Letter from the Chairman of the Select
Committee on the European Union
to Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Environment
and Agri-Environment, Defra
REVISION OF THE BATHING WATER DIRECTIVE (EC
Sub-Committee D was grateful to you for coming
to give oral evidence on these proposals on Wednesday 15 October.
This was useful in clarifying the present state of Council negotiations
and the likely timetable for adoption.
We have a number of further comments to make,
on which we should be grateful to have your observations as necessary.
We agree that the proposals shall apply to bathing
waters, as generally understood, and not to a wider category of
"recreational waters". We wonder, however, what the
implications of the present proposals are likely to be for quality
of inland waters in England.
We believe it is essential to have
a more precise definition of "bathing water" than in
Article 3(1) of the present draft Directive.
We support the efforts of the Government
and other Member States to secure greater flexibility for dealing
with episodic levels of pollution, in particular diffuse pollution
from agricultural run-off after heavy rain, which would otherwise
breach the limits laid down by the Directive.
We note what you have said about
the difficulties of proceeding at this stage with a full Regulatory
Impact Assessment. Nevertheless we feel that the Government needs
to be ready with this sooner rather than later, since a proper
analysis of the potential costs, set against the benefits, of
the proposals is an essential tool in the negotiations. In particular,
as you said in evidence, it is crucial to establish the cost implications
of failure to achieve flexibility over diffuse pollution episodes.
As the then European Communities
Committee reported in December 1994 and March 1995 on the previous
proposals for revising the Directive, we remain concerned about
the reliability of sampling methods, particularly the requirements
for taking initial samples. We think it most important that agreement
is reached on the proposed ISO standard, which you mentioned in
your evidence, before this aspect of the proposals is finalised.
Nevertheless, we would rather the latest proposals went through
than see continued reliance on the 1976 regime.
We are pleased that the Government
generally shares the areas of concern which the Environment Agency
expressed in their memorandum to us.
We wonder what comparisons have been
made recently of practice in different Member States in applying
the provisions of the 1976 Directive. Are the Commission's new
proposals likely to lead to greater uniformity?
Although you confirmed that the Agency
has been closely involved in the process of consultation and evaluation
of the proposals, it is worth emphasising that this is precisely
the kind of case where in previous reports we have argued for
the need for involvement of the Agency from the outset as a full
partner in the Council negotiations, since it will fall to the
Agency as regulator to administer and enforce the regime. The
Better Regulation Task Force's recent report Environmental
Regulation: Getting the Message Across, notwithstanding its
focus on the ELV and WEEE Directives, has added weight to this
Subject to your response to those comments,
we are happy to clear the present document and look forward to
seeing the proposals come back in an improved form.
I am copying this letter to Jimmy Hood MP, Chairman
of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Dorian Gerhold,
Clerk to the Commons Committee, Michael Carpenter, Legal Adviser
to the Committee, Les Saunders, Cabinet Office, and Graham Collins,
Scrutiny Co-ordinator, Defra.
29 October 2003