Select Committee on European Communities Report


4.  PROPOSAL FOR A COUNCIL DIRECTIVE RELATING TO THE QUALITY OF PETROL AND DIESEL FUELS AND AMENDING COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 93/12/EEC (8827/97)

AMENDED PROPOSAL FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND COUNCIL DIRECTIVE RELATING TO MEASURES TO BE TAKEN AGAINST AIR POLLUTION BY EMISSIONS FROM MOTOR VEHICLES AND AMENDING COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 70/220/EEC (8939/97)

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee to The Baroness Hayman, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  The above proposals, sifted to Sub-Committee B, were considered at their meeting this morning. The Sub-Committee had previously considered the proposals in the summer of 1997 after political agreement was reached at the June Environment Council. We are grateful for the Explanatory Memoranda (EM) and Compliance Cost Assessments (CCA) which we have subsequently received and are writing about two issues raised in these documents.

  First, the issue of the two-stage proposal for the reduction of emissions from passenger cars, the second stage of which would be effective from 2005. You state in paragraph 4 of the CCA that "at the present time vehicle manufacturers feel there is no proven vehicle technology capable of meeting the emissions limits proposed for 2005". While the Committee notes that this second-stage reduction is the subject of a Commission review, we would nonetheless welcome clarification on this issue. The Committee note that the emissions proposals apply to passenger vehicles with less than seven seats and would like to ask the Government whether the proposals would apply to seven- to nine-seater vehicles since the Bus Construction Directive (9734/97) applies to passenger vehicles "comprising more than eight seats in addition to the drivers seat".

  Secondly, the Committee remain unsatisfied with the proposal to ban leaded petrol. The Government's CCA states that most new cars have had to be capable of running on unleaded petrol since 1 April 1991 and that some older vehicles, which are not classic cars, could suffer increased engine wear as a result of the removal of leaded petrol from the market. Your CCA states that "the cost implications of the removal of this product are, in general, not expected to be substantial". You go on to explain that experience from Sweden and the United States shows that most purchasers can switch to fuels which contain lead replacement additives.

  The Committee is concerned that fuels containing lead replacement additives are only expected to be available before the ban takes place. Unless such replacement fuels are widely available before the ban is imposed, the Committee continues to be greatly concerned that the cost implications for many motorists would be large, to the extent that their vehicles would become redundant. The Committee would also appreciate an explanation of plans to allow the sale of leaded petrol through amateur classic car clubs after the general ban is imposed, as we are concerned that this proposal is both impractical and unsafe.

  Furthermore, the Committee notes that a change to the proposal (Annex 1, paragraph 2) would allow an extension until 1 January 2005 for the sale of leaded petrol if Member States "can demonstrate that a ban would result in severe socio-economic difficulties". The deadline for application for an extension appears to have been brought forward to 1 August 1998. The Committee would like to know whether the Government will be applying for such an extension given the issues raised above.

  Given the Committee's continuing concerns over these proposals, this letter maintains the scrutiny reserve.

5 February 1998

Letter from The Baroness Hayman, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 5 February 1998 regarding the Explanatory Memoranda (EM) and Compliance Cost Assessments (CCA) for the above proposals. I am grateful for the opportunity to provide further guidance to the committee on these matters.

  Taking your points in the same order. The two stage approach proposed by the Commission was designed to establish mandatory emission limit values for 2000 and to provide vehicle manufacturers with an early indication of the standards that, for air quality reasons, are likely to be needed for 2005. The limit values which have been proposed are based upon the collaborative "Auto-Oil I" research programme but as this work was completed during 1996 the final report was not able to predict accurately either the costs or the capabilities of emerging new technology that will be needed for 2005. In acknowledging these uncertainties, the Environment Council endorsed the proposal by the Commission for "indicative" standards which would be the subject of a further review.

  The Commission will come forward with proposals by mid-1999 either confirming or modifying the indicative limits for 2005 on the basis of state-of-the-art knowledge in the development of this new technology, the likely costs and the air quality need.

  On your point concerning the number of seats, emission standards for passenger vehicles with more than 7 seats and small goods vehicles are the subject of a related, but separate proposal (ref: 6221/97). For heavy vehicles fitted with diesel engines then a further directive applies (currently 91/542/EEC). This directive is also to be amended under the "Auto-Oil" process but has been delayed by the Commission. Nevertheless, the proposal is expected to be published within the next few weeks whereupon a further EM will be submitted.

  On the leaded petrol issue, I understand the Committee's general concerns but I am pleased to report that preliminary views from the oil industry indicate that they will be ready to respond positively to market pressure and provide alternative products at filling stations once consumer demand exists.

  As I mentioned in the CCA, the Government managed to negotiate the 0.5 per cent leaded fuel allowance for classic cars for supply through specialist interest groups. This concession was hard fought in the Council meeting but has yet to clear the European Parliament stage; and until such time as it is fully agreed we have refrained from pursuing detailed plans for implementation. Nevertheless, officials have begun preliminary discussions with the classic car clubs and with the fuel suppliers and retailers upon how this might work. Once the directive is finalised then we shall start to take the matter forward.

  Your final point concerns the derogation from the leaded petrol restrictions contained in Article 3(3) of the political agreement on the grounds of severe socio-economic difficulties. As yet we have not taken a definitive position on the clause for much the same reasons as set out above but once the directive is finalised then we shall consider the matter more formally. I am, nevertheless, mindful of the point you make regarding the date for submission of applications for the derogation and we shall be careful not to disadvantage ourselves in this respect.

20 February 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to The Baroness Hayman, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter of 20 February on the above proposals, which was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting on Thursday, 5 March.

  In your letter you sought to clarify several issues of concern to the Committee. The first was the second stage of the two-stage proposal for the reduction of emissions from passenger cars. While the Committee notes that the 2005 limits are "indicative" and subject to further review, it remains concerned that you did not deal with the specific point raised in my letter of 5 February, taken directly from your Compliance Cost Assessment, which stated that "at the present time vehicle manufacturers feel there is no proven vehicle technology capable of meeting the emissions limits proposed for 2005".

  The second issue of concern to the Committee was the proposal to ban leaded petrol. In paragraph 5 of your letter you state that "preliminary views from the oil industry indicate that they will be ready to respond positively to market pressure and provide alternative products at filling stations once consumer demand exists". This reply does not deal with the Committee's concern that the future production of alternative fuels remain uncertain while the existing demand for alternative products seems manifestly clear. We are concerned that the Government can give no assurance that such an alternative fuel will be available.

  As stated in my letter of 5 February, your Compliance Cost Assessment states that "the cost implications of the removal of this product [leaded petrol] are in general, not expected to be substantial". The Committee would like to know to whom that statement applies.

  In an article in European Report of 18 February 1998 it is stated that, excluding Finland, over half (57.84 per cent) of "the vehicle pool in the European Union" at the end of 1996 were built before 1991. We are concerned that, to those people who own and drive such cars (ie those manufactured before 1991 which are not designed to run on unleaded petrol), the cost will be high. Unless alternative fuel which does no more damage to the engines of cars than leaded petrol is available, and is not just expected to be available, the proposal will effectively ban more than half of the European Union vehicle pool from use.

  The third issue was the proposal for the sale of leaded petrol for classic cars through specialist interest groups. While the Committee notes the concession won by the government for the 0.5 per cent leaded fuel allowance, we remain concerned that the proposals are both unsafe and impractical.

  The Committee would therefore appreciate more detailed clarification and answers to the specific questions raised in this letter and my letter of 5 February on these three issues. Furthermore, in the light of this unsatisfactory response, we will be seeking some written evidence on this proposal. In the meantime, this letter maintains the scrutiny reserve.

9 March 1998

Letter from The Baroness Hayman, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 9 March on the above proposals.

  The Committee firstly asked for further clarification concerning the statement made in the Department's Compliance Cost Assessment in respect of the proposal for the reduction of emissions from passenger cars which indicated that "at the present time vehicle manufacturers feel there is no proven vehicle technology capable of meeting the emissions limits proposed for 2005".

  This view was originally expressed by manufacturers that were participating in the "Auto-Oil" study, but who were unwilling to supply the Commission with cost estimates for meeting the 2005 limits on the basis of unproven technology. Though it is still too early to say whether the 2005 values will be met, the technology is continuing to develop rapidly and we feel that there are grounds for cautious optimism about future improvements in vehicle emissions control capabilities.

  I am considering the points raised by the Committee concerning the withdrawal of leaded petrol and will let you have a detailed reply as soon as possible.

19 March 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to The Baroness Hayman, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  As you are aware, Sub-Committee B held an informal briefing with officials from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on the above proposals in May. Further to that briefing the Committee is still waiting for a full response to my letter, dated 9 March, which set out the Committee's continuing concerns on several issues.

  Our concerns are centred on the means by which the Government intends to implement the ban on leaded petrol from 2000 and not on the environmental merits of the proposal itself. In this environmental context, however, the Committee has raised the question of the use of leaded petrol by piston-engine aircraft. Although such aircraft are not covered by the proposal currently under scrutiny, we would be grateful if you were to include in your response to my letter of 9 March any information you have on the following points:

    (i)  the amount of leaded fuel used by such aircraft;

    (ii)  how this volume of fuel compares to the current amount of leaded petrol used by motor vehicles;

    (iii)  whether the Government have any plans to tackle the environmental impact of such fuel use.

  I look forward to your reply to this and my previous letter. I have enclosed with this letter a copy of a written memorandum submitted by the Retail Motor Industry Federation to supplement the written evidence the Committee has received.

17 June 1998

Letter from The Baroness Hayman, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 17 June, referring to your earlier letter of 9 March on the above proposals, and the copy of the written memorandum from the Retail Motor Industry Federation which you enclosed with your letter. I have also received your further letter of 26 June. I am sorry not to have replied before now to your letter of 9 March.

  In your 9 March letter the Committee firstly asked for further clarification concerning the statement made in the Department's Compliance Cost Assessment in respect of the proposal for the reduction of emissions from passenger cars which indicated that "at the present time vehicle manufacturers feel there is no proven vehicle technology capable of meeting the emissions limits proposed for 2005".

  This view was originally expressed by manufacturers that were participating in the "Auto-Oil" study, but who were unwilling to supply the Commission with cost estimates for meeting the 2005 limits on the basis of unproven technology. However, the latest indications are that manufacturers are well advanced in developing prototypes capable of meeting the 2005 standards, although as is to be expected, further development of the technology is necessary before they will have production models capable of meeting the specifications consistently and reliably under normal conditions of use. As part of this process, some manufacturers have indicated that they hope to have a number of production models available a few years ahead of the 2005 target so that they can gain field experience of the new technology prior to full implementation of the regulations. This is particularly encouraging.

  In discussions leading up to conciliation between the Parliament and the Council, rather than maintaining the proposition that the 2005 standards contained in the common position are currently unachievable, manufacturers have instead emphasised that any further tightening, as proposed by the European Parliament, would be extremely disruptive to their production plans. Whether or not this was merely posturing by the industry in the critical period leading up to conciliation is a matter of conjecture and the Department is not in a position to verify this.

  I am now in a position to inform you that a conciliation meeting, presided over by Michael Meacher, took place on 29 June between the Council of European Ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament to resolve the differences arising from numerous amendments proposed by the Parliament at second reading to both the vehicle emissions and fuel quality proposals. I will be writing to you separately on the details very shortly, but suffice it to say that on the main issues a very successful resolution was reached whereby the Parliament have accepted the common position limits in return for Council agreeing to make the 2005 limits mandatory, rather than indicative. This reassurance that the common position limits will stand for 2005 has been welcomed by the motor industry who now have definitive targets at which to aim.

  The Committee also expressed concern that the Government could not give an assurance that lead replacement petrol would be available from 2000. I understand this concern, but the Committee may be assured that since there is clearly going to be a strong demand for this fuel, with an estimated 2.6 million vehicles requiring this product on 1 January 2000, commercial pressure will ensure that the oil companies will respond as they have done in other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Indeed I am informed that they are already making plans to introduce the new product from the middle of 1999 onward so that they can guarantee that leaded petrol is purged from storage tanks by 1 January 2000.

  The Committee also asked to whom the statement applied in the Cost Compliance Assessment that "the cost implications of the removal of this product are in general, not expected to be substantial". The Committee went on to suggest that unless an alternative which does not damage engines is available, cars would be banned from use.

  The reasons why the cost implications will not be substantial are threefold. Despite past information campaigns and a significant incentive to switch to lower cost unleaded petrol, there remain an estimated1.3 million vehicles whose owners, on current trends, would still be using leaded petrol on 1 January 2000, without any good technical reason to do so. These owners would see an immediate cost benefit if they switched to using unleaded petrol.

  There is a second category of vehicle, estimated at some 1.7 million which, on 1 January 2000, could safely run on unleaded petrol with a simple adjustment to the ignition timing in order to account for the lower octane fuel. The cost of such adjustments—typically less than £50—could be generally recovered in a year through lower fuel duty rates given the average mileage for a mid 1980's vehicle.

  Finally, there is a third vehicle category, estimated at 2.6 million on 1 January 2000, which will require an alternative additive to lead which will negate rapid engine wear. Market experience in Europe and elsewhere, as well as in road and laboratory testing by the oil companies, has demonstrated that lead replacement petrol will serve as a satisfactory substitute for leaded petrol for vehicles driven under mixed motoring conditions. The likely market price of this fuel is as yet unknown, but initially it is not expected to exceed that of leaded petrol and, hence, will not incur any costs for users. As demand falls over time as less and less vehicles will need such a product, then market cost may be expected to rise in line with market forces.

  Where users subject a vehicle to repeated and prolonged driving at high speed or high loads, and where such drivers are unable or unwilling to modify their driving style, then it is likely that they will be faced with more substantial expenditure. In such cases, it would be prudent to fit hardened valve seat inserts or replace the engine to avoid wear. Given the usual mode of operation of older and classic vehicles, such expenditure should not be necessary for the vast majority of users.

  For the vast majority of vehicles therefore we do not expect costs to be substantial. This does not mean, however, that for some models or for certain types of use more substantial expenditure may not be necessary. Typical conversion costs for hardened valve seats could range from £300 to £500 for a small to medium sized car, but considerably more for large multi-cylinder cars. In a very small minority of cases, where conversions are not possible for technical reasons, use would be restricted to normal motoring.

  The Committee also expressed concern about the safety and practicality of the ongoing sale of leaded petrol (albeit at very low volume) for classic cars through specialist interest groups. I share these concerns which I know the Committee also discussed with officials at the informal briefing meeting which you held with them. At this stage, however, I would not wish to rule out a fairly widespread distribution if this can be achieved without compromising public safety. We are therefore holding discussions on these matters with interested bodies to explore the options and possibilities. Once these have concluded, we will then be better placed to take an informed decision as to classic car clubs' general access to this fuel. We still, of course, plan to ensure that leaded petrol remains available to dedicated race tracks.

  In their letter of 17 June the Committee also raised a number of questions about the use of leaded petrol by piston-engined aircraft. The latest figures available indicate that "AVGAS" sales accounted for some 32,000 tonnes in 1996. This compares with about 7 million tonnes of leaded motor fuel supplied in that year. Although AVGAS has three times the lead content of road fuel, usage means that overall emissions from this source are a very small proportion of total lead emissions. Given the high loads and high speeds of aircraft engines and the potentially fatal consequences of engine wear, the Government has no plans to restrict use of AVGAS.

  At the informal briefing session in May, officials undertook to provide the Committee with information regarding firstly, the location of vehicles affected by the withdrawal of leaded petrol and, secondly, on the subject of the correspondence with the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments regarding the use of signing requirements in fuels regulations.

  With regard to the location of older vehicles (defined for this purpose as pre-1988) likely to be affected by the ban, I attach maps showing their broad distribution. I regret that it has not been possible to pinpoint this more specifically in terms of a rural/urban divide. Although the data does suggest that rural areas have higher percentages of older vehicles than neighbouring urban areas, the more striking split is between the north and the south of Britain, with the south and west having the highest proportions. The information does suggest that no particular group will be disadvantaged in terms of access to lead replacement petrol outlets.

  With regard to the correspondence with the JCSI, I attach a copy of their 1989 report concerning the inclusion in a statutory instrument made under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 of signing requirements (not printed). As you will see, the Committee concluded that there is no power under the legislation to use marking requirements (in this case: the British Standards star markings for grades of fuel) as a "means of imposing requirements as to composition and content". This guidance was reaffirmed by officials of the Committee when the Department was drafting a subsequent SI, the Motor Fuel (Composition and Content Regulations) 1994, made under the successor legislation, the Clean Air Act 1993. Accordingly those regulations do not make requirements as to marking in terms of British Standards for instance. A requirement for showing the grade or type of fuel on sale is however contained in the Price Marking Order 1991 (S.I.1991/1382) paragraph four Schedule 2. It is upon this requirement that the current arrangements are operated. This will, in our view, provide sufficient indication as to the availability of lead replacement petrol as a separate grade.

  With regard to your letter of 26 June, the omission of references to recent correspondence in recent Explanatory Memoranda is regretted. For convenience these have been included, together with references to your informal meeting with officials on 14 May and the last consideration of the proposals by the House of Commons European Legislation Committee in February, in the attached revised copies of the Scrutiny Histories to the fuels and cars proposals. These replace the existing annexes to EM 7522/98 of 27 May 1998 and EM 8425/98 of 5 June 1998 (not printed).

  Finally, I confirm that the Government is planning to produce a leaflet for motorists on the forthcoming ban on leaded petrol. This is currently being worked up in association with interested organisations. Publication is intended for later this summer and is primarily intended to reassure owners of older vehicles that alternatives to leaded petrol will be available.

  I hope that Committee will now feel able to clear the cars and fuels proposals.

14 July 1998

Letter from The Baroness Hayman, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Further to my letter of 14 July I attach further information, in the form of explanatory memoranda, detailing the outcome of the conciliation on these proposals between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission which took place on 29 June (not printed). As I explained, a very successful resolution was reached on the overall package as part of which the Parliament have accepted the common position limits in return for Council agreeing to make the 2005 limits mandatory, rather than indicative.

  I am providing these documents in advance of the availability of official texts in order to keep you fully informed of progress, bearing in mind the Parliamentary timetable, and the need to obtain scrutiny clearance before the texts are formally adopted in September. No further material changes to the proposals will be made prior to adoption.

24 July 1998

Letter from Lord Whitty, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  In her letter of 14 July, copied to the Chairman of the Commons' European Legislation Committee, Baroness Hayman responded to concerns raised by the Select Committee on the European Communities in relation to the withdrawal of leaded petrol under the "Auto Oil" fuel quality proposal, by confirming that the Government planned to produce a leaflet with the intention of reassuring owners of older vehicles that alternatives to leaded petrol will be available.

  I am pleased to say that following discussions with the motoring organisations, auto and oil industry associations, classic car clubs and the fuel retailers joint agreement has been reached on the content of two leaflets which will be issued during the next few weeks, commencing on Monday, 7 December. I attach six copies of each of the leaflets (not printed). Further copies have been placed in the House Library.

  The shorter leaflet is aimed at helping the general motoring public to understand better the impact of withdrawing leaded petrol from 1 January 2000, what the alternative options are and how these will be made available. This leaflet is intended to be widely available from both petrol forecourts and MOT garages. We also hope to encourage the information contained to be replicated by motoring magazines. The longer leaflet is intended to inform those motorists with a better understanding of the technical issues and will be distributed to those in need of more specialised information, eg classic car clubs. It will also be made available on the Internet.

  These leaflets should ease immediate concerns for motorists. In the longer term we understand that the oil industry is likely to follow this up by distributing their own publicity material nearer to the date from which they will be withdrawing leaded petrol from sale from their forecourts. I hope that the issue of these leaflets will also reassure members of your Committee as well as other Members of the House in general who expressed particular concern about the need for such information to be made available to the public.

7 December 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Lord Whitty, Minister for Roads, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter dated 7 December in which you notified me of the publication of the DETR's two leaflets entitled Making the change: moving to lead free petrol.

  As you know the Committee has had an ongoing interest in the progress of the Auto-Oil programme and the Government's plans for its implementation and your letter and leaflets received a very positive response from Sub-Committee B at its meeting yesterday.

16 December 1998


 
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