Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
MONDAY 1 JULY 2002
MP, MS SUE
340. What will happen if the manufacturer in
2008 does not exist for a vehicle which, say, was bought now?
You said you hope the manufacturer will take over the responsibility
in 2008 so what happens if you buy a car today and by 2008 the
manufacturer does not exist, he is not able to take over responsibility,
he has gone out of business.
(Mr Meacher) If the manufacturer has gone out of business
we are then into the whole issue of orphaned equipment and a question
of who takes responsibility. Now under the European Directive,
the view is that it should be the responsibility of the producers
where that manufacturer no longer exists.
341. So the other producers would have to take
over the orphaned cars?
(Mr Meacher) The number of cases where manufacturers
have gone out of existence in the automobile manufacturing industry
are very, very few. What does happen is companies are taken over
by other companies and they are swallowed up into large organisations.
That liability would then go to a large organisation. We are talking
only about small niche manufacturers, I think.
342. We could have a long debate about that.
(Mr Meacher) Right.
343. Cars are one of my interests. I just want
to ask you a couple of small points but I think important points
of detail which caught my eye in your evidence. In paragraph 20
you talk about the UK Plan for the Exports and Imports of Waste,
published in 1996, ". . . bans all exports of waste for disposal,
as well as most imports." Then you continue by saying "Exceptions
are made in the case of wastes from countries that cannot reasonably
be expected to develop their own facilities for management of
particular wastes, as well as imports from Portugal or Ireland
for high temperature incineration".
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
344. Can you just clarify, does that mean to
say Portugal and Ireland have not got high temperature incineration
facilities and they send their material to the United Kingdom
for processing, is that right?
(Mr Meacher) I think that is correct.
(Ms Ellis) Yes, it is.
(Mr Meacher) The view I have taken on this is that
we should press them hard for the development of their own facilities.
I have had some considerable dialogue or correspondence with my
opposite number in other states to ensure that happens. In the
short term, where high temperature incineration is clearly appropriate
for certain kinds of waste streams, I take the view that we should
accept that we should not, as it were, be a dumping ground, we
should insist that they take responsibility as soon as they reasonably
345. The other odd little point which caught
my eye was in paragraph 91 on the same subject. It says: "However,
incinerators are seen by many African Governments as posing a
range of problems and to date no African country has been willing
to host a regional hazardous waste treatment facility". Given
that the Prime Minister spent some time earlier this afternoon
talking about international efforts to help Africa in many ways
I was intrigued that as far as disposing of materials is concerned,
this is one area where there perhaps needs to be some further
work. I wonder if you could just illuminate and comment on that
(Mr Meacher) I think I would broadly agree with you.
Africa as a continent is so dirt poor that the relative sophistication
of high tech disposal, high temperature incineration or various
other costly capital investments is simply not a priority and
they will not do so at the present time.
346. Let me now finally ask you, coming back
to the domestic situation, when we were on our way to the waste
treatment plant in Liverpool that we visited, our hosts pointed
out to us, on the right hand side of the particular road we had
gone down, a warehouse. They said "Did you see what had been
dumped in there"? There was this old broken down warehouse
with this great mountain of rumble, rubbish, you name it, it had
been put in there. It illustrated an interesting paradox. We have
been talking this afternoon about more sophisticated, environmentally
sensitive ways of disposing of even more sharply defined waste
that we are going to call hazardous in future and yet next door
to a modern facility was a really prime example of the worst practice.
Flytipping was too humble a term for this abuse of the environment
in that particular area.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
347. Again, whilst we were out, we heard of
things like sham disposals where along with a certain liquid waste
you might have dilution to try and disguise what is happening.
If you are going to get the industry spending a lot of money on
becoming even more sophisticated what corresponding action is
going to be taken to deal with people who will try and circumnavigate
what will inevitably become a rather more expensive route for
proper disposal, in other words the cheats on the system? What
is going to actually happen to beef up enforcement?
(Mr Meacher) Certainly you correctly draw attention
to real problems. I am afraid there will always be villains or
offenders who try to evade the law, whatever we do. We do have
to make it as difficult as possible for them. We have to try and
catch them and we have to try and deter them when we penalise
them if they are convicted. With regard to flytipping, that remains
a real problem. We have a flytipping forum, it has all the stakeholders
represented on it. The problem is, of course, catching them. Close
circuit television is increasingly used but you cannot put close
circuit television everywhere. If we are talking about farm lands
they can cover a very substantial area, it is very difficult.
Sometimes, and I would encourage this, examination of what is
dumped can reveal the owner. If we do catch the owner the thing
which then aggravates me is that the courts in my view understate
the significance of the crime and give what is often a derisory
sentence, in effect saying to the offender "Well it is going
to cost you so little you might as well try it again". I
think we have to try and change that. With regard to sham recovery,
we have been looking at these exemptions from waste management
licensing and there is no doubt that it does need to be tighter.
We have been giving a lot of thought to that over this past year.
I would hope that shortly I will be able to make a statement indicating
a significantly tighter regime.
348. I want to just go back to your sentence,
I do not disagree with what you say about having to find and catch
people but again we saw last week an example in this particular
yard, a great pile of cans of solvents, of paint, where in fact
they had identified the person concerned. The frightening thing
was the individual concerned had got an old warehouse, filled
it up with these solvents and old paint products and was busy
trying to dispose of them in a wholly inappropriate manner but
given that it was an area of domestic housing, if that thing had
gone up, exploded or whatever because it was not in proper circumstances
the results could have been utterly catastrophic. It does occur
to me that there does need to be a real beefing up in this area
of the way the law operates because these cowboy operators are
a real threat, not just to the environment but to human life itself.
If there is a pressure to go down that route, instead of the proper
route, then I hope perhaps you might be having discussions with
either your paymasters to ensure the Environment Agency can be
appropriately equipped or indeed with the Home Office on the criminal
law side because I think there is a real issue there.
(Mr Meacher) Certainly I do not accept the Environment
Agency is not adequately equipped to deal with it. Obviously I
do not know the circumstances of this particular case. They seem
very serious from what you have said. If you would like to provide
me with details then I will ensure that the matter is fully investigated
by the Environment Agency.
349. They are. No, in fairness to them, they
have done a superb job.
(Mr Meacher) Right.
350. The only reason we saw the fruits of their
labour was because it happened to be at a waste transfer station
awaiting evidential matters and final disposal. It brought home
to the Committee when we saw it the risk factors involved if people
try to circumnavigate the proper disposal of potentially very
hazardous materials indeed. No criticism of the Environment Agency
but it illustrated the sheer totality of the task with which they
are engaged in trying to deal with people who do not want to play
by the rules.
(Mr Meacher) I think that is an entirely fair statement.
It is a very fitting confirmation of the importance of having
new and tighter rules on hazardous waste disposal which of course
all of this is about. I do not think any of us disagree with the
objectives but I do think the mechanisms by which it could be
implemented could be done better.
Chairman: On that note of harmony, Minister,
thank you very much indeed for your kindness in coming and talking
about this complex subject. We look forward to the further material
that you have very kindly offered us. May I thank Mr Hewitt and
Ms Ellis also for coming and contributing. Thank you very much,