Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment

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Mr. Gibb: The directive does not say that: it says that the retail premises will be used as a place to take back the equipment. It makes no mention of goods being collected; the onus is on the consumer to take the goods to the premises. That is why many retailers are so opposed to it. Under voluntary schemes, whereby retailers voluntarily take back people's fridges and washing machines, those goods do not go to retail spaces in the high street, but to warehouses in cheap land miles away from anywhere, where specialists deal with all the waste products from throughout the country. The internet will not be covered by the directive as drafted.

Ms Hewitt: As I said earlier, we are discussing e-commerce with the Commission. The hon. Gentleman should not get too hung up about the precise wording of the directive, because we are in the process of changing it.

The directive places obligations not on consumers, but on producers and retailers—in the case of retailers, to make take-back facilities available. I do not wish retailers to be required to come and collect goods: that would be too onerous, and I assume that it is not what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton is proposing. In the case of goods that are purchased through e-commerce, the retailer has to arrange for those goods to be delivered to the purchaser's home or office, and it therefore makes sense for a take-back to be arranged at the same time. I am sure that that will at least be permitted by the directive, and it would be useful if we could ensure that it encourages it.

Mr. Gibb: What happens if someone purchases a toaster over the internet and it is delivered by the Royal Mail?

Ms Hewitt: Then we can talk to the Royal Mail. I am not proposing that we should try to amend the directive to make a take-back by post compulsory. A toaster may not be a particularly good example, but for larger goods that are not necessarily delivered by the Royal Mail it may well be possible to arrange a take-back facility.

Dr. Ladyman: Is not the whole point of producer responsibility in this respect that it will make companies think about the issues and come up with solutions?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. We are working with retailers and the industry to ensure that we have practical schemes of this kind and that they are permitted or encouraged by the directive.

The hon. Member for Vale of York mentioned the important issue of candidate countries. Debates like this are being closely followed in those countries. The Commission is well aware of the lasting impact of such directives on candidate countries, and it is entirely open to them to negotiate derogation from this part, and from other parts, of the acquis in the course of the negotiations on their membership of the Community.

I think that I have covered the cost issues to which the hon. Lady referred. Exemptions for small producers and retailers would substantially reduce both direct and administrative costs.

Miss McIntosh: For the purposes of my report back to the European Scrutiny Committee, was a subsequent regulatory impact assessment conducted after the initial one?

Ms Hewitt: As I said earlier, we revised the regulatory impact assessment partly in the light of changes to the original draft directive. Those documents are included in the bundle that is before the Committee.

This has been a valuable and interesting debate, which has reflected the complexity and importance of the issues that are dealt with by the two directives. I have heard the concerns raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and I assure them that we share those concerns and that we have taken them into account in formulating our negotiating position. We are making real progress in agreeing with other member states amendments to the directive that will deal, in particular, with its impact on small firms and the issue of timing.

I hope that members of the Committee will feel able unanimously to endorse the motion and to support our negotiating position on the directive.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 1.

Division No. 1]

Borrow, Mr. David
Darvill, Mr. Keith
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Wright, Mr. Anthony D.

McIntosh, Miss Anne

Question accordingly agreed to.


    That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 10802/00, draft directives on waste electrical and electronic equipment and on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment; notes the Government's current negotiating line on the Document; and supports the Government's actions.

        Committee rose at twenty minutes to One o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Borrow, Mr.
Darvill, Mr.
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Ladyman, Dr.
McIntosh, Miss
Wright, Mr. Anthony D.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):

Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia (Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce)
Campbell, Mrs. Anne (Cambridge)
Dowd, Mr. Jim (Lewisham, West)

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Prepared 28 March 2001