Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Prescott: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. Perhaps I should have told the House that one of the difficulties with the rolling stock is that it has not yet got its safety case, which is important to operation, because the electronics cause difficulties with the existing signalling system, which clearly creates problems from a safety point of view. I have asked them to look urgently at that matter.

I have been looking at the sort of stock provided for the channel tunnel service, and at the sleeper stock, for which the taxpayers now have to fork out £100 million because it cannot be used. The way in which the engineers designed it meant that the power demands were greater than could be provided for the train, and that has now cost us £100 million in compensation. It is important to try to get the rolling stock working. I am doing all I can, and perhaps I shall be able by the end of the year to give a more appropriate and informed answer than I can give today.

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Can the Deputy Prime Minister say whether any of the original consortiums provided a guarantee that they would build the complete link?

Mr. Prescott: It not the consortiums that are giving the guarantee--they run the Eurostar; it is LCR that has entered into the contract and signed up, and, yes, the contract is for the completion of the link.

Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): I start by apologising to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister for being one of those fooled by yesterday's Financial Times article, which said that he

3 Jun 1998 : Column 383

had secured £700 million from the Chancellor. Perhaps we should have known better, given the Chancellor's recent pronouncements. Having said that, the obvious negotiating skills of the Deputy Prime Minister and his team ensured that they did not need that amount of money.

The fact that the whole link is to be built, given the disastrous deal struck by the Conservatives, is welcome. However, given the length of time needed for the construction of the whole link, does my right hon. Friend believe that the regeneration of east London will begin before commencement of construction of the second half of the link, in 2001; and will the blight that has affected so many homes and businesses in east London also be dealt with by his statement today?

Mr. Prescott: Yes, today's statement will add to the certainty of these matters. Regeneration effects can begin now. We have given a commitment on the matter. Following the blight and uncertainty that people have suffered over the past few years--certainly before the previous contract--we now have a much more robust financial position. I suggest that my hon. Friend looks at the statement in the Library. At last we can begin to reap the regeneration effects from the investment and provide fast connections to Europe, so that we can meet the standards that have been enjoyed in Europe for a while, and enjoy them here in the United Kingdom, too.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): Although we will have to study the details of the memorandum, will the Deputy Prime Minister say what penalty will be imposed on LCR in 2001 if construction has not started? Given that LCR will not

3 Jun 1998 : Column 384

have much of an asset base or an income stream, what penalties can he impose on it if it fails to honour its side of the contract?

Mr. Prescott: I think that I have shown that I am quite prepared to act robustly if anyone is in breach of contract. The hon. Gentleman can expect me to ensure that LCR fulfils its obligations.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): May I also congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister? I am not clear on one point from his statement. When Railtrack exercises its option of whether to go ahead with buying the second phase of the link, will sufficient notice be given at the time so that, if it chooses not to do so, the project will not be delayed further, which could cause further uncertainty in east London?

Mr. Prescott: As I said to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith), there is an issue of contract obligations. If a company goes bust, as has happened in this case, it is fair for it to say, "We are not going to do it." That is one of the difficulties with a private company. We have international agreements and obligations to complete services in these matters. I am trying to do that by working through an obligation with a company. Some of the details are yet to be worked out. We have the general framework, which I have communicated to the House. I will want to ensure that we do not have to wait until the specified date for the full benefits. There is the completion to St. Pancras; there are things that we can get on with now.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. Thank you, Mr. Prescott. We must move on.

3 Jun 1998 : Column 385

Drinks Containers (Redemption)

4.31 pm

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): I beg to move,

Every year in Britain, more than 5 billion drinks cans are thrown away. They usually end up in waste dumps, filling holes in the ground and causing pollution. Hon. Members may be interested to know that, if those drink cans were laid end to end, they would circle the earth 15 times. That shows the sheer waste involved in drinks containers and packaging in this country.

Not only is the practice an environmental hazard: it is an expensive business, particularly as landfill sites become more scarce. Barely a third of aluminium drinks containers are recycled in this country--largely because recycling is wholly voluntary, and we rely on the altruism and good will of the public to recycle. The Bill proposes to give a great incentive to people so that recycling pays.

I am proposing that all glass, metal and plastic drinks containers--except glass milk bottles, which are already re-used fairly efficiently--should each have a 5p deposit or redemption value. That deposit would be returnable to consumers when they take their empty bottles and cans back to the shop. The scheme is free from Government intervention, and there is no cost to the taxpayer. Retailers would not lose, because they would gain a handling fee of 0.5p a container for storing consumers' returned cans, as well as being paid the 5p redemption value by distributors when they collect the empty containers for recycling.

Manufacturers and distributors would also gain by keeping not only the greater scrap metal and glass value of the recycled containers but the unclaimed deposits on the few unredeemed containers that will never be returned. Above all, consumers would have a financial motivation to save each empty can, bottle and container, and take them to retailers in order to redeem the value.

Under the proposal, retailers would be obliged to accept containers and pay the redemption value on returned products if they sell the same brand in their shop. However, shopkeepers could refuse excessively dirty containers, and would be obliged to accept only 100 cans or bottles from any individual in any given 24 hours, in order to ease problems of storage.

Deposit schemes are successful worldwide, and the practicalities of my Bill have already been widely tested. The deposit and redemption scheme that I propose for drinks containers has already been an outstanding success elsewhere. For example, container recycling rates are 91 per cent. in Sweden and more than 90 per cent. in Denmark, because of those countries' deposit schemes. The many states in America with "bottle deposit Bills" have recycling rates of between 70 and 90 per cent. The Netherlands also runs a successful deposit and refund system.

I understand that a British Government study commissioned in 1992 by the Department of Trade and Industry and what was then the Department of the Environment, carried out by a company called Environmental Resources Ltd., concluded that up to 95 per cent. of containers could be recycled if we had a deposit-refund system in this country.

Recycling is vital, and we must recycle more bottles and cans. There are limited resources of the minerals used in the production of many drinks containers, especially

3 Jun 1998 : Column 386

metal cans. Resource conservation is needed, and recycling helps to reduce the environmental impact of some of the mining techniques used all over the world to extract the raw materials for the metals.

Recycling also requires less energy and electricity consumption than the costly, intensive and more polluting production of a new container from raw materials each time one is needed. For example, bauxite refinement takes two and a half times as much energy and ore as the equivalent cost and weight of recycled aluminium.

The current system of recycling in Britain is effective to a certain degree. Much excellent work is undertaken by supermarkets, local authorities and other local organisations, such as the Aluminium Can Recycling Association. However, voluntary comprehensive recycling programmes organised by local councils and others are costly to administer and difficult to get off the ground. I do not believe that we can rely solely on those schemes, good though they are, to achieve really radical recycling rates in Britain.

Another benefit of the deposit-refund system is that it would help to cut the demand for landfill. Drinks containers currently represent 8 to 10 per cent. of landfill waste. Landfill sites are scarce and filling up fast, and new sites are often unpopular. Given the dramatic reduction in landfill that would occur in the United Kingdom if most bottles and cans could be recycled, I estimate that, nationally, about £50 million of taxpayers' money could be saved each year on landfill and transport costs. For example, Bradford metropolitan district council, my local authority, estimates that it could save about £500,000 in waste disposal and handling costs if the Bill became law.

Another environmental benefit of the scheme is that it would reduce litter. The litter of discarded bottles and cans is a safety hazard, a public nuisance and an aesthetic blight. The consequences of the throwaway culture are significant. Certainly my constituents are fed up with the mountains of litter that constantly accumulate in the parks and streets of Shipley.

Bottle and can deposit schemes help to make streets cleaner and reduce litter in public places, because, in countries where the system operates, sharp-eyed members of the public often retrieve and redeem containers discarded by the litter bugs. That in turn helps to reduce the costs of litter collection for local authorities, which now face large cleansing bills each year.

Container redemption systems help to foster an anti-litter ethic in the community. In Oregon, in the United States, where the scheme operates, a widespread public ethos against dropping litter has been created, partly as a result of its long-standing deposit-refund scheme. I understand that, two years after the scheme was introduced, roadside litter in Oregon had been halved.

The deposit idea is nothing new. Indeed, many hon. Members may recall that, until a few years ago, deposit schemes used to operate for many of the larger bottles in this country. Most have now disappeared, except for a few products such as Barr's Irn Bru in Scotland.

A further spin-off of deposit schemes is that voluntary groups and charities have ready access to an easy source of fund-raising activity. The collection of empty containers would be encouraged by such organisations, which are eager to generate resources in a simple and understandable way.

3 Jun 1998 : Column 387

Businesses as well as individuals would be able to take part in the container redemption system. In particular, pubs, clubs and restaurants--which, according to the organisation British Glass Recycling, currently throw away about 95 per cent. of their glass bottles--would have a monetary incentive to recycle rather than to contribute to more and more landfill.

Recycling is a habit, and the public support it. In countries where the deposit scheme operates, the public have become more enthused about recycling, which has led to a greater popular awareness of the scarcity of natural resources and an increase in other recycling activities.

The drinks container redemption scheme has many environmental benefits and an excellent track record. Next time that you are walking down the street, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I urge you to cast your eyes to the ground to see how many empty vessels litter the streets; I urge you to consider how the drinks container redemption system would clear up the parks, open spaces and roadsides throughout the community. I sincerely hope that such a system will come into operation in this country, and that the House will support the idea.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Christopher Leslie, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Ms Helen Southworth, Maria Eagle, Mr. Paul Truswell, Mr. Andrew Reed, Mr. Andrew Love, Mr. Fabian Hamilton, Angela Smith and Mr. Norman Baker.

Next Section

IndexHome Page