Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment

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Mr. Hammond: I sense that, as the Minister was replying, he realised the question that he was walking into. Did the Government argue for a derogation for the sparsely populated parts of the UK?

Mr. Wilson: I do not want to avoid the issue, because I regard the target as a good thing. In a positive way, I am making the point that other countries should also regard it as a good thing and that the derogation should be temporary. The hon. Gentleman says that I walked into it but I offer a more positive view. I am open about recognising a reality. We will have particular challenges in our sparsely populated areas, but we choose to accept rather than resist them. Therefore, we are better.

We are not opposed to the principle of individual producer responsibilities but want to examine various options, especially to safeguard the interests of SMEs. We are happy to discuss such responsibilities if that is what large firms want instead of a collector system. However, the large firms generally have a large market share. Even with a collector system, they will incur the lion's share of the costs. It is not right to say that the large firms would have no interest in improving their own standards because it would all be buried within the one pool. Because they would occupy a large part of that pool, there would still be an advantage in improving their standards.

Mr. Hammond: I understand what the Minister says, but I am disappointed that he is not seizing the idea that environmentally friendly design could become a cost competitive advantage for a producer. That is the essential point about this directive and that on end of life vehicles. The producer must have an incentive to design a product that is as recyclable as possible.

Mr. Wilson: I do not dismiss that point, but there are arguments both ways. I am happy for further discussion to take place between my officials and companies to get the balance right, but the hon. Gentleman's point is perfectly fair.

The hon. Gentleman's question, ''How do you define 'central collection point'?'' was a good one. My initial reaction was to reply, ''It's a point of central collection.'' However, he went on to ask where it might be. In rural areas especially, that is a good question. Is it in the village, the island or the county? The answer is that the question will form part of the consultation, and the issue has risen to prominence in my own mind as a result of the hon. Gentleman raising it. The

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existing distribution of local authority sites would be a good starting point but not a definitive finishing point.

I agree that packaging can always improve but point out that the UK has the lowest cost compliance in the EU. For example, Germany's is 10 times higher. We cannot rule out any options at this stage. We can be flexible on implementation, and it may be appropriate to have different approaches for different sectors.

The hon. Gentleman asked about medical products. Contaminated products will not be excluded, but they will need separate handling. No recovery or recycling target has been set for those products at the outset. The feeling is that we must assess the impact, and targets will then be agreed by Committee process.

Disposable electrodes are not covered; the equipment is covered, but the consumables are not. There have been discussions with the NHS procurement agency, but costs cannot be meaningfully assessed until the terms of implementation have been agreed.

Orphan products is an area of negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council. Sharing costs is only one of the options; an upfront visible or invisible fee would address the problem in a different way. Fees could be visible only if the final text were to allow that. If it is allowed, it will be carefully considered.

The Parliament and the Council are looking at the wording of the directive to ensure that equipment that is exported outside the EU only goes to facilities that have similar requirements placed upon them. I have been told that that is the current policy with regard to packaging, and that the Environment Agency has visited sites in China.

Mr. Hammond: If I have correctly interpreted the Minister's answer, he has misunderstood my question. I was talking about goods that are refurbished and exported, or are exported without having been refurbished, when they are ostensibly being exported for further use—as a secondhand computer or refrigerator, or whatever—rather than about goods that are exported for dismantling.

Mr. Wilson: I am coming on to refurbishment for reuse and resale, but if the hon. Gentleman wants clarification on the export of refurbished items I will ensure that he receives it.

We strongly support refurbishment for reuse and resale, but there are no targets for that in the directive. Information about the subject must be collected, with a view to setting a target when enough is known about it. We are working with the community sector to establish national standards for refurbishment and to ensure that issues such as energy consumption are considered before an appliance is reused. The DTI provides part-funding for that. The hon. Gentleman is right that refurbishment for reuse or resale is a valuable activity in principle.

The hon. Gentleman's fears about innovation are misplaced. The directive will not inhibit innovation and economic activity—in fact, the opposite will be the case. Recycling requires innovative solutions and the

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better use of materials, and it enhances resource productivity. All of that will be encouraged by this directive, and by the other measures that are currently being prepared. Growth will be stimulated in a useful and environmentally friendly sector.

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is right that these directives will stimulate innovation. However, I have not seen anything in them that will allow manufacturers to reduce their ultimate costs, and therefore to gain a competitive advantage by going to the next step by producing goods that are entirely recyclable, or more easy to recycle. The negative impact of these directives cannot be reduced. However, might it be possible to introduce some positive benefits to manufacturers as we take these directives through to the final stages of agreement?

Mr. Wilson: The Government have recognised the importance of innovation and research and development in a broad range of ways; there are tax credits for SMEs and large companies, as well as a host of other policy measures that are aimed at stimulating innovation. I am unsure whether extra measures are required for this sector, but I am prepared to listen to suggestions.

On the introduction of ROHS, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge asked about a single date. We would prefer a single date for the ban to commence in all member states, but that would cause problems for countries that already have legislation in place. However, discussions about that are ongoing.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about military materials. Arms are exempt. They are not one of the 10 categories in the WEEE directive, but PCs and office equipment—non-military items that the military use—are covered.

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Mr. Hammond: The Minister's use of the word ''finally'' alerts me to the fact that, unless I missed it in his long and comprehensive series of answers, he has not answered the question about security for costs and the discriminatory effect of being required to post security on SMEs.

Mr. Wilson: I shall have to come back to the hon. Gentleman on that. I am sorry, but I do not have the answer immediately. I make that offer freely. I would not claim that I have given a comprehensive list of responses, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that I have tried to answer as many questions as possible.

I shall quit while I may be marginally ahead. I thank the Committee for the spirit in which the matter has been discussed. I commend the way in which we are dealing with the matter to the Committee on the basis of a genuine assurance that everything that has been said today and all the questions that have been asked will be taken seriously and will feed into the continuing process.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That this Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 9923/01, amended draft Directive on waste from electrical and electronic equipment, the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum from the Department of Trade and Industry of 15th March on the Common Position of the Council on that draft Directive, No. 10143/01, amended draft Directive on restricting the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, and the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum from the Department of Trade and Industry of 15th March on the Common Position of the Council on that draft Directive; notes the Government's current negotiating line; and supports the Government's actions.

Committee rose at twenty-six minutes past Twelve o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Hesford, Stephen
Ladyman, Dr.
Luke, Mr.
Murrison, Dr.
Smyth, Rev. Martin
Swire, Mr.
Wright, Mr. Anthony D.
Younger-Ross, Richard

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
Caplin, Mr. Ivor (Hove)
Hammond, Mr. Philip (Runnymede and Weybridge)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mr. Brian Wilson (Minister for Energy and Construction)

 
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Prepared 17 July 2002