Select Committee on European Scrutiny Eleventh Report



TRAINING OF PROFESSIONAL DRIVERS

(22110)

6021/01

COM(01) 56

Draft Directive on the training of professional drivers for the carriage of goods or passengers by road.
Legal base: Article 71 EU; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 2 February 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 5 February 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 23 February 2001
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EM of 12 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

The document

4.1  This draft Directive proposes minimum initial driver training and periodic retraining requirements for lorry and bus drivers, in addition to the possession of a driving licence.

4.2  The training would cover driving development, driving regulations and health, safety, service and logistics. (Details are given in an Annex to the proposal.) Two lengths of initial training course are proposed — a minimum basic training course of 210 hours (or 6 weeks) and a full basic training course of 420 hours (or twelve weeks). The age of the driver and the categories of vehicles driven would determine the course to be undertaken.

4.3  The two proposed courses cover the same ground and are both divided into two parts: common training (relevant to all professional drivers and tested by an examination) and specific training (relevant to a particular transport sector and delivered by a company or an approved training centre).

4.4  Professional drivers who are already working when the Directive enters into force would not have to undergo this initial basic training. However, all would be required to undertake a minimum 35 hours retraining every 5 years. Completion of training, and retraining, would be recorded via codes on the driving licence.

The Government's view

4.5  The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) reminds us that the Government is committed to the introduction of compulsory training for lorry and bus drivers and to the accreditation of trainers authorised to deliver the courses. In relation to the draft Directive itself, he says:

"The Government welcomes measures that will improve road safety at a European level. It wishes to see the proposals in this draft Directive considered carefully, to maximise the contribution of compulsory training to improving safety, professionalism and the economic health of the road and passenger transport sectors. It also wants training requirements to be consistent with the changes to minimum European driving test requirements that have recently been adopted, and any changes to driving licence arrangements that the Commission may propose."

4.6  The Minister tells us that the draft Directive has been posted on a Commission website. In addition, the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) plans to issue a consultation paper to the relevant trade associations and other interested parties, to which a copy of the proposal will be attached. The Government hopes that this early consultation will not only allow all interested parties to contribute to UK policy formulation but will also allow them to make their views known, as social partners, through their European associations, to the Commission.

4.7  He further points out that there would be significant compliance costs for the road and passenger transport industries if the draft Directive were to be adopted as it stands. Training for a licence to drive large vehicles currently takes substantially less than the proposed 210 hours for the minimum basic training, and there is no expectation that drivers will undertake regular retraining. The DSA paper will include a draft Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA), which will itself be open to consultation.

4.8  Finally, the Minister comments that time-served training requirements are not in line with modern practice, and tells us that the Government will expect a competence-based approach.

Conclusion

4.9  We thank the Minister for his helpful Explanatory Memorandum on this new proposal. We endorse his wish for a competence-based approach to training, rather than the unnecessarily divisive time-served courses proposed, and ask to be kept informed about the outcome of negotiations on this issue.

4.10  We also ask to be informed of the results of the consultation exercise, and to see the Regulatory Impact Assessment which is produced as a result.

4.11  Meanwhile, we will keep the document under scrutiny.

SIXTH ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION PROGRAMME OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY

(22132)

5771/01

COM(01) 31

Commission Communication on the Sixth Environmental Action Programme of the European Community: Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice.

Draft Council Decision laying down the Community Environmental Action Programme 2001-2010.

Legal base: Article 175(3) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 24 January 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 26 January 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 23 February 2001
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EM of 7 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

Background

5.1  Over the last thirty years, the Community has adopted a series of environmental action programmes, the most recent of these (Towards Sustainability) representing its main response to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. This set objectives in five main areas, namely strategies for seven priority issues (climate change, acidification, biodiversity, water, urban environment, coastal zones and waste) and for the management of risks and accidents; target sectors into which environmental concerns should be integrated (industry, energy, transport, agriculture and tourism); broadening the range of instruments; information, transparency of approach and the development of shared responsibility; and the international dimension needed to reflect global issues and the Rio Conference. As such, it set a strategic framework for Community environmental policy until 2000. This latest document 'Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice' would establish the Sixth Environmental Action Programme covering the period 2001-2010, and is accompanied by a draft Council Decision which would give formal effect to such a programme.

The current document

5.2  The Commission says that the new programme should be seen in the context on the one hand of the increasing concern to preserve the environment, and on the other hand of the growing pressure on resources generated by continued economic and population growth. In particular, it says that, despite the progress made in many areas, such as reducing industrial emissions, a number of persistent problems remain. These include climate change, the loss of biodiversity and natural habitats, increasing waste volumes, the build-up of chemicals in the environment, noise, and certain air and water pollutants. Against this background, the Commission says that the aim of the new Programme is to identify the issues which have to be addressed if sustainable development is to be achieved, to establish the environmental objectives and targets which need to be met over the next ten years and beyond, and to set out the actions which need to be taken to achieve those objectives, both at Community level and on a local or sectoral basis. It seeks to do this by means of a limited number of "thematic" strategies in areas where a package of co-ordinated measures is needed, with priority being given to four main areas — climate change, biodiversity, environment and health, and the sustainable management of natural resources and wastes.

5.3  The programme would be subject to review in 2005, and revised as necessary to take account of new developments and information.

— (a) Thematic strategies

5.4  The programme proposes that the strategic action should concentrate on the following five priority areas:

— Application, enforcement and implementation of existing legislation

5.5  The Commission says that this is a priority, and that it will therefore continue to launch infringement procedures against offending Member States. However, it recognises that the legal process is slow, and points out that there are other ways of ensuring compliance with Community rules, such as greater transparency. The latter would include "positive" examples where implementation has been successful, so as to encourage progress by other Member States, and the provision of an implementation scoreboard to highlight those who are lagging in this area. It also believes that the ratification and implementation of the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information, together with exchanges of information on best practices, will contribute to better implementation, and it stresses the importance of legal sanctions to combat environmental crime.

— Integration of environmental concerns into other policies

5.6  The Commission points out that environmental policies as such can only go so far in meeting the Community's objectives, and that those objectives need to be integrated into other policy areas, such as agriculture, energy, transport, and the use of renewable resources and land. It also envisages the development of integration indicators in order to measure progress. These issues are dealt with at greater length in paragraphs 1.10-1.17 below.

— Use of market-based instruments

5.7  The Commission notes that the approach so far has largely revolved around setting standards and ensuring compliance with them, but it says that this has increasingly been supplemented at Member State level by market-based instruments which favour environmentally-friendly products, such as unleaded petrol. It suggests that these can be highly effective, particularly in the longer term, but it also suggests that pressure from industry has resulted in most taxes of this kind being accompanied by important exemptions. It therefore considers that a harmonised approach at Community level — as in its 1997 proposal to increase minimum tax rates on energy products, and to introduce taxes on those products currently exempt — is needed to overcome competitiveness concerns. The Commission also lays emphasis on the need to work in partnership with business through voluntary measures such as the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the LIFE Programme, and says that this process could be aided by a range of tools aimed at helping businesses, and particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to understand Community environmental requirements. In this connection, the Commission stresses the need, not just to penalise businesses which fail to meet the necessary standards, but also to provide incentives for those which exceed them. It also points out the importance of an integrated product policy approach to improve the performance of products throughout their life cycle, and of helping consumers to make informed choices by providing them with information on such aspects as a product's energy efficiency, whether it contains hazardous substances, the origins of the materials used to make it, and its recyclability. Finally, the Commission identifies areas which might contribute to the greening of the market as including public procurement practice, the removal of subsidies and state aids which have an (often unintended) environmentally harmful effect, the lending and investment activities of the financial sector, and the creation of a Community environmental liability regime, based on the polluter pays principle.

— Changing individual behaviour patterns

5.8  The Commission examines the scope for changing behaviour patterns by providing environmentally aware individuals with information, a process which it says should be aided by the Community and Member States having signed the Aarhus Convention.

— Land use planning and management

5.9  The Communication suggests that, in view of the complex inter-play of different forces and pressures, the role of land-use planning and management is crucial, as is the need to ensure that the environmental implications of infrastructure and planning are properly addressed.

— (b) Policy priorities

— Tackling climate change

5.10  The Commission draws attention to the latest assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the likely impact of greenhouse gas emissions on temperatures, sea levels and weather patterns, and the effect of these on such areas as agriculture and the incidence of disease. It then specifies a number of such steps, over and above the commitments entered into by the Community and the Member States at Kyoto, to reduce emissions of the principal greenhouse gases from their main sources, particularly in the transport sector. These include measures to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable raw materials, the integration of climate change objectives into the Community's sectoral policies, structural changes in the transport sector to promote a shift to railways, waterways and public transport and the use of alternative fuels and technologies, a reduction in emissions from aircraft, greater reliance on power generation using lower carbon dioxide emission sources, the enhancement of "carbon sinks" in agriculture and forestry, and the development of cross-sectoral approaches in such areas as emissions trading and energy taxation. These measures would be complemented by further research in areas such as innovative technologies and materials, and by improving information about the regional implications of climate change.

5.11  The Commission also draws attention to the fact that, even if emissions are brought down to sustainable levels, a certain degree of climate change will result from the build-up of greenhouse gases which has already occurred. It therefore says that measures are needed to adapt to such change, for example by creating transport systems and infrastructures capable of withstanding extreme weather, city planning which encourages more green spaces, land use and agricultural practices, and public health measures to combat diseases which may become more prevalent.

— Biodiversity

5.12  The Commission points to the impact of pollution on biodiversity, either directly as a result of specific incidents (such as oil spills), or over time in relation to areas such as acidity and eutrophication. Other pressures arise from the increasing development of land and consequent loss of open countryside, soil erosion caused by certain agricultural practices, the introduction of non-native species and the use of genetically modified organisms, the exploitation of the marine environment, and the impact of tourism. It suggests that the protection of biodiversity involves a multi-track approach, based on a number of existing policies and approaches. These include the Natura 2000 network (which identifies the most representative areas and eco-systems needing protection), the LIFE programme, the Community Bio-diversity Strategy, legislation protecting water quality and water resources, reducing air pollution, introducing environmental assessments of projects, the development within the Common Agricultural Policy of agri-environmental measures and of rural development plans with a strong environmental content, the greater integration of environmental concerns into the Common Fisheries Policy after its revision in 2002, and integrated coastal zone management.

5.13  In addition, it sees the way ahead as involving reinforced implementation, measures to deal with natural disasters and accidental risk, a greater degree of environmental concern in the use of land, the sustainable development of forests, soil protection, the protection of the marine environment, reinforcing controls over genetically modified organisms, and international action in which the Community's trade, development and aid policies continue to take up biodiversity issues.

— Environment and health

5.14  The Commission notes the relationship between the quality of the environment and levels of human health, particularly as regards allergies, respiratory disease, cancers, and disruptions to the body's hormone and fertility systems, but it also comments on the poor understanding of how small quantities of pollutants can interact with each other. It therefore considers that issues affecting health and the environment should be given renewed attention, not least in relation to vulnerable groups, such as the young and the elderly. It also emphasizes the need for a greater focus on prevention and precaution, and on finding substitutes for hazardous substances, where this is technically and economically feasible.

5.15  It suggests that Community policy over the coming years should in general aim in respect of each group of contaminants to identify the risks to health and set standards accordingly, adopting the precautionary approach where there is uncertainty. There is also a need to assess the routes by which such contaminants reach the body, to determine the most effective way to minimise exposure levels or bring them down to acceptable levels, and to feed the different environment-health priorities into specific policies. In this connection, the Commission stresses the important role of integrated pollution prevention and control, and the part to be played by the new European Pollution Emission Register in providing accessible and comparable information to the public, as envisaged by the Aarhus Convention.

5.16  The Communication also identifies a number of areas of particular concern. These include:

  • the very large number of man-made chemicals on which knowledge of the potential risks is currently limited, and the need to identify those requiring priority attention and risk assessment;

  • pesticides, where contamination of groundwaters (and hence of drinking water) is of especial concern, as is the level of residues on cereals, fruit and vegetables and other foodstuffs;
  • the need to maintain the significant improvements which have been made in water quality in the face of pollution by pesticides and nitrates, and of a level of extraction and consumption which threatens in some areas to become unsustainable;

  • air pollution, where there have been considerable improvements in emission levels from power stations, industrial plants and motor vehicles, but where problems persist in relation to particulate matter and ozone levels;

  • noise levels, where the Commission suggests that, rather than impose top-down noise reduction targets on Member States, action is needed to reduce noise at local level.

— Sustainable use of natural resources and waste management

5.17  The Commission highlights the ever-increasing pressure on non-renewable resources, and says that the Community lacks a coherent policy in this area. It therefore proposes that a thematic strategy should be developed so as to enable priorities to be set, and specific measures to be identified and implemented. It suggests that this might involve research into less resource-intensive products, a shift in tax burdens to encourage the uptake of resource-efficient technologies, and the removal of subsidies which encourage over-use of resources. In addition, it points to the need for better waste prevention and management, in the face of the increasing quantities produced by current consumption patterns. At present, Community policy is based on setting operating standards for facilities such as landfill and incinerators, and targeting specific waste streams with a view to recovery, recycling and hazard reduction.

5.18  In addition to the four policy areas dealt with above, the Communication addresses the Community's role in the wider world. It highlights the need for the measures taken within the existing Member States to be applied in due course to the new entrants, and for the Community (as a major consumer of the planet's renewable resources) to make its due contribution towards the solving of international problems by such means as integrating environmental considerations into its external policies, and strengthening international environmental governance.

The Government's view

5.19  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 7 March 2001, the Minister for the Environment (Mr Michael Meacher) says that this is a very far-reaching document, which sets out strategic approaches and issues of importance, without laying down specific binding targets in any area or prescribing the detail of any actions that will be necessary. It is, therefore, not easy to draw policy implications for the UK, and the Government will need to consider these as and when the Commission puts forward proposals to meet the objectives in the programme.

5.20  He says that the Government nevertheless welcomes the effort to adopt a more strategic focus, which he considers likely to result in a more coherent approach to policies which affect environmental protection. It will, however, be seeking to emphasize the main challenges over the next ten years, which it sees as being climate change and the need to achieve greater resource efficiency in order to de-couple adverse environmental effects from rising prosperity. The Minister adds that the Government endorses the call for improved implementation, which will ensure that objectives are achieved more consistently across the Community and result in a more level playing field for business. It also supports the commitment to improve the process of policy making, including objective-based regulation, evidence-based approaches, transparency and consultation, and it will aim to ensure that targets are supported by a degree of analysis "appropriate to their level of detail".

5.21  The Minister says that a Regulatory Impact Assessment is being prepared, and will be submitted as soon as it is completed, but that, as the programme does not spell out detailed provisions, the assessment will be "at a level of generality in keeping with the nature of the programme".

Conclusion

5.22  We note that the Government will be providing a Regulatory Impact Assessment, and, although the Minister says that this is likely to be in very general terms, we think it best to await that information before taking a view on this document. In the meantime, however, we would find it helpful if the Minister could say how far the priorities and goals in this Programme would simply represent an extension of the Fifth Programme, and what, if any, are the main differences between the two programmes.

INTEREST RATE SUBSIDIES

(22190)

6431/01

COM(01) 86

Commission Report concerning interest rate subsidies.
Legal base:
Document originated: 15 February 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 16 February 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 9 March 2001
Department: HM Treasury
Basis of consideration: EM of 28 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (21320) 9824/00: HC 23-xxvi (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (26 July 2000)
To be discussed in Council: No date known
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

Background

6.1  Interest rate subsidies are a form of aid which accompanies certain loans made from the EC Budget, from the European Development Fund (EDF) or by the European Investment Bank (EIB). In principle, interest rate subsidies improve profitability by reducing the cost of loan finance. In July 1999, the Court of Auditors published its Special Report 3/99 on the management and control of interest rate subsidies in the EU and criticised, amongst other things, the effectiveness of interest-rate subsidies, the lack of focussed objectives, and the lack of analysis into their attributable benefits. The Court also made recommendations to address the weaknesses. The Council subsequently asked the Commission to prepare "a comprehensive report on the general usefulness of interest rate subsidies in terms of cost and economic efficiency, in the light of all relevant factors" We reported on the Special Report on 26 July 2000, but left it uncleared pending publication of the review of interest rate subsidies by the Commission.

The document

6.2  This Commission report on interest rate subsidies is in two parts. Part one discusses the problems associated with interest rate subsidies and seeks to identify their positive and negative effects. It draws on past experience and sets out conclusions and recommendations. Part two comprises working papers which provide details of various programmes and discuss operational and theoretical issues in some depth. The report states that interest rate subsidies are used in pursuit of various political and economic objectives, such as tackling market failures and supporting job creation and regions experiencing natural disasters. The report also identifies a number of weaknesses of interest rate subsidies: they can distort markets, resulting in an inefficient allocation of resources; they can be difficult and costly to manage; transparency and control is not always ensured; and their impact is often unclear.

6.3  The main conclusion (set out in section 4) is that:

"it is not possible to state definitively that interest rate subsidies are an effective instrument; this depends not only on the nature of the objectives of a particular measure and the manner in which the subsidies are administered or utilised but also on the scope for exercising strict control and, lastly, on the distribution chain for the subsidies and the quality of intermediaries."

The report then identifies a number of strong and weak points.

The Government's view

6.4  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 28 March 2001, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Melanie Johnson) says:

"The report sets out a number of conditions that need to be met if interest rate subsidies are to be effective. These include competitive bidding between the intermediary banks which manage many of the subsidies, improved targeting of beneficiaries, clearer rules and controls and better monitoring and assessment.

"The report also says that encouragement should be given to the use of complementary or alternative instruments. This is in the context of changing economic conditions and the introduction of new instruments such as risk capital."

6.5  She adds:

"The conclusions would serve as guidelines to be taken into account whenever proposals are considered for future Community programmes involving interest rate subsidies. This should help to ensure that interest rate subsidies are used only when they can be properly justified and when satisfactory management and control arrangements are in place."

6.6  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 7 October 1999 on the Court of Auditors Special Report, the Minister seemed more critical of interest rate subsidies generally. She said:

"The criticisms of interest rate subsidies strengthen the Government's view that such subsidies are inappropriate except in exceptional circumstances. The Government would prefer a clearer distinction between grant aid and loans. Interest rate subsidies blur the distinction. They lack transparency and can contribute to market distortions. The Government is arguing against interest rate subsidies in the context of negotiations for a successor to the Lomé Convention."

6.7  The Minister informs us that the report is being considered by a Council Working Group which will make recommendations to ECOFIN in the form of draft conclusions on the report. She adds:

"The recommendations are expected to focus on the circumstances in which interest rate subsidies may be justified and the conditions that would need to be met in order to make them as effective as possible. The conclusions would serve as guidelines to be taken into account whenever proposals are considered for future Community programmes involving interest rate subsidies. This should help to ensure that interest rate subsidies are used only when they can be properly justified and when satisfactory management and control arrangements are in place".

Conclusion

6.8  The Commission report sets out some useful background information on the positive and negative effects of interest rate subsidies. We leave the document uncleared pending receipt of the recommendations of the Council Working Group to ECOFIN and the associated guidelines against which interest rate subsidies are to be assessed.

PROTECTION OF WORKERS RISKS ARISING FROM PHYSICAL AGENTS

(22228)

Presidency draft of a Council Directive on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to risks arising from physical agents.
Legal base: Article 137 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EM of 12 March 2001
Previous consideration: None; but see (14430) 5059/93 and (15504) 8392/94: HC 79-xxv (1992-93), paragraph 5 (21 April 1993); HC 48-xxvi (1993-94), paragraph 11 (19 October 1994) and HC 51-xi (1995-96), paragraph 6 (28 February 1996)
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

Background

7.1  Council Directive 89/931/EEC[5] provides a framework for the introduction of measures to improve the safety and health of workers at work by laying down the general principles to be followed. In February 1993, the Commission put forward a proposal[6] for a further, more specific Directive, which would have set out harmonised requirements for protection against physical agents (noise, vibration, optical radiation and non-ionising electro-magnetic radiation). Its justification was that all workers are entitled to a certain level of health protection, particularly when they move from one Member State to another, while their employers should be on an equal footing so as to avoid social "dumping" and distortions of competition. The requirements laid down would have included the assessment of worker exposure; programmes to reduce risk by technological or organisational means; provision of personal protective equipment; information and training for workers; health surveillance; and choice of work equipment and design of work places. A subsequent version of the proposal was produced in July 1994[7] following the Opinion of the European Parliament.

7.2  Our predecessors considered these proposals on a number of occasions, notably on 21 April 1993, when they noted the then Government's view that there was no need for further Community-level action, as existing Community legislation already imposed a duty on employers to assess risks to workers' health and safety, and to act upon any risks identified. The Government had also said that neither the Commission nor any Member State had produced evidence that the Community needed to legislate, and that any discrepancies between national legislation were in themselves neither a justification for action nor particularly significant in distorting competition. It had further noted that the proposal would impose "significant" costs on industry. In the light of this information, the previous Committee took the view that the proposals raised questions of political importance, but, when it last considered them on 28 February 1996,[8] it made no recommendation for their further consideration at that stage, having regard to the inconclusive state of the negotiations in the Council, and the Government's advice that early progress was not expected.

7.3  We subsequently received an Explanatory Memorandum on 19 January 1999 saying that the German Presidency had put forward an amended draft,[9] restricting the scope of the proposal to protection against vibration, whilst leaving scope for other physical agents to be brought within the same framework by further similar Directives. The Swedish Presidency has now produced the draft text of such a directive, which would deal with noise.

The current document

7.4  This document would replace the existing Council Directive (86/188/EEC)[10] which protects workers from the risks associated with exposure to noise at work, and which requires various actions to be taken according to the degree of average daily exposure. Thus, where exposure exceeds 85 dB, workers must receive adequate information and training as regards the risks involved and the protective measures available under the Directive and national legislation, and ear protectors must be made available. Where such exposure exceeds 90 dB, ear protectors must be worn and the areas in question both clearly signed and subject to restricted access. In the latter case, the reasons for the excess level must be identified, and measures taken to reduce it as far as possible.

7.5  The main effect of the Presidency text would be to reduce the level of exposure at which these measures have to be taken. As a result, the obligation to inform and train workers would now arise when the average exposure exceeds 80 dB, as would the provision of ear protectors, whilst the threshold above which it would be necessary to wear ear protectors, to delimit and clearly mark high noise areas, and to establish a programme of noise control measures, would be reduced from 90 to 85 dB. In addition, there would be a new requirement under which workers exposed to noise above 80 dB would have to be included in routine health surveillance programmes.

The Government's view

7.6  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 12 March 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) says that the UK continues to oppose the 1994 Commission proposal, and supports the decision to deal with the various aspects of it separately, rather than in a single Directive.

7.7  As regards the substance of the Presidency draft, he says that the link between noise exposure and hearing damage is well established, and that, in addition to the 1.3 million people in the UK exposed to noise levels above the proposed 85 dB level, there are an estimated 170,000 people who suffer from deafness, tinnitus, or other ear conditions as a result of excessive noise at work. He also points out that these estimates do not take account of the effect of wearing ear protectors, and that actual exposures may be less. He adds that hearing damage is a long latent condition, with many cases of ill-health being the result of exposures experienced over many years, and that, because of this, it is not yet possible fully to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing legislation. However, he says that there is good evidence of a hazard down to 85dB (and a residual risk down to 82 dB), but that the magnitude of the hazard diminishes rapidly below 90 dB. On that basis, he suggests that the existing Directive should over time lead to significant reductions in noise-induced hearing damage, though compliance with it would not totally eliminate risk.

7.8  Against this background, the Minister says that the UK broadly takes the view that priority should be given to encouraging better compliance with existing standards and legislation, which add up to a substantial package of measures, rather than seeking to tighten those standards. Thus, although the UK welcomes aspects of the proposal, and in particular the new requirement for health surveillance, it does not regard the proposal as a whole as proportionate. It will therefore be seeking to reduce the costs of the measure to industry by increasing the proposed limits towards those in the 1986 Directive with an appropriate transition period. It also believes that any changes should be made by amending the earlier Directive rather than through a new measure.

7.9  The Minister has supported this view by providing with his Explanatory Memorandum a detailed Regulatory Impact Assessment, in which various assumptions are made about the extent to which workers use ear protectors, the periods over which they are exposed to different noise levels, and the extent to which hearing losses are saved by reducing noise at source. However, overall the Assessment puts the first year costs at between £197 and 302 million, with a 10-year (present value) cost of between £844 and 1,090 million, and a 40-year (present value) cost of between £1,888 and 2,888 million. In the latter two cases, the benefits (in present value terms) are estimated to be £20 to 306 million, and around £800 million, respectively.

Conclusion

7.10  As with the earlier proposal on vibration, we have noted the apparently large difference between the possible costs of this measure and its potential benefits. We have also noted that, although the Government welcomes some aspects of the proposed text, it regards the measure overall as not being proportionate. It will, of course, be for the Government to take a view on where the balance should be struck between the costs and benefits, but we would like to be kept informed of any significant developments that may arise during discussion in the Council. In the meantime we leave the document uncleared.

ACCELERATED ACTION ON HIV/AIDS, MALARIA AND TB

(22234)

6802/01

COM(01) 96

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Programme for Action: Accelerated action on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in the context of poverty reduction.
Legal base:
Document originated: 21 February 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 23 February 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 22 March 2001
Department: International Development
Basis of consideration: EM of 28 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: May 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

Background

8.1  In September 2000, the Commission issued a Communication, Accelerated action targeted at major communicable diseases within the context of poverty reduction.[11] Its analysis was described by the Secretary of State for International Development (the Rt. Hon. Clare Short), in her Explanatory Memorandum of 19 October 2000, as sound and consistent with DFID's own policies. It put tackling the major communicable diseases in the context of a broader poverty reduction strategy. The Communication was produced in an unprecedented collaboration between four directorates: Development and Humanitarian Aid; Trade, Market and Enterprise; Research and Development; and Health and Consumer Protection. This ensured that the policy framework was Commission-wide.

The Commission Communication

8.2  The Commission says that the present Communication is the product of collaboration between the same four Directorates. It describes its approach as combining a coherent and unique mix of development, trade and research policy, which draws on all the available expertise within the Commission. The Programme of Action which it puts forward is designed to establish "a broad and coherent Community response, over the period 2001-2006, to the global emergency caused by the three major communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which most affect the poorest populations and which undermine global health". It intends to focus on three areas of activity:

  • optimising the impact of existing health, AIDS and population interventions, services and commodities;

  • increasing the affordability of key pharmaceuticals; and

  •  increasing investment in research and development.

8.3  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 28 March 2001, the Minister summarises the Communication's coverage of these three areas as follows:

"optimising the impact of health, AIDS and population interventions targeted at major communicable diseases, in the context of poverty reduction

"The Commission's current reform programme will improve disbursement and management of financial assistance and its spend at country level. It will support countries to scale up effective innovations and improve coverage for disease care and prevention programmes for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, within the framework provided by poverty reduction strategies. Capacity building and financial support will be provided to strengthen pharmaceutical policy and rational drug use, including pricing, procurement and prescribing systems. The EC will also assist countries to develop domestic production capacity, especially for generic off-patent drugs, and work with international generic and research-based industry to enter into joint ventures with developing country partners.

"Increased affordability of key pharmaceuticals

"A key commitment is to contribute to the establishment of a global tiered pricing system for key pharmaceuticals for developing countries, in consultation with the pharmaceutical industry and country authorities. The Commission is emphasising the need for international agreement to prevent product diversion and maintain prices in developed countries. Additionally, the EC will provide technical assistance to WTO members to introduce TRIPs[12] compliant legislation, in order to protect intellectual property, and recognises the importance of the flexibilities within TRIPs for developing countries. The EC will also work with developing country partners to review and reform the tax and tariff systems that often increase drug prices in developing countries.

"Increasing research and development of specific global public goods

"The Commission will build on current investments under the Framework Programme to support and accelerate the clinical development of new interventions such as vaccines. Programme initiatives will include supporting the co-ordination and expansion of research in Europe and internationally, and capacity building for research in developing countries. It will also develop an incentive package to encourage private sector investment, in consultation with Member States, including with the UK's PIU (Global Health Study)."

Participation in global partnerships

8.4  The Commission says that the EC will also continue to participate actively in the G8 working group which is examining how best to organise increased spending and targetting of global resources towards the three key diseases. It also intends to strengthen its partnerships with UN organisations, in particular the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS.

The Government's view

8.5  The Minister says that the Government welcomes the development of this Programme of Action. She comments:

"The policy framework sets out strategies for tackling the communicable diseases of poverty that accord with DFID's own policies in these areas, with G8 commitments, and with the broader international commitment to poverty reduction. However, given the wide range of proposed activities the Commission will need to focus and prioritise its work. The Programme's focus on initiatives related to pharmaceuticals, means that the health systems strengthening required in order to deliver these drugs is not emphasised sufficiently.

"We are actively encouraging the Commission to work with global partners on, and contribute to, any international fund for improving access to drugs and other essential health commodities. The Government supports the EC's approach to TRIPs. We agree with the need for minimal standards for intellectual property protection, and also for the flexibilities within TRIPs, which help developing countries develop appropriate IPR[13] regimes. We also broadly support the commitment to developing a tiered pricing system, with the prevention of parallel re-importation. We fully support the ongoing reform of the Commission's development assistance instruments, and stress that improvement in disbursement and management procedures is an urgent priority".

Consultation

8.6  The Minister says that DFID has been participating in DG Trade's 133 Committee (Trade and Health Experts) discussions, together with representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Health and the Patent Office.

8.7  In developing the Programme for Action, the Commission says that it took into account a Council Resolution of 10 November 2000 and the outcome of the international High-Level Round Table[14] convened in Brussels on 28 September 2000.

Timetable

8.8  The Minister expects the Action Plan to be adopted at the May Development Council.

Conclusion

8.9  This is an ambitious programme which certainly demonstrates a will on the part of the Commission to make a substantial contribution to resolving major problems that, apart from their immediate social effects, threaten seriously to undermine the global development effort to assist poorer countries. We have several concerns on which we invite comments from the Secretary of State.

8.10  In its report on HIV/AIDS: the impact on social and economic development, published on 29 March,[15] the International Development Committee draws attention to the very few expert staff in Brussels and the lack of effective implementation in the countries concerned. It recommends an increase in staff. The Programme for Action envisages reinforcing and training the staff of the Commission's delegations overseas but does not appear to involve reinforcing its staff in Brussels. The Secretary of State suggests that the Commission will need to focus and prioritise its work if it is to ensure effective implementation. We expect that she will advocate this at the Development Council and we ask her whether the United Kingdom is supported by other Member States and:

  • what action can be taken to ensure that the Commission devotes sufficient resources to the Programme; and

  • on which activities the Government believes that the European Community should focus.

8.11  The Programme envisages an increase by the end of 2001 of 50% in the Health, AIDS and Population (HAP) disbursement portfolio. It also envisages prioritising support within this portfolio for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The objectives of the health and population programmes are generally designed to provide long-term benefits and we question whether such a sudden increase of funds and re-ordering of priorities can be effectively undertaken in such a short time, without risking disruption to work on these areas. The International Development Committee's report highlights the link between the spread of HIV/AIDS and poverty. The Development Co-operation 2000 report of the OECD Development Assistance Committee identified a link between population increases in poorer countries and their static economies, which performed less well than those of developing countries with successful population programmes.

8.12  The Commission says that the European Community will assist developing countries to develop high-quality, local production of key pharmaceuticals, many of which are off-patent and could be produced immediately. This is a laudable objective, but we note that the Minister comments that if drugs are to be delivered efficiently, health systems in the developing countries must be strengthened. The International Development Committee's report points to the loss of staff through AIDS in the health sectors of some of the poorest countries. We ask the Minister what practical steps she suggests should be taken to strengthen these systems. Meanwhile, we do not clear the document.


5   OJ No. L 183, 29.6.89, p.1. Back

6   (14430) 5059/93; see HC 79-xxv (1992-93), paragraph 5 (21 April 1993). Back

7   (15504) 8392/94; see HC 48-xxvi (1993-94), paragraph 11 (19 October 1994). Back

8  See HC 51-xi (1995-96), paragraph 6 (28 February 1996). Back

9   (19934) - ; see HC 34-xiii (1998-99), paragraph 7 (17 March 1999), HC 34-xviii (1998-99), paragraph 5 (5 May 1999), HC 23-xxx (1999-2000), paragraph 10 (22 November 2000) and HC 28-i (2000-01), paragraph 7 (13 December 2000). Back

10  OJ No. L 137, 24.5.86, p.28. Back

11  (21661) 11901/00; see HC 23-xxviii (1999-2000), paragraph 29 (1 November 2000). Back

12  Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property rights. Back

13  Intellectual Property Rights. Back

14  The Round Table was convened by the EC, in partnership with WHO and UNAIDS and brought together over 170 stakeholders. These included 25 developing countries, notably ACP states, EU Member States, the European Parliament, international development agencies, civil society researchers and leaders of major pharmaceutical companies. Back

15  Third Report from the International Development Committee, HC 354-I (2000-01), paragraph 245. Back


 
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