Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Letter from the Minister for Environment and Agri-Environment to the Chairman of the Select Committee


  Thank you for your letter of 29 October. I welcome the opportunity to make some observations on Sub-Committee D's comment following my oral evidence on 15 October.

  As regards the implications for the quality of inland waters in England, the Commission's proposal would apply to inland bathing water sites in the same way as the existing Bathing Water Directive—which is applied in England to the nine inland bathing waters identified as within the scope of the Directive. The Commission's proposal would add a requirement to assess and provide information on the relevance of water quality monitoring data to other recreational uses such as windsurfing and kayaking which may be undertaken on inland waters. Our view is that the implications for the quality of inland waters would be minimal unless changes to the definition of bathing waters brings many more inland waters within the scope.

  I appreciate very much the Sub-Committee's support for our effects to secure greater flexibility for dealing with episodic periods of pollution. The potential cost savings of a management action/discounting scheme approach to episodic pollution were in fact sufficiently explored under option 3 of the partial Regulatory Impact Assessment to make this issue a key element of our negotiating strategy. As I said in my oral evidence we will be refining our assessments in due course but the existing assessment is still very relevant and is being used as an example of a good RIA by the Cabinet Office.

  I agree that the requirements of the current Directive regarding sampling methods are inadequate. The Commission accepts this and has proposed measures, in Annex V to its proposal, which meet our main concerns. An ISO standard for sampling for microbiological analysis is under preparation but I understand it will not be published until early 2006. The proposal does however include provisions for technical adaptations to the Directive which could be a means of incorporating the ISO standard at a later stage if necessary.

  Different application of the measures in the existing Directive by Member States is a concern but I am not aware of any rigorous or extensive comparison being published and the evidence from ECJ judgments is also sparse. Nevertheless the issue has been addressed to some extent in the Commission's proposal, examples being the requirement to establish a pre-determined monitoring calendar to try to ensure that samples are not taken only in dry weather and the move towards common sampling methods mentioned above. Different interpretations of the definition of "bathing water" will obviously lead to different application of the measures and it is for this reason we are seeking a clearer definition.

  As for the involvement of the Environment Agency let me reassure the Sub-Committee that we have established very close working relationships with Agency staff on issues arising from the existing Directive and these have been taken forward to the process of revision. Agency staff were involved in the Commission's meetings of experts in the run up to preparation of its proposal, we drew heavily on Agency experience in determining our stance on the proposal and Agency staff continue to make an important contribution to our assessment of developments in the negotiations.

  I am copying this letter to Jimmy Hood MP, the Clerk to your Committee, Les Saunders, Cabinet Office and Graham Collins, Defra's EU Scrutiny Co-ordinator.

Elliot Morley

12 November 2003

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