Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 213)



Paddy Tipping

  200. Can I just take you back to the resource question, because I think, Dr Leinster, you said, "It's not up to me to say whether DEFRA have got enough resources;" but let me just say that I take away the impression that on a policy level perhaps DEFRA could do with some beefing up. In a sense, you are an operational arm; is it the case that, in a sense, you are being asked to devise policy, or help devise policy, for DEFRA?
  (Dr Leinster) I think it is right that we should help them; in that we are the people who are ultimately going to implement the regulations, so we are the people, along with those that are regulated, who have to live with the regulations. And one of the things that we have been looking for is greater involvement within that process, all the way through to Europe; because I think it is important that there is early involvement of people who know what the implications are going to be of Directives, as those Directives are being developed. So, in a number of areas, as has been said, we are working with DEFRA; as DEFRA goes across to Europe, to negotiate, we are also providing technical assistance for them, within technical committees, and providing technical advice, I think that is right and proper. Ultimately, though, the policy is a Government policy.

  201. What I am asking you directly, I think, is, in a sense, because there is not resource in DEFRA, are you being asked to do it?
  (Dr Leinster) No, I do not think that that is the reason. I think the reason why we are being asked to is because we can bring something to the development of the policy which adds to the development of the policy. I do not think we are being asked because they do not have enough people. But one of the things that we have been doing and looking at, and it is welcomed, is that we have been seconding people into the Department to help within the development of policy; and I think that is a good thing as well.

  202. Let me ask just a few quickies, that are a bit disjointed. The PIU are looking at all this issue; what do you expect from their report, have you been involved in this process, is hazardous waste part of the process?
  (Dr Leinster) Hazardous waste is on the periphery of the process, they are concentrating more just now on municipal waste. I think, with your inquiry and with some of the other information which is coming through now, and the development of the legislative regime, as we see it, then I think that the PIU could well do with looking, in particular, at hazardous waste as well.

  203. And is it the case really that we have taken our eye off the hazardous waste a bit; the drive, the waste summit, was all really about municipal waste?
  (Dr Leinster) I think there is a danger that it could be the Cinderella, that the growth in municipal waste, 3 per cent, year on year, potentially, growth from municipal waste, and, as Steve was saying, the diversion targets, which mean that within 20 years, if growth in municipal waste continues as it is now, then we could have a doubling of the amount of waste, with a large amount of that that is no longer able to go to landfill; those numbers have taken a lot of people's attention. I think now we need to get people focused back onto the hazardous waste, which is the immediate, and we need to concentrate on that, whilst still dealing with those other areas. But I think that now is the time to concentrate on hazardous waste, as well as not forgetting about municipal waste.

  204. And just turning to the EA's own responsibilities, I know you have got a very strong regional structure, but there have been complaints, in fairness, there are fewer now than there used to be, but there is no consistency of advice across the Agency, that different regions give different advice; my impression is that you have heard those complaints, and, in a sense, at a policy level, have tried to put in advice across the regions. Is that a fair perception?
  (Dr Leinster) I believe it is a fair perception, and thank you for it. I think we need to recognise that when the Agency was formed, and we talk about the Agency coming together out of 86 different organisations, 83 of those organisations were waste, and so there were, at the early stages of the Agency, considerable differences in the practices that we inherited within the Agency. But what we did, partly because of that heritage, is that we concentrated on making sure that we developed, in the early days, the Agency way of doing things; and we have focused on developing consistent processes, in terms of licensing, inspection. And we are in the middle of a reorganisation within the Agency, which is focusing on policy, process and operational delivery, and we will be strengthening that process area of our work, which then means that there will be a focused group of people who will be looking at ensuring there is a consistent process for doing things within the Agency. And I think that that work has paid dividends, and I would agree with you that there is now less criticism than there was about lack of consistency within the Agency. But one of the things that I always do ask is that, whenever anybody does come across inconsistency in the way regions are acting, or areas are acting, that they either inform myself or my colleague Archie Robertson, Director of Operations, so that we can investigate it and do something about it.

  205. Now we have talked quite a lot about your responsibility, the responsibility of DEFRA; what is quite apparent is that it is the private sector who are actually delivering the goods, or putting the goods to bed. Are you confident that the private sector is involved enough in the discussions, they are the people at the heavy end, they are the people who are saying to us that the rules and definitions are not clear; are you confident that the right processes are set up to involve the private sector?
  (Dr Leinster) I believe so. We meet with both the waste-producing trade associations and individual companies, so individual companies through interaction with site inspectors and site environmental protection officers, and we discuss with trade associations, like the Chemical Industries Association, and we have regular meetings with them, we also have regular meetings with the Environmental Services Association, the waste management companies, and also have individual conversations with those groups. And what we are trying to do is to be as open and transparent as possible, and so they will know what our thinking is, and we involve them in the discussions and in the development of our guidance.

  206. But, in a sense, that could be seen very much as an operational record. I am gripped, I must say, about the absence of this national plan; this seems to be the key issue. And the private sector are saying to me, "We know there's a national plan, we've been crying out for it for some time, we've got views that need to be taken into account." Are they involved in that level of planning?
  (Dr Leinster) We talk to them at what we believe is a strategic level, so I will meet with them on a regular basis; we also know that they have some meetings with DEFRA, but I think that would be a question rightly put to DEFRA and also to the producers and waste management companies, as to whether they believe they have sufficient input into the Government policy end of the debate. I believe that, within that national plan that we talk about, it would be right if the private sector were intimately involved in the development of that national plan.

  Paddy Tipping: I think you are being very careful with what you are saying, obviously, but, again, I cannot answer from your side of the table; my impression is that you are saying "We ought to involve them more"?


  207. Go on, say it?
  (Dr Leinster) But, within anything, I think there is a responsibility on both sides, and I think that those discussions require the producers and the managers to discuss with DEFRA, and DEFRA vice versa, so both need to be initiating those discussions. And how those discussions go, I think, and how often they meet, I think really is for others; we are not involved necessarily in those discussions.

Paddy Tipping

  208. No, but, as the Chairman said, earlier on, when the wheel comes off this, and I think there is a real potentiality of the wheel coming off it, one needs to be able to say, "Why weren't the bolts tightened enough?" And is one of the issues not involving the private sector early enough?
  (Dr Leinster) I think, within that process, we need to be grit in the oyster, so we need to be promoting the fact that you do need a national plan, and we are discussing with our Government colleagues that, and we also are discussing with the waste producers, saying, "Where will you dispose of your waste?" And we are also talking to the waste management companies and saying, "What are the issues that you're having to deal with; how are you going to get facilities through planning?" So I think we are involved in all of those discussions, but we can only operate within that advisory role that we have.

Mr Lepper

  209. I am just thinking, following on from what Paddy Tipping has said, the importance of the concept of producer responsibility, when goods reach the end of their life, makes it essential, does it not, that the producers are involved throughout, in these discussions, because they are going to have a vital role to play, surely? So you are talking to them, but I think what we still have not quite heard is that they are perhaps involved directly in discussions with DEFRA, and indeed those other Government Departments that might be involved?
  (Dr Leinster) I would not like to give a false impression, they do have discussions with those other Government Departments, and also with DEFRA; but, again, rather than us trying to guess at how much contact they have, the question has to be put to the parties to those discussions, because we are not parties to those discussions. But, in terms of, for example, if we take things like tyres, there is a used tyres group, on which the producers are involved, and that is a DTI group, and we are involved on that and certainly the tyre producers are involved in that. For the WEEE Directive, the Waste Electrical and Electronic goods, there are a number of stakeholder groups within that, on which industry is involved, so I think we could go through different groupings and indicate how producers are involved within these discussions.


  210. Can I just follow on from that, that it is great to hear they are involved in discussions, but in your own evidence, in fact, in paragraph 4.3, you talk about the implementation dates for the End of Life Vehicle Directive and the Waste Electrical Equipment Directive. I have to say, I am still completely unclear, in both of those, as to how, if you like, the owner, the customer, the consumer end of this is going to operate in paying some of the costs that inevitably are going to be involved, in disposing of the piece of kit that they end up with. I am also, shall we say, a little bit confused, particularly in the context of the electrical goods side, as to precisely how that interrelates to what we have been discussing; now it may be that we should have another whole evidence session on that, it sounds like a big subject, but maybe you could give us just a brief overview, and possibly submit a further commentary? Because these are two very high-profile Directives and, as Mr Lepper was talking about, who actually, if you like, carries the cash-can for looking after this, it seems to me totally unclear as to who is going to do what; and I say that out of ignorance as much as concern?
  (Mr Lee) Yes, is the short answer to your question. The long answer to your question is, probably, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment is not the best example to discuss, simply because it is much earlier in the process of discussing and agreeing it at a European level and then turning it into systems to actually apply the producer responsibility in England and Wales.

  211. But you say in your evidence that it could be, implementation date, 2004, it is only two years away?
  (Mr Lee) It could be as early as 2004. End of Life Vehicles, a much more immediate example, which was implementable this year, when will the producer responsibility on the vehicle manufacturers cut in? It could be as late as 2007; if that is right, but the producer responsibility system is introduced through DTI and DEFRA regs later on this year, for example, who would it be that would bear the end-of-life cost for the vehicle between, say, 2003 and 2007. It could well be the last owner, rather than the producer of the vehicle. Now we, the same as the vehicle manufacturers, the same as many other interest groups, are working with and talking to DTI, in particular, to try to make sure that we get an appropriate producer responsibility system introduced, and we would like to see one that puts the onus on the producer of the goods, as early as possible, rather than the end user.

  212. In a lot of these things, because, for example, going back to our inquiry into fridges, Mr Meacher, in his evidence to the Committee, said that, in his estimate, the nation faced a £40 million bill for dealing with what is already accumulating, because nobody else has got a pot of money to actually do anything with it. Now, in the case of End of Life Vehicle Directives, I can just see a lot of owners saying, when their battered, beloved mini comes to the end of its life, "Well, where is the nearest ditch?" or we will find car parks littered with vehicles that are being gently abandoned by owners, they will go into the cherished car lot and gradually rust away, until somebody comes and picks up the tab. Because, if you are buying a new car today, and the manufacturer puts X hundred pounds extra on the price, and that goes into a pot for the ultimate disposal, well, there we have a cost identified; but retrospectively to ask the punter who happens to be left holding the ball, in the sort of ultimate `pass the parcel' game, to pick up the tab and deal with it, some might say is unfair, and yet these are areas where you are travelling more in hope than in expectation that all of this is going to be sorted out. And, clearly, it does have an implication, as you yourself said, because motor vehicles contain hazardous wastes now?
  (Mr Lee) We agree entirely. You asked for further submissions from the Environment Agency, I am sure we will be only too happy to give you all of the copies to the recent consultations, through DTI, in particular, on End of Life Vehicles. I would say, our principal concern has always been widespread abandonment of End of Life Vehicles, particularly between the introduction of the responsibility to make sure that they are depolluted and then recovered, and the imposition of the responsibility on the producer.

  213. What I would really like, compliant with the terms of reference that we have, which you know, is something which perhaps will save me wading through yeh high of paper and causing more waste, but a synthesis of the issues that come out of both WEEE and End of Life Vehicles, which have a relevance to this question of the disposal of hazardous waste, concentrating on practicality of the issues which, when we come to talk to DEFRA at a ministerial level, they ought to be able to tell us how it is going to be done, when it is going to be done. So, in other words, what are the outstanding issues, the outstanding questions and the outstanding points of concern; because I think the Committee would find that very helpful indeed?

  (Mr Lee) We would be happy to do that.

  Chairman: Right. Well thank you very much indeed. I think you have done a good job in, if you like, clarifying on many issues. I think you have highlighted areas where further work will have to be done, by us, in understanding the complexities on this, and you have marked our card with your careful language about where certain other questions ought to be pointed in due course. And thank you again for your presentation, and we look forward to, with your guidance, paying our visit next weekend to the delights of holes in the ground, and whatever, in Cheshire, when we come to see the practical side of hazardous waste disposal. So thank you very much.

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