Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
MONDAY 1 JULY 2002
MP, MS SUE
320. There are a second series of questions,
are there not? Suppose the amount of landfill goes down because
we over landfill at the moment, suppose the private sector who
deliver the policy make some hard commercial decisions, there
could well be parts of the country where there is a lack of facilities
(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.
321. But there are public policy issues here
because we are asking the private sector to deliver a public policy.
What I am trying to get at is yes there are discussions with a
variety of bodies, including the operators, but who is driving
the policy, who is driving the strategy? We have got a Directive
here, it is being implemented, somebody ought not to know where
we are going to, what the shape of things is, what the shape of
the future is? I do not get that certainty at the moment.
(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.
322. So it is a market driven policy.
(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.
323. What may well happen is the amount of landfill
declines, the price of disposal goes up, there will be new more
high tech treatment mechanisms perhaps in the future. The development
of those will be dependent upon getting the necessary planning
permissions. Now this is a notoriously difficult area. There is
a review of planning policy on at the moment. First of all, do
you think the review of the planning policy will be helpful? Is
this an issue the PIU might or might not be looking at? Is planning
policy going to help deliver this?
(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.
324. Can I just raise one or two practical points
which have been put to us as we have gathered evidence about how
this thing is going to operate. For example, we went to see a
very well run facility of an incinerator run by Cleanaway at Ellesmere
Port last Monday and it was clear that particular facility was
running somewhere near its full capacity, clearly there was a
demand. I can see the situation where people may, if you like,
for the sake of knowing that they have got an absolute method
of disposal, look to that type of facility in the future. We are
going to have a special evidence session tomorrow to hear, for
example, from the Cement Manufacturers Association. They seem
to be very keen to advance the virtues of cement kilns being used
for disposal but as you may well have heard yourself there is
an issue because under current situations they are not subjected
to the same emission requirements as incinerators, partly because
they are not burning as much "waste" as the incinerator
is. They have an advantage, also, where they can use as the fuel,
materials with a high calorific value in their process which,
unfortunately, the specialist incinerator cannot because there
is no energy credit given to them in terms of the use of that
material. Now if high temperature incineration becomes a growing
feature of our hazardous waste disposal how are you going to deal
with that type of issue to ensure that the cement people do not
get an unfair advantage which currently the high temperature incineration
industry thinks is conferred upon them with the use of certain
fuels or waste acting as fuels?
(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.
325. That is in use, they cannot change that?
You cannot reopen discussions?
(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.
326. It is helpful to hear you say that because
at the end of the day it should be what is the best practical
method of disposing of material that drives this.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
327. It raises a worry in my mind and that was
why I started my initial line of questioning about the amount
of environmental legislation. Much of it interrelates, I am only
just beginning to wrap my mind around how it all locks together.
What I do not sense, and your response to my previous question
illustrates the fact, and I will ask this as a question, is there
somebody within the Commission, in your opinion, who is taking
sufficient of an overview as to how all this lot links together?
Clearly we have a point in question here where what is good for
one industry is a problem for another and yet they are both in
the same business of disposing of hazardous materials.
(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 spotnot
Baliwould probably be a very good idea.
328. I was going to say not Bali. Very good.
It does strike me as that because coming back to what you said
before, here we are, sort of sitting on the edge of our seats
waiting until the 23 July before you, as a Department, will have
some indication as to the likely capacity in terms of landfill
for the future disposal of hazardous waste against a background
where, as I understand it, the Waste Acceptance Criteria are in
fact only to be of interim status. So it could be, you might like
to comment on this, what might happen actually between 2004, I
gather, and 2008, when this thing finally becomes a non interim
solution, it seems to me a recipe for a certain amount of uncertainty;
am I right or wrong in that perception?
(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.
329. You might be looking forward to Parliament
going into recess to stop us asking difficult questions.
(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 earlierthat is in July 2004because
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.
330. Can I just come on to the questions to
do with whether or not we should have a national hazardous waste
management plan. The Committee have received comments from Cleanaway
supported by the Environment Agency. They have said they would
welcome a national plan. I take it from both your Department's
memorandum, which has been submitted to the Committee, and earlier
comments that you have made, that you regard the Waste Strategy
2000 as incorporating a hazardous waste strategy or management
plan. Am I right in assuming you would not wish to go down the
line of developing or producing a separate hazardous waste management
(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 CIAthe Chemical Industry Associationis 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?
331. Just before the Minister answers, he may
not have had a chance to read the Environment Agency's evidence
but they said actually that they would welcome a national plan
for hazardous waste management specifically in their evidence
(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.
332. One of the things which the Environment
Agency has said to the Committee is that the data which will be
needed to develop such a separate hazardous waste management plan
is actually being collated. So they are working under the assumption
that information is being pulled together which would develop
a plan in 2002-03, presumably building on the Waste Strategy
Plan of 2000.
(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.
333. I think the submission made to the Committee
by the Environment Agency on this issue is quite crucial.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
334. I recognise the Minister has not had the
opportunity to see it and study it.
(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.
335. We are very happy to send, Minister, a
marked up copy of the relevant section in their evidence and before
we draw our conclusions you might find time to be able to respond
to that in a little more detail when you have seen in context
what they have said. I think we would find that very helpful.
(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.
336. I am pleased to hear there is a Hazardous
Waste Strategy. You told us earlier on you were waiting for the
industry to tell you what they were going to do after 16 July.
That does not sound like a very proactive strategy, Minister,
it sounds as if we are going to respond to what the market tells
(Mr Meacher) I think there is a misunderstanding.
What I am saying is that landfill operatorsI repeat againby
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.
337. We will return to that, I am sure, in correspondence.
I did want to ask you just about the End of Life Vehicle Directive.
In evidence to us earlier on today the Local Government Association
expressed real concerns and perhaps you remember they were calling
for early implementation from 2007-05. The Government has made
a decision of 2007. There seemed to be real concerns amongst local
authorities about the problem of illegal disposal of cars and
it must be a very real possibility. They are putting a figure
at £60 million as the cost to local authorities of the End
of Life Vehicle Directive. How does that fit with your own estimates?
(Mr Meacher) The regulatory impact assessment that
we have madeobviously these are only estimatesof
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
anotherthe 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.
338. You are telling us the measures put in
place in April for greater powers for local authorities, greater
controls on licensing which could be rolled out, will ensure that
up to 2007 we will not see more abandoned vehicles?
(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.
339. Ten per cent on 350?
(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.