Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


Letter from the Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, Minister for the Environment, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I submit to your Committee the attached Explanatory Memorandum on the proposal for a Council Directive on the landfill of waste.

  Your Committee last considered this proposal on 11 May 1998 in EM 7357/98 and in July 1997 in EM 6692/97. A Common Position on the Directive was reached in March 1998 and was published in the Official Journal on 30 October 1998. The publication of the Common Position was not brought to the attention of my Department at the time, and unfortunately this has meant that your Committee has not seen the Common Position before now.

  The European Parliament had its Second Reading of the Directive in February. The pace of negotiations in Europe stepped up this month, in that the Presidency now seems keen to push for formal adoption of the Directive in at a Council meeting as soon as possible, perhaps in April. The Government has been supportive of the proposal and placing a parliamentary scrutiny reserve on it could cause us some political difficulties. In light of these circumstances, I would therefore be grateful if your Committee could consider this proposal before the Easter Recess.

26 March 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to the Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, Minister for the Environment, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter of 26 March 1999, covering your Department's Explanatory Memorandum of the same date. I am sorry that these arrived too late for Sub-Committee C to consider them before the recess; the Sub-Committee has now done so at its meeting this morning.

  Although it is literally correct, as you say in your letter, that the scrutiny committees had not previously seen the Common Position text (which was agreed in March last year and adopted the following June), as far as this Committee is concerned we have been aware of the substance of the Common Position for quite some time. Our March 1998 Report Sustainable Landfill (17th Report, 1997-98, HL Paper 83), following the enquiry by Sub-Committee C, recorded the likely Common Position, as it appeared from the proceedings of the Environment Council meeting of December 1997; and subsequently this was confirmed both in the Government's response to the Report (sent under cover of your letter of 9 October 1998 to Baroness Hilton of Eggardon[7]) and in Lord Whitty's speech in the ensuing debate on 13 October, at columns 878-83 of Hansard.

  In particular, the Sub-Committee has noted that what the latest EM describes as "the two most significant changes" (ie compared with the Commission's original proposals) are exactly as noted at paragraph 94 of the Report (biodegradable waste production targets under Article 5) and at paragraphs 80-82 (definition of pre-treatment for purposes of Article 6), as well as being entirely consistent with the Government's response. The same applies to the other changes noted in the EM (the few surviving European Parliament amendments being, in the Sub-Committee's view, of little consequence). The Sub-Committee accordingly saw no difficulty in clearing the latest proposals.

  I may say that we find it odd that neither your letter nor the "scrutiny history" section of the EM thought it necessary to mention that there had been an enquiry, a report, a Government response and a debate on the original proposals, in the course of which this House at any rate had been made aware of all significant features of the Common Position.

  It is evident that this has caused confusion, and possibly some waste of time, for our parliamentary colleagues.

14 April 1999

Letter from the Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, Minister for the Environment, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 14 April concerning my Department's Explanatory Memorandum (7161/99) on the draft EU Landfill Directive of 26 March 1999.

  I apologise for the oversight which meant that the "scrutiny history" section of the EM failed to make explicit the productive debate in the Lords on this subject on 13 October last, nor the comprehensive Committee Report which preceded it. As Lord Whitty said in his contribution to that wide-ranging debate, the Government viewed the Report as both thorough and sophisticated. I hope the Committee would agree that the Government's response to the Report sought to recognise and address some of the criticisms and recommendations in the Report.

  As you know, the progress of negotiations on the draft Directive has been swift. This has been due to a desire to secure final agreement before the Amsterdam Treaty comes into force at the start of May. Your help and consideration in clearing the latest proposals has therefore been invaluable and timely; you will no doubt be pleased to hear—as I was—that the Directive was finally adopted on Monday 26 April as an A-Point at the General Affairs Council. The process of implementing this Directive, which I believe will fill a long-standing gap in European waste legislation, can now begin in full.

13 May 1999

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