Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment

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Mr. Darvill: There are retailers that will deliver and remove material. People would not carry a fridge to a shop, would they? It is delivered and it can be taken away. That is the best practice.

Miss McIntosh: That is the best practice. However, I do not think that we have received a complete answer from the Minister about how, if one orders a fridge or toaster through an internet company, which is a growing practice, those arrangements would be made.

The Minister paid lip service to the competition argument, which needs to be a priority. This country's competitiveness, and that of other European producers, in relation to our international counterparts should be given due weight. I find myself in discord with the Government over that aspect. The European Scrutiny Committee raised some significant issues and my mind has not been put at rest. Major uncertainties remain, particularly about the WEEE proposal. Also, uncertainties have undoubtedly increased, as I think the Minister accepts, because of the pressures to shorten the implementation periods.

An aspect that we have not considered this morning and on which there was no opportunity to question the Commission this week, but which concerns me greatly, relates to whether we will ask the new applicant countries, which, it is hoped, will join the European Union after 2003-04, how the measures will affect them. We shall add to the acquis if the directives are adopted before the chapters that the Commission is currently negotiating have been concluded. That would worry me and my constituents greatly.

It is premature to lift the scrutiny reserve and that is why I cannot support the motion. Regrettably, I remain unconvinced by the Minister's explanation of her reasons for considering it necessary to lift the scrutiny reserve.

There seems to be some confusion about the costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has outlined some of them. The initial regulatory impact assessment suggested for waste disposal alone an annual cost of between £540 million and £545 million, with one-off costs of £7.3 million and £8.6 million. Costs for the proposals on hazardous substances are estimated, in the initial regulatory impact assessment, at as much as £1.2 billion on a one-off basis, with unquantified on-going costs arising from the use of more expensive materials or increased energy use.

I should like guidance about something that this morning's discussions did not make clear. The figures that we have today are, as far as I am aware, those that were given in the initial regulatory impact assessment. The European Scrutiny Committee asked for an update of those figures and it is incumbent on the Minister and the Department to provide that update before they ask us to lift the scrutiny reserve.

There has not yet been any discussion this morning of who is to pay for training, which will be required by retailers, producers and local authorities. I understand from briefings that I have seen that no amount has been specified. If the Minister could share those figures with us, they would be welcome.

I will rehearse the argument that I made during questions. The fifth framework directive remains the legal base for the directives, as the Minister is aware. However, in the Commission and among the member states, life has moved on. There is general agreement that the targets set under the fifth framework directive were not easily achievable. I humbly suggest to the Minister that the targets set under the sixth framework directive are a more appropriate way of achieving our aim.

The concept of producer responsibility is not alien to Conservative Members, but the estimated costs are horrendous, for both the start-up and the continuation of the two directives. It will be difficult to implement the two proposals within the suggested time scale. The new legislation will give rise to historic costs, as well as the costs that we have discussed. By any estimate, the costs outweigh the potential advantages. The Minister should seek not a long delay, but the opportunity to switch to the targets of the sixth framework directive. The Commission and the member states seem to be reaching a unanimous agreement that that is the way forward. I am unable to support the motion as it stands, and look forward to the Minister's comments.

12.11 pm

The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce (Ms Patricia Hewitt): It is a pleasure to participate in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. It is a model of courtesy and light-touch regulation.

I would like to respond to the points that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton made. He raised the question of the role of local authorities, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster. Our waste strategy, which has been jointly adopted and proposed by my Department and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, sets statutory recycling targets for local authorities for the first time. They will therefore need to develop, for example, more effective kerbside collection and more adequate bring systems, which provide places to take our rubbish.

Such a strategy should effectively persuade every local council in the country to do what is necessary to meet challenging targets for recovery and re-use, and for waste minimisation. In future, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster concluded, the public will have easier access to waste recovery and recycling depots. That will ease the current situation, and promote the change of culture that he discussed.

The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton mentioned the need for a market-led strategy. Let us remember, however, the previous Government's approach. They identified six sectors in which the principle of producer responsibility was appropriate: packaging, newsprint, batteries, tyres, vehicles and the electrical and electronic equipment that we have discussed today. Yet the hon. Gentleman complained about packaging regulations. Those regulations were adopted as a result of the packaging and packaging waste directives, agreed in 1994 by his own Government, which he avidly supported.

Mr. Gibb: I have listened to the hon. Lady preaching, but is she arguing in favour of the regulations or not? Is this the best way—[Interruption.] It is a serious point. I have been a Member of Parliament since 1997, and as a new Member I find a lot of the party political bickering that goes on in Parliament infuriating. I have written an article in The Times making that point to the public. If the hon. Lady believes that the packaging waste directive is right, she should say so and explain why, or she should say that it is wrong and do something about it.

Ms Hewitt: If I may so, the pot is calling the kettle black. It was the hon. Gentleman who started the party political bickering this morning. I do not go in for that, and it is a great pity when this scrutiny Committee, which plays such a valuable role, degenerates into it.

The hon. Gentleman was complaining about the packaging waste regulations. Those regulations stem directly from a directive that the Conservative Government concluded in 1994.

Mr. Gibb: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Hewitt: I want to finish responding to that point.

We gave effect to that in the regulations. The reason why they are complex is that they share the burden of producer responsibility throughout the packaging chain—the raw material manufacturers, the packaging converters, the packer-fillers and the retailers. The regulations were drafted in that way because most of the industry wanted that shared approach rather than a translation of the producer responsibility principle—which the Conservative Government proposed for the packaging sector—which placed the entire burden on only one part of the packaging chain. We are dealing with serious problems that the previous Government also tried to tackle in negotiations with the European Union.

Mr. Gibb: I much prefer that answer. It is much more important to say whether the Government support that arrangement. That is what I want to hear as a Member of Parliament and as a member of the public. That is how the Minister should approach the matter, rather than saying that because it was done by the previous Conservative Government it is therefore right. It may not be right. The hon. Lady is in government because the previous Conservative Government got so many things wrong, and she must say whether she supports the measure. I want to hear the principal arguments of the policy, not which tribe implemented it.

Ms Hewitt: Perhaps I can continue in that spirit of elucidation. If we get the two new directives right, they will send precisely the right signals to the market, which the hon. Gentleman would support. At the moment, the real environmental costs involved in producing electrical and electronic goods and disposing of them when they come to the end of their lives are being externalised on to the environment, which is the economist's jargon for saying that they are being dumped in landfill. Those costs are being externalised by producers to the detriment of the environment in which we all live.

That is why the principle of the approach and of producer responsibility that lies behind the directive and the packaging directive is absolutely right. It is about creating the right framework and the right market signals so that producers and other parts of the supply chain can act more effectively.

The waste resource and action programme, a joint initiative between my Department and the DETR, recognises that there are real market failures in turning what is currently treated as waste into a resource for further production. Markets for recyclates do not work well at the moment. We are trying, through the waste and resources action programme, to develop much more effective markets in, for instance, plastic and glass, which are two of the key components in the electrical and electronic equipment that are causing such problems.

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