Speaking today at the Centre for Agricultural Strategy's conference on 'Water Services and Agriculture: Key Issues and Strategic Options', Mr Yeo said: 'We warmly welcome the European Council's decision last Saturday to recast Community legislation on water to make it consistent with the principle of subsidiarity, and to simplify and streamline it, taking into account scientific progress and practical experience.
'The Commission's approach as endorsed by the European Council is a major step forward and offers a clear framework within which to achieve improvements in Community water legislation which could allow better targetting of resources, and reduce costs and charges, without weakening environmental protection.
'It will of course be vitally important that the Commission and the Council should, in giving effect to this decision, ensure that the details of the new and revised directives really are consistent with subsidiarity, so that they are confined to essential quality and health parameters, leaving details to be tailored to the varying circumstances of member states.
'The scope for, and timing of, better targetting of resources and reduced costs will depend on the exact terms of what is agreed by the Council for each of the new directives.
'The Government believes that the new approach to water legislation outlined in the Commission's report offers a basis for improving the cost-effectiveness of water measures, taking into account varying geographical conditions in different parts of the Community, but without weakening environmental protection. Our open and thorough system of monitoring drinking water and the water environment is a vital safeguard which we want to see fully matched in other member states.
'The cost of the urban waste water treatment directive remains a problem virtually throughout the Community. The United Kingdom continues to believe that its provisions will result in an unsustainably rapid increase in water charges in the period up to 2000. Its costs for most member states are much higher than was expected when it was agreed in 1991. The UK is continuing to discuss with the Commission and other member states the scope for modifying deadlines so as to spread the cost burden over a longer period without weakening the improvements in environmental protection which the directive will achieve.'