Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Letter from the Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Union

to Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Environment and Agri-Environment, Defra


  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 point convincingly.

  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

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