Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
MONDAY 4 MARCH 2002
160. Presumably from the forum they had a vision
of not just Dixons but how many generally were being collected
(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.
(Ms Smith) I could not comment on the tone of that
letter but Lord Haskins certainly seemed to share our concerns.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.