MONDAY 1 JULY 2002
Mr Michael Jack, in the Chair
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON MICHAEL MEACHER MP, Minister of State (Environment) (E21), MS SUE ELLIS, Head of Waste Policy Division, and MR SIMON HEWITT, Head of Waste Strategy Division, examined.
(Mr Meacher) First of all, Simon Hewitt is the Head of Waste Strategy Division and Sue Ellis on my left is Head of Waste Management Division. Needless to say, they work closely together.
(Mr Meacher) I could only guess at your first question. What would my guess be? Of the order of a fifth or sixth of my time, something of that order, which I regard as a large proportion. When you look at the size of the portfolio, which includes GM, nuclear, climate change, air, water, land contamination, pollution of all kinds, a fifth or a sixth of my time is a lot, so it is very considerable. What can I say extra about the organisation within the department? There are two divisions dealing with this. The fact that there are two as opposed to one shows its size. If you want details of how those units operate I think my colleagues had probably answer that direct. In terms of other government departments, of course working very closely with them is very important, particularly of course DTI, and indeed DTI is in the lead in terms of policy over areas like vehicles and we liaise very closely with them of course on -----
(Mr Meacher) No. It is at official level. It will only be at ministerial level as necessary. Some of these issues do come to the Environment Committee but more regularly they are resolved at official level.
(Mr Meacher) I smile because last time when I appeared before you when you were Chair of this Committee that was quite an issue.
(Mr Meacher) You may well remember that, although I did not criticise my officials in the way they handled the fridges issue in terms of trying to get the necessary information from the Commission over a two and a quarter year period, I did think that they should have brought me into the picture earlier. I still think that. As a result of that and other difficult issues I did recently commission within the department a paper which required an implementation plan for every directive which had to be transposed or every regulation which had to be implemented in the UK so that there should be no surprises and so that we should be aware of the track which needed to be passed through before one reached implementation so that one could keep a record of where we were falling short. I quite agree; I would not call it a tidal wave but there is certainly a significant amount of legislation and keeping track of it to ensure that we implement in time, that we are not subject to proceedings or get into other difficulties, I think that is very important.
(Mr Meacher) First of all, Chairman, I would not wholly agree with your statement that the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme has been almost wholly concentrated on non-hazardous landfill. Substantial amounts of those funds have gone to assist environmental projects. Simon Lester of the Wildlife Trust is always telling me how absolutely crucial it is for the support of projects which would otherwise probably not get support, and of course, which is something of concern to me, some of that money has gone for social expenditure around landfill sites, so it is not just on landfill sites themselves. On your question about focus on municipal waste, we have, I think rightly, been focusing on municipal waste but we certainly have not in my view taken our eye off the whole issue of hazardous waste. The National Waste Strategy, which we published in 2000, of course already covers all waste streams, including hazardous waste, so I do not think we have been unaware of this issue but it has, I agree, concentrated minds in now having to meet these quite specific requirements of the Landfill Directive.
(Mr Meacher) I am afraid, Chairman, I cannot because the PIU have certainly indicated that it is an area they are looking at. They have given us some preliminary indication of the coverage of their study but I do not know in detail what they are likely to be reporting on hazardous waste.
(Mr Meacher) Oh yes, of course. When the Prime Minister sets up these cross-departmental studies, which I think are extremely useful because a lot of these things do fall down the cracks, obviously the relevant departments will have extensive discussions with the team to brief them about our existing procedures and our working practices so that they are fully up to speed with that, so that they can give advice on the basis of accurate information on what is happening on the ground.
(Mr Meacher) I do not know in detail. I am certainly quite sure that if they asked detailed questions we would have told them as much as we could.
(Mr Meacher) What you have just said is absolutely correct. The final vote will be taken, as I understand it, by the Technical Advisory Committee on 23 July. This will be in the light of the drafting of those waste acceptance criteria which has already of course been extensively considered. I am not suggesting this is just a rubber stamping; it is not, but I think there is every expectation that they will be largely accepted in the form they are. However, you are quite right that the final authorisation depends on that vote. What is significant about that vote is that it is actually one week after 16 July, this very important deadline in terms of the implementation of the Landfill Directive, when hazardous waste can only, after 16 July, go to hazardous waste landfill sites. Conditioning plans have to be submitted to the agency for landfill operators and certain wastes are banned in respect of hazardous waste sites. It is extraordinary to me that absolute finalisation of the waste acceptance criteria has taken three and a half years from the time that the Landfill Directive was passed, which was in 1998. That is what I meant by saying "not quite as long as before". In fact, I am not sure I am right in saying that. It was about as long as in the case of fridges. There are different circumstances which I would be the first to say. In the case of fridges the Commission had come up with the relevant information on a point which arose after the directive had gone through. In this case that was not the issue. The issue was trying to establish what are the appropriate waste acceptance criteria and it was the UK once again who did a lot of the modelling work, who held meetings with key stakeholders and liaised with the industry in order to assist with the finalisation of this material. We are only one of the Member States. I am very proud that the UK takes a lead, but I think it says something about the process that it is once again left to the UK and I am afraid I think the Commission again has been very laggard in coming forward with this data.
(Mr Meacher) As I am sure you know, Chairman, the reason for the review of the special waste regime is in order to implement the changes which have been required by the Commission's Hazardous Waste List which is defined as 94/904. That has been recently changed. A large number of additional waste streams, as many as 200, will now be classified as hazardous waste. As a consequence of course we in the UK will, as will other Member States, have to change our own list. We have already had a consultation paper on this. We will be issuing a second consultation paper shortly and we would expect to lay the revised regulations around the end of this year or possibly early 2003 with the expectation that they will come into force in the summer or autumn of next year.
(Mr Meacher) They can answer that, but the basic principle is, as with all directives and regulations, that they are in close touch with colleagues from UKREP but it is UKREP of course, which is based in Brussels, which does need to be properly briefed in detail, which will then conduct many of the negotiations with Commission officials.
(Mr Hewitt) Perhaps on the Landfill Directive, which is really my only area of European negotiation, the TAC has gone about its business rather more slowly than we would wish. It is probably true to say that we tore our hair out rather more than some others did because after all we are amongst those countries who landfill most waste and it becomes a much more difficult and important issue for us to resolve. That is one of the reasons why we have been pushing at it. But of course we are only one of 15 in the end. It is a bit like a convoy. You end up going to some extent at the speed of the slowest rather than at the speed of the quickest.
(Mr Hewitt) I would not want to comment on their technical competence, not least as I am not a techie myself. The circumstances between the Landfill Directive, for example, and fridges are rather different. They recognised, as I understand it, at the time they agreed the Landfill Directive that what they were doing was putting to one side for some further work an area that was actually rather horribly complicated, because it required some technical people from across Europe to be going at the issue and coming to an accommodation and an agreement on it, so I think the circumstances were rather different and it was perhaps a fairly sensible model to adopt. What on the face of it was slightly odd was that they agreed the directive before that work was concluded and so it then took rather a long time getting to the end of that work, so in those terms the process is distinctly odd and that was the thing that struck me when I first came to my role now, but no, it is not a silly thing to do, to ask the technical people to go at a very difficult problem.
(Mr Meacher) This is of course a technical matter and it will be technical advice received from the Technical Advisory Committee -----
(Mr Meacher) In Europe, yes, on which there will be representatives, I assume, from all Member States.
(Mr Meacher) In the case of fly ash of course, that does contain certain very dangerous substances, namely dioxins, which come out of the incinerator stacks. Edible oils are a different matter. I do not know why they are regarded as hazardous. With regard to your question about domestic hazardous waste, it is currently excluded from the Hazardous Waste Directive and also from our Special Waste Regulations. However, some household wastes may be classified as hazardous if they are separately collected, for example, at a civic amenity site, depending what they are. If we are now talking, as we are, about computer monitors, television screens, fluorescent lighting, and they were assembled in large numbers at civic amenity sites that could under the directive be regarded as a hazardous site.
(Mr Meacher) Sorry; could you repeat that?
(Mr Meacher) If it is in single items dealt with by re-use, recovery, dismantling, then it is not going to be put on a site in quantities which need to be regarded as hazardous waste.
Mr Mitchell: No, but if I have got a broken neon tube and I just shove it in the dustbin and nobody knows, what happens then?
(Mr Meacher) It certainly is not hazardous waste.
(Ms Ellis) There is a slight complication there with the Hazardous Waste Directive and it is something that has been introduced in the amendments that we have been looking at. I think that the local authorities referred to it before. If you are a householders with a TV set, for example, if you drop it into your wheelie bin and it is collected as part of your municipal rubbish, then it is not considered to be hazardous. However, if you get the local authority to collect it as part of a separate collection, which they often do for bulky items, or indeed if the householder takes it to the CA site himself in the back of his car and delivers it, it is hazardous waste. That is something that is defined by the directive.
(Mr Meacher) The logic of that is, I accept, slightly puzzling.
(Ms Ellis) We are going to need to talk to the local authorities about it. As they have mentioned, there is a possibility that we need to look at it with them, maybe using extensions to licensing arrangements or other arrangements to ensure that the householder or anybody else who ends up with a TV set does not have practical problems in getting rid of it and indeed that the local authorities do not have the necessary burden either.
(Mr Meacher) There are targets for reduction of all forms of waste as an attempt under the waste strategy to reduce the growth of arisings and to promote recycling, re-use, recovery, and that applies to hazardous substances as well as non-hazardous substances.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) In exactly the same way as all the reductions are to be got. We have set targets which require a doubling of the level of recycling and recovery for all local authorities (and that covers the whole of the country, and this is domestic waste, of course,) within three years by 2003/2004, and a trebling within five years, by 2005/2006, and that includes hazardous waste.
(Mr Meacher) The Commission has now agreed a transition period to bring the waste acceptance criteria into effect up to July 2005 and we are in discussion with the industry as to whether that does constitute a sufficient timescale.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) As I said, the Commission certainly accepts that the production of the waste acceptance criteria has taken a great deal longer than they originally anticipated. Their original view was that it would be ready by July 2001 and, as has already been said, it is still not completed although it should be completed this month. Of course, if we were to argue for a period longer than the 2005 which has been offered, we would have to get agreement with other Member States, which is the usual form of negotiation. We want to find our industry view. It seems to me that a three year period is probably reasonable but if we had a very different view then we would argue for it strongly and of course we would lobby other Member States as well.
(Mr Meacher) It is certainly true that we are behind other Member States in some degree because of our over-reliance traditionally on landfill. The fact that 80 to 85 per cent of the household waste stream goes to landfill means it is significantly higher than, perhaps the highest, amongst other Member States. Having said that and, given that other Member States have a much higher level of recycling and recovery already than we do, it is true that the Landfill Directive has not yet been fully implemented in many other countries, not just the southern states but also some of the northern states - in Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and Finland, so we are not by any means alone.
(Mr Meacher) Later this month. We are on 1 July.
(Mr Meacher) We have.
(Mr Meacher) I do think there is a similarity, I agree with you, between the fridges case and the waste acceptance criteria but it is not quite the same. In the case of fridges it was, "Is this included or is it not?", one would have thought quite a simple, straightforward question, but we all know it took a fearful long time to answer it. In this case we are talking about a series of considerations of what should be included, what can go to hazardous landfill and what cannot. It is not just one single question but a number. I entirely agree that it is the delay in providing a clear answer to the question, whatever that answer is, which makes it very difficult for industry to have the confidence to make expensive investment in new facilities that may be required. If we are going to engage in this legislation - and let me make it clear that I think this legislation is desirable; I think we have to make major changes in the form of disposal if they are going to be environmentally sustainable - it should be done within prompt timescales giving industry proper time to make adjustments. The problem is not that the Environment Agency's technical advice may not be statutory. It would not help if we said that they had the statutory power. The question is the construction of that advice on the basis of authoritative information agreed by the Commission with all the 15 Member States in the EU. Once we have that then there is no problem about the Environment Agency giving advice which the waste management industry would accept. There has been a raft of technical guidance from the Environment Agency on engineering requirements, on site classification, on the conditioning plans which are necessary, and we have certainly been extremely active in meetings that we have organised in order to make the industry fully aware of the implications of what is coming but we have not been able finally to give the certain and unequivocal details of exactly what will be required in all cases.
(Mr Meacher) Absolutely.
(Mr Meacher) It is certainly true of course that we have already taken extensive action with industry to prepare them. We are certainly of course not waiting until the vote on 23 July and saying, "Now we can fire the starting gun". That is only the final form of authorisation. We have of course been discussing with the waste management industry that on the assumption that these are going to be the waste management criteria are they able to provide the hazardous landfill which is required to meet these regulations. Obviously, we have had extensive discussions about that and the waste management industry has assured us that there will be sufficient landfill capacity to dispose of hazardous waste at least until July 2004. The issue between July 2004 and July 2005 is a separate one. Maybe we will come to that, but they have assured us that there should be, will be, sufficient capacity. We have done research which we commissioned and which concluded that there were sufficient alternative disposal systems either in use or planned to cope with the large volume of organic waste streams diverted from landfill. I think in the evidence we refer to these: pyrolysis or gasification; there are merchant treatment plants offering free treatment, greater company use of spare capacity in aerobic or anaerobic systems; there is high temperature incineration, existing landfill leachate plant which can certainly treat a wider range of aqueous organic waste. I mention these simply to indicate that the department has been involved in detail in preparation of all of these alternatives and alerting the industry to the necessity to use these to the full.
(Mr Meacher) That is the assurance which we have received from the waste management industry and I have no reason to doubt it.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) You are quite right that the research did indicate that additional facilities might be required for precisely those waste streams which you have indicated. Of course we have discussed this with the industry. We have included details of the bans in both the consultation papers we have issued. The first was in October 2000, a year and a half ago, and the second was in August 2001, both of those, of course, were circulated widely. We have had frequent meetings with both the waste management industry and the waste producers. We have encouraged the waste industry to liaise directly with their customers, those people who are seeking disposal sites. We have spoken, also, at a series of seminars and workshops and conferences up and down the country. As I have said already, the Environment Agency has issued a raft of guidance on the implementation of the bans. I am not sure there is anything more that we can do but we believe we have alerted the industry, all sectors of the industry, to what is required and I believe that will be sufficient and that there will be the landfill sites available as needed.
(Mr Meacher) If you are asking what estimate I make of the shortfall, what I am saying, really, in detail is that I do not believe there will be a shortfall. If we have information in the Department more recently or in more detail I have indicated then I will rapidly let the Committee know, and I will write back hopefully this week. My belief is that we have done all the steps necessary to ensure that landfill sites will be available for all waste streams.
(Mr Meacher) Of course.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) My answer was that we have alerted industry in the light of this research to the possibility of a shortfall in order that they are able to rectify it before the time, in fact of 16 July, just a fortnight's time. We have done what we can to alert industry to the need for investment or to find alternative forms of disposal which will meet those particular waste streams.
(Mr Meacher) If one draws up regulations, and gives people adequate time in order to meet those regulations, to tell them exactly what is required, and to ensure that the full requirements of implementation are fully known and they are not met, then in the normal way there would be a prosecution for failing to meet the regulations. Certainly I hope that is not going to be necessary.
(Mr Meacher) I am sure there are. This is a matter for the Environment Agency, of course, although planning consents, in some circumstances, could be for the local authority as well. I am sure that in the light of, as I say, badgering industry about their requirements certainly they will have been making those applications, as they should. The approval of them is a matter for the relevant authorities not for me.
(Mr Meacher) Of course I agree entirely, we are back to the issue that the Waste Acceptance Criteria should be known in sufficient time for industry to be able to plan to meet those criteria. As I have said already, from 16 July of this year - just a fortnight's time - hazardous waste can only go to hazardous waste landfill sites, although there is this one exception, which I think we have mentioned, of stable non reactive hazardous waste which can still go to separate cells in non hazardous sites. With that small exception, hazardous waste can only go to accepted hazardous waste landfill sites. Now the decision, of course, by landfill operators as to whether they are going to operate a hazardous site or a non hazardous site is a matter for them. I agree with you entirely that the lateness of the date in deciding a Waste Acceptance Criteria means that information is being left until the last moment. As I say, I repeat, when the waste management industry says to us that they believe that certainly there will be the landfill sites necessary for hazardous waste, at least until July 2004, I do accept that and I do not think there will be a problem but I understand the theoretical issue that you are raising and, again, I do not believe that should not have happened. If we had had the relevant information, the criteria at an earlier stage, there would not have been this problem.
(Mr Meacher) It is. I repeat - I am really going over the same ground - the Waste Acceptance Criteria set down the criteria by which landfill sites will be classified. It is then for the landfill operators to decide for themselves, not for Government to tell them of course, whether they are going to operate a hazardous waste landfill or a non hazardous landfill. They will say, quite properly, that they cannot make a final decision on that until they have a final authoritative version of the Waste Acceptance Criteria and that is not until 23 July. I think it should have been a year ago, then this problem would not have happened. There is no way that I can, as it were, make a contingency plan. I suppose what we have done is make a contingency plan in one sense, namely that we have explored this issue in depth with the industry, alerted them to the issue and tried to ensure that it will properly be met. I think I am right in saying there are two and a half million tonnes of hazardous waste going into landfill and something like I think 0.6 million tonnes will be banned in future from landfill. That is with regard to the specific bans and alternative routes have to be found for the disposal of those particular wastes. I cannot add any further to it. I recognise the problem you draw attention to. It is a valid issue. The problem is that we have had the Waste Acceptance Criteria so very late.
(Mr Meacher) Of course. I really do not want any Members of the Committee to think that this problem has dropped on us from above and that we are completely unprepared. We are as well conceivably prepared as we can be. I would insist that the UK has done more in the face of this intractable problem, which is not of our making, than any other Member State. Whether it is Government, whether it is the Environment Agency or indeed our own waste management industry, we have sought to tackle this problem as best we can. I really do not believe we could have done more.
(Mr Meacher) Absolutely.
Patrick Hall: Are we prepared.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) That is a good question and obviously we are very interested in the answer to that question. There may well be a presumption that most operators will opt for non hazardous sites and there could, from July 2004, for that reason, be a shortfall. That is much more of a problem than what I think is going to happen in a fortnight's time in July 2002. But we do not know, I do not know until they come forward with their plans as to how they propose to run their site in future. We will be pressing for that information as soon as possible. There is no question of leaving those issues over as we get close to July 2004. We will want an answer much earlier.
(Mr Meacher) I think that is pure conjecture. We will know much more accurately in two weeks' time when the Environment Agency is able, under the Directive, to require the landfill operators to produce their site conditioning plans. On that basis we will have a much clearer idea of the situation in 2004. Before the end of this month we will be able to answer your question much more clearly.
(Mr Meacher) As I say, there could be. I think this is all hypothesis. I think it is rather otiose at this stage to try to decide what we should do if. As I say, within a few weeks we shall have a much clearer idea. If it certainly looks as though there is going to be a serious lack of hazardous landfill facilities in July 2004 obviously we are going to have to take action with the industry quickly to fill that gap, and we will.
(Mr Meacher) It is clearly the Directive which is driving the policy. That is the law, that is what has to be implemented. You say it is private operators working with Government, of course that is perfectly true and it is the case, also, that private operators in this part of the market, as in so many others, if there is a gap they will see that there is a profitable way of filling it. I do not think there will be a lack of willingness to consider investment if they believe there is a market there which they will be able to meet.
(Mr Meacher) No, it is a public policy driven project. It is driven, certainly, by a vision of appropriate disposal for hazardous waste but it is being implemented in a market organised manner and I think that is perfectly appropriate.
(Mr Meacher) Certainly I hope it is. Unquestionably the PIU will be looking at this. They will be interested, as we are, about the information which is revealed in the site conditioning plans in the middle of this month. As to this potential gap which I am being asked about, some have argued, of course, the opposite. As a result of the new requirements the costs of landfilling hazardous waste will rise, which again in market terms could well drive towards a reduction in hazardous waste, which again I think would be very helpful. If it works in the other direction, and there is a gap, I repeat I would expect private operators if there is a certainty in the market to invest. Planning policy, I am quite sure, we would want to make compatible with that.
(Mr Meacher) You are absolutely right, Chairman, there is an issue there. I have met representatives from the high temperature incineration industry who are exactly making that point. The problem arises because the Waste Framework Directive of the EU takes a different view as to whether the purpose of the operation is for disposal as opposed to energy recovery. That is why in the case of cement kilns they have an advantage because it is for energy recovery whereas HTI, which is purely for disposal, is denied it. As I say, that is a definitional distinction which is made under the Waste Framework Directive. Certainly it is felt to be extremely unfair by high temperature incineration. I might say there are only two such plants in this country, Ellesmere Port is one, I think Fauls is the other and the third at Pontypool closed down recently I think for other reasons. They do feel sorely that there is an inequity and certainly they believe that in those circumstances they will feel under pressure to revert to using fossil fuels, that is certainly the argument they use, and obviously I would not wish them to do that but we are bound by the provisions of the EU legislation.
(Mr Meacher) Anything can be changed but you have to wait, as you know, for the EU legislative timetable and get the agreement of the Commission and of the other 14 Member States. We are looking to see whether within the current framework it is possible to find a way of meeting their requirements. I do not want to go further than that.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) They are two rather different issues. I do think it is a valid distinction between disposal for incineration and energy for recovery. In environmental terms clearly there is an important distinction and to support one without necessarily supporting the other does have an environmental logic behind it. On your first question, your major question, of course I do not know how far there are senior officials in the Commission who are taking the necessary overview because, of course, the Council of Ministers which I attend is presented with a series of items and an agenda, which the Presidency has agreed with the Commission, and whether there is someone behind this process who is orchestrating it in a consistent compatible way I rather doubt. But I take your point that it is a consideration, not just in terms of energy for recovery versus disposal but in terms of broader compatibility of several wide ranging and fundamental measures which is changing the direction and the thrust of policy, particularly for the UK which has rather notoriously, I think, not had a good record over environmental regulation or disposal. It is having to change its practices to a marked degree. Now whether, as I say, someone is taking an overview on that I rather doubt. Sometimes, I think, we have ministerial away days for Departments at Westminster, a ministerial away day with the Commission in some spot - not Bali - would probably be a very good idea.
(Mr Meacher) I think to a good degree you are right. When you say we are sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the vote on 23 July, I think that is an amusing over presentation.
(Mr Meacher) I think we have a pretty good idea of the direction in which things are going. It is not as though this is like, is it, who is going to score the first goal in the World Cup where it could go either way, I think this is pretty certain and of course we have been preparing on that basis. But, like all formal votes, until it actually happens you cannot be absolutely certain. Looking to the wider issue, particularly, for example, what happens between 2004 and 2005, I do not know that the Environmental Services Association are keen that the Waste Acceptance Criteria are introduced a year earlier - that is in July 2004 - because they do not want untreated hazardous waste going into hazardous only landfill. I do not think that is the issue, actually, because the Landfill Directive requires all hazardous waste to be treated in July 2004 but there is an issue, particularly if there are going to be any further changes in the Waste Acceptance Criteria, as to whether there will be sufficient treatment capacity available to meet the very strict Waste Acceptance Criteria by July 2004. Now that is a significant question because the issue is how to manage that period during which waste must be pre-treated but not necessarily to the standard required to meet the strict Waste Acceptance Criteria. I know that the Environment Services Association have tried to reconcile this by suggesting that hazardous waste should be treated to what they call final storage quality. Well, once again, it is not one of those interpretations which is necessarily agreed by everyone, it is not even necessarily the best practical environmental option. The treatment standard is of course linked very closely to the Waste Acceptance Criteria for each type of site. But I agree these are still questions to which there is no final answer. It is not as though it is a "yes/no" question as it was over fridges. In terms of making investments, which are quite significant, it is important that even down to the detail, the precision of the requirements should be fully known, and that is not the case at the moment and I think that is not satisfactory.
(Mr Meacher) You are absolutely right. I would strongly assert that the UK already has a national waste strategy, not only for England but for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have the Environment Agency Strategic Waste Management Assessments. Let us be aware, hazardous waste is only approximately two per cent of total waste arising so there really is no need for a separate hazardous waste plan. I know another idea which has been put forward by the CIA - the Chemical Industry Association - is an Industrial Waste Forum in order to bring together the various stakeholders. I am always in favour of that being done. It is the same in terms of the Chemical Stakeholder Forum, and I think it would be appropriate. If all sections of the industry, and of course the conservation NGO groups, if they could be brought together I think that would be a very good way of proceeding. I do not think with all these detailed strategies in place we want another plan. What we want to do is to find a way of getting early and authoritative answers to the relative details which still need to be settled.
Mr Borrow: Obviously your Department is in regular discussion either directly with yourself or through officials with the Environment Agency. In many ways they are a key organisation in supporting the Department in their hazardous waste management plan. I wonder to what extent the discussions between the Environment Agency and your Department have been able to either put their concerns at rest or answer some of the concerns that they have?
(Mr Meacher) I did not know that. I am quite surprised, for the reasons I have given, to have a further inset. I take it the Environment Agency is not looking for an alternative strategy of 2000 but to have a special inset for hazardous waste I would regard as unnecessary because even if we were to do that it still cannot answer the crucial questions. It is the questions which we have been talking about this afternoon which need answering, not having a separate plan.
(Mr Meacher) I think what the Environment Agency is referring to there is the collation of information which will be assisted, certainly, by the site conditioning plans so that they can require landfill operators now to submit, by 16 July of this year, which will set out how their existing sites will meet the requirements of the Directive and the site classification sort: is it hazardous or non hazardous. All of that information is already, I am quite sure, to a large degree in the hands of the Environment Agency and, of course, that is very valuable and important information. I can understand that once you have all that information you have the essence, if you like, of a hazardous waste plan. Maybe it is just a semantics difference but I am always against trying to solve problems by having separate committees or separate plans. It is getting the basic plan and the basic committee to address the real issues which are still not answered, and answering them. That is what is really needed in my view.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
Mr Borrow: I think it will probably be important that the Department come back, having considered the evidence submitted by the Environment Agency, with a further response before we produce our report.
(Mr Meacher) Can I just say, Chairman, if I have anything in addition to what I have said already, certainly we will let the Committee have a note.
(Mr Meacher) I think there is a misunderstanding. What I am saying is that landfill operators - I repeat again - by 16 July when they submit site conditioning plans to the Environment Agency, they have to decide whether in future they are going to operate a hazardous waste landfill or a non hazardous waste landfill. That is not just saying "Leave the drawing up of a strategy to the industry", it is saying to the individual components that they have to tell us what their intentions are and in the light of that, the Environment Agency can form its appropriate dispositions as to whether or not after 2004 there will be sufficient hazardous landfill facility to meet the nation's requirements.
(Mr Meacher) The regulatory impact assessment that we have made - obviously these are only estimates - of implementing the End of Life Vehicle Directive is between £22 and £56 million a year, so £60 million is only slightly over the top end of that. Of course a good deal depends, again, on exactly how it is undertaken. Like Germany and France, we made a decision which we published on 21 June that it will be the last owner who will be responsible for disposal, up until 2007, after which point it will be up to the producer; that is laid down by the Directive. For the period up to 2007, it is left at the discretion of Member States and we have taken the same view as France and Germany. Of course the risk is, in leaving it as the responsibility of the last owner, that it could lead to an increase in abandoned cars. We did, on 10 April this year, set out our proposals to try to deal with that which for vehicles of what is generously called "no value" - that is wrecks of one kind or another - the period of time within which they can be removed legally by local authorities was reduced to 24 hours. For vehicles which have some value within the market place the period is reduced to seven days. Certainly that will lead to the removal of abandoned vehicles, and has done already, on a much larger scale. In the case of Operation Cubit seven and a half thousand motorists in that one area, I think in Kent and then in Newham, were induced to re-licence their vehicles as a result of its operation which saved £1.3 million of additional revenue. So there are ways of countering the whole problem of abandoned vehicles, partly by giving increased powers to local authorities, partly by modernising the whole system of vehicle registration, the question which we are looking at of continuous registration. Although putting the responsibility on the last owner, for well understood reasons, which as I say is shared by other Member States, there could be an increase in abandoned vehicles, I do not deny that, but we are trying to meet it by fairly firm and tough measures. Indeed, I commissioned a report from Operation Cubit as to the basis of the initial pilots which have been carried out and are now being followed in other local authorities as to whether it would be appropriate to have a national roll-out.
(Mr Meacher) I cannot say that. I cannot say there will be no more abandoned vehicles. At the present time about 350,000 vehicles are abandoned each year. I could not make a commitment there will be no increase but I think we can keep any possible increase down to fairly reasonable proportions. I do not think there will be a great explosion, that is not quite the word in this case, I do not think there will be a sudden enlargement in that figure, certainly I hope not.
(Mr Meacher) I do not think anyone can make that kind of decision. Really it depends, I think, on the rigour and comprehensiveness with which we learn the operations of Operation Cubit and apply those nationwide. I am strongly in favour of tough measures.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Meacher) Right.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(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 can.
(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.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Meacher) Right.
(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, Minister.