HL Deb 31 October 2002 vol 640 cc287-9

3.27 p.m.

Lord Greaves

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What preparations they are making to implement the new European Union Electrical and Electronic Waste ("WEEP) Directive.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, the proposed directive was recently agreed, subject to final ratification by the Council and the European Parliament. Formal publication is expected in the first quarter of 2003. My department has been making preliminary preparations for some time and these can start in earnest now that the text is almost final.

There has already been significant informal discussion and specific SME, manufacturer, local authority, waste industry and retailer focus groups have been established. A series of 25 awareness seminars across the UK are in progress and will conclude in the next month. Another round of formal consultation is planned for next year.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which, on the face of it, sounds quite encouraging. However, I am tempted to say, "Here we go again". We have got fridge mountains all over the country and old bangers littering the lanes, the back streets arid the moors. Are we now going to see toasters, computers, mobile phones, electric toothbrushes and other kinds of electrical equipment joining them, or will the Government this time get their act together? What guarantee can the Minister give that the legislation will come into British law on time in two years' time, and that in four years' time, when local authorities have the duty to separate such waste, they will be geared up and resourced to do so? Can the Minister say why it is that when it comes to fridges, old bangers and, indeed, dead cows, it is DEFRA's responsibility, but when it comes to toasters, mobile phones and computers it is his department's responsibility? Is this joined-up government?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, this is different from the situation with fridges. We already have waste disposal and recycling firms capable of carrying out this kind of work, unlike the situation in regard to the ozone-depleting substance regulation which was directly applicable. We have, 18 months after adoption of the directive, to transpose it into national law. Appropriately, the text is flexible and allows for implementation in different ways so long as the end result is achieved. It is a different situation. I see no reason why this will not come into law on time and be implemented properly. As to which department is responsible, that is something that no Minister has ever understood—and I certainly do not.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, have the Government made any estimate of the likely additional costs of implementing this directive—additional to the current costs of removing and getting rid of waste—either to British electrical suppliers or British consumers?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we have calculated that the potential cost to industry will be approximately £200 million to £400 million a year, That is based on the common position. However, that has changed and the sum may be slightly more. Experience in other member states—for example, the Netherlands—suggests that a price rise of about 1 per cent on average will be likely in these circumstances. In view of the very real benefits that will accrue to the environment, we believe that that is an appropriate price to pay.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, would we not get more sensible results on all these disposal questions if the matter were devolved to national governments rather than being an EU responsibility.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, that would call into question the whole issue of a common market. Is it sensible to have common regulations in this area? I believe that on this issue it is very sensible to have common regulations in the cause of free trade.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, the Minister has placed great stress on the importance of the directive. Will he therefore explain why the Government have not supported the attempt to enforce the regulation on an individual firms basis and are now allowing collective schemes? That will fatally undermine the directive in two senses. First, there will be a fudge, so the outcome will be unclear. Secondly, it undermines the commercial advantage to individual firms seeking to produce the most environmentally friendly products, since at the same time they will be subsidising those that are less environmentally friendly.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, there is a difference between the flexibility required under the terms of the directive and what is eventually determined to be the right way to implement it. I very much take the noble Lord's point that, if pressure is to be put on companies to take the right actions, it is better to do that on an individual basis so that a firm will benefit from its actions. Equally, there may be circumstances relating to smaller SMEs where a collective approach may make a great deal of sense. That is one of the issues that we shall resolve as we go forward.

Lord Blackwell

My Lords, will the Government undertake to publish the assumptions behind the cost estimates that the Minister has just given? In particular, will he confirm that implementation of the directive will build on local authority sites as the main collection point? Declaring an interest, I ask him to confirm that it will not involve uneconomic solutions involving, for example, retailers acting as additional collection points?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the likelihood is that local authority sites will be used. Of course, it is implicit in the directive that individual customers or users can return their waste to the retailer, and in those circumstances the retailer has to accept it. So there is already built into the provisions a proper, alternative route. I believe that along with the impact statements that we make we do publish the assumptions. If that is not the case, I shall let the noble Lord know.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, in the Minister's very helpful reply to my supplementary question, did I hear him give an assurance that local authorities will be properly resourced for this work?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, no is the answer. I gave no such assurance or statement whatever.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, in the light of the reply that the noble Lord gave to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and indeed the answer given by his noble friend Lord Whitty at the end of the first Starred Question, will the Minister confirm that the Rome treaty requires the Commission to produce an impact assessment for all these environmental regulations? Did that happen? If so, what was the assessment? If there has been no assessment, are not all these diktats from Brussels ultra vires?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, frankly, I do not know the answer to that. I shall write to the noble Lord on what the treaty states on this point and on what action was taken.