HL Deb 05 November 2003 vol 654 cc789-91

2.40 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the public awareness campaigns to reduce waste and energy use referred to in Changing Patterns—The UK Government Framework for Sustainable Consumption and Production will start; and how much they intend to spend on the campaigns.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Government have allocated £30 million over three years to funding public awareness campaigns through the Waste and Resources Action Programme. That is in addition to existing activities such as the National Waste Awareness Initiative. The campaigns will operate at both local (beginning in January 2004) and national (beginning April 2004) levels. The Energy Saving Trust and the Carbon Trust also have active programmes to promote public awareness of the importance of reducing energy use. Further government-supported activities to raise public awareness are likely to be set out in the energy efficiency implementation plan to be published in February 2004.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which was somewhat helpful. However, does he agree that one of the main causes of waste and indeed of expense to consumers is the ridiculously short lifespan of many domestic appliances? Built-in obsolescence seems to arrive sooner and sooner. I am amazed that the Government's Changing Patterns document, which lays out their policies, does not seem to address that issue at all. Do the Government have any plans to bring in, first, labelling of an indicative lifespan and, secondly, to press Europe to introduce a system whereby the repair of such items can be VAT rated and spares for appliances are required to be available for a reasonable time after the product's withdrawal from the market?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, any mandatory standards for the labelling of appliances would have to be agreed at European level. There are discussions on the energy use of appliances, and we have had some success at the UK and commercial level in changing consumer behaviour in relation to, for example, white goods which are energy efficiency labelled. As for built-in obsolescence, I am not aware of any discussions at European level on proposed mandatory requirements relating to expected life. Continuous product standards are being pursued in the UK with the various trade associations. That includes issues such as spares but does not specifically include the issue of expected life.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is there not a risk that the cost of the campaigns could be more than the savings and the reduction in waste and energy use?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I think that is extremely unlikely since a relatively small change in consumer expenditure would yield billions of pounds of saving both on the energy side and in terms of minimisation of waste or the way that we deal with waste. Clearly, any such programmes have to be subject to an assessment of their effectiveness but relatively small expenditure, if properly directed, can have a very large return.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, while the work of the advisory committee on sustainable consumption and production is much to be welcomed, can the Minister say whether the Government have plans in the short term to increase the number of compulsory information instruments in addition to the EU energy rating labels and the new car CO2 labels? There are a number of voluntary information instruments at the moment but they are not well co-ordinated and certainly not obligatory. Are the Government prepared to add to the work of the advisory committee that of providing more information about the environmental impact of trade miles to which it does not seem to have given very much attention?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is a certain amount of discussion on trade miles in a number of contexts and research is being carried out. There are no immediate proposals for mandatory labelling for the other purposes to which the right reverend Prelate referred but discussions regarding domestic appliances are being pursued at sectoral level, as I indicated.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, do the Government have plans to deal with the mountains of unsolicited paper that come through our letterboxes every day of every week of every month of every year? Will the noble Lord encourage newspaper proprietors not to produce such weighty tomes at the weekend? That would reduce a great deal of the disposal problem. With regard to energy, would it not be better to encourage, even by grant, the saving of energy rather than to build monstrous windmills all over the place?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, first, we are not building monstrous windmills all over the place. Every proposition is subject to proper planning consideration. We believe that renewable energy, including wind power, both onshore and offshore, can make a significant contribution. But the two issues of energy efficiency and renewable energy are not alternatives; efforts to change sourcing and to change behaviour are both needed if we are to meet the carbon objective set out in the energy White Paper. As to unsolicited junk mail, at the end of the day those who produce it must accept some responsibility for it. However, each and every one of us can exert a degree of consumer preference by indicating what mail we do and do not want. There is no overall attempt to ban junk mail in the way that my noble ex-friend suggests.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Members of this House individually and collectively could make a great contribution to energy saving, first, if they made fewer repetitive speeches at various stages of legislation and therefore made fewer reading demands on the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and, secondly, if bodies such as the House's Procedure Committee took precise notice of ballots of Members and did not try to intervene by having 1½ hour lunch breaks on Thursday, which is not what we voted for?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, on the first point, I could not possibly comment. On the second, while I have some sympathy with my noble friend, that is a matter for the House authorities and not for me.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, first, would I be right in assuming that when the energy efficiency implementation plan is published in February, it will bring together all the various initiatives in this field? Secondly, in view of the fact that market forces do not favour energy saving at the moment, particularly in the domestic sector, will the Government give the publication of the plan every possible impetus in their publicity arrangements?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the plan will attempt to bring together different sorts of measures which could help to deliver the energy efficiency targets set out in the White Paper. In relation to the market situation, one other strand of this is out for consultation at the moment, which is the Treasury and Defra consultation paper relating to fiscal incentives and disincentives in relation to energy efficiency. That will form part of the overall approach although it will be dealt with in the normal way of all forms of taxation.