Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report

7.  DRAFT DIRECTIVE ON END OF LIFE VEHICLES (11034/97 COM (97) 358) AND (8000/99 COM (99) 176 FINAL

Letter from Kim Howells MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Department for Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Please see attached an Explanatory Memorandum (EM) on an EC proposal for a Directive on End of Life Vehicles for the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, for their meeting on Monday 14 December.

  The Committee saw the proposal and first EM in December of last year and concluded that they could not clear the document, but would like to see it again in the light of DTI's industry/public consultation. The formal consultation is now concluded and the main findings are described in the new EM, along with an update on the latest position of the proposal and a revised financial assessment. It is extremely unfortunate that we have not been able to provide this information sooner.

  It would be very helpful if the Committee, provided it considered it appropriate, could clear the document in time for the Environment Council meeting on 21 December. At this meeting the Council will be considering the Directive and will be asked by the Presidency to reach a degree of common understanding on the key issues. This will not be possible without the Committee's clearance.

10 December 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Kim Howells MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry

  The Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 10 December 1998, sent to me under cover of your letter of the same date, has now been considered by Sub-Committee C.

  Having seen the subsequent reports by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the responses to them, the Sub-Committee feels that there is little it can usefully add by way of substantive comment, and the scrutiny reserve is therefore lifted. We are, of course, aware that the case is due to be debated in the House of Commons Standing Committee B.

  You said in your letter of 10 December that it was "extremely unfortunate" that your Department was unable to provide sooner the information requested by the Sub-Committee after it considered the original EM in December 1997. My understanding is that the information was, in fact, available a good deal sooner, and your letter did not explain why (despite reminders from the Committee Office) it could not have been provided at the time. Instead we were given impossibly short notice of the Presidency's intention to seek a common position at the Environment Council meeting of 21 December: by the time the SEM had been referred to the Sub-Committee, it was too late to arrange scrutiny before the Christmas recess. In the event, we were aware that the Commons Committee were being advised not to clear the document; it has therefore taken its course with other documents referred in recent weeks to the Sub-Committee.

  I hope you will agree that this case illustrates the importance of timely responses to requests for further information from the scrutiny committees and for allowing sufficient time for effective scrutiny before the relevant Council meeting.

4 March 1999

Letter from Kim Howells MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 4 March.

  I am grateful to the Committee for lifting its scrutiny reserve on the end of life vehicles Directive. You may know that the European Standing Committee C voted on 9 March to clear the Directive, and that the Environment Council on 11 March decided to postpone a decision on the Directive until the next Council in June.

  Clearly the Government should have provided further information on this Directive to the Committee earlier in 1998, and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the fact that it failed to do so. There was nothing sinister in this—this was simply an oversight on the part of officials in the DTI, which only came to light early in December 1998. We will of course be making every effort to ensure that this does not happen again.

17 March 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Kim Howells MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry

  Your Explanatory Memorandum of 24 May 1999 and Regulatory Impact Assessment of the Commission's revised proposals on this subject were referred on 25 May to Sub-Committee C for consideration.

  Paragraphs 16, 19 and 25 of the EM make it clear that at the Environment Council meeting next week the Presidency intends to seek a Common Position on the basis of a "preliminary agreement" reached at the December Council meeting. The text of that agreement has not yet been made available to the Scrutiny Committees. Paragraph 17 of the EM indicates some of the arguments put forward by the UK at meetings of the Council Working Group, but does not provide a basis for comparison between the Commission's latest proposals and the likely Common Position.

  On 11 June the Sub-Committee Clerk contacted UKREP and your office by e-mail to make the point that the Sub-Committee would not be in a position to consider this case without proper details of the compromise proposals that were to be put to the Council (especially as it was clear from the EM that the Commission's amended proposals were unlikely to receive support from Member States), and to request a copy of the proposed Common Position text in good time for it to be circulated to the Sub-Committee for their meeting on 16 June.

  Ealier this week, after discussion with the Clerk, one of your officials agreed to provide a document headed "Draft UK Objective for Text for Common Position". I understand that this document (a copy of which has also been provided to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee) was made available to the HoC European Standing Committee C before their debate on 9 March, and that it is said to represent closely the text of the "preliminary agreement" of last December. The document arrived too late for the papers to be considered by the Sub-Committee this week.

  I have now seen the Report which the European Scrutiny Committee approved at their meeting yesterday and I very much endorse what is said there. Leaving aside the question of the status of the document just supplied, the essential point is that the Scrutiny Committees have been asked to consider the Commission's amended proposals with no proper basis on which to judge whether the Government is justified in its rejection of them. This is possible only with an officially provided text of the likely Common Position or on the basis of an item-by-item account of it in the body of the EM, which at present is lacking.

  As the European Scrutiny Committee's Report points out, it is commonplace for Departments to make available draft Council texts where these help the Scrutiny Committees to understand the Government's position on particular proposals. A current example is a Supplementary EM by DETR on the proposed Waste Incineration Directive, with which a Council text has been provided by way of explanation of the Presidency proposal to consolidate this proposal with another in the same field. I cannot see that the End of Life Vehicles case calls for different treatment or that there is any problem of precedent at stake.

  Subject to your comments, Sub-Committee C will consider the case on 23 June.

17 June 1999

Letter from Kim Howells MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letters of 17 June. I am disappointed that your Committees have decided not to clear the latest Explanatory Memorandum (EM) on this Directive.

  First, you will recall that the European Standing Committee C debated this Directive, and the Government's approach on it, on 9 March. In particular, the Committee had before it a copy of the draft UK objective for the text to be agreed at Common Position (Appendix J in the pack provided to the Committee). Following that debate, the Standing Committee agreed a Motion which supported the Government's intention to agree a Common Position on this Directive at the Environment Council, and the House of Commons then endorsed this Motion on 10 March.

  The Government's approach on this Directive has not changed since that debate, and nor has our expectation about the text to be agreed at Common Position. We continue to believe that we have been successful in persuading other Member States of our arguments and we remain optimistic that the text to be agreed at Common Position will address our concerns, and be very similar to the Appendix J text. In our view, therefore, the position has not changed since the European Standing Committee debated this issue on 9 March.

  There has clearly been some confusion about the latest Explanatory Memorandum submitted by my Department last month, which covered an amended proposal for this Directive, submitted by the European Commission. As explained in the EM, the Government opposes this proposal and believes that the different features of it are unlikely to be supported by other Member States. The Government continues (as I have mentioned above) to expect the Common Position text to address our concerns and meet our objectives.

  Your Committees have again requested copies of the preliminary agreement that was reached last December. We indicated previously that the Council's Rules of Procedure would not allow us to provide this document to the Committees unless the chain of professional secrecy was maintained. However, we did seek to make the necessary information available to the Committees in other ways, in particular through the Appendix J text.

  We have now reviewed our position on this document, in view of the concerns which have been expressed by the Committees, and the flexible approach which appears to have been taken by other parts of the DTI and by other Departments on similar documents. We have concluded that we should now provide you with this document, which I attach to this letter (not printed). As requested, an updated Explanatory Memorandum covering this agreement is also enclosed (not printed), and this summarises the main differences between the agreement and the Commission's latest proposal.

  You will see that the preliminary agreement is almost identical to the Appendix J text—that is why the Government believes that the outcome at Common Position is very likely to be acceptable to the United Kingdom.

  I hope you can now agree that your Committees can clear the latest EM that I have submitted.

21 June 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Kim Howells MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your letter of 21 June, about which we spoke on the telephone.

  Sub-Committee C considered the letter, with the revised Supplementary EM, yesterday, and decided in the circumstances to clear the proposals. For this purpose the comparison in Annex A to the SEM was found particularly useful, alongside the Council document itself.

  Whilst welcoming your Department's recognition of the need for greater openness with the Scrutiny Committees in the light of their previously expressed concerns, the Sub-Committee noted that the decision to release the document came across very much as a concession, reluctantly made in this particular case.

  I have seen the letter which Jimmy Hood sent following the consideration of this document in the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons, and I agree entirely with the thrust of that letter. In particular, I would emphasise that the Committees in both Houses must have the opportunity to consider these texts, with sufficient notice, in accordance with the Protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty.

24 June 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999