HC Deb 11 December 2001 vol 376 cc776-809

[Relevant documents: Fifth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 2000–01, on Delivering Sustainable Waste Management, HC 36–1; and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Office of the Rail Regulator, the Office of Water Services and Ordnance Survey: Annual Report 2001, Cm 5105.]

Motion made and Question proposed, That resources, not exceeding £955,500,000, be authorised, on account, for use during the year ending on 31st March 2003, and that a sum, not exceeding £993,621,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for the year ending on 31st March 2003 for expenditure by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.—[Mr. Meacher]

7.29 pm
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the fifth report of what was, in the last Parliament, the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, on delivering sustainable waste management. Before I refer to the report itself, I should declare an interest: this autumn I have been chairing a Select Committee-style inquiry in Newcastle, organised by BAN Waste and supported by Newcastle city council, for which I am to receive a fee. That has been an interesting experience as I have had an opportunity to hear a lot of evidence on applying waste management to the locality of Newcastle. I have also had a chance to see how a local inquiry into such issues is conducted.

A lot of people have talked about how local authorities can organise Select Committee-style scrutiny and how people's panels and similar things can be established. I certainly learned a lot from trying to participate as the chair of an inquiry outside the parliamentary framework. One cannot, of course, compel witnesses, and one is dependent on the effort of individuals. I have been impressed with the effort that people from BAN Waste have put in and the support that Newcastle city council has provided. I look forward to the publication of the inquiry's report on 7 January.

As for the Select Committee report, I shall begin by placing on record our thanks to our two advisers, Dominic Hogg and David Mansell, and to all the Committee staff who as always worked hard to help us prepare the questions and the report. I also thank my colleagues on the Committee for their hard work during the course of the inquiry. I have a slight whinge about the Government. At the end of the process of producing a Select Committee report, we usually get a response from the Government. Sadly, on this occasion, we did not. The rules are supposed to be that we get a response within two months of the Select Committee reporting. I accept that the election intervened and it was perfectly reasonable for the response to be a bit late. However, we still have not had a response and it is getting very late. I suppose that the Government have the excuse that Select Committees in this Parliament are different from those in the last Parliament, but I still think that we should have had one. I hope that the new Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will pursue these issues, because a sustainable waste management policy is important for this country.

The world's present use of resources is not sustainable. The developed world—the richest 20 per cent. —uses 80 per cent. of the world's resources and creates a vast amount of pollution. The least developed parts of the world use 20 per cent. of those resources. That injustice cannot go on; I do not see how, if the less developed world raises its standards and spends as much on resources and creates as much pollution as the developed world, there can be sustainability for the whole world. We must look at other ways of dealing with the problem. A small number of people suggest that people in the developed world could accept lower standards of living so that there would be more resources for the less developed parts of the world. I do not accept that most of my constituents would volunteer for such a reduction in their standard of living. The developed world must try to find ways in which it can do the same things that it is doing now, but using far fewer resources.

People talk about factor 4 or factor 10—the idea that we should do what we are doing now, but using only 25 per cent. or 10 per cent. of resources. That would be a substantial challenge, but it is necessary if we are to manage waste in a sustainable world. People often say that it is impossible to achieve that sort of reduction in resources; I do not believe that that is true. There are cases in which, in a relatively short period, the developed world has suddenly started to use far fewer resources to achieve something. The best example of that is computers. When I was first elected to the House, I used to go on visits in my constituency and elsewhere and see people who were delighted to show me a big room of steel cabinets in which computers were operating. Someone would try to explain what was going on, but I half sensed that they did not have a clue. I certainly did not have a clue, but everyone made polite noises. Those computers used a huge amount of metal and other resources, but the same thing can now be contained in a machine on a desktop; in some cases, portable computers can operate with equivalent power.

It is therefore possible to achieve factor 10. When talking about a sustainable waste management policy, it is important to look at the use of resources to begin with. There is a moral imperative to make better use of our resources, but there is also a strong economic argument for doing so. If we can do something with fewer resources, we will have a considerable competitive edge in the world. The first thing that we should do in the waste hierarchy is minimise the resources that we use and the pollution that is created. We must then consider re-use, recycling and composting, recovering energy from waste and, finally, disposal. It is disappointing that the Government are not doing more on minimisation and are not giving a stronger lead to organisations like the regional development agencies in looking at ways in which we can minimise the waste that is created and the resources that are being used.

In their waste strategy for 2000, the Government set recycling targets. On the one hand, those targets were pretty feeble and were not at all challenging but, on the other, I must give credit to the Government because setting those targets has proved a substantial spur to an awful lot of local authorities that were not taking recycling seriously, encouraging them to start things like kerbside collections. The targets are minimal, but I credit the Government with encouraging some local authorities to get started. When the Minister for the Environment responds, will he explain how he is working on the question of markets for waste paper, glass and plastics? Now that the collection process has been kick-started, the price that local authorities can get for waste materials or, if you like, resources, is crucial. I understand that the Government are looking at giving a grant to encourage another waste paper mill to begin operating; I hope that the Minister will tell us exactly what is happening. Having kick-started many local authorities into getting on with recycling, I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will look hard at the question of markets, and that they are doing much more to buy recycled materials.

I hope that the Minister can give us a progress report on the waste and resource action programme or WRAP. When he appeared before the Select Committee, he placed great emphasis on the fact that WRAP would be one of the organisations that would start to make the Government's waste management programme sustainable. So far, it seems to have got some nice note paper and had one or two meetings, but few members of the general public have heard of it and I am not sure what it has achieved so far. I look forward to the Minister explaining what progress has been made.

Further down the hierarchy, the question of incineration arises. I am not someone who thinks that it is impossible to create an incinerator without emissions; I think that it is possible to create such an incinerator that will work, but poor management in recent years and the mixing of bottom ash and fly ash mean that few people can have confidence in incinerators.

My argument against incinerators—or combined heat and power, as the people who are in favour of it like to call it—is that to build an incinerator, one has to borrow the money over 15 to 20 years. That means ensuring the security of supply—committing the country or a locality to produce sufficient waste over the next 20 years to justify building the incinerator. That is a damning indictment of a CHP programme. If we are to have incinerators, the case must be made for a steadily diminishing supply of calorific material to burn in them. As a result, the economics become very doubtful.

Whatever one says about emissions, my impression is that no one wants an incinerator or a combined heat and power plant near their home. If the Government intend to encourage them, we need a demonstration combined heat and power plant located somewhere central—perhaps within half a mile of the Palace of Westminster. Such plants should be in town centres, where the hot water generated can be used. It is wrong to think that a CHP plant can be sited at the back of some depressed housing area where no one will make a fuss.

If we adopt a policy of building CHP plants, we should look for town centre locations and demonstrate that the plants need not be out of the way. However, the main question is the security of supply of rubbish. It will be an indictment of us as a nation if we are producing as much rubbish in 20 years' time as we are now.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

The biggest danger is that the location of incinerators is determined by the line of least resistance. That is both unfair and inefficient. We must make it clear to the Government that incinerators should not end up being built in areas where people are least likely to complain. I am sure that that point is made in the Select Committee report.

Andrew Bennett

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government could issue a challenge to all communities that an incinerator will be built close by if they do not make serious efforts at waste minimisation and recycling. Perhaps the threat of a CHP plant will be enough and it will not be necessary to build any at all.

I shall deal now with composting, a subject on which I hoped for a lengthy reply from the Minister. There has been much talk of commercial composting. but because of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs waste meat regulations, many proposals for composting have been put on hold. That is unfortunate. When we undertook the inquiry, I was appalled at the amount of waste in the food chain. For a start, waste often occurs in agricultural areas, because crops do not quite meet the supermarkets' specifications. The crops are not even picked; they are destroyed where they were grown.

It has been suggested to me that at least 25 per cent. of the food that goes into supermarkets, especially vegetables and bread products, goes to waste. That is a huge amount. Most of the big supermarkets were considering composting as a means of dealing with some of that waste, but have had to put their plans on hold because of the meat regulations.

Even more worrying is the suggestion that most households buy 25 per cent. more food than they need and that the surplus goes to waste. To a certain extent, the supermarkets are again to blame. The one that I use repeatedly has offers of two items for the price of one. That is not economic for me if I am purchasing for the family, and for pensioners, two for the price of one is no good at all. One item is probably more than they want at a particular time, but most people take home the two items, one of which may well end up in the waste stream.

If we are considering ways of making society more sustainable, we must find ways of cutting down food waste. Food that is not saleable or eatable should be properly composted. I hope that the Minister will tell us that ways will be found to prevent meat getting into compost material, so that it can be made safe, with no possibility of foot and mouth or other problems occurring.

We in the UK still do very little about reprocessing batteries. They are usually small and end up in the waste stream, where they produce a high level of contamination. It would not be all that difficult for the Government to insist that shops that sell batteries take back used batteries. When people change a battery, it would be easy to take the new one and hand back the old one. If batteries are collected in large numbers, they can be reprocessed.

I have tweaked the Minister on one or two occasions on the subject of fluorescent tubes. Once, opening a plant in Manchester, he rashly promised that the Government could find more than 1 million fluorescent tubes a year for recycling to remove the mercury. I do not think that he has got anywhere near that target, but it is a small point.

The European Union has been a significant driver of reform—for example, the landfill directive. We welcome the EU end-use directive for cars. That has led people to start thinking about manufacturing cars whose parts can be re-used or reprocessed. I am a little puzzled about why the EU should start with an end-use directive applying to cars, when there was a well-developed scrap industry in this country.

The EU has not turned its attention to other products that are much harder to recycle. One of my pet hates is tetrapaks. They are a mixture of foil, plastic film and paper, and are extremely difficult to recycle. They can just about be burned, but they have little else going for them. Why not make the manufacturers of such cartons responsible for taking them back and looking after the end-use?

What about disposable nappies, which are said to constitute 4 per cent. of the waste stream in the UK? Why not make the manufacturers come up with some system to take them back for recycling? Looking in dustbins or wheelie bins, you notice that products such as pizza boxes bulk up the refuse. Why not have an end-use directive for those items? Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on what will happen with regard to fridges, in relation to which it appears that we are in a bit of a mess. The establishment of some proper end-use directives for such issues would demonstrate that the country has a sustainable waste policy. Can the Minister also tell us what encouragement is being given in relation to anaerobic digesters?

The Select Committee discussed this matter in 1996, 1998 and last year. It has been fairly disappointing that this country has not made much more progress on sustainable waste management. I hope that the Government will seriously consider signing the nation up to the concept of zero waste. That may be a fairly idealistic aim, but unless we can get the message across that resources are being used unsustainably in this country, that we are living in a throwaway society and that that cannot continue, we will find it very difficult to change people's habits.

7.49 pm
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I congratulate what was the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) on their excellent report, which considers in detail many aspects of the problem of waste management in this country. The hon. Gentleman dealt closely with many of those matters his speech, although the language of the report is rather more colourful and hard hitting than that which he chose to use.

The Government have a great deal to do if they are to convince anybody that we are anywhere near the frontiers of progress on waste management. Overall, the reality is that the UK is dragging its feet behind most of our continental competitors. On almost any indicator, we are neither achieving nor aiming to achieve the sort of recycling and waste reduction that our major continental competitors are and have been achieving. Indeed, they are the innovators. In truth, we are mostly implementing EU directives at the last possible moment, and sometimes not even then. The report states: It is not good enough to shuffle along in a laggardly fashion behind European Union directives. That is essentially what the Government have been doing. The Minister made a speech some time ago in which he catalogued a list of great environmental initiatives that the Government had introduced. However, one of my colleagues in the European Parliament analysed the speech and found that 70 per cent. of those great initiatives related simply to the legal requirements that had to be fulfilled if Britain was to meet directives passed by the European Parliament and the European Commission two to three years before. That is how we tend to proceed.

I should like to mention a concern that relates not only to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but to the way in which this Government operate. I thought that they had the problem only when they were in opposition. Understandably, they did not want to set out too much of their stall as an opposition party, but they have carried the problem through into government. I am all in favour of consultation, but my concern is that we have reached a point where the Government seem to be on an endless cycle of summits, taskforces, agencies, initiatives, challenge funds and bids, all of which are designed to try to implement policy, but the result is that everybody who is engaged in trying to deliver that policy becomes increasingly confused and mystified about exactly where the centre of decision making and leadership lie, and what will be done to achieve the aims.

Let me give an example. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said that we needed a national recycling programme and a real objective, as did the Select Committee report. He referred to an ideal of zero waste, along with real and specific targets that can be achieved. The first proposed commitment—it was contained in the Liberal Democrat manifesto—was to a doorstep recycling service for every household in the country. We have estimated that such a service would cost about £200 million. As the rubbish and waste industry is worth about £5 billion, that does not seem an enormous amount. The money in WRAP, the waste and resources action programme, and Entrust, the environmental trust scheme regulatory body, adds up to about £200 million, but it is not being allocated in a way that enables local authorities, which must be the front line in providing a recycling service for households, to get on and deliver such a service. They simply need the money to enable them to do that. The Government should give incentives for the good performers, impose penalties for the bad performers and provide funding to ensure delivery.

I plead with the Minister to try to make the process more simple than it has been to date, as we have not reached a situation in which we have anything like a national plan or strategy. We have some very good local authorities that can be the model, while others are doing very little. I am saying not that the Government should deliver, but that they must take a lead and ensure that we get that delivery. We are currently talking about achieving a target of 30 per cent. recycling by 2010, but today Austria already has 60 per cent. recycling today. Indeed, even some local authorities in Britain have achieved better than 30 per cent. The 30 per cent. target therefore seems very unambitious, but on current strategies it is difficult to envisage that we will meet it, not least because the amount of waste that is being produced is increasing by several per cent. a year—and faster than we are introducing any recycling initiatives. We take the view not only that 60 per cent. is an achievable target, but that it would force the creation of more radical and imaginative policies.

We have encouraged the use of landfill, and there is a European Union landfill directive. The targets are distant, but they could become a problem for this country if we do not begin to take the necessary steps now. It is logical for local government to promote recycling household waste, but Governments must be responsible for recycling industrial waste. We need clear targets for that.

It has rightly been said that considering waste disposal quickly leads to examining how to reduce waste. Many of us have been debating the issue for years now, and it is extraordinary that most products appear to have as much packaging as ever. We have not created the climate or the culture of responsibility for reducing packaging and taking back any that is created by marketing and merchandising. The Government could tackle that.

There was a displacement factor in this country when Germany reduced its packaging legislation. However, that did much to ensure that Germany was prepared to recycle and that its marketing organisations tackled their responsibilities for the amount of packaging that they produced. We have not engaged seriously in that debate, either.

What we do with our waste lies at the heart of the problem. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish commented on that. I am sure that there is a campaigning issue connected to waste in every hon. Member's constituency. All of us have tips, landfill sites or other methods of disposal such as incinerators on or close to our boundaries. All are controversial. There must be engagement between the responsibility of Government and local authorities and that of individuals for the waste that society produces.

No one wants a landfill tip or an incinerator on the doorstep. It is reasonable to confront people with their responsibility for helping with waste management. It is not good enough simply to say that we tax landfill. That creates a revenue, but the idea is surely to reduce landfill and encourage waste reduction so that the pressure on landfill decreases. It would be better to use all the money to that end.

The Select Committee has expressed clear views on incineration—views that my party wholly supports. Indeed, the Committee has inadvertently supported Liberal Democrat policy. A Committee that approaches the facts objectively is likely to come up with Liberal Democrat policy, because it is common sense. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, encouraging the provision of new incinerators is becoming a soft option. If we transfer from landfill to incineration, we simply reduce the pressure for waste reduction in general.

A quote on waste strategy from the Select Committee report should go on record: One example of the problem with the strategy is provided by incineration. We believe that incineration will never play a major role in truly sustainable waste management and cannot, and should not, be classified as producing renewable energy. Yet the strategy fails to set out what role the Government believes waste incineration should play whilst also leaving the door open to a big expansion of large-scale incineration of household waste. The final phrase is crucial. If we go down that road, we destroy our waste reduction strategy.

If the Government need any proof of the potency of incineration as a political issue, it is provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). Guildford has a Liberal Democrat Member mainly because of the strength of feeling against the incinerator that is being proposed for the area. My hon. Friend can make her own speech on that subject, and I am sure that she will.

This is a potent issue. In my part of Scotland, more objections have been received to the planning application to replace an incinerator than to any other planning application in the city's history. That is how strongly people feel. The Government would be well advised to accept that, although incineration may have a role to play, that role is neither urgent, nor major. In reality, the danger is that even accommodating incineration will destroy the beginnings of a real waste reduction strategy. A moratorium on new incinerators would thus be constructive for that reason.

My suggestion to the Government is that they need to adopt a more focused and less complicated approach. To put it simply, present policies will not allow us to meet our obligations under European directives, or Government targets derived from them. If we do not act soon, it will be too late to introduce policies that will turn the matter around. We need simple targets—such as ensuring that 60 per cent. of household uplift is recycled—and we must ensure that local authorities have the responsibility to deliver that within an agreed timetable. To do that, they will need funding, and the ability to impose penalties.

I suggest that the simpler the mechanism involved, the more likely we are to get results. At present, the mechanism is too complicated. Authorities have too much discretion to adopt differing approaches.

Finally, will the Minister clarify how we are to sort out the problem posed by cast-off refrigerators? In addition, how are we to avoid the similar problem with the recycling of electrical goods that will arise with the next directive coming down the track?

As I understand it, the Government started discussing the regulation on fridges three years ago. The final terms of the regulation were published in October last year. The regulation's wording made it clear that, by 1 January 2002, the removal of CFCs and related materials in fridge insulation would be a mandatory requirement. That is a specialist process for which we have no capacity in the UK.

My understanding is that someone in the Department misread the regulation and believed that it contained some degree of flexibility. I was told that the person involved believed that the regulation used the phrase "where practicable", and that that was considered an obvious excuse—that the UK does not have the necessary capacity, so the regulations' requirement with regard to fridges cannot be achieved and are therefore not practicable. As a result, it was believed that the European Commission would have to give us enough time to get the capacity in place.

In fact, the regulation does not contain those words. It does not allow any flexibility or discretion, yet this country has no relevant capacity.

I am told that it could be a year before the capacity is in place, which means that 2.5 million fridges—the number thrown out every year—will have to be transported to licensed premises, and stored there. Thereafter, when the capacity is in place, they will have to be transported again and disposed of in the required manner.

All that will cost a significant amount of money. The Department disputed the figures advanced by the Liberal Democrat party, and I have no quarrel with that. Our estimate was based on the information that we had gathered from various sources about what the average cost of moving the fridges would be. Even so, it is clear that a substantial amount of money will have to be spent, in part because a regulation was misread, and in part because we did not take steps to provide the necessary capacity in time.

Local authorities and retailers need to know what will be done to cover the shortfall in capacity until such time as we can dispose of the fridges. The Department has said that it recognises that a problem exists, and that it will do something about it, but no one knows exactly what will be done.

I have been asking local authorities for estimates of the cost. I received the latest figure, from Cumbria, today. That authority said that it estimated the extra cost of handling these fridges at £900,000. My local authority, Aberdeenshire, put the figure at £350,000. The figure varies according to the size of the authority, but the numbers that I have given are typical of what local authorities have told me. In addition, local authorities are not the only ones who will have to deal with the fridges, as retailers will also face certain costs.

I hope that the Minister will accept that we need to know what is going to be done—as well as how it is going to be done, and how soon—to avoid the problem of fridges being dumped by the roadside, in fields or in other places where we would not wish to see them.

The Select Committee that has now been replaced by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has done an extremely worthwhile job. It has set out clearly its aspirations for Government policy, most of which I endorse. I urge the Government to accept the Committee's recommendations as far as possible, and to act on them. My final plea to them is to simplify the process so that people know what is required and what the mechanisms are, so they can deliver. At the moment, the targets are unrealistic and the mechanisms are not in place.

8.5 pm

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) in a debate. He mentioned kerbside collection, and the fact that the Liberal Democrats estimated that it would cost, I think, £200,000 to implement such a scheme. Obviously, if that was the right figure, there would be no hesitation in doing so. However, I received today a report from the UK waste management industry entitled "Facing the Facts", which is published by Onyx. It states: Local authorities will need to invest up to £7bn if they are to meet the EU directive of reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. So, there is a vast difference between the figures quoted by the Liberal Democrats and those quoted by the people involved in the industry. The report goes on to say: UK inhabitants produce 550 kg of municipal waste per person per year—among the highest volume in Europe … UK inhabitants recycle an average 60 kg of municipal waste per person every year—this compares to 250 kg from the average American. Those figures have an impact on what we are discussing tonight.

I want to express my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), who chaired our Committee and worked very hard to ensure that the work of the Committee was constructive and directed so that we could publish the report that we are discussing tonight. Members of the Committee appreciate the work that our colleague has done as Chairman.

As a member of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, I want to raise certain issues that I consider important to the Committee and to the industry involved with waste and packaging. I also wish to declare that I am the co-chair of the all-party sustainable waste group, which came together in 1995 to raise issues in Parliament involving waste and sustainable waste management.

Let us consider the terms of reference of the Committee, as outlined in paragraph 6 of the fifth report, which states: Our terms of reference were to examine whether the policies set out in the Waste Strategy 2000"— a publication from the Government— are sufficient to deliver sustainable waste management, and whether the necessary measures, including provision of financial resources, were in place for those policies to be implemented. Our terms of reference were to consider whether the strategy would result in more efficient use of resources and a consequent reduction in the amount of material entering the waste stream If we can achieve that result, we can reduce energy costs. We can reduce the amount of material that is needed to sustain the waste and packaging industries.

Our terms of reference referred to an increase in recycling of waste, particularly by greater development of markets for recycled material (including compost) and the use of producer responsibility measures". Producer responsibilities are certainly an important factor. I know that the glass, aluminium, steel and paper and board industries are making approaches in a bid to recover all possible waste consisting of those materials from the waste stream for recycling.

I live near a Rockware Glass factory. I am told that within a 10-mile radius of that factory, 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of glass go into landfills every week because there are no procedures to extract it from the waste stream. Every ounce could be recycled, turned into cullet and returned to the system. Similarly, the aluminium industry will take all the aluminium waste that it can recover. The steel, paper and board and plastics industries are crying out for material to be recovered. Most of this is municipal or household waste. I agree with the hon. Member for Gordon that we should press the issue. I am sure that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Environment are familiar with such demands, and that their recent initiatives will help.

The terms of reference also referred to sufficient action to educate the public about the importance of sustainable waste management". I know of a number of manufacturing firms that have set up their own education units. Rockware Glass and Re-use, a recycling company, have such a unit, to which children are brought from all over the country so that they can understand the importance of recycling. Coca-Cola and Schweppes in my constituency also has a unit to educate people in the importance of returning not just glass but plastic bottles so that they can be recycled, and libraries have similar units. A great deal of time and money is being spent on programmes to make people understand the importance of extracting materials from the waste stream. I have already mentioned the 30,000 tonnes of glass, plastic, steel, aluminium, cardboard and paper.

When we took evidence on sustainable waste, we were referred to the role of civic amenity sites and their importance to recovery and recycling.

There are threats that civic amenity sites could be taken from my own authority of Wakefield and offered to the private sector. They are purpose built and they operate efficiently, so I would consider removing them from local authority operation a sin. We have recycling targets and the main one for recycling or composting household waste is at least 25 per cent. by 2005, increasing to 30 per cent. by 2010 and 33 per cent. by 2015. The civic amenity sites can play a major part in meeting those targets, so I plead with the Minister to ensure that their development is encouraged, as outlined and recommended by the Committee.

I sat on the Standing Committee that considered the establishment of the Environment Agency under the Environment Act 1995—there was a Division over that legislation—and the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 followed. Under the regulations, material manufacture was to bear 6 per cent. of the responsibility for the finished product; converting materials to packaging, 11 per cent.; packing and filling, 36 per cent.; and the retailers—supermarkets and others–47 per cent.

There was a tremendous imbalance there, because the retailers collected all the waste and sat on it, as they had much more than their 47 per cent. The packaging recovery note system was the currency through which people could purchase waste from those with a surplus to enable them to meet their targets as outlined in the packaging waste regulations. We were told that they would apply for five years, but after the 1997 election my colleague the Minister for the Environment listened to the industry's pleas and agreed to review the producer responsibilities and the obligations under the regulations.

A consultation document was published in 1997 and slight adjustments were made to those percentages, which benefited the industry, but they did not go far enough to redress the advantages that the retail people—the supermarkets—enjoyed under the regulations. The document says: The purpose of the consultation document is to present options and proposals for the modification of the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997". The industry appreciated my right hon. Friend's intervention in reviewing the percentages, and the glass, aluminium, steel, paper, plastics and wood industries responded to the document by offering him advice. I am sure that he valued the interest that came from the industry.

Recently, however, there has been anger among people in the packaging industry because of a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—there are problems when departmental boundaries cross. She announced that the new code, as recommended by the Competition Commission and involving the supermarkets, effectively formalises the relationship between retailers and suppliers and that was obviously welcomed by the supermarkets. The code has had an impact on the packaging industry and on farmers. However, that made waves: it creates problems for the waste packaging industry. We need to consider decisions that have an effect on people in that industry and on those involved in recycling.

May I make a plea on behalf of the packaging industry? In many instances, owing to cheap imports, our industry is at a disadvantage compared with competitors in Europe and the far east. The massive increase in gas prices, the climate change levy and the proposed mineral extraction levy will all have an impact on the competitiveness of our packaging industries. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister try to find an opportunity to discuss with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury the impact of those levies on the waste packaging industry?

We should use the recycling process. We need to undertake more recycling, so if we can obtain more material through the waste system, it will help to offset some of the industry's problems and the extra costs—including those from increased administration—that it has to bear. My plea to my right hon. Friend is that we implement kerbside collection as quickly as possible. We must extract between 30,000 and 40,000 tonnes a week of glass and other materials for recycling. That will help to make our packaging industries more efficient and accountable, and environmentally friendly.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is fully aware of the situation and of the plea in the report, which I support, that that recycling should continue.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I point out to the House that there is a time limitation, so it would be helpful if everyone who seeks to catch my eye bears their colleagues in mind and tries to keep their remarks reasonably concise.

8.23 pm
Sue Doughty (Guildford)

I very much congratulate the Select Committee on its work in producing the report. During the run-up to the election and subsequently, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) pointed out, many of its recommendations were extremely helpful to people who were considering the development of alternative strategies for sustainable waste management.

Last week, a planning meeting was held in Surrey to examine proposals for three incinerators—one of which was for Guildford—and the Select Committee report was cited most constructively. We all found it helpful.

We are looking for a sustainable waste management strategy—indeed, at present, we are looking for any waste management strategy at all. During the past few years, report after report has been issued, after which the Select Committee report was a breath of fresh air. There was even a waste summit, but we are getting no further. We want firm guidance from the Government and a deliverable waste plan, rather than words over which people argue. There was discussion earlier about whether we should refer to incinerators as energy from waste. Those little words that creep in when we try to justify what is happening are important to people.

Our approach in Guildford to incinerator proposals is not a case of nimbyism; in fact, I am very pleased to say that when I was approached by a neighbouring Surrey Member asking whether we would agree to send our waste to an incinerator just outside the area, I had to say, "No; Guildford does not want to incinerate waste. We want instead to develop a sustainable waste strategy in which all the feasible options are considered, after which we shall decide what to do with the final waste element." Whatever happens, the people in Guildford are absolutely determined that the solution has to be sustainable and pose minimal health risks, about which there has been much concern.

I know that I speak for other hon. Members when I say that constituents who would have to work near incinerators, or send their children to school near them, are very deeply worried about proposals to build incinerators. Those worries are shared by those who own houses near incinerators. Although the Guildford housing market is desperately overheated, parts of it have declined because of the issue. It has happened in a part of Guildford that is not affluent, where a large percentage of household income is used to buy a house. It has been heartbreaking to see people in the area unable to move because they cannot sell their property for anything like the amount they paid for it. We have to resolve that issue and make clear our intentions.

When we talk about recycling, we are really talking about materials recovery, which is a term that I much prefer. Industry wants more materials recovery, as should we all, because that is the sustainable way of approaching the issue. I hope that, in their planning, the Government will help local authorities to agree a standard measurement for recycling. Does local recycling include deposits at local supermarket facilities, or only at local authority facilities? The waste is all produced in one local authority, and we have to address the various measurement issues. I know that councils will be very pleased to see a consistent method of measurement.

There are difficulties also in distinguishing between doorstep recycling and recycling in materials reclamation facilities, and in dealing with contaminated recyclables as opposed to clean ones. We want to set ourselves recyclables targets, but to do that we have to be able to measure them. We want not only high-quality doorstep recycling but much greater investment in alternative sustainable ways of handling waste, such as composting. Much more needs to be done on municipal recycling.

We have to determine how local government can best use the available funding to develop materials recovery and composting streams and facilities. I realise that we have been bandying about figures, and that earlier in the debate one figure was misheard, thereby producing another one. However, research commissioned jointly by Friends of the Earth, Waste Watch and Biffa estimates that £17 per household would cover the initial transition and implementation costs of an effective recycling and composting service. However, we have to find the money for the initial investment.

One deep disappointment is that only very modest annual increases to the landfill tax, which seems to be a good thing, are being proposed. Indeed, the Environmental Services Association is one of the few industry groups ever to have said, "Please increase tax and help us to invest in materials recovery. We believe that the impact of an increase on local government and on commerce will be minimal." Liberal Democrat Members would also like the rate of those tax increases to be accelerated in the next few years. If we are taxing waste management technologies that we do not like, should we not be thinking about an incinerator tax? The Select Committee report mentions such a tax.

In the meantime, we should develop a third approach that involves composting and materials recovery so that we are not presuming in favour of incineration at the cost of landfill. Local authorities are still doing that. Those fighting the proposals are still working with people who want proven technologies. No local authority will take risks when it is making recommendations about this or that new technology. Local authorities have a legal responsibility and they want reliable solutions. However, we need investment to help bring those solutions to the point at which they will be right for local authorities.

Local residents should not be writing their own handbooks about how to achieve zero waste because local government does not have the solutions, and the structure within which they are working is not sufficiently good. Yet so many of the good recycling activities in London, which have high levels of recyclables, are community led. Although we are all pleased about that, we should be delivering solutions, through local government, possibly in partnership with other providers. Local government need these tools; it should not be left to private individuals and protest groups to solve these problems for the Government.

We need to look at waste management in the farming sector. Farmers have to bear the cost of disposing of materials on their land, which is why we must do all we can to discourage fly tipping. Where fly tipping occurs on the county's land, the council is at least obliged to take the waste away even if the farmer picks up the cost. I do not condone the amount of money that local authorities have to pay for this service. Farmers often have to pay for the removal of several tonnes of tyres and builders' rubble. More than a quarter of farmers have seen a significant increase in fly tipping this year. We need to ensure that solving urban problems does not lead to rural difficulties. That is most important when we look at what can be done to help the rural community. The days when farmers had a lot of money to spare are long gone, and the problem is on our doorstep.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

I put it to the hon. Lady that fly tipping in rural areas is not, as she suggests, predominantly the responsibility of the urban population. My constituency is very rural in parts, and in some cases the villages surrounding the agricultural areas contribute to the increase in fly tipping, possibly as a response to the increase in landfill tax without adequate recycling opportunities.

Sue Doughty

I thank the hon. Gentleman—that was a useful piece of information. There is a mixture of urban and rural in my constituency, with fields close to the edge of town, but circumstances may vary in different constituencies.

Two years ago, a Tidy Britain survey on the impact of the landfill tax found that most fly-tipped material was of local origin and that 57 per cent. was household or garden waste. People drove their cars to tip that waste on to somebody else's property. Building trade waste amounted to 21 per cent., with cars or tyres at 9 per cent. We all know that that figure will rise rapidly. Waste on verges amounted to 28 per cent.; 28 per cent. was on private land; and, sadly, 12 per cent. went into rivers. We need to consider the needs of the rural economy in managing waste.

We are looking for a sustainable waste strategy. The Select Committee report goes a long way to pointing the way forward. However, we need a context in which that can be delivered by local government, the best companies and community groups, and we are looking to the Government to take the lead.

8.34 pm
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

We cannot ignore waste management because the issue simply will not go away; it is increasing in magnitude. It is unfortunate that municipal waste in the United Kingdom is increasing by between 4 and 5 per cent. a year. Across the country, there are closed historical landfill sites that remain ticking timebombs. It is no longer like that because we now have good and improving waste management practice, but the United Kingdom is far too dependent on landfill, with 81 per cent. of waste going to landfill sites, and it is important to view that in a European context. In Denmark and Holland, just 12 per cent. of waste goes to landfill sites, and the figure is 50 per cent. in France.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) stressed very strongly the importance of waste minimisation, recycling and composting, but the time has now come to convert the rhetoric into reality. We in the United Kingdom do very badly on recycling and composting, with the figure at just 11 per cent., compared with Denmark on 30 per cent. and Holland on 40 per cent. It is important to note that, while waste is increasing in the United Kingdom, firm political leadership has led to a reduction in waste in Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

We must move away from landfill as quickly as possible. Of course, the new EU waste directive will enable us to do that, backed by the local authority targets, but there are other pressures. All over the country, as the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said, complaints are made about landfill sites. There are problems with local authorities gaining new consents for landfill sites. For example, Nottinghamshire county council has been striving to open the Bentink void for five years, but the planning process is still not complete and engineering work remains to be done. I suspect that another five years will pass before that sites opens.

It is important to note that any planning application connected with waste meets opposition—whether we are talking about commercial composting sites, such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, or waste recycling centres. To establish a proper infrastructure in Nottinghamshire, two waste recycling centres will be needed by 2005. Even today, there is no clear idea where those sites should be and the planning process has not even started.

Mass incineration is universally abhorred, and quite rightly so. Within the next day or two, the Government will produce a Green Paper on a new planning process. It is important that that process enables local people to raise objections, and their objections are paramount. We must have a new planning system that is swifter at delivery than the one we have at present.

David Taylor

My hon. Friend refers to a swifter system, but is it not equally the case that communities pitted against a very powerful applicant, as with the New Albion site in North-West Leicestershire, face a very uneven struggle when the public inquiry takes place? Surely there have to be improved opportunities for communities to express their concerns.

Paddy Tipping

My hon. Friend will have to contain himself, but I suspect that the Green Paper on planning will address that point. It is important that community groups are supported in such David and Goliath situations, so that their voices can be heard in a contest that is not always equal.

It is important to note that waste is viewed as cost-free to the householder. In the United Kingdom, waste disposal costs the householder £47 a year–90p a week. That is typically 25 per cent. of the sewerage and water costs. The comparable figure is £100 a year in France and £150 a year in Germany.

It is important that we consider other ways of raising money to build an infrastructure for waste disposal. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) that there is a strong case for increasing the landfill tax substantially from the current £12. I would not advocate a move to the £46 charged in the Netherlands, but there is a case for a big gear change in charging policy. Providing kerbside collection across the country will cost a great deal of money. The hon. Member for Gordon said that it would cost £200 million and my own estimate would be around £500,000 for a small district council.

There is a compelling case for charging householders for the waste that they produce. It must not be seen as cost-free, or as free of cost to the environment. Those households that recycle could receive a reduction in council tax bills. I hope that the performance and innovation unit will also consider charging households directly for the waste that they produce.

Andrew Bennett

Does my hon. Friend accept that the great danger of what he suggests is that it would increase fly tipping? Another issue is how we could stop people putting their rubbish in next-door's wheelie bin or dustbin.

Paddy Tipping

Such a move would cause problems, but we cannot continue with a situation whereby the amount of waste going into rubbish bins is still increasing and people have a perception that they pay nothing towards the disposal of waste. We must establish a link between charging and waste disposal.

Malcolm Bruce

The hon. Gentleman's idea is interesting, but would it not just introduce another complication? Most people regard the local authority as the body that removes their waste. Would the simplest answer not be for the local authority to say that people had to put their waste in certain boxes and that it would be taken away only if they did so—and for penalties to be charged for non-compliance? That is what people pay their taxes for. It would not be cost-free, but it would be the simplest answer.

Paddy Tipping

Yes, but we must establish a link. Householders must know that the disposal of waste costs both the environment and real cash. We lack the attitude to tackle the problem, and that is reflected in the amount that we spend on waste disposal. In the UK, local authorities spend £1.5 billion on waste disposal. In France, they spend £3 billion.

If we are to build an infrastructure, we must find ways to deliver the money to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) mentioned the Ernst and Young report that suggested that it would cost £7 billion over 10 years. There is big money in waste and if we develop a national plan for waste disposal, the private and public sector should both contribute.

Waste planning should be localised, too. It is a local problem and local solutions should be found. I was especially struck by developments in the Isle of Wight, where a partnership between the local authority, Biffa and the ENER.G Group has reduced landfill by 45 per cent. through recycling and energy recovery. Some 65,000 households are served by the scheme, but it costs. The average cost in the UK is 90p, but that service costs £1.50. However, it is more sustainable and it is a local solution to a local problem.

The Isle of Wight scheme has its problems. The waste recovery heat and power plant is losing money hand over fist and there is a real danger that it will go out of business or relocate overseas. The Minister will be aware of a possible solution using the draft UK renewables obligation order, which is in its second draft form at the moment. That perceives that support for "Advanced (Energy from Waste) Technologies" might be available. However, the order specifies that it is for gasification and pyrolysis, but we should not be backing technologies but examining good quality heat and power schemes. What is significant is not the technology but the inputs and, more important, the outputs of a plant. There is a strong case for extending the order to high quality, more conventional means of disposal and incineration. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will comment on that.

Last month, the decision to call a waste summit was announced and the PIU has been charged with the task of producing solutions. I hope that those solutions will be sustainable. Waste is a cost to us all. It is a cost in real terms and to the environment, so we must use the waste summit and the PIU report as a spur to finding a long overdue solution. We must change the rhetoric of sustainability so that reality lies behind it.

8.46 pm
Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)

I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Conservation and sustainable development are causes very close to my heart, so I was glad recently to join the Environmental Audit Committee.

As a constituency Member of Parliament, I have a duty to fight for the interests of an area of which more than 70 per cent. is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. As a Conservative, I care passionately about the environmental future of the country and indeed the planet. However, I wish to start by praising those local councils that have bucked the national trend and have managed to put in place a progressive recycling regime.

One such authority is Wealden council, part of which I am proud to represent in the House. It has one of the best recycling records in the country and I hope that Rother—which I am also proud to represent and which is now firmly Conservative after years of Liberal control—will start to blaze a trail in that regard too.

Getting a grip of the problem of waste in Britain is not just a lofty aspiration; it is a political imperative. After five years of Labour Government, any semblance of a progressive and effective waste strategy has ground to a halt. The recent waste summit called by the Secretary of State was not about taking a record of achievement to its next logical step or shifting up a gear. It was a vain effort to breathe life into what was clearly a political corpse.

So soon after winning a fresh mandate from the electorate, one would have hoped that the Secretary of State would have her own ideas or even manifesto commitments to which she could refer to deal with the mess and intractable muddle that is the Government's waste management strategy. However, as with so many moribund areas of Government policy, she has contracted a nasty outbreak of "reviewititis" in the vain hope that a problem deferred is a problem halved.

After five years of Labour Government, there is no effective waste strategy; after five years of Labour Government, the Secretary of State was unable to tell my Committee where she stood on incineration; after five years of Labour Government, there is no effective national recycling policy; after five years, the amount of waste we generate is increasing not diminishing; and after five years, the Secretary of State has gone back to the political drawing board and passed the buck to the PIU.

It is not sufficient expert advice that the Government lack—far from it, because there have been numerous reports and reviews in recent years—but political will. They lack the political will to go beyond the soundbite and the political cliché to tackle the problems head on. That is not the only problem. Rather than face up to the environmental challenge, the Government have neutered the issue of environmental protection and sustainable development by salami-slicing policy responsibility between the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. While we wait for the Government to rearrange the office furniture in Whitehall, the environmental future of the country is going up in smoke.

As the problem of incineration has been offloaded into the political long grass of the PIU, beleaguered county councils up and down the country are being left to make critical decisions on incineration in a political vacuum. While the Government procrastinate yet further, councils are being asked to take decisions that could have consequences for countless communities for up to 25 or 30 years to come. Councils such as East Sussex in which my constituency sits, face the prospect of having to give the green light to the building of incinerators while important issues of public health remain unanswered.

I have pledged to fight the siting of incinerators in my constituency at Mountfield or Pebsham. That is why I wholeheartedly backed the Conservative party's commitment at the recent election to obtain a national moratorium on the building of new large-scale municipal incinerators until independent British scientific evidence proves that they are safe.

Too much incorrect information is flying around on both sides of the argument for proper conclusions to be drawn. Too many unanswered questions swirl around the incineration debate, and the Labour Government deliberately choose to ignore them. Without an effective national waste strategy, councils such as East Sussex may find themselves driven into the business of incineration and licensing commercial incinerators that will ultimately rely on importing rubbish into the county to keep those costly facilities commercially viable. I vigorously support free enterprise and I have seen in my lifetime the value of throwing off the shackles of the state, but the clean air of Bexhill and Battle is not for sale.

As the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said, the United States of America, the home of free enterprise, manages to recycle an average of 250 kg of municipal waste per person every year compared with a lousy 60 kg in the UK. After five years of a Labour Government, the UK now produces 550 kg of municipal waste per person per year, which is among the highest in Europe

David Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Barker

No, I am limited on time. The hon. Gentleman will get his chance.

I am amazed that Ministers have the sheer brass neck to come to the House and tell hon. Members that they face the threat of up to 100 new large-scale incinerators pumping out emissions when the Government's record on recycling is so risible. They are failing across the spectrum of waste policy.

As other hon. Members said, the latest comprehensive Ernst and Young local authority waste management survey reveals a startling £6 billion to £7 billion shortfall in the investment required to meet EU landfill targets. Perhaps the Minister should tell that to the Chancellor. The same survey reveals that only 10 per cent. of local authorities have finalised plans to deliver an integrated waste management structure. Some 14 per cent. have not started their plans and the remaining plans are languishing in various states of early drafting. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

The lag is due not only to the shortfall in funding, but to the uncertainties in the procurement of contracts in the waste disposal sector. With so many areas labouring under a regime in which one authority has responsibility for collection and another for disposal, the Government's total lack of an enforceable coherent national strategy is acting as a serious brake to the development of a sensible and ambitious recycling strategy that could be delivered on the ground. That failure is driving Britain into the arms of the incineration industry.

There will be a high price to pay for this Government's poor record, not least fines of up to £500,000 per day if the terms of the EU landfill directive are not met, but that will be a small cost compared with the prospect of a whole generation of children growing up in the shadow of Labour's massive incinerator-building programme.

8.55 pm
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Select Committee's report calls for vision, ambition and action to implement an integrated waste management strategy that minimises waste, reduces landfill and increases recycling and re-use. The evidence is that this Government have made great strides towards achieving that, but can still make more improvements and indeed need encouragement to ensure that that happens.

The waste strategy 2000 is a step in the right direction, and its initial target to almost treble recycling rates by 2005 is admirable. The concern lies in the absence of specific measures to ensure that those rates are attained. There is concern that the Government do not appear to be paying sufficient attention to waste minimisation. They seem to be accepting that household waste will continue to grow by 3 per cent. per annum. I hope that, in replying to the debate, the Minister for the Environment will assure us that the Government are concerned with waste minimisation, as well as with better methods of waste disposal.

The Government's waste disposal initiatives should be recognised and applauded. WRAP, the waste and resources action programme, set up to overcome market barriers to re-use and recycling, is to be welcomed, but it would be helpful if we could have a progress report on its targets and on how much is being achieved.

The Government's decision to call a waste summit only a month ago is a sign of their commitment. Their action in bringing together business, green groups and representatives from the voluntary sector and local authorities indicates the importance that they attach to partnership work. The Government's commitment that the performance and innovation unit will report in summer 2002 on its review of the waste disposal strategy is another important step. It is equally important that the Department of Trade and Industry is the lead Department in this matter, because that emphasises the importance of business in efficient waste disposal policies.

I draw the attention of the House to the role of key players in improving our policy and taking forward the recommendations of the Select Committee. The Government must continue to show leadership, to set targets and to introduce legislation where necessary. I hope that they will do more to recognise the importance of producer responsibility, because they have not acted on that as strongly as they might have done.

Fiscal measures are important in improving efficiency and reducing landfill. The landfill tax was perhaps the first environmental tax, and it has been greatly welcomed by those who are concerned about better means of waste management. I would hope that the Government could identify further fiscal measures and financial incentives to support better waste disposal practices and a more integrated approach to the subject. The climate change levy led to the identification of a number of energy-intensive sectors of industry in which supportive financial incentives have been introduced and are now being acted on. I hope that that thinking can be extended to the whole issue of integrated waste management. perhaps through the green technology challenge. I look forward to hearing further details about that. The regions should be used more positively to promote better practices. Regional chambers should develop better strategies on integrated waste policies and should work with regional development agencies to publicise proposals and work out better means of disposal, perhaps using regional investment funds.

Local authorities should continue to be seen as an essential part of a sensible policy. They are due to receive £140 million from the special fund that the Government established for local authority recycling. I hope that the local government White Paper, which was announced today, will provide more opportunities and flexibility for local authorities to take more action and become involved in more joint ventures. I hope that the Government will heed the Select Committee recommendation that their assessment of best value in local government should include recycling targets. They should also consider the specific recommendation that beacon councils should have achieved at least a 50 per cent. kerbside collection of recyclable items before they are given that status.

I want to pay particular attention to the importance of community involvement. We are all aware of the importance of community involvement in assessing and often in reacting to proposals on waste management and disposal. I wish to draw attention to the important contribution made by social enterprise in Liverpool, particularly the work of Create, an entrepreneurial and environmentally beneficial social enterprise that creates jobs and provides training that leads to jobs and, at the same time, recycles and re-uses household goods. Create was founded in Liverpool in October 1995 and is a company limited by guarantee. It began as a partnership between the Furniture Resource centre, which is a charity, and Thorn EMI. Last year, its turnover was about £650,000; it employed 15 permanent staff and trained 28 people. Indeed, since its inception, it has trained 98 people, most of whom have since found permanent employment.

Most important, perhaps, Create's work involves the recycling and refurbishment of used household goods such as fridges, washing machines and cookers. Those goods are resold in the community at affordable prices for people on low incomes. During the time in which it has been operating, 70,000 appliances have been collected, 12,000 of which have been sold following refurbishment; 3,700 tonnes of scrap have been sent for recycling and 4,000 fridges and freezers have had ozone-depleting CFCs removed.

The project is recognised for using initiative and flair, improving the environment, showing the way forward and, at the same time, creating employment. It has been involved in the new deal's environmental taskforce, has worked in Liverpool's employment zone and is seen as an excellent example of an intermediate labour market project. I hope that the Government will recognise the importance of that initiative and enterprise in Liverpool and will ensure that, through various means of allocating funding and support, such projects can be expanded and developed. Indeed, I understand that Create is already expanding and working in a London borough, but I hope that that example of local enterprise will be seen as a national leader and something that should be followed up across the country.

During the past four years, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) has chaired the Environment Sub-Committee with flair, expertise and commitment. It is a matter of great regret that the environment has been removed from the remit of what is now the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment that the members of that Sub-Committee and its Chairman will be following the consequences of the Select Committee's report and will retain a keen interest in the way in which its recommendations are pursued.

I hope that the importance of the current Select Committee's work is recognised. It has identified the importance of going ahead with a sound, environmentally beneficial policy for waste minimisation and disposal. I hope that in my right hon. Friend's reply, he will give us an assurance that the Government will follow the Select Committee's recommendations. I can assure him that its members, past and present, will listen carefully to his remarks.

9.6 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I am not a member of the Select Committee, but I have read its report with great interest and listened to the debate with even greater interest. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) who as always made a thoughtful contribution.

It is interesting to follow at one remove the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker). I do not know his constituency, but I did not recognise the picture that he painted of the good citizens of his part of Sussex cowering in the shadow of huge toxic incinerators. That is not a picture that any of us would recognise.

Mr. Barker

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I can tell her that there is genuine concern in my constituency at the prospect of an incinerator being built at Pebsham in Bexhill or at Mountfield near Battle. There is a huge public outcry and huge public concern about the potential environmental impact. There is also huge concern from parents and families who live in the communities around the areas that stand to be blighted. The hon. Lady makes light of the matter at her own cost.

Jane Griffiths

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his most helpful intervention. I was not, of course, seeking to make light of his or his constituents' concerns. I was simply pointing out that to paint such an overblown picture does no service to this important issue.

The targets in the Select Committee's report have been described from all parts of the House this evening as unchallenging and not strict enough. In an ideal world, those targets might not seem greatly challenging, but in the country in which we live, they do present a challenge to those seeking to recover value from 40 per cent. of municipal waste by 2005, and from 45 per cent. of municipal waste by 2010, under the terms of the Government's waste strategy. Those are not unchallenging targets.

The Government's waste strategy, recognising that different local authorities are at different points in increasing the amount that they recycle, called for those recycling less than 5 per cent. of waste in 1998–99 to achieve at least 10 per cent. by 2003; for those recycling between 5 per cent. and 15 per cent. in 1998–99 to double their rate by 2003; and for the remainder to achieve at least one third by 2003. It is estimated that that will achieve 17 per cent. nationally by 2003.

I suspect that those targets will be difficult to achieve. That is why I found the Select Committee report so useful, as it takes a hard look at the issues associated with recycling and the difficulties in its way.

Some remarks have been made from various points of view about incineration. The Select Committee report states that energy from waste incineration should be excluded from energy renewables targets. I am not sure whether I agree with that view. The choice is not between incineration and wonderful, completely clean waste management, but between incineration, landfill and other measures, so I do not believe that we can try to exclude incineration all together.

Little mention was made of clinical waste, which forms a small but important proportion of our total waste. The Royal Berkshire hospital, which is situated in my constituency, is very large and is surrounded on all sides by a densely populated residential area. No complaint has ever been made to me about the clinical waste that is incinerated there. I believe that the process is carried out in a very clean fashion. I am not aware of any way of disposing of most sorts of clinical waste without using a form of incineration to prevent infection.

There are a great many pressures. The various EU directives put pressure on our Government. The end-of-life directives on vehicles, batteries and waste electrical and electronic equipment all extend producer responsibilities. The EU landfill directive of 1999 requires the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that is sent to landfill to be reduced to 75 per cent. of 1995 levels by 2010. That is a very challenging target.

In representing Reading, East, I represent part of the local authority area of Reading and part of that of Wokingham, which has a doorstep recycling scheme and some bring sites, and forecasts the achievement of 16.87 per cent. recycling. In national terms, that is a very high level. Reading has only bring sites and no doorstep recycling, although it has begun a doorstep recycling trial. That is welcomed by constituents who live in the borough, which achieved a recycling rate of 7.7 per cent. in 1998–99. Both those local authorities are working with the neighbouring area of Bracknell Forest borough council, none of which is situated in my constituency. They are working together on a long-term recycling waste treatment and disposal contract to find the most sustainable and cost-effective way of dealing with household wastes for between 10 and 25 years. The project aims to reduce the growth in waste by 2007 and then reduce the amount of waste arising by a further 5 per cent. It also aims to ensure recycling levels of 30 per cent. by 2005, 35 per cent. by 2010 and 52 per cent. by 2028. I believe that the project should be successful and that those targets are achievable.

Once minimisation, recycling and composting have made the maximum possible contribution, the proposals go on to deal with generating energy from waste, especially in the form of combined heat and power. The aim is that, by 2020, 13 per cent. of total waste arising, and no more, should go to landfill. There is also an intention to cap the ratio of waste to energy, with the aim that any waste that arises as a result of the forecast population growth in the three authority areas is dealt with higher up the waste chain. In the Thames valley, that growth is considerable and appears likely to continue. The point about landfill is important, because it is predicted that, if there is no change in the current extent to which it is used—this information comes from several sources—the available landfill in Berkshire will run out by 2006–07

I know that there is another school of thought which says that landfill is not such a problem as most of those who are involved in waste and environmental issues hold it to be. Many who work in earth sciences believe that we should not won-y too much about landfill. I am not convinced by that, but it is useful to discuss matters with people who take a different view.

It is planned that the project in Berkshire should be undertaken by a joint contract with an organisation through a public-private partnership. The plans are subject to discussion between my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and the relevant local authorities. We shall meet next week to discuss taking those important proposals forward.

The report contained several recommendations that merit serious consideration. They all involve considerable resources. An environmental crime unit that could tackle fly tipping has been proposed. That would be immensely welcome in every constituency, but it would not be cheap to run; it would require a lot of resources.

The planning system does not always favour sustainable waste management. I am not simply referring to incinerators and proposals for them, although I do not believe that we should exclude incineration from our waste management plans. Problems can arise when land that has been used for landfill is subsequently proposed for housing development. For example, in Woodley in my constituency, problems arose when only part of an elderly landfill site was subsequently built on. Planning applications for more dwellings ran into serious difficulty.

The planning process must change. Like other hon. Members, I look forward to the Green Paper, which will be published soon and will highlight proposed changes in the planning process. If it does not include proposals that help us to manage waste more sustainably and minimise actual and perceived health risks to local populations, we will all fail in our endeavours. I am optimistic that we can achieve much more in sustainable waste management. We must do that for future generations.

9.17 pm
Bob Russell (Colchester)

I appreciate the opportunity to make a brief contribution. I hope that the Minister for the Environment can clarify the Government's position on incinerators. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) drew attention to possible contradictions, and the Minister knows from parliamentary questions that other hon. Members and I tabled that we have tried to ascertain the Government's precise view.

The Minister told me in a written answer that there is no legal requirement for county councils to include incinerators in their waste plans. However, Conservative-controlled Essex county council is proceeding with incinerators in its plan because it claims that that is a legal requirement. We need clarification.

The Minister knows from when he was a resident in Colchester that two of the six proposed sites for incinerators in Essex are in Colchester: one in Stanway and one in Old Heath. That is causing considerable anxiety and alarm. There is a belief that incinerators will undermine the thrust of waste recycling, including doorstep collections. I say that from a strong position because Colchester, through policies that the Liberal Democrats introduced and developed, has produced the best recycling record of any council in Essex.

We need a firm but clear statement from the Government. What is their position on incinerators? Will they give a clear commitment tonight that incineration is not their preferred policy?

9.19 pm
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I feel sorry for the Minister for the Environment. Apart from one nodding donkey on the Labour Benches, no one has had a good word to say about the Government's environmental policy. The Minister's heart is in the right place, but the trouble is that no one in Government seems to listen to him.

The former Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee published the report that we have been discussing on 14 March this year. It is an excellent report, and I congratulate the Committee and its Chairman at the time, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett).

The report makes many good points clearly and succinctly, and much of it has considerable validity. There is no doubt that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has demonstrated over many years a commitment to protecting and enhancing the environment. That showed in his speech today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) made a battling speech. He made many a good point, to the evident discomfort of Labour Members.

Conservatism and conservation go together. My party is passionate about preserving the United Kingdom's natural heritage and the future of our planet. The most obvious starting point for that is to implement an effective strategy for dealing with the waste that we produce.

No waste strategy will be effective until we all understand that caring for the environment must be approached by educating people and instilling a collective responsibility. I am sure that we can all agree that Governments must work with people, and have faith in them—in the farmers who manage our countryside, in those who run the businesses that produce our wealth, and in every householder whom we are here to serve. We should align the people's best interests with their self-interest.

No one would deny that we produce too much waste, and I shall show that things are getting worse. I shall also seek to demonstrate that landfill is not the answer, and that incineration is no easy substitute. The only real answer is far less waste, far more recycling and re-use, and a Government who spend their time acting effectively rather than talking loudly.

England and Wales produce about 400 million tonnes of waste each year. In 1999–2000, average municipal waste was 26 kg per household per week, an increase of 1 kg from 1998–99. Nationally, the municipal waste management survey for 1999–2000 showed that there was a total of 29.3 million tonnes of municipal waste in England and Wales in that period, up from 27.9 million tonnes in the previous year.

To our discredit, we are a "throw-away" society that produces too much waste, and the waste that we are producing is growing by 3 per cent. a year. That might not sound too much, but in practice it means that, if nothing is done, we will need to double our waste disposal capacity by 2020.

Historically, landfill has been seen as the answer, but the space for landfill is rapidly running out. Landfill sites are deservedly unpopular: as any Bedfordshire MP knows, they scar the landscape, they smell, and they produce methane, which is a highly damaging greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

It is true that landfill tax has been increased, and that we were told that it was a tax designed to discourage landfill and protect the environment. Well, it certainly is a tax, but for the amount collected it has had modest environmental impact, and there is little evidence that the proceeds have been spent on recycling incentives or measures.

What we do know is that EU directives dictate that the level of biodegradable material sent to landfill must be reduced to two thirds of the 1995 level by 2020. We also know that, with their current policies, the Government will not achieve that.

We should not ignore one of the consequences of landfill tax—fly tipping. Despite the Government's protestations to the contrary, higher levels of landfill tax have increased the incentive for many to fly tip to avoid paying tax. Farmland, especially, is often prone to abuse in this way. The National Farmers Union conducted a telephone survey of 300 farmers and growers last year, and more than 50 per cent. of the respondents identified fly tipping as a major ongoing problem; more than a quarter said that they had noticed a significant increase in fly tipping over the past year. Landowners or authorities then have to pay the costs of removing the material from the land and, often, the costs of proper disposal at a licensed landfill site. The Select Committee has urged far higher penalties for such "environmental crimes"—the Committee's own words—to combat the increase in fly tipping, and I agree.

I urge the Government to impose tougher penalties. Higher average fines should be introduced to discourage fly tipping, and local authorities should be able to keep the revenue from such fines to encourage them to catch the fly tippers. Dumped cars, discarded fridges, leaking drums of chemicals and old sofas line too many verges. The unintended, unfortunate consequence of one Department's decision on the policy of another Department shows that joined-up government is a wish yet to be realised.

As a result of new EU directives and the Government's failure to boost recycling, Labour is attempting to divert rubbish from landfill towards incineration. According to the Government's waste strategy, "A Way with Waste"— a snappy title, I admit—up to 165 large incinerators may have to be built across the country. But the waste and resources action programme, an initiative funded by the Government, has stated that the Government has failed to convince the public that waste incineration is not a threat to public health. Well publicised instances of high dioxin levels in bottom ash, and questions as to whether emission scrubbers have been updated or even switched on have given the public genuine cause for concern. The Conservative position on incinerators is clear. We wish to see a moratorium introduced on new large-scale municipal incinerators until independent British scientific evidence proves that they are safe. Tighter controls should be introduced on emissions from existing incinerators.

Andrew Bennett

I am pleased to hear this statement from the Conservatives. Will the hon. Gentleman convince his local councillors that that should be the policy in places such as Surrey and Essex?

Mr. Sayeed

I will certainly endeavour to do so. As I shall illustrate, I am endeavouring to do so on other issues, such as recycling. The problem is that, because recycling has been so poorly conducted in this country, councils have considerable difficulty in getting rid of domestic waste.

Incinerators should be used to generate energy from waste. Local residents should receive benefits from being located near an incinerator and the Government should consider ways of discouraging recyclable materials from going up in smoke.

The Conservative party has called for a review of regulations to cut down on wasteful packaging and tackle waste at its source. We want to see a simplification of regulations, to improve their effectiveness and to reduce their burden. As a general principle, we believe that regulations should discourage excessive packaging in products. Clear incentives are needed to minimise waste at the point of origin, and packaging regulations should require a higher recycled content.

There should be tougher enforcement by trading standards officers of existing regulations on over-packaging, and the regulatory burden should be streamlined so that processes are tough but straightforward and easy to understand. Under the packaging recovery note system, established in 1997, manufacturing companies are required to buy PRNs for every tonne of packaging waste that they produce and are required to send for recycling. The PRNs are used to show compliance with regulations. The notes are bought from agents who arrange waste recovery and recycling, or directly from waste producers.

Since 1998, about £250 million for PRNs and packaging export recovery notes has been channelled to reprocessors in this way; but there is little evidence that money has been invested in increasing the collection of material for recycling. The operation of PRNs is deficient in that regard, and should be reconsidered so that it works to everyone's benefit.

The words "sustainable development" do not, I regret to say, appeal to many members of the public, and some do not even understand their meaning. It is when they are put in the context of everyone's everyday experience—when people can see that what they are doing is of value to them, close to home—that our efforts to achieve sustainability will succeed. That is why the Conservative party's recycling policy is significantly greener and more radical than that of any other party. [Laughter.] It is clear from Labour Members' guffaws that they have not bothered to read any manifestos apart from their own party's.

We have proposed for some time that 50 per cent. of household waste should be recycled or made into compost by 2020. That target is significantly higher than the Government's, and it is the reason for our saying that we would introduce doorstep recycling for all households. The question is, what are the Government going to do?

The United Kingdom must improve its record on recycling, which will in turn allow less dependency on landfill as a means of disposal. Britain has just nine years in which to triple the amount of waste that it recycles, or it will face harsh financial punishment from the European Union. The Government's own officials have warned that the UK faces fines of £500,000 a day if EU rules on landfill sites are not observed by 2010.

The Government could help themselves to reach that target if they followed the Conservative lead. We want every home in the country to have recyclables collected separately from other waste. Perhaps the Government should learn from an organisation called Wastepack and its "pink bag" system, or perhaps they should learn from Berlin; but they must learn from someone.

Mrs. Ellman

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what recycling percentage had been achieved by the Conservative Government after 18 years?

Mr. Sayeed

First, I am happy to have been promoted to the status of a Privy Councillor, which I am not.

Mrs. Ellman

I apologise.

Mr. Sayeed

The hon. Lady should not apologise. I ask her please to go on doing it! Secondly, I was about to deal with her question in any case.

Labour claimed that it would be "the cleanest Government ever", but Britain still recycles just 11 per cent. of household waste, as opposed to more than 50 per cent. in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. At the recent waste summit, the Secretary of State announced the production of a consultation paper dealing with how to spend the £140 million that the Government had allocated to local authorities to promote recycling. I welcome that move. This country's recycling performance is lagging far behind where it should be—and just as we lag behind as a country, many local authorities lag behind comparable authorities in the recycling of domestic waste.

That brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. El!man). Why did 42 per cent. of Labour local authorities have no provision for separating recyclable material from household waste, according to independent Audit Commission figures for 1998–99? The figure for Liberal Democrat authorities was 29 per cent., and of the three parties, the Conservatives showed the lowest figure—19 per cent. I have recently contacted that 19 per cent. to ensure that many more Conservative councils are taking appropriate steps, but what is the Minister doing about the 42 per cent. of Labour councils and 29 per cent. of Liberal councils whose performance is lamentable? Why is Scotland's record on waste such a disgrace? Waste management may be a devolved responsibility, but this Labour Government are the Government for all the United Kingdom, so it is unacceptable that they should do nothing to persuade the Labour and Liberal Administration in Scotland to clean up their act.

British households produce enough waste to fill the Albert hall every hour. Unless the Government rethink their approach to waste, we face the shame and expense of being branded the dirty man of Europe. We produce too much waste and the situation is getting worse. Landfill is no answer, nor is incineration a proven safe substitute. The only answer is far less waste, much more recycling, much more re-use, and a Government who talk less and begin to act with vigour.

9.36 pm
The Minister for the Environment(Mr. Michael Meacher)

I begin by paying genuine tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) for his Committee's report, which is a good one. Also, I pay him a personal tribute for his distinguished record as Chairman of the Environment Sub-Committee. He leads a Committee that has produced a series of most telling and effective reports that have had a not insubstantial impact on Government policy, and that reflects his dedication and commitment to the environment. Indeed, as he suggested, it also shows why he, as a person who is seen as independent, respected and a champion of the environment, was chosen for the investigation being undertaken in Byker, Newcastle.

I am sorry that the report was delayed, but I can assure the House that the response is in its final stages and it will be submitted to the Committee shortly. The reason for that is that the Government's response was delayed by the general election being called in May, as my hon. Friend acknowledged. Also, for a lengthy period, from May to October, there was no Select Committee in existence and thus nobody for the Government to respond to.

Once the new Select Committee was established, there was a need to update the material in the Government response, given the passage of time. Finalisation has been further delayed to take account of the recent waste summit and the Prime Minister's announcement that the performance and innovation unit has been asked to review the waste strategy and consider what more needs to be done to ensure its effective delivery.

My hon. Friend made important points and I shall try to take most of them up. He said at the outset that we are not a sustainable society, and that is perfectly true. I always use this example: there are 60 million people in this country and average yearly consumption is 1 tonne per person. Taking into account input to the productive process and the energy involved in processing products and waste material, the figure is 11 tonnes.

A ratio of 1:11 is simply not sustainable and we recognise that. The Prime Minister established the PIU review on resource efficiency and the report was produced recently. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) said, we have announced that the PIU will now review the waste strategy. It will deliver its initial findings in the first half of next year, with a final report due in summer.

There is no doubt that the minimisation of waste is most important. Contrary to the impression given by several hon. Members, there is a clear national waste strategy plan. There is also a clear waste hierarchy, the first and most important element of which is waste minimisation. The best thing is not to create waste in the first place—not to quarrel about recycling or incineration.

Secondly, and clearly—in response to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)—the requirement of the waste strategy is to maximise recycling, re-use and recovery as long as that is the best practicable environmental option. In the vast majority of cases, that will be true, but it is not always so. For example, it may not be easy to extract waste from individual households in tower blocks. Similarly, as rural households may be at a considerable distance from recycling treatment centres, it may be best to use alternatives. However, recycling is obviously the most desirable course in the vast majority of cases.

We realise that, on its own, merely to set targets will be insufficient to deliver waste minimisation. I am keen to develop effective mechanisms actually to reduce the creation of waste. However, there must be adequate policy instruments, some of which we have already introduced: the landfill tax escalator—I shall talk about levels in a Moment—producer responsibility and support for Envirowise, which gives businesses advice on waste reduction.

I think that the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) mentioned the fact that there had been an increase of about 3 per cent. a year in waste arising. That is far too high and must be reduced. The objective is to reduce that plus-three percentage towards nought and then to a minus figure in order to decouple economic growth from waste arising. Although we can all agree on that objective, it is another matter to deliver it. We need effective instruments and I hope to introduce a clearer and more comprehensive policy than we have managed to initiate in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish referred to targets. I do not accept that the recycling targets are unambitious. I am grateful for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) in that regard. Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) who spoke for the Opposition, referred to the much higher recycling figures in other countries. I shall refer to the record under the Tories in a moment.

High recycling rates in other countries are often cited as evidence that our targets are too low. However, many countries include construction and demolition waste in their recycling rates for municipal waste. Such waste is both heavy and easily recyclable, thus increasing the potential for higher recycling rates. Construction and demolition waste is, however, largely excluded from the figures for England and Wales. That is an important consideration.

The targets set are demanding. It is rather too easy for Members to say that instead of talking about doubling and trebling the amounts we should be aiming for a 60 per cent. increase. Let us achieve a doubling and trebling of the amounts within a relatively short time—let us get that under our belts—before we aim for more ambitious targets.

Those targets are not, of course, ceilings—they are targets that we expect people to exceed. They are realistic minima that every local authority is being required to achieve. In fact, under our proposals, 83 local authorities are required to achieve recycling and composting rates greater than 33 per cent. by 2005–06, although the overall national target for that date is 25 per cent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned markets. He referred to Aylesford and the £20 million that WRAP had made available to enable further newsprint recycling to take place. That will have a major impact on recycling in this country.

I should also certainly like to mention other examples of markets. Several such examples have been produced by WRAP—the waste resources and action programme—which was established to develop as a centre of expertise in market development. That is its precise purpose. In its first three years, WRAP is being supported by £40 million of Government funding from my Department and other Departments. Its first business plan has focused on seven key sectors in which there are particular market barriers to increasing recycling. It is tackling those barriers with the Government's support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish also raised the incinerator issue, which is often the most controversial part of the strategy. He made the important point on the security of supply in relation to an incinerator's long lifespan. I make it absolutely clear, however, that the Government are not encouraging incinerators. We are simply recognising that there may be a role for some incinerators if we are to achieve by 2016—or, with the derogation period, by 2020—a massive shift from the 1997 position in which about 85 per cent. of household waste was landfilled—that is 28 million tonnes a year—to one in which no more than 35 per cent. of 1995 levels are landfilled. However, we are not encouraging such a role.

There is absolutely no figure on incinerators in our back pocket. The figures of 100 and 165 have been mentioned, but that was totally mischievous. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire knows perfectly well that that is nonsense—I have said so, and he has heard me say it. He repeats such figures simply to be mischievous. We have no intention of supporting or recommending any such total whatever.

Mr. Drew

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Meacher

I have very little time and am very reluctant, but I shall give way this once because it is my hon. Friend.

Mr. Drew

I am grateful and I shall be very brief. Will my right hon. Friend therefore agree to examine closely and rule out of order any waste plan proposing waste importation to bulk up the numbers and make an incinerator economic?

Mr. Meacher

The requirement in our policy is that statutory recycling targets must be met and that no incineration proposal shall be permitted which will pre-empt recycling or reduce the option of recycling for the future. A local authority may be able to demonstrate that it can achieve those targets consistent with small-scale incineration, preferably linked with combined heat and power. Although I do not rule out such proposals, I do not think that there will be many such examples. The Government's proposal is to increase recycling to the fullest degree to which it is environmentally the best option.

I am not sure of the exact figures on fluorescent tubes, which my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned, but I know that they are nowhere near what they should be. I shall write to him, and I shall once again press local government and central Government Departments to recycle more of their fluorescent tubes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish also mentioned refrigerators. The ozone depleting substances regulation was agreed in October 2000. Before that, my Department queried Brussels on the exact interpretation in relation to the extraction of chlorofluorocarbons, not only from cooling equipment but from foam. We did not receive an answer for 18 months, until June 2001.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Gordon said, it is a question not of misreading but of interpretation of the regulation's exact meaning. As soon as we found out the meaning, we took the necessary action, which is to seek to put in place, when we can, a producer responsibility regulation. We are also installing a capability for recycling which currently is not available. Many developers are certainly interested in creating that capability provided that they are assured of a market. Many of them have said that they can have the technology in place early next year.

In the interim, we are also funding local authorities' storage capacity, providing £6 million which should cover them until the end of March 2002. We believe that the rate of about £2 million a month is certainly adequate. We have made it perfectly clear that in the light of experience, we will make further funding available as necessary.

Mr. Sayeed

Is the Minister saying that the Government—I am not sure which one—signed up to a directive without knowing what it meant?

Mr. Meacher

The regulation, we believed—along with many other member states—did not include the extraction of CFCs from foam. We are not alone in uncertainty on this matter. It is remarkable that the Commission took 18 months before making up its mind.

My hon. Friend's last point was about the zero waste concept. It is an attractive idea—nothing should be wasted to landfill or incineration but should be recycled or re-used and there should be penalties for non-biodegradable material. It is a valuable concept, although a long way from being realised. That, ultimately, would be the optimum solution.

The hon. Member for Gordon does not seem to have taken on board what has happened. He is diligent and conscientious, and I cannot understand how he could make some of the statements that he made. He said that we are dragging our feet—we are patently not. He said that we need a national recycling programme—we already have one. He said that what was needed were incentives, penalties, markets and funding. With regard to incentives, there are statutory recycling targets introduced by this Government, not the last one. They are statutory and enforceable, and we shall enforce them.

Secondly, there will be penalties for local authorities which do not achieve the doubling or trebling that we require of them. We are concerned about markets. There is no point in recycling if people have a collection of glass, aluminium or cans that cannot be used, but that is what WRAP is meant to do. The Government set it up with £40 million.

Following the 2000 spending review, by the end of the three-year period, we provided £1.1 billion in the local government settlement for environmental protection and cultural services, a sizeable proportion of which I hope will go towards waste management. The sum of £140 million has been ring-fenced for local authorities, specifically for waste management, £220 million is for private finance initiatives and £50 million is for the new opportunities fund for community recycling. That is a sizeable amount of funding.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned packaging. The regulations are being tightened year on year. They are 50 per cent. this year, with 15 per cent. material-specific requirements for each product. Those will be tightened in successive years. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Germany as a better example. He should say that to the packaging industry. The green dot system that Germany uses costs three times more than our packaging waste regulation system. Our system costs about £0.6 billion, while theirs costs nearly £2 billion. I do not think that our industry has much doubt about which is the better one, and nor do I.

On the role of incineration, the hon. Gentleman said that we have left the door open to large-scale use of incinerators. That is blatantly untrue.

Malcolm Bruce

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said that.

Mr. Meacher

Well, I do not think that my hon. Friend did say that. Whoever said it, it is not true. I repeat again that there may be some incineration as a result of integrated waste management plans so long as there is maximisation of recycling, re-use and recovery.

Having paid a visit in or near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), I agree that Rockware Glass is a model company. It provides educational facilities at the factory to enable people to understand the importance of recycling. I agree with him about the need for encouraging civic amenity sites and the importance of kerbside collection. Our view—[Interruption.] I have never before managed to turn off the microphones.

I recognise the commitment of the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) to such issues, but I was surprised that she asked how to measure recycling and whether it includes packaging waste. Of course, they are two totally different systems. Packaging waste comes under the regulations on packaging waste and involves a specific requirement on retailers. The hon. Lady also mentioned the £12 landfill tax, but we recognise that a £1-a-year tax—

Sue Doughty

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Meacher

I am sorry; I simply cannot give way—I need to mention so many other hon. Members. We are certainly considering what level of landfill tax will deliver the increase in recycling that lies at the heart of the strategy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) referred to the need for a big gear change in landfill tax, and I understand that point. He also referred to the desirability of charging households directly. Of course, the point is that we need to incentivise waste minimisation, and the hon. Member for Gordon intervened to suggest that the simplest way to do that is to get local authorities to provide multicoloured boxes and then take away the contents. However, in no way does that incentivise the reduction of waste; it is simply a more organised way to get local authorities to take away whatever waste is produced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood also made a point about the Isle of Wight and the renewables obligation. The Government have recently consulted on our view that waste incineration should not be promoted through the renewables obligation and that such projects will not contribute to the Government's proposed target that renewable sources should comprise 10 per cent. of electricity sales by 2010.

The Government propose that support under the obligation should be concentrated on those technologies that require such support to succeed commercially. That is the key point. The issue is not whether something is good and should be supported; it is whether support is necessary for commercial success. The incineration of mixed waste, as a well established technology, is not regarded as requiring support under the obligation. The obligation has also been framed with a view to supporting more efficient and environmentally benign technologies.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) must be making a bid for the parliamentary award for the silliest speech this year. We have to recognise that there was not a single person behind the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) throughout the debate and that it is necessary to recruit someone to say something from the empty Opposition Benches, but surely anything is better than Bexhill and Battle.

First, I shall mention the Tory record. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle accused us of having only 11 per cent. recycling—in 1992, the Tory record was 2 per cent. After four years of Labour Government, the figure is 11 per cent., and it will be 25 per cent. by 2005–06. The Tory record is one of no statutory recycling targets and no shift from landfill, and some incinerators were built, which has not happened under this Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) drew attention to an important initiative, and we will certainly consider it as a national model. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) talked about Reading's integrated waste management project, which we shall discuss next week.

The hon. Member for Colchester asked about the position on incinerators, and I have made that very clear. He also asked whether there is a legal requirement to include incineration. There is absolutely no such legal requirement.

The speech made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire at least shows that he has a sense of humour. He made a passionate statement of the Tory commitment to preserving the landscape, but the Tory Government had the biggest road-building programme in modern times; 60 per cent. of building took place in greenfield developments; and they had a recycling rate of 2 per cent. He made an attack on the landfill tax, on the grounds that it had had little impact and had increased fly tipping, but seemed to forget that it was the Tory party that introduced the tax. He referred to 165 incinerators, but he knows that that figure is total nonsense. He referred to a moratorium on incinerators, which is a cheap point in this House when Tory councillors throughout the country—

It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to paragraphs (4) and (5) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates).