Lords Committee calls for cross-Whitehall waste unit

The Government should establish a single, inter-Departmental waste unit to help the UK influence and implement EU legislation, according to a report from the House of Lords European Union Committee.1 The Committee also wants the Environment Agency to have sufficient staff to engage in policy discussions in Brussels from the outset.

The inquiry focused on the policy-making process, and how it might be improved. In particular it looked at whether the UK could be more effective in influencing EU policy and whether EU legislation could be implemented more efficiently.

Echoing criticism voiced during the inquiry by the Environmental Services Association, the report urges the Government to be "more proactive in influencing European strategies, rather than reacting passively to legislative proposals from the Commission."

  • Single voice in Whitehall: Last year's waste review by the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit asked the Government to look at the possibility of focusing waste policy in a single Department.

    The Cabinet Office was due to complete a review of the issue by the end of the year. Although there has been no official word, the Cabinet Office's Better Regulation Task Force failed to back the suggestion in its report in July (ENDS Report 343, pp 42-43 ).

    The Committee accepts that the Government has had "some success" in implementing EU policy but warns that its relationship with it is "essentially reactive". The current split of responsibility between Departments results in "a lack of accountability and direction".

    Recognising, perhaps, political reality, the Committee has limited its call to an inter-Departmental waste unit to "improve coordination within Government, act as a centre of expertise and provide a single voice on waste policy, helping to avoid repeats of past failures such as the fridges fiasco."

    The unit should be backed by a Government website covering "all matters relating to waste management". This proposal is more likely to get the go-ahead because the Task Force also suggested it.

  • Extend Environment Agency's role: The Agency has been pressing the Government to give it responsibility for producing the first draft of regulations transposing EU Directives into UK law to ensure that a common approach is applied to the permitting of waste facilities and methods of compliance (ENDS Report 341, p 37 ).

    This does not appear to have been included in the recently agreed concordat between the Agency and the Environment Department. However, the document does require DEFRA to alert the Agency as early as possible to developments at EU level in areas relevant to its functions and expertise, and to involve senior Agency personnel in initial, strategic discussions.

    The Department of Trade and Industry and the Agency should draw up a similar concordat as soon as possible, says the Committee. Discussions have started, but are at an early stage.

    Allowing the Agency to be proactive, rather than just responding to requests from Departments for information, is "crucial to enhancing the UK's ability to influence proposals at an early stage."

    The Government should "recognise that the Agency will need additional staff" and "as a matter of priority" should give it the resources and expertise necessary "not only to carry out its increasing regulatory functions in regard to waste, but also to enable it to be proactive in the early stages of policy development."

  • Technical adaptation committees: In light of the delay in drawing up landfill acceptance criteria by the TAC set up under the landfill Directive, the Government "should not agree to framework legislation without a full understanding of the practical implications." Where significant detail is to be delegated to TACs it should be made explicit in EU legislation's explanatory memoranda and in regulatory impact assessments carried out by the European Commission.

    The DTI has "made a start" in opening up the TAC system by placing informal minutes of the TAC set up by the Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment on its website. But in general, information provided by the Commission about agendas or decisions is "almost non-existent."

    The Commission should set clear timetables for TACs, before framework legislation is agreed, which allow time for technical decisions to be made before legislation is transposed by Member States. TAC timetables, minutes and agendas in relation to legislation such as the WEEE Directive should be placed on the Commission's website.

  • Definitions: The Commission's thematic strategy on waste prevention and recycling, which is currently being developed, should include an explicit commitment to address overlaps and inconsistencies between waste Directives resulting from poor definitions, especially on "waste" and "recycling". It should also address inconsistencies of practice between Member States in relation to the same Directive.

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