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Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford): I am very interested by what my hon. Friend says. Does he agree that we should therefore hold a full debate on the White Paper as soon as possible, so that all of the issues may be discussed in a longer debate?

Mr. Banks: I would strongly welcome a full debate, because many more hon. Members than will be able to speak today will want to take part in it. There is scope for a wide-ranging debate on this subject.

We can draw on evidence from the Royal Commission on environmental pollution--the organisation that proved that using energy from waste plants is the best practicable environmental option. Developments in Government policy are starting to create a more level playing field, so that environmental considerations, not only those of cost, influence local authorities and other people charged with finding waste management and disposal solutions.

There was huge local opposition to the proposal for a landfill site at Rufforth, which led ultimately to the local authority managing the site extremely well. People no longer complain--the site is well screened by trees.

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A modern energy from waste plant operates at South East London Combined Heat and Power--SELCHP--which is a power station in south-east London that I visited recently. It is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench today. I apologise to her for not extending to her the courtesy of knowing that I was going to visit that power station before doing so.

Major redevelopments are in hand in Coventry, Edmonton, Nottingham and Sheffield. An energy from waste power station is nearing completion at Tyseley in Birmingham and another is under construction at Cleveland.

Older-style incinerators are being substantially upgraded to meet new environmental standards set by the European Union and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. SELCHP is an especially good example. It is an excellent building. I commend the architects on using their design skills to create an attractive building. People who live close by no longer complain, because they were consulted at all stages of that development and it provides them with heat and power. I pay tribute to the developers of that plant, who discussed the design and practicalities of that plant exhaustively with all the people who live in the vicinity.

Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I must place on record, because my constituents would expect it, that many of the people who have newly purchased homes in the district did not know of the presence of that facility when they undertook to make their purchases and are very unhappy about what they regard as a facility that affects the market value of their property. There are other people who, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, were properly consulted and are happy with it.

Mr. Banks: I am interested to hear that observation. I shall deal later with the point about the construction of buildings. If the building did not have a chimney, I dare say people would not be so worried. If they knew the facts about the cleanliness of the atmosphere in their area, and the remarkable steps that are taken to clean the flue, they would perhaps come round to a different view.

Energy from waste has important environmental advantages. It reduces the volume of waste, avoids the environmental impact of gas and contaminated liquid seeping from raw municipal solid waste in landfill sites and conserves fossil fuels. It displaces pollution that would result from alternative generation and reduces significantly greenhouse gas emissions, which are with increasing confidence thought to be a cause of global warming--a point that we need to discuss in a wider debate. I hope that such a debate will be held.

Energy recovery from waste in high-technology plants is recognised world wide as safe, efficient and environmentally beneficial as part of an integrated strategy for sustainable waste management. There still remains, however, a considerable challenge for the private sector, in partnership with local authorities, to introduce schemes that surmount the contractual, planning and public attitude hurdles new plants may face.

My hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and for Medway referred to the difficulties with local opinion when such proposals are made. NIMBYism is, unfortunately, a strong deterrent in the UK, notwithstanding the significant success of SELCHP.

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I would advise my hon. Friends' constituents who are concerned to visit SELCHP and see for themselves what the plant looks like. They could also be briefed on what it is doing.

A subsidiary of Powergen is seeking approval to build a Thameside energy from waste power station in the borough of Bexley to produce 130 MW of electricity and consume 1.2 million tonnes of waste. It is faced with the same problem of winning over local opinion to approving the project.

In addition to the waste strategy White Paper, the non-fossil fuel obligation and landfill tax are the chief economic instruments that are helping to ensure that the cost of waste disposal via energy from waste plants is comparable with that of landfill. That is a sensible Government policy to have instigated.

The energy from waste industry, through the Energy from Waste Association--the industry body that promotes best practice and consults the Government and local authorities on all issues relating to energy from waste-- has strongly argued that combustion residues should be landfill-taxed at the lower rate: £2 as opposed to £7 a tonne. It is important that the benefit of the tax in closing the gap between the cost of landfill disposal and energy from waste is not destroyed by the cost of disposal of the ash residues that result from the combustion of waste as a renewable fuel.

Ultimately, energy from waste can succeed only where it can demonstrate greater environmental benefits than other available waste management options. This key point, obvious enough to waste management professionals, is often missed by the industry's opponents. It simply will not do to criticise energy from waste against some imagined absolute standard of desirability.

It is important to look at energy from waste in the context of other forms of waste management and recycling. In considering the waste hierarchy, the term given to grading waste management options in terms of their environmental benefit, energy from waste, materials recycling and composting should be placed on the same level after reduction and re-use. To place, as some do, recycling on a higher level than energy recovery wrongly suggests that recycling--this is where I depart from my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham--is invariably of greater merit than energy recovery, and should be pursued to the exclusion of an integrated strategy including energy from waste.

The Conservative party is a broad church, and I think it good that we can debate these matters and disagree with each other about them.

It should be remembered that even the hierarchy has its limitations. Re-use may not have a lower environmental impact than, say, recovery. A holistic approach surely offers the best prospect of achieving sustainable waste management solutions at affordable cost. The White Paper takes that line.

Indeed, some experts are beginning to take the argument even further. In a recent paper, Dr. Lyndhurst Collins of Edinburgh university argued that recycling paper, specifically, could lead to an increase in the level of carbon dioxide. He says that new assessments show that incineration of waste paper to generate energy is a viable and more beneficial option for the environment than recycling.

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My point is that energy recovery and recycling ought to be seen not as two mutually exclusive options but as parts of an integrated waste management programme. In the UK, we achieve low levels of both--7 per cent. and 3 per cent. respectively--yet other countries are demonstrating how it is possible to have far higher levels both of recycling and of energy recovery. For example, Germany recycles 18 per cent. of its waste, with 36 per cent. energy recovery; Switzerland recycles 29 per cent., with 59 per cent. energy recovery; and Denmark recycles 23 per cent., with 48 per cent. energy recovery.

I believe that we need to motor fast with the policies of recycling and energy from waste. Currently, the UK's performance in terms of recovery could and should be improved, and that would have a beneficial effect on rates of recycling.

The Government are examining other ways to give improved guidance to local authorities, as part of a plan to achieve higher recovery rates. In addition, given the shortage of suitable sites for energy from waste plants, the Government should strengthen regional co-operation and co-ordination so that the provision of new facilities is not left to the vagaries of the local planning system. The White Paper should give an important boost to the development of regional solutions.

I am conscious of the fact that time is evaporating and that the Front-Bench spokesmen are anxious to speak, so I shall turn finally to the subject of dioxins--an important element in the equation. New concerns about dioxin emissions from energy from waste plants were raised last year by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. There has been disagreement about the integrity of the science basis of the EPA draft, both in the United States and in Europe, and the feeling persists that it was unjustifiably alarmist. The eminent toxicologist, Professor Bridges, of Surrey university, told a Manchester conference recently that the dioxin issue was largely political.

The royal commission has not changed its view on energy from waste, and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food has not altered the tolerable daily intake for dioxins, which is the amount the committee considers people can be exposed to every day with no adverse health effects. There nevertheless remains a concerned and rational international consensus on the need to reduce environmental dioxin.

Since 1993, incinerators have been tightly regulated-- more than many other processes. All plants must meet the new standards, including a very low dioxin limit, required by HMIP; they will have to close if they do not. Some incinerators have been significant sources of dioxins, but the industry has put its house in order and, by next year, will account for an insignificant proportion of the overall dioxin burden, even if there is a large increase in the waste processed.

To give some idea of the scale, a modern energy from waste plant emits a tiny fraction of 1 gramme toxic equivalent a year, against, for instance, measurements of 40 grammes from sintering--carried out in steel making--and an estimated 1 to 2 kg arising from a single accidental plastics fire, to say nothing of the emissions willingly caused by the public on Guy Fawkes night.

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I warmly welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I hope that a better understanding of the importance of energy from waste will be heard.

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