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2 Apr 2001 : Column WA71

Written Answers

Monday, 2nd April 2001.

Distance Selling Regulations: Compliance by Web Retailers

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to ensure that United Kingdom web retailers are complying with the legal requirements of the Distance Selling Regulations.[HL1281]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and local authority trading standards departments (TSDs) in Great Britain and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland have been working with business to ensure that they understand their obligations under the new law, both through TSD home authority relationships and through contact with relevant trade associations. In addition, there have been regular sweeps of websites to check the information made available to consumers. Where websites appear to be falling short, the company is informed and, if appropriate changes are not made, the OFT can take action against the company to ensure its future compliance.

My department has published a Guide for Business to the Distance Selling Regulations, which is available from the DTI website at: http://www.dti.gov.uk/CACP/ca/dsdbulletin.htm.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the recent "mystery surf" by the Office of Fair Trading to investigate United Kingdom web retailers' level of compliance with consumer legislation, how many sites were found to be in breach of existing legislation.[HL1282]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The mystery surf recently conducted by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and participating trading standards departments (TSDs) looked at 637 UK sites and found that a number did not appear to be giving information required under the Distance Selling Regulations. Twelve per cent did not appear to give details of either the physical address of the business, an e-mail address or a telephone number; 20 per cent did not give a full itemisation of costs; and 52 per cent did not appear to be giving easily accessible information of their returns, exchange or refund policy. OFT and TSDs are following up these cases by contacting the companies concerned. Where appropriate changes are not made, the OFT can take action against the company to ensure their future compliance.

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The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Under what circumstances it would be appropriate for the Director General of the Office of Fair Trading to seek an injunction against a United Kingdom web retailer for a breach of the Distance Selling Regulations.[HL1283]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is working with business to ensure that the requirements of the new Distance Selling Regulations are met. OFT has published information on its website and produced a new leaflet to help businesses understand their obligations and to ensure that consumers are aware of their rights. Where companies fail to amend their websites following contact by OFT, or breaches of the regulations are identified through consumer complaints, injunctive action can be taken. In determining whether or not a court injunction is required, the OFT, Trading Standards Departments in Great Britain and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland can have regard to any undertakings offered by the company.

Hazardous Waste Imports for Kiln Burning

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What studies they have made of the import of hazardous waste into the United Kingdom for the purpose of burning as kiln fuel.[HL1367]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): None. Imports of hazardous waste for burning in cement and lime kilns are permitted under European Union legislation as they are regarded as imports for recovery. However, any imports require the prior consent of the UK enforcement authorities and the hazardous waste would have to meet the specification set out in the authorisations for each kiln that burns the waste, along with other operational conditions and emission limits.

Cemfuel

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What studies they have made of the toxic emissions from the incinerators of Cemfuel and similiar waste substances; and what proportion of the content of Cemfuel, and similar substances, they estimate to be imported into the United Kingdom.[HL1368]

Lord Whitty: There have been a number of surveys of the impact on the local environment of the emissions from SLF burning. These have often been

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done either by the Environment Agency or by the Operator as a requirement set by the Agency. In particular, there have been extensive studies undertaken in and around Castle Cement's site at Clitheroe. This has included:


    Continuous air quality monitoring for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and PM10 at two locations in the Ribble Valley;


    Assessment of the concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, methane and non-methane hydrocarbons and particulates (total and PM10) in the plume from the chimney;


    The use of a laser-based device for assessing the dispersion of the plume from the chimney;


    An agency-initiated monitoring programme involving continuously monitoring ambient concentrations of sulphur dioxide and PM10 within a 5-kilometre radius of the works.

Other sites have also carried out studies, including:

Castle Cement, Ketton


    Assessment of dioxin levels in the soil within the vicinity of the works.

Rugby Cement, Barrington


    Assesssment of dioxin levels in the soil within the vicinity of the works.

Lafarge, Whitwell


    Monitoring for sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the air around the site.

Lafarge, Thrislington


    Monitoring of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and PM10 in the air around the site;


    Programme of soil sampling for assessing the amount of dioxins.

Information on all of the above studies is available from the public registers or can be obtained directly from the operators.

It is estimated that no more than 9 per cent of all Cemfuel and similar substances burnt in cement and lime kilns is imported.

SSSIs: Dependency on Grazing

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the present foot and mouth epidemic, how many Sites of Special Scientific Interest depend on grazing animals to maintain their conservation integrity; and what percentage of such sites this represents in England.[HL1426]

Lord Whitty: English Nature estimate that around 396,000 hectares of land notified as being of special scientific interest is dependent upon grazing. This represents approximately 40 per cent of the total area of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England.

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Streetworks: Highway Authority Charging Powers

Lord Tomlinson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will activate the powers under Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 to allow highway authorities to charge utilities whose works overrun.[HL1589]

Lord Whitty: Regulations activating the powers under Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 to allow highway authorities to charge utilities whose works overrun came into force on 1 April. We will be monitoring very closely the effect which the new powers have on the level of disruption to road users caused by street works. We have made clear that if it becomes apparent that these have not led to a sufficient reduction in disruption, then the Government are prepared to introduce further measures to address this problem.

We are also issuing today two related publications. The first of these--Best Practice in Street Works and Highway Works--is designed to encourage utilities and highway authorities carrying out works in the street to make sure that these are completed speedily and to a high standard. Copies are being sent to every utility and highway authority. The other--a revision of the existing Code of Practice for the Co-ordination of Street Works and Works for Road Purposes and Related Matters--is intended, amongst other things, to ensure that works carried out by different bodies are co-ordinated effectively, so as to minimise disruption.

Local Authority Publicity

Lord Tomlinson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to issue alterations to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.[HL1590]

Lord Whitty: We have today issued to all county councils, district councils and London borough councils in England alterations to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, a draft of which was laid before the House on 15 February 2001. These alterations reflect the new council constitutions and the introduction of referendums and petitions under the Local Government Act 2000.

As we announced on 15 February 2001 (Official Report, Column WA 59) we also intend in the future to review further the code, having regard to councils' experiences of operating their new constitutions over a reasonable period of time. This further review will also cover the code's application to those authorities--such as police authorities--which are not adopting new constitutions.

A copy of the alterations have been placed in the Library of the House.

2 Apr 2001 : Column WA75


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