Secret Government fears that legal complications may rule out a national clearing house have been revealed to electronics producers in a closed meeting, according to a key industry figure.
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) officials are said to have admitted they may not be able to implement the system at the heart of their draft Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations.
The final consultation on the transposition of the WEEE Directive closed last Friday 77 days after the EU deadline for writing it into UK law.
The Government then immediately started to backtrack from the national clearing house solution that provided the core of its consultation paper.
A possible reason for this
U-turn was revealed by a trade body representing 300 firms affected by the WEEE Directive.
DARP Environmental claimed some of its members had been told the clearing house may represent an illegal monopoly.
The clearing house was described in the draft regulations as a one-stop shop for producer registration, data reporting and collection.
It would effectively be a call-centre putting collectors in touch with recyclers and ensuring producers fulfilled their responsibilities.
The draft regulations suggested the clearing house would be run by one company, which would collect a registration fee.
DARP Environmental managing director Lorie Randall said: I had 10 phone calls from my members saying they had attended a meeting the Government held behind closed doors.
Producers said they had been told the clearing house may be unworkable because of legal issues.
The clearing house has been favoured by Government and 70% of stakeholders, but it might be impossible due to legal issues.
It would be a sole enterprise and could be ruled an illegal monopoly. We believe it is too late to push the necessary things through Parliament in time for registration to begin in January.
I have spoken to the DTI and they wouldnt admit or deny it. This is typical they talk about legislation for 10 years and still miss their deadlines.
The DTI admitted the directive may not be transposed into UK law until 2005 despite insisting in the consultation paper that it would be written in Autumn 2004.
It declined to comment on the allegation of legal issues but appeared to back away from the national clearing house that runs throughout the latest consultation paper.
A DTI spokesman said: We are not pre-empting the results of the consultation. The national clearing house has been heavily lobbied for by producers but the Government is pushing for the other side. I do not know about any of the legal issues.
Randall said: The other option appears to be a form of tradable permit, but people have not been asked about a second option in the consultation. The consultation just asks about the clearing house.
A spokesman for the Competitions Commission told MRW: Government policy can run into legal problems, when a good idea is not fully checked out. For example, recent calls to cut the level of sugar and salt in family-sized packs of crisps may not be possible because of peoples right of choice.
An Office of Fair Trading spokesman added: The DTI is currently consulting on the WEEE Directive and we will feed in our input after that.
The proposal for a national clearing house will create a monopoly power, and the Government will have to be careful how they do that to ensure there is no abuse of that power.
WEEE compliance scheme REPIC, which claims to represent more than 70% of the electronics market, said the national clearing house was vital to implementing the directive.
REPIC chief executive Philip Morton said: Not having a national clearing house would be a disaster. It simply would not work.
The alternative would be the system used in packaging, with tradable permits, which would lead to a free-for-all. People would only visit popular sites. No-one