady (SDLP - South Down); however, on 21 June there was an adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on this issue - the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State's response in the debate included the same elements which would have been covered by the PQ, there was therefore no need to repeat the material in a written answer.

v  International Whaling Commission (IWC), 52nd Annual Meeting, 3-6 July 2000; a PQ was tabled on 13 July 2000 in answer to which the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food set out the Government's approach to the meeting.

B  MEA negotiations on which the Government has not set out its position by means of a PQ or a written Ministerial Statement:

i  Convention on Biological Diversity, 5th Conference of the Parties, 15-26 May 2000;

ii  Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe (ASCOBANS), 3rd Meeting of the Parties, 24-26 July 2000;

iii  Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Seas, 3rd Meeting of the Parties, 26-28 July.

To correct these oversights PQs will be tabled after the Parliamentary Recess informing Parliament of the outcomes of the meetings and major decisions taken. Systems have now been put in place to ensure that such oversights are not repeated.

MEAs and Trade Rules (Recommendations I,J, K and L)

The Government recently provided a response to the House of Lords European Union Committee's report on "The World Trade Organisation: The EU Mandate after Seattle" which included the following response in respect of the Government's continuing commitment to clarify the interface between WTO rules and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs):

"The Government fully agrees with the Committee on the need to avoid conflict between the WTO and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). This is why we are pressing for a clarification of the relationship between WTO rules and trade provisions of MEAs as part of a new trade Round. Our aim is to secure an agreement which is legally binding on all WTO members and promotes mutual supportiveness between WTO rules and trade measures arising from MEAs. The UK is working with its EU partners to identify and agree on the various options for clarifying this relationship. The UK is not convinced that seeking a formal amendment to WTO rules, and in particular GATT Article XX, represents the best option for clarifying the relationship. Alternative mechanisms such as a new side agreement, which could take the form of an interpretative understanding of Article XX, are under active consideration.

There is also a pressing need for improved dialogue with developing countries on this issue. It is essential that in developing our proposals for clarification we take full account of others' concerns, particularly with respect to the potential for eco-protectionist abuse of a clarifying mechanism. We are funding the Commonwealth Secretariat to host a workshop on Trade and Sustainable Livelihoods in January 2001 which will address this matter alongside a range of issues of interest to developing countries. The UK and EU are also seeking to further discussions in bilaterals and within the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment in order to build consensus in favour of clarification."

The UK will continue to play an active role in discussions at the EU level to promote an approach to the clarification of the WTO/MEA interface consistent with this response, including at the next meeting of EU trade and environment experts on 6 September 2000 for which the European Commission have tabled a paper on "Resolving the relationship between WTO rules and MEAs". The UK will also participate in a meeting convened by UNEP in Geneva on 23 October 2000 to examine and reduce potential tensions between MEAs and WTO rules, immediately prior to the next meeting of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment.

To promote further multilateral dialogue on the relationship between trade and sustainable development the UK has provided £100K in this financial year to the recently established UNEP/UNCTAD Capacity Building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development, which will undertake thematic research on major issues in the trade-environment-development domain and on practical approaches to sustainably address them, recognising the development priorities of countries.

The UK also continues to support the UNCTAD/FIELD Trade and Environment Capacity Building Project, to which we have committed £423K over two financial years. This project brings together 10 developing countries to examine experience in, and constructive ways of taking forward, the trade and sustainable development debate. The project has already led to papers being tabled in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment. The next stage of this project, a roundtable event involving developing countries and EU partners, will be held in London this autumn.

Role of UNEP (Recommendations O and P)

The UK remains one of the largest donors to the United Nations Environment Programme and continues actively to encourage others to support the organisation. We are strongly supportive of the aim of broadening the donor base for contributions to UNEP. In addition to our support for UNEP's main environment work through our contribution to its Environment Fund we have also provided £650,000 to UNEP to support the establishment of a United Nations global biodiversity monitoring centre in Cambridge.

The UK is committed to the success of UNEP as the key environmental arm of the United Nations system and as an influential global organisation. With this aim in mind we support all efforts to increase the effectiveness of UNEP, including the better use of its regional structure and improved coordination. The UK's support for the Mercure Satellite system has helped to improve communication within UNEP. UNEP has strengthened its presence in Nairobi, which is rightly recognised as an important feature of its commitment to increasing the involvement of developing countries.

French EU Presidency Suggestion of a "World Environmental Organisation" (Recommendation Q)

DETR has commissioned a report on options for reform of global environmental governance from the Royal Institute of International Affairs. This will be published in September and a copy will be given to the Committee. The UK will consult widely with EU and developing country partners on a way forward, with the aim of improving action on the ground. The French Presidency put global environmental governance reform on the agenda for the French EU informal Environment Council. It was agreed that the EU should consider options further.

TOWN AND COUNTRY PARKS (TWENTIETH REPORT - SESSION 1998-99)

While the Government appeared to agree with the spirit of the Report, it rejected many of the specific recommendations. It would be useful to have an update on the Government's position vis-à-vis the possibility of establishing a new national agency to 'champion' parks (recommendations 175-178).

The Government's Response to the Select Committee's report acknowledged that some aspects of parks management needed to be improved. The Response also advised that the Government does not consider there is a compelling case for the setting up of a new Agency to 'champion parks', and that it will set out future proposals for improving the quality and management of parks in the White Paper on urban policy. This remains the Government's position. The White Paper will be published in the autumn.

It would also be helpful to know what action the Government has taken in respect of the recommendations at paragraph 92, which calls for steps to be taken to stop the loss and neglect of park ornaments and ornamental buildings.

English Heritage are expected to address the condition of public parks in their report to Ministers on the Historic Environment Review which is be delivered in November. Consultation on the Review has just ended, and the review steering group is presently considering the responses. It is already clear that among issues the Review is likely to address is the condition of public parks, and the need for resources to made available for regular maintenance. The loss and neglect of park ornaments and ornamental buildings will be considered in this context. The Government's response to the Review would follow early next year.

Finally, it would be helpful to know what proportion of the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities Programme run by the New Opportunities Fund has been spent on projects involving parks.

NOF invited initial expressions of interest from organisations interested in becoming an Award Partner in January 2000, with a closing date of 31 March for the return of completed bids. There has been an exceptionally good response to the programme, and the Fund is currently assessing over 98 bids worth over £608 million to operate delegated grant and umbrella schemes. The Fund expects to announce it Award Partners in September, and to fund the first projects in 2001. Although final figures are not available at this time, it is envisaged that a substantial number of successful schemes may involve improvements to parks.

POTENTIAL RISK OF FIRE SPREAD IN BUILDINGS VIA EXTERNAL CLADDING SYSTEMS (FIRST REPORT - SESSION 1999-2000)

The Government should report progress on the Committee's recommendation in paragraph 20, further to paragraph 11 of the Government response.

BRE Fire Note 9 was offered to the British Standards Institute in March 1999 in order for them to consider converting the test method to a full British Standard under the Universal Acceptance Procedure (UAP). The document was referred to the relevant committee where it was agreed to circulate the test method for comments. A working group was established to review these comments and consider the document further. The working group has met three times and the general view is that the document is technically sound.

However, it appears likely that a separate test method (a part 2) will be required to assess the fire performance of 'curtain wall' type systems. The production of a part 2 test method will not effect the publication of the part 1 standard for use with rainscreen and rendered systems, the area of primary concern following the Irvine fire. The issue of the inclusion of a pass/fail criterion has also been a cause of discussion and a conclusion on this matter has not yet been reached.

The current timescale for publication of this standard is still unclear although the objective of the relevant working group is to produce the document by the end of the year. Whilst it is disappointing that the standard has not yet been published it should be noted that reference to BRE Fire Note 9 does appear within the new Approved Document B (Fire safety) 2000 edition. This document came into force on 1 July this year and suggests that Fire Note 9 is a suitable alternative to meeting the provisions for the external surfaces of walls.

The Government should report progress on the Committee's recommendation in paragraph 22, further to paragraph 13 of the Government response.

On 12 April officials wrote to the Local Government Association, the Association of London Government and the Housing Corporation, asking them to draw the attention of local authorities and registered social landlords to the fourth recommendation of the House of Commons Environment Transport and Regional Affairs Committee and to the Government's 23 March response.

The DETR's guidance "Collecting, managing and analysing stock information", was not published in May as planned; it is now due to be published on 30 August.

On 17 July 2000, the DETR published details of the new Housing Health and Rating System and associated technical guidance. The Rating System is designed to replace the current Housing Fitness Standard and will apply to all existing dwellings. The System uses a risk assessment approach to assess health and safety risks including fire risks associated with external cladding. Legislation will be required to use the System for enforcement purposes. However, once this legislation is in place, it will be possible to take enforcement action against high risk properties which met the Building Regulations when constructed but do not now meet current Building Regulation standards.

The Government should report progress on the Committee's recommendation in paragraph 24, further to paragraph 17 of the Government response.

The Home Secretary remains committed to the rationalisation and simplification of fire safety legislation but, up to now, it has not been possible to secure parliamentary time for a Bill. The Home Office has now established the Fire Safety Advisory Board which met for the first time on 3 August. The Board has established a working group which is to develop detailed proposals for legislative reform and report back to the main Board in early November. The working group will give priority to examining whether, in advance of primary legislation, it would be possible to make use of planned legislation in the next session on regulatory reform to secure some of the desired improvements.

Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

2 October 2000


 
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