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Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the draft Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts by Children in Rear Seats) Regulations 1989, which were laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Question agreed to.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : I should like to present a petition on behalf of my constituents, who have expressed deep concern about the proposals for the Health Service. Expressing a minority opinion, the Government in Scotland have set their face against consultation and listening to the Scottish people.
I present the petition on behalf of Robert McLearie and 5,000 other constituents. It was collected over a period of 68 Saturday mornings in my constituency, and its hallmark is the fact that it was not possible for everyone who wanted to sign it to do so : people of all social and political persuasions felt that the Government should think again and retain the integrity of the National Health Service, rather than devaluing the most precious political measure introduced in this century.
My constituents ask the House to pay heed to their sentiments, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray etc. To lie upon the Table.
Prince of Wales Hospital, Rhydlafar
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : I wish to present a petition in the name of Jane Davidson and more than 22,000 residents of south Wales, who ask the House to beg the Secretary of State for Wales to reject the closure of the children's ward at the Prince of Wales orthopaedic hospital, Rhydlafar, near Cardiff.
The 12 bedded children's ward at the hospital is the only specialist centre for the treatment of orthopaedic problems for children in all the six counties of south and mid-Wales. Although the hospital lies within the purview of south Glamorgan and is therefore under the control of south Glamorgan health authority, the ward's closure would leave the vast majority of Wales without a specialist centre for the treatment of such problems. That is why feelings are so strong that a large number of signatories have signed the petition.
Wherefore your petitioners would pray that your honourable House will urge the Secretary of State for Health to reject any proposals for such closure brought before him by the South Glamorgan Health Authority. And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : You, Madam Deputy Speaker, the hon. Members who have just rushed out of the Chamber and the members of the public who have left the Gallery are all responsible, in their individual ways, for producing toxic waste. That is not to suggest for a moment that they all work in a chemical factory or have their own test tubes at home. However, they wear clothes that come from a chemical base and they drive cars full of plastics and other chemically based products. We all buy well- wrapped goods, and all those wrappings are chemically based. Without the chemical industry, the country would find it difficult to maintain modern standards of life.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : Many toxic waste compounds are generated in chemical-producing areas. Has my hon. Friend noticed that although we are discussing chemical waste in Cleveland no Cleveland Members are present on the Opposition Benches?
Mr. Holt : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am grateful, too, that my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Fylde (Mr. Jack) are in their places. I know that they have a deep interest in this subject. I am not surprised that Labour Members are not present because I am aware that they have come to a sorry state. The Labour party locally appears to be opposed to the introduction of any further incinerators in Cleveland but Labour Members have tabled an early-day motion--it has been signed by all the Labour party's Teesside Members bar one--that states :
"A proven, safe and effective means of disposal, of almost all such compounds already existing, is incineration at appropriate temperatures under adequate pressure in suitable plant by qualified staff using correct procedures under proper supervision applying constant monitoring in accordance with a predetermined and approved specification".
I believe that that was extracted from one handout of one of the incinerator companies that is seeking to construct a plant in Cleveland.
Cleveland is not familiar to many people and its history is short. We in Cleveland are gradually moving away from the allegations of child abuse, only to find that the county is gaining a new reputation as the dustbin of Britain. Is it any wonder that almost every incineration company in the country is lining up to put its incineration plant in Cleveland? Nine applications have been submitted or are about to be submitted and one has been determined by the county council. The lay people who constitute the council rejected the best advice of their officers and the issue will go before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for determination.
Let us imagine my right hon. Friend taking note of all the expert advice and reading the comments of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who said :
"We must be warned against giving the impression that chemical waste incineration was in itself a bad method of disposal. That is not true. In most cases incineration, using the right procedure, is the best way of doing it."
That is not how the people of Cleveland see it. I have received 1, 200 letters from individual constituents telling me that they do not want one extra incinerator in Cleveland.
Mr. Devlin : I have received over 1,000 letters from my constituents on this issue. I think that all those who wrote agree with the view that Cleveland should do its bit to dispose of its own toxic waste if that is necessary. It is unrealistic, however, for every incineration company to establish a site in Cleveland. My constituents think--I certainly do--that the Government should provide a national scheme to distribute incinerators evenly throughout the country so that the entire burden does not fall upon Cleveland.
Mr. Holt : The management of toxic waste is a matter of major concern and it can no longer be left to local authorities. It is too great a responsibility to place upon them. That was clearly stated in the report of the Select Committee on the Environment, on which I have the honour to serve. In the Committee's report of February 1989 there was a clear recommendation that there should be 10 waste disposal authority areas similar to the new National Rivers Authority areas. Decisions should not be made by local councillors, who do not have the relevant expertise or knowledge. Their electors would never vote for them again if they supported having massive numbers of incinerators to dispose of toxic waste. That goes almost right across the board.
When I was talking to a journalist in the north-east I made the off-the- cuff comment that the Select Committee had been to Sharpness and that I thought it was very much the place where one could site a toxic waste disposal plant. It has all the attributes that we have in Cleveland. They went out of their way to tell us how good their roads are. They have a dock that is not used enough, good road access, the river Severn and a chemical works nearby, yet they panicked at the thought of having a chemical waste disposal plant in that area. What is even more surprising is what was said in answer to the local Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman). I take my hat off to him because he did a darned good job for the people in his constituency by getting the Secretary of State for the Environment, no less, to make a statement in the House of Commons on 26 April this year in which he said :
"I can confirm that there are no sites taking hazardous waste in the Sharpness area or indeed anywhere in my hon. Friend's constituency and that there are no plans for any such hazardous waste sites there. If any hazardous waste site were to be proposed near the Sharpness canal or any other area in the lower reaches of the Severn, there would be severe water pollution problems,"--
I wonder whether anybody has told him about the river Tees? I wonder whether he has any idea what that river is like. My right hon. Friend continued by saying,
"and that would be strictly against the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974."
That would give Greenpeace a laugh in the north-east. He continued :
"In addition, the necessary consents would, of course, be required."--[ Official Report, 26 April 1989 ; Vol. 151, c. 943.] He does not go on to say, "They would be required from me, and I am not going to give them." But the hint was there--"There ain't going to be no plants there, or in south-west Surrey, or anywhere else, apart from poor old Cleveland."
We said in our report that the Government must have a policy and a strategy. Our report has been around for only about six months, so it is unlikely that there will be any action. To put a slight gloss on that, it seems to us that every time a particular subject is under discussion the
Column 1109Government come up with a little bit of action. The question of contaminated land has been raised. For the first time in more than 10 years this week there was a Department of the Environment press release on contaminated land. Is that not something?
We also said in our report that there should be more of Her Majesty's inspectors of pollution. Their number is disgracefully low. What happened when we said that? There was a statement within a few weeks--we have not even debated the report yet--by Lord Caithness, who announced on 7 December that 13 additional inspectors were to be appointed, of whom nine would take over responsibility for waste. Remember that date, 7 December. They were tripping over themselves so fast that they managed to get the advertisements out by the middle of June. To date, no one has been interviewed. Because of the speed at which they work in the Department of the Environment, I doubt whether they have even opened the envelopes.
This crucial matter, however, affects the lives of my constituents, those of my colleagues' constituents and everyone else in the north-east. We are not getting a fair deal from the Government. If we are to get a fair deal from the Government, they must introduce legislation to control toxic waste. The problem is approaching crisis proportions. Everyone is becoming much more aware of the dangers that can arise from what was historically thought to be quite a safe thing to do--to dig a hole in the ground and stick stuff in it. We used to think it could be put out to sea and that somehow the fish would get rid of it. We now know that the best and safest method of dealing with it is probably incineration, although biodegradation may prove to be the long-term answer.
The Government must have a strategy to reduce the amount of toxic waste that is produced. In America that has been achieved with great success. Why are we waiting for a policy? We need a strategy, a policy and legislation on toxic waste disposal. It is grossly unfair that almost without exception disposal occurs in the north-east of England. There is some in the north- west and in Cheshire, but it is always where there are heavy conurbations.
I know that my hon. Friend will try to charm me, as she is a very charming lady, but she will not get me off her back until the Government take action.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh(Mr. Holt) has rightly raised a matter of considerable concern to his constituents. He has already seen me to discuss the subject earlier in the year. Apart from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) and for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), he is the only Cleveland Member of Parliament to express strong concerns on the subject.
I appreciate the way in which my hon. Friend put the subject of toxic waste in its proper context. We have a growing chemical industry which has performed a wonderful service to mankind. Because of many of those advances, our life expectancy is now 77 years, whereas 100 years ago it was 44. My hon. Friend mentioned modern clothing and cars. The production of those assets of modern life inevitably produces dangerous and toxic substances that have to be disposed of. Toxic waste is only
Column 1110a small part of the waste stream. About 26 million tonnes of domestic waste are produced annually, but only about 1.5 million tonnes of toxic waste.
My hon. Friend was less than generous in his comments about Government action in recent years. There has been a string of consultation papers and documents in pursuit of updating and ensuring that we have waste disposal laws that sufficiently recognise modern dangers and modern methods of dealing with toxic substances. Certainly my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have done valiant service on the Select Committee. They have earned an excellent reputation for taking up subjects of particular environmental concern. I pay a fulsome tribute to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members on that Committee.
Hazardous waste disposal is a particularly difficult subject. Strategies have to be adopted for different parts of the country to meet needs and in the broader context. I must point out to my hon. Friend that Cleveland sends waste to Ellesmere Port, Widnes, Macclesfield, Warrington, Thurrock, Southampton, Walsall and Hucknall. Neither are all the specialists plants, which require very high standards of performance, situated in the north- east or the north-west. Recently, I visited a plant in Southampton which was involved in that particularly difficult work.
As my hon. Friend has considerable expertise in the subject, he will know that the disposal of substances such as polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and other difficult chemicals requires combustion at a particular temperature for a carefully monitored period to ensure that they can be dealt with without adverse effect on the environment.
Local confidence is important. We believe that local authorities should be responsible for dealing with waste, which is closely related to planning matters. That is where we disagreed with the Select Committee.
Mr. Devlin : Is my hon. Friend aware that in January this year only 23 out of 79 waste disposal authorities in England had completed their waste management plans? Under great pressure, after 11 years, the figure is now, in July, only 58 out of 79. That means that 21 have still to complete their plans.
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend is right. Waste management plans have an important part to play. We have been pressing waste disposal authorities to ensure that their plans are in place. Cleveland produced a plan some time ago which made it clear that it believed that there was scope for further provision of incinerators in that area. We believe that the local authority must take this responsibility when establishing a plant. It is a matter first for the planning authority--in this case, the waste disposal authority, or the development corporation. Before any plant can operate, a licence must be secured from the waste disposal authority. Plants of the particular sensitivity that we are discussing tonight require prior authorisation from Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh will be aware, given his experience, of the additional strength that we are giving HMIP and of our pursuit of the integrated pollution control approach whereby waste that is dealt with in water, put up chimneys or put on the land is considered across the spectrum by a team of inspectors. He
Column 1111will be aware, because of his membership of the Select Committee, that the Government have made clear their intention to legislate at the earliest opportunity.
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend was less than generous about some of the comments that his Committee made about the Government's proposals. The proposal to introduce a duty of care on the producer of waste, the plans to establish registration for carriers and the plans to ensure that there is better licensing, better enforcement and better monitoring of waste disposal sites are matters where the Select Committee has recognised what the Government seek to do.
Mr. Holt : We told the Government.
Mrs. Bottomley : We appreciate the debate that is taking place. I do not want to vie with my hon. Friend about who was the initiator of such eminently sensible and good ideas. I can only ask him to look at some of the consultation documents that my Department has published over the years. It is right and proper that, as we near the end of our consultation period, we should move towards legislation that will do the job that we all wish to see done--deal safely and effectively with the waste which is an inevitable by-product of modern life, while ensuring that there is public confidence.
The Government seek to advise and assist waste disposal authorities through the work of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, which has produced a series of well respected, long-standing waste management papers to provide local authorities with the latest information, technical guidance and scientific advice about the best ways of dealing with waste.
We look to local authorities to ensure that they conduct their waste regulatory functions effectively, and I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with me on that point. It is envisaged in the plan that much of the provision within Cleveland will be by the private sector. My hon. Friend will be aware from the debate on the Water Bill of the arguments about the importance, where possible, of separating the regulation and operation of plants. We believe that, under our proposals, those plants will be much more effectively regulated and local authorities will face up to this responsibility without fear or favour.
We look to industry to work harder on waste minimisation. With the proposals for integrated pollution control, waste minimisation will become a material consideration for the first time. Recycling is equally important. My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry are pressing industries to see what they can do to ensure that they do not produce waste unnecessarily.
The Cleveland county council waste disposal plan, which was produced in February 1987, was a comprehensive document. It envisaged that there would be a need for further provision in that area. As my hon. Friend has made clear on behalf of his constituents, there has been local concern--I have been aware of it--about the number of proposals that have come forward to respond to the need in his area to meet the market for waste disposal. Clearly no one envisages that all the different proposals will result in success. Five have come to
Column 1112the notice of the regional office, but only one has been to the formal stage of a planning application. As my hon. Friend said, that was turned down by the county council. He will understand that I cannot comment specifically on that proposal, because it is likely to come to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on appeal, as he has a quasi-judicial role.
However, I want to emphasise clearly that waste disposal proposals for incinerators of this sophisticated, extremely expensive type, which require a great deal of investment, have first to go to the planning authority. Once they have been considered and accepted by the planning authority, they have to obtain a licence from the waste disposal authority. In addition, they have to have prior authorisation from Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. At every stage of the process, it is crucial that public safety and the protection of the environment are maintained. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that in this country we have not brought forward our waste disposal legislation, I am pleased to say, on the basis of crises or disasters. We are almost unique in not having had any great disaster. Enforcement and regulation have taken place effectively. However, we recognise fully that in an advanced modern society we want to be absolutely confident that all the necessary steps are taken.
We look to local authorities to ensure that their plans are frequently reviewed. I recognise my hon. Friend's concern that some local authorities have not prepared the plans we should like to see. Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution is in touch with local authorities on this matter and we look to further progress being made.
However, in a world in which development, progress and industrial advance add to our quality of life, we must recognise also that the by-products of modern life will be waste, and some of it is difficult and dangerous. We cannot wish such waste away. We cannot say that such waste should be elsewhere and turn our back on the problem. We must face up to those responsibilities. We are clear that, on the basis of a great deal of preparatory work, consultation and discussion, together with the consideration given to the problem by my hon. Friend and the Select Committee on the Environment, we are bringing forward proposals that will ensure that our waste is dealt with in a way that befits this nation as we move towards the turn of the century.
I want to thank my hon. Friend for his work in respresenting his constituents. He is a vigilant and valiant champion of his constituents. The number of times he keeps Ministers up late at night or early in the morning and the number of times that he brings delegations or makes contact with my right hon. and hon. Friends is legion. His constituents are truly fortunate to have a Member of Parliament who works so hard on their behalf. As my hon. Friend said, he plans to see my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government in the morning. That does not surprise me. He is a Member of Parliament who is a credit to his constituents and a credit to the House. I hope, as I have said, that as we move towards legislation on this important subject, we shall continue to have the benefit of his advice and experience.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Twelve o'clock.
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