The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to deliver the RTE University College, Dublin, annual lecture on Wednesday, 14th April, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust the House will grant me leave of absence.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have worked hard in negotiations to ensure that this directive will permit the continued use of leaded steels in new vehicles. We are optimistic that a satisfactory outcome will be achieved when the directive is finalised.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, I welcome that Answer from the Minister. Does he agree with me that an unamended end of life vehicles directive would lead to substantial job reductions, particularly in South Yorkshire where it could be more than 1,000? Will he confirm also that the steel industry in the United Kingdom is keen to show its commitment to environmental issues and environmental programmes to such an extent that, for example, British Steel plc spends more than £100,000 every year on such matters? If there is no change to the directive, the effect could be extremely damaging to the industry.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I agree that if the directive were not changed--our object is that there should be a list of exceptions which will cover the points raised by my noble friend--it would be extremely damaging. My noble friend is correct also in saying that it is important for the steel industry. I am informed that the leaded steel industry is worth around £200,000 million, and several hundred jobs would be at risk.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Commission carried out detailed inquiries at the instigation of member states. The implementation of a directive of this sort is for member states themselves, and therefore the cost compliance factors would be different in different member states.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will my noble friend inform the House from where this directive originated? If the Government did not like the draft directive, what steps did they take to anticipate the action which would be taken by the Commission to try to enforce it?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the directive had its origins in the work of a priority waste-stream working group set up by the Commission in 1991. That looked at ways of reducing the amount of waste from end of life vehicles. It is in the interests of all of us in Europe to reduce waste, particularly hazardous waste, in end of life vehicles. From that point of view the Government support a draft directive on this subject.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend make sure that no burden is imposed upon the British steel industry in regard to environmental protection until its competitors match its high standards in serving that cause in the United Kingdom? Also, will he take note of my noble friend's point in regard to the implications for South Yorkshire if the change is made by the United Kingdom and then not followed by its international competitors?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the directive will apply to all countries in the European Union and it is intended that its application will be universal. The problem exists for the motor vehicle and steel industries in all other countries as well as this country. As I made clear in my first Answer, the objective of this Government, which we believe we shall achieve, is to ensure that the steel industry is not damaged by the directive.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, following the question from my noble friend Lord Pearson regarding cost assessment, will the Minister help us by saying whether or not a risk assessment was made before the prohibitions in relation to lead in vehicles? And is there any danger involved in any of this? Further, will he tell the House that, as the Environment Council at Brussels on 11th and 12th March ducked the whole issue of exemptions from the regulations, what exemptions the Government will support and when they will decide?
In case there are any lingering environmental concerns, we are talking here about steel with a maximum percentage of 0.3 per cent. lead; about shredding, which recovers 96 per cent. of the leaded steel; and steel which is not recovered which has lead bound up in it and therefore does not carry any significant risk.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I usually make it a rule not to try to cap the jokes of other noble Lords. Indeed, that is what I did by not responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples. However, I can tell the noble Lord that an end of life vehicle is one which has come to the end of its life.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. Lead in the manufacture of steel makes the steel easier to manufacture; it saves energy; and, indeed, there are no practical alternatives to leaded steel in, for example, the manufacture of aluminium and copper alloys, in the manufacture of batteries and in electrical circuits.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, from the Minister's answer it seems rather difficult to know what the point of this directive is at all. However, having said that, if the noble Lord cannot answer the second part of my question today, can he perhaps write to me and let me know--and, indeed, the House--what exemptions to the regulations the Government would be prepared to support?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I said, it is our intention that there should be a list of exceptions to the regulations. We believe that such a list is in the process of formulation and that it will meet the concerns
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the suspension of sales of land while the British Railways Board reviews its property portfolio remains in force. The board has submitted a report to the Government. We shall take into account the views of the new BR chairman before taking a decision. In the meantime, we have agreed that the BR board may proceed with sales of a limited number of sites where there are legal commitments which predate the suspension, where the land is to be used for transport purposes, or where there is some other reason for urgency.
Lord Cadman: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that one of the last rail accessible facilities for the removal of asbestos from redundant railway equipment is to be lost to the industry because planning permission has been granted in respect of the site in Glasgow, which is owned by the British Railways Board, for a supermarket development? Does not that fact demonstrate the need for full and proper consultation before any disposals of former British Rail land are made by Rail Properties Ltd., which seems to care little for the long-term needs of the industry? Further, when will the Government realise that the needs of the rail industry should be put before the short-term aims of those who seek profit from such sales?
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