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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 175)



  160. Presumably from the forum they had a vision of not just Dixons but how many generally were being collected back
  (Ms Smith) That forum was later. We started raising this problem in 2000 and we presented our numbers repeatedly, with boring regularity.

  161. The forum must have made it clear?
  (Ms Smith) That is last year, 2001.


  162. To sum up, roughly speaking, about a year ago the message I am getting from you is that you had made clear to Government the size of the problem that could occur if you could not effectively carry on with the take-back scheme, and you were not getting warm and glowing signals that the Government appreciated or understood those quite straightforward points?
  (Ms Smith) I think it is fair to say that officials under-estimated the scale of the problem.

  163. I know Paddy wants to raise one point. I would just like to ask you one final question about your fascinating chronology. On 9 November 2001 Mr Moyes wrote to Margaret Beckett and Patricia Hewitt. The same author on 22 November wrote to Lord Haskins and Michael Meacher. He seems to be very hard writing letters. I was interested in this response because it says "Haskins responds with a copy of a letter to Mrs Beckett dated 7 November in which he asks why the issue is being addressed only at the last minute'." I wonder if you could throw any light on that rather telling comment from the ever perceptive Lord Haskins.
  (Ms Smith) We were copied into correspondence by the British Retail Consortium. Bill Moyes is the Director General of the British Retail Consortium and he wrote to Lord Haskins as the Chair of the Better Regulation Task Force. In parallel to our raising this particular issue, the British Retail Consortium has raised on a number of occasions the question of regulation in general and, therefore, was in correspondence with Lord Haskins. They raised this issue as an example of regulation which was burdensome to British retailers and would have severe consequences for our customers. Lord Haskins responded with a letter, he passed the letter back to Bill Moyes, which I can let the Committee have if they wish.

  164. Yes.
  (Ms Smith) I could not comment on the tone of that letter but Lord Haskins certainly seemed to share our concerns.

Paddy Tipping

  165. I am sorry I have missed a bit of this but what was clear to me was that you picked up there was a problem with the regulations very early on. What has also been clear to me is that you have been issuing warning signals to all and sundry for a long time. Given that, why did the Government not do anything? What is your explanation for the lack of action?
  (Ms Smith) I think for a long time perhaps we were dealing with Government at the wrong level. We repeatedly dealt with officials who seemed not to take our concerns seriously and seemed not to accept our assessment of the scale of the problem.


  166. I presume that these officials were actually tasked with responsibility for policy in this area?
  (Ms Smith) Yes, they were.

  167. Were these officials that you met also attendees at the Management Committee meetings in Brussels dealing with this Directive?
  (Ms Smith) I do not know.

Mr Martlew

  168. Obviously you are a very well informed organisation, in fact you are better informed than the Government by the sounds of it, so you must have known that this regulation was coming out before it was signed. Were you aware of it?
  (Ms Williams) We were aware of it but because of the amendments to the Montreal Protocol we had not got the exact tracking in place.

  169. Did you at any stage try to stop the Government agreeing to this regulation? Did you write to them and ask them not to agree to this?
  (Ms Smith) The first time we wrote to them was in November 2000. The Council of Ministers was about to meet to ratify the ban on the export of products containing CFCs. That was when we wrote to them but the Official Journal had already published the regulation.

  170. This was just pointing out the pitfalls of it, not asking the Government to oppose it?
  (Ms Smith) I think at that stage what we believed was that each individual country would then decide on the implementation. We have become experts on the subject of late but we are not experts in either European regulations or their interpretation by Government. Like most industry players, Government would advise us on how they interpret regulations and what they expect us to do as a result. There are bilateral meetings that go on all the time between industry and Government as to what we should do and they issue guidelines telling us what we should do. Our concerns were raised on this occasion because we did not think their guidelines actually matched up to what the regulations really said and we did not think necessarily that they were aware of the consequences of the regulation.

Paddy Tipping

  171. You were telling them all this, you were saying "look, there is a problem here"—
  (Ms Smith) Yes.

  172. And they were saying "we do not understand the regulations", or—
  (Ms Smith) It was not that they did not understand, it was just that their initial interpretation was that we were wrong and that the foam would not be affected. Then once we alerted them to that they then sought further clarification, although we thought from the beginning that products containing foam would be affected.

  173. They were asking the Commission for advice and presumably through your trade members you were seeking advice. What advice did you get?
  (Ms Smith) Our trade network always believed that foam would be affected.

  Chairman: Very good. I will give David Lepper one minute and then we will draw our proceedings to a conclusion.

Mr Lepper

  174. Thank you very much, Chairman. You know that the Government is to provide at some point £6 million to local authorities to help deal with the problem in what is left of this financial year and the Local Government Association, as one would expect, says that is not enough, and one would always expect local authorities to say that is not enough; understandably, often it is not. Do you have any views on that sum of money that the Government has provided so far?
  (Ms Smith) I will come to Geoff in a second. One thing I would say is that we are not part of the lobby that is asking for funds for this.

  175. I understand that.
  (Ms Smith) Really we want to simplify our business and keep out of money transactions if we possibly can. In terms of the cost, Geoff?
  (Mr Bellingham) To answer the question as you asked it directly, some simple mathematics show that there are 2.4 million fridges arising every year. Over three months one quarter of that would be with local authorities, which is 600,000 units. If it costs £10 per box to store it that seems like a reasonable number for storage for three months. What you do for the balance of nine months, I do not know.

  Chairman: Can I thank you for your patience. I am sorry about the interruption in timescale, you have been kind and accomodating. May I thank you in advance for the further material that you are going to send us. If there is anything else you want to let us know about in the light of reflecting on these exchanges, we would be delighted to hear from you. As we always say to anybody who has been kind enough to come before this Committee, the one thing you cannot do is retract what you have said. Thank you very much indeed.

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