House of Commons - Minutes of Proceedings
Minutes of Proceedings The European Scrutiny Committee



 

WEDNESDAY 13 December 2000

Members present:

Mr Colin Breed
Mr Roger Casale
Ms Jennifer Jones
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Jim Marshall
Mr Bill Rammell
Mr Laurence Robertson
Mr Anthony Steen

In the absence of the Chairman, Mr Jim Marshall was called to the Chair.

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 18 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the First Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 20 December at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 20 December 2000

[The Committee met concurrently with the Agriculture and
International Development Committees]

Members present:

Mr Ben BradshawMr Jimmy Hood
Mr Colin BreedMs Jenny Jones
Mr Roger CasaleMiss Anne McIntosh
Mr Jim DobbinMr Laurence Robertson
Mr Patrick Hall

The following members of the Agriculture Committee were also present, pursuant to paragraph (4)(e) of S.O. No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments):

Mr David BorrowMr David Drew
Mr David CurryMr Michael Jack
Mr Mark Tod

The following members of the International Development Committee were also present, pursuant to paragraph (4)(e) of S.O. No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments):

Mr Tony ColmanMr Bowen Wells
Barbara FollettMr Tony Worthington

Mr Jimmy Hood was called to the Chair.

The Committees deliberated.

Market access for least-developed countries and the sugar regime: the Rt Hon Richard Caborn, a Member of the House, Minister for Trade, Department of Trade and Industry, Mr David Walmsley, Trade Policy Division, Department of Trade and Industry, Mr Richard Carden, Director General of Trade Policy, Department of Trade and Industry; and the Rt Hon Joyce Quin, a Member of the House, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Henry Brown, New Crops and Sugar Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Ms Christine Baxter, Sugar Branch, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, were examined.

Ordered, That the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee, together with Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, be reported to the House. — (The Chairman.)

[Adjourned till Wednesday 10 January 2001 at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 10 January 2001

Members present:

Mr Roger Casale
Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Ms Jennifer Jones
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Jim Marshall
Mr Laurence Robertson
Mr Anthony Steen

In the absence of the Chairman, Mr Jim Marshall was called to the Chair.

The Committee deliberated.

The 2000 Inter-Governmental Conference: Mr Keith Vaz MP, Minister of State for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Mr James Bevan, Head of European Union Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, were examined.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 8.12 read and agreed to.

Preamble to paragraph 9 read as follows:

FISHING IN GREENLAND WATERS


(a)
(21873)


Draft Council Regulation on the conclusion of the Protocol setting out the fishing rights provided for in the Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Government of Denmark and the Home Rule Government of Greenland on the fishing activities in Greenland waters for the period 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2006.
(b)
(21875)


Draft Council Decision on the conclusion of an Agreement concerning the provisional application of the Fourth Protocol laying down the conditions relating to fishing provided for in the Agreement on fisheries between the European Economic Community on the one hand and the Government of Denmark and the local government of Greenland on the other.

 

Legal base: Articles 37, 300(2) and (3) EC; consultation (Regulation only); qualified majority voting
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: EM of 11 December 2000
Previous consideration: None
To be discussed in Council: Following receipt of European Parliament opinion
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but relevant to any debate on fisheries

Question put, That the preamble to paragraph 9 stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided

Ayes 4Noes 2

Mr CasaleMr Cash
Mr ConnartyMr Steen
Mr Dobbin
Ms Jones
Paragraphs 9.1 to 10 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Second Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 17 January at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 17 January 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr Colin Breed
Mr William Cash
Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Patrick Hall
Ms Jennifer Jones
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Jim Marshall
Mr Laurence Robertson

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 16 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Third Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 24 January at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 24 January 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr Colin Breed
Mr Roger Casale
Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Patrick Hall
Mr Jim Marshall
Mr Bill Rammell

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 14 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Fourth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 7 February at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 7 February 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Mark Hendrick
Mr Jim Marshall

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 20 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Fifth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

Resolved, That the Committee do visit Brussels from 25 to 27 March 2001.— (The Chairman).

[Adjourned till Wednesday 14 February at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 14 February 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr Roger Casale
Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Mark Hendrick
Ms Jennifer Jones
Mr Jim Marshall
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Bill Rammell
Mr Laurence Robertson
Mr Anthony Steen

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 16 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Sixth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do visit Brussels on 20 March to attend the meeting of the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in a representative capacity.— (The Chairman).

[Adjourned till Wednesday 28 February at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 28 February 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr William Cash
Mr Mark Hendrick
Ms Jennifer Jones
Mr Bill Rammell
Mr Laurence Robertson

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 21 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Seventh Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do visit Belfast on 16 March to attend the second meeting of Chairmen of European Committees in the UK in a representative capacity.— (The Chairman).

[Adjourned till Wednesday 7 March at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 14 March 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr Colin Breed
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Ms Jennifer Jones
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Bill Rammell

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 30 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Eighth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 21 March at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 21 March 2001

Members present:

Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Mark Hendrick
Ms Jennifer Jones
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Laurence Robertson
Mr Anthony Steen

In the absence of the Chairman, Mr Jim Dobbin was called to the Chair.

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 14 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Ninth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 28 March at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 28 March 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr Colin Breed
Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Mark Hendrick
Mr Jim Marshall
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Bill Rammell
Mr Laurence Robertson
Mr Anthony Steen

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 16 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Tenth Report of the Committee to the House.
Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do visit Stockholm on 9 April to attend the meeting of the COSAC Working Group in a representative capacity.— (The Chairman).

[Adjourned till Wednesday 4 April at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 4 April 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr Ben Bradshaw
Mr Roger Casale
Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Mark Hendrick
Mr Jim Marshall
Miss Anne McIntosh

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 14 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Eleventh Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do visit Berlin on 2 and 3 May to attend the WEU Colloquy on European security and defence in a representative capacity.— (The Chairman).

[Adjourned till Wednesday 25 April at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 25 April 2001

Members present:

Mr Jimmy Hood, in the Chair

Mr Roger Casale
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Jim Dobbin
Mr Mark Hendrick
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Jim Marshall

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 11 read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Twelfth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 2 May at Four o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 2 May 2001

Members present:

Mr Colin Breed
Mr William Cash
Mr Michael Connarty
Mr Patrick Hall
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Anthony Steen

In the absence of the Chairman, Mr Michael Connarty was called to the Chair.

The Committee deliberated.

Draft Report, proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1.1 to 4.11 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 5 read as follows:

PUBLIC ACCESS TO ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION

(a)
(21458)

10003/00

COM(00) 400

Commission Report on the experience gained in the application of Council Directive 90/313/EEC on the freedom of access to information on the environment.

(b)
(21459)

10004/00

COM(00) 402


Draft Directive on public access to environmental information.


Legal base: (a) None

(b) Article 175(1) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting

Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: SEM of 26 April 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 23-xxvii (1999-2000), paragraph 9 (25 October 2000)
To be discussed in Council: 7-8 June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared

Background

5.1      The Community provisions currently governing freedom of access to information on the environment are set out in Council Directive 90/313/EEC 1. This requires Member States to ensure that public authorities make available information requested relating to the environment (for which a reasonable charge may be made). Member States may, however, provide for a request to be refused where it would affect such areas as the confidentiality of public proceedings, public security, commercial confidentiality, personal data, and matters which are sub judice. A request may also be refused where it would involve the supply of unfinished documents, or is formulated unreasonably or in too general a manner. The reasons for a refusal must, however, be given, and may be subject to a judicial or administrative review. Finally, Member States themselves have an obligation to provide general information to the public on the state of the environment by such means as periodic reports.


    1   OJ No. L 158, 23.6.90, p.56.

5.2      As required under the Directive, the Commission reported in June 2000 (document (a)) on the way in which it had operated to date. This Report was accompanied by document (b), which proposed a number of changes to the Directive in the light of that experience, and of the subsequent signing by the Community and the Member States in 1998 of the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention).

5.3      In its report, the Commission identified the main problems as having been too restrictive an interpretation of what constitutes information relating to the environment; uncertainty over the definitions of public authority, and of bodies with public responsibilities for the environment; a refusal to provide information, even though it is not covered by one of the permitted exceptions; slowness in responding to requests, or failure to do so at all; and the levying of unreasonable charges.

5.4      The Commission also discussed the terms of the Aarhus Convention, which it regards as a "clear advance"on the provisions of the Directive. It saw the main improvements as being:

  • an extended definition of "environmental information" and of "public authorities";

  • more detailed provisions regarding the form in which information is to be made available;

  • a shorter deadline for responding to requests, and a requirement for any response to be substantive rather than simply an acknowledgement;

  • a more restrictive interpretation of the permitted exceptions, with the public interest being weighed as between disclosure and non-disclosure;

  • a strengthening of the obligation on national authorities to give reasons for refusing a request;

  • additional duties on national authorities to disseminate information beyond the obligation to respond to requests; and

  • improved procedures for reviewing the actions or omissions of public authorities.

5.5      These considerations were reflected in the Commission's proposal for amending Directive 90/313/EEC, which it described as a "timely opportunity" to align Community law with the relevant provisions of the Convention, and as a means of reflecting the use of the latest technology in disseminating environmental information.

5.6      In his Explanatory Memorandum of 6 October 2000, the Minister for the Environment (the Rt Hon Mr Meacher) said that the UK strongly supported the objectives of the Aarhus Convention, and was committed to ratifying it as soon as possible. However, he added that there were a number of implications arising from the specific way in which the Commission was seeking to give effect to those objectives. In general terms, the proposal went beyond the Convention; it removed the option of complying with the Convention administratively, thereby limiting Member States' flexibility; and limited Member States' discretion by omitting some important provisos. More specifically, he pointed out that:

  • the definition of "public authorities" suggested by the Commission extended the scope for the first time to private sector firms, notably those supplying services, such as gas, water and electricity, still provided by the public sector in many Member States (or indeed to others firms which might affect the environment, such as airlines, freight hauliers, and the construction industry);

  • an obligation on public authorities to make available environmental information by electronic means would extend to archive material; and

  • whereas the Aarhus Convention expressly allows charging in advance (in line with common UK practice), the Directive would prevent this.

5.7      The Minister also pointed out that, although the Aarhus Convention was not expected to give rise to significant additional costs, the Commission's proposal could involve financial impacts which it had not properly addressed. He therefore submitted with his Explanatory Memorandum a partial Regulatory Impact Assessment, which suggested that the new Directive was very unlikely to apply to small businesses, but that larger undertakings such as the privatised utilities could be affected. At this stage, however, the main additional costs identified were likely to fall on public authorities as a result of the new provisions on charging, and a requirement to disseminate information electronically. For example, the first of these could cost the Environment Agency 1 million a year, whilst the Agency's costs from the second could be as high as 49 million by way of preparation, and 600,000 a year thereafter. Comparable costs for the Planning Inspectorate are put at 40,000 a year and 100,000 respectively.

5.8      In the conclusion to our Report of 25 October 2000, we commented that the concept of wider measures in support of freedom of environmental information had already been established by virtue of the present Directive and the Aarhus Convention, and that, to the extent that this proposal sought to address some of the shortcomings in the former and to take on board the main elements in the latter, it was to be welcomed. However, we also noted that there were clearly some outstanding points requiring clarification, and we therefore said that we would await with interest any further information which the Minister could provide, together with the full Regulatory Impact Assessment he had promised following the Government's consultation exercise, before considering these two documents further.

Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 26 April 2001

5.9      In his Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 26 April 2001, the Minister says that, as a result of discussions in Brussels, two of the UK's main concerns have been addressed. First, the definition of "public authority" has been brought into line with that in the Aarhus Convention, whilst the text shown before the Council both enables charges to be made in advance of the supply of information and modifies the potentially expensive obligation to extend the electronic dissemination of information to archive material (so as to apply it only where such material is already in that format).

5.10   The Minister has also enclosed with his Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum a further Regulatory Impact Assessment. This is based on the information which has become available from the Government's public consultation exercise on the proposal. The Minister says that the amount of such information is limited, but that it seems clear that only the Commission's original proposal — as opposed to the amended text now before the Council — would create significant new burdens.

Conclusion

5.11   We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, and are now clearing these two documents.

Question put, That the Preamble to paragraph 5 stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes 2Noes 3
Mr BreedMr Cash
Mr HallMiss McIntosh
Mr Steen
Preamble disagreed to.

Paragraphs 5.1 to 5.11 disagreed to.

Paragraphs 6.1 to 20 (now paragraphs 5.1 to 19) read and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Thirteenth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.

[Adjourned to a day and time to be fixed by the Chairman.


 
 
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Prepared: 21 May 2001