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Landfill Tax

Dr. Twinn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the level of recycling credits to be paid by waste disposal authorities following the introduction of the landfill tax. [17923]

Mr. Clappison: Statutory payments, which are made by waste disposal and waste collection authorities to those who recycle waste, are commonly known as "recycling credits". These payments are made under section 52 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and associated regulations.

Payments of credits are intended to reflect savings in the costs of waste collection and disposal which benefit collection and disposal authorities, as a direct result of the activities of recyclers. In particular, disposal credits, which are paid by waste disposal authorities, represent the net saving of expenditure on the disposal of waste, which arises because the waste has been recycled.

Provisions to introduce the proposed landfill tax are contained in the Finance Bill, which is currently before Parliament. The aim of the new tax is to increase the cost of landfill disposal of waste, reflecting its environmental impact. This will make alternative waste management practices, such as recycling, more economic. The landfill tax supports the objectives set out in our White Paper on waste, "Making Waste Work".

Waste disposal authorities should take their own legal advice if they are in doubt as to their position, as the interpretation of legislation is ultimately a matter for the courts. However, it is the aim of the recycling credits legislation that all expenditure on the disposal of waste should be included in the calculation of disposal credits. The amounts of disposal credits should therefore be increased to reflect the introduction, subject to parliamentary approval, of the landfill tax, where landfill is the most expensive disposal method as defined by the regulations.

OECD Environment Ministers' Meeting

Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the outcome of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Environment Ministers' meeting in Paris on 19 and 20 February; and if he will make a statement. [17924]

Mr. Gummer: I was elected to chair the meeting of OECD Environment Ministers in Paris on 19 and 20 February. This was in recognition of the UK's international environmental leadership, including our key role in last year's Berlin conference on climate change and Vienna conference on the ozone layer, and further acknowledged by the invitation to me from the Secretary-General of the United Nations to join the international advisory group of eminent persons preparing for this year's habitat II conference in Istanbul.

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The meeting marked the 25th anniversary of the setting up of the OECD's environment policy committee and the first occasion that a British Minister had taken the chair. The meeting provided an opportunity both to review past performance and to decide the priorities for future action, particularly in the context of the 1997 special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations to follow up the 1992 Rio earth summit.

There was acceptance at the meeting of the need for OECD countries to show leadership in resolving global environmental problems both through domestic action and by assisting developing and transition economies to take action themselves.

The meeting endorsed OECD acts on the "greening" of Governments and the OECD itself, and on pollutant release and transfer registers. Ministers also adopted a declaration on lead risk reduction and supported the principle of opening up OECD instruments on the mutual acceptance of chemicals data to non-OECD countries.

Ministers called for reports from the OECD, to be prepared over the next one to two years, on the relationship between globalisation and environmental policies, on the environmental effects of subsidies and tax disincentives, and on green tax reform.

I was able to draw upon the UK's strong environmental performance. I pressed the importance of the annual environmental audit contained in the White Paper which we have published every year since the first comprehensive environmental strategy "This Common Inheritance" in 1990.

The whole government machine is brought into process, not least through the Green Ministers machinery. This experience enabled the United Kingdom to be the first country to publish all the action plans called for at the 1992 Rio earth summit--a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development and action programmes for climate change, biodiversity and forests.

This strategy included the setting up of the Government panel and the UK round table on sustainable development and the "Going for Green" campaign. We have now produced detailed strategies for waste and air quality, thus setting for the first time clear targets and providing effective monitoring. This radical approach has been carried through to our preparation of the world's first set of indicators of sustainable development and pioneering work on recommendations for costed biodiversity targets.

The Environment Act 1995 set up environment agencies for England and Wales and for Scotland. The Government's commitment to work with the market to achieve environmental progress has been shown by various economic instruments such as the 1994 Budget introduction of a new landfill tax which shifts the burden of taxation to discourage harmful activities; our pledge to increase the duty on road fuels on average by at least 5 per cent. each year in real terms in future budgets; and the 15 per cent. reduction in the duty on road fuel gases made in the 1995 budget, bringing their price broadly into line with that of petrol and diesel. These are all examples of fiscal measures taken for environmental purposes.

Our strategy also includes voluntary measures such as the EC eco-management and audit scheme, where the UK has become the first country to register sites. A major

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review of radioactive waste management policy was completed last year and later this year we shall become one of the first countries in Europe to publish an Environmental health action plan. The environment White Paper to be published at the end of March will highlight major achievements in 1995 and identify key new initiatives for the coming year.

By combining effective government machinery, detailed targets and monitoring, and clear strategies covering the whole environmental agenda, the United Kingdom is now widely recognised as one of the global leaders on sustainable development.

Yorkshire Water

Mr. Madden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when and by whom he was first informed that approval had been given to Yorkshire Water to increase charges; what subsequent representations he has made to the director general of Ofwat on this matter; what information he requested from the director as to the grounds on which he gave approval for the increase; and if he will make a statement. [16835]

Mr. Curry [holding answer 26 February 1996]: Yorkshire Water's price limits, together with the price limits for all the water companies, were set by the Director General of Water Services in his thorough quinquennial review, the outcome of which was announced by the director general in July 1994. Two companies subsequently sought a referral of their new price limits to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. In its reports, the MMC largely endorsed the director general's approach and his determinations. I am satisfied therefore that the director general's review was properly and carefully carried out. Yorkshire Water's average charge increase from April 1996 is within the price limit set by the director-general.

Mr. Madden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make representations to those responsible for Yorkshire Water's commission of inquiry that its terms of reference should include Yorkshire Water's pricing policy. [16836]

Mr. Curry [holding answer 26 February 1996]: Professor Uff has been asked by Yorkshire Water to conduct an inquiry into the water supply situation in Yorkshire. The terms of reference of the inquiry are a matter for Professor Uff.

Mr. Madden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when members of his Department met Professor John Uff, in respect of Yorkshire Water's commission of inquiry; and on what occasions pricing policy was discussed. [16798]

Mr. Curry [holding answer 26 February 1996]: I have met Professor John Uff. Professor Uff has also had contact with officials, who referred him to the framework of price regulation and the regulator's decisions in his quinquennial review in 1994.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not met Professor Uff. This corrects the error in the answer my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave on 22 February, Official Report, column 282. I regret this error.

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Mr. Madden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will direct the director general of Ofwat to withdraw his approval to Yorkshire Water increasing its charges pending the outcome of (a) his departmental review of Yorkshire Water and (b) Yorkshire Water's commission of inquiry. [16799]

Mr. Curry [holding answer 26 February 1996]: The Director General of Water Services has responsibility for determining the limits on water companies' charge increases. Yorkshire Water's average charge increase of 5.6 per cent. from April 1996 is within the price limit set by the director general.

My Department is not conducting a review of Yorkshire Water.

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