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European Union: Environmental Legislation

2.47 p.m.

Lord Nathan asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the Government's concern is to ensure that European legislation is invariably implemented on time and in full in each and every member state and that where appropriate the Commission chases and takes action against any laggards.

How the European Commission chooses to organise itself is a matter for the Commission. Her Majesty's Government have no reason to believe that any change in Directorate General XI is likely to lead to a lessening of effort on enforcement of EC environmental legislation.

Lord Nathan: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full reply. Are the Government aware that over the past 10 years substantial and effective action has been taken to implement and enforce environmental law in the United Kingdom, as well as in other member states, when the responsible unit was under the distinguished leadership of Dr. Ludwig Kramer, reporting directly to the Directorate General? Are the Government as anxious now as they have been hitherto--and I take it from the

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Minister's reply that they are--to see that the European Union environmental law is enforced, as it has been over past years?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, the proper enforcement of European law has always been one of the United Kingdom's priorities. That applies equally in the specific case of environmental law. The noble Lord referred to the changes in Directorate General XI which, as I have already mentioned, are internal matters for the European Commission. Our concern is to ensure that the Commission acts as it ought to and leaves its internal arrangements to itself.

We believe that while there are problems within the European Commission about political priorities in respect of environmental law, we do not believe that the particular matter to which the noble Lord referred is necessarily a cause of it.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware--no doubt he is--that the European Commission is so busy organising what goes on within member states that it has no time to organise itself?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I understand the thrust of the noble Lord's remarks, but I believe that if he compares his comments on this occasion with comments that he has made previously he will accept that the European Commission itself finds plenty of time to think up things which perhaps the noble Lord thinks are unnecessary in member states.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, my noble friend indicated that the power to do anything by way of implementation is in the hands of the commissioners. Is there any way that the British Government are able to convey to the British commissioners what is likely to be in the interests of this country, or do they act on their own individual responsibility as commissioners? Unless they have the sort of guidance that only a government can know it means that the point of view that ought to be of benefit to this country is not being used to the full.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I am sure my noble friend knows, when the commissioners take office they take an oath of impartiality. Having said that, in the exercise of their impartial discretion it is of course the case that the British Government keep in touch with the members of the Commission who are British citizens to ensure that the British interest is not overlooked.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, does the noble Lord consider that the proposed reorganisation mentioned in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, will improve the Commission's fairly lamentable record in publication of reports on how members of the Union are meeting EC/EU rules? For instance, the Commission is under a duty to publish regular assessments of member states' compliance with five directives on dangerous substances in water, dealing with mercury, cadmium, lindane, DDT, carbon tetrachloride; and something called penachlorophenol. Is the noble Lord aware that not one report has yet been

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published? What are Her Majesty's Government going to do to make sure that the Commission is less lax in its procedures?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not repeat in extenso the chemicals to which he referred. In the Commission's report to the Brussels summit in 1993 proposals were brought forward that the dangerous substances in water directive might be amended. We await events from the Commission in that regard.

As the noble Lord pointed out, and as I have already mentioned, there is a series of concerns about the political priority which the Commission has in respect of promoting and bringing forward environmental matters. That was identified in the report of the Institute for European Environmental Policy commissioned by this Government. I assure the noble Lord that at the forthcoming environment council this is one of the matters which the British Government will bring forward vigorously.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, will the Minister agree that we have one specific and particular interest in the efficient functioning of DGXI; namely, the supervision of the Mediterranean structural funds, which frequently are used to embark on large projects that do great environmental damage? Does the Minister further agree that in this respect we surely need a strong and effective DGXI? Will he please continue to work to ensure that the directorate is strong and forceful in this regard?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord knows and as, again, I mentioned earlier, it is one of the priorities of the Government that there is proper scrutiny of environmental legislation throughout the whole of the European Union and that it is not confined merely to the area that the noble Lord mentioned. He can rest assured that this is a matter that the Government take very seriously and on which they place priority.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that any implementation and enforcement of European Union environmental legislation is less likely to be affected by any reorganisation within the Commission than by the fact that many countries in the Communities give the responsibility for environmental legislation to the local level of government rather than to the national level of government? I place Germany, Spain and Holland in that category. Is my noble friend further aware that, for instance, in the execution of the two European water directives this country has so far spent more than £9,000 million--most of it, in my view, wasted--and we are unable to find out from the Commission what any other country in the Communities has spent or what they have done about them at all?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, the amount of money spent on the water directives is proof positive of the commitment that this Government have to the adherence to European Community law. So far as the matter of enforcement of European legislation in member states is concerned, as is the normal procedure in the matters of the European

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Community it is for each member state to determine what is the best way in which these decisions are taken and the enforcement procedures can be implemented. The important matter is that European Community law is not something that is o la carte. We cannot in the Community have legal no-go areas. What is of paramount importance is that there are proper enforcement procedures and that they are implemented universally.

Ocean Currents: Data

2.55 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are arranging to gather information about ocean currents and winds, which may assist shipping and fisheries, from the odyssey now being made by the fleet of floating toys accidentally spilled at sea in 1992.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, this odyssey may make for a good story, but I am afraid that it does not make for good science. I can assure my noble friend that we do not have to rely on plastic ducks for data. British oceanographers are among the best in the world, and there are already a number of proven ocean current computer models in this country. The World Ocean Circulation Experiment has its international headquarters here, and definitive data from that work will allow the models to be developed further.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. While plastic flotsam is not normally to be encouraged, is there not an opportunity to obtain useful information, already achieved by American scientists, as these durable coloured toys pass through the North Polar region and the Atlantic during the next five years? Does my noble friend agree that the traditional concern of the British public for the protection of birds is likely now to be extended to these yellow ducks as they perform this helpful service?

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