Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Since I was fortunate enough to win the ballot for this debate, I have become more and more popular. Many organisations have contacted me to make sure that I am appraised of their worries about the draft directive and, as a result, I am becoming increasingly alarmed. I recognise fully that the Minister has our best interests at heart, but several organisations are concerned that, unless we are firm about our position, we shall be rolled over.
I am sure that the Minister will tell us that a deal has been brokered that meets all our anxieties. That may be so, but practice has shown us that what comes out of the European Community does not always hold fast for organisations in the United Kingdom. I am worried about the impact of the directive on businesses throughout the country. I have been contacted by the Retail Motor Industry Federation, the Countryside Alliance and the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria-- to mention three organisations. If the Minister can allay all our worries, I shall be delighted, but I suspect that the problem will not be solved by our debate today.
I am not targeting the Government's plans to establish a network of mega-incinerators to deal with household waste, but European legislation can spin out of control if the Government do not do their homework properly and defend United Kingdom interests. I am referring in particular to the inappropriate application of aspects of the European waste incineration directive to pet crematoriums and to farmers. The directive is now nearing the final stages of the legislative process and the danger is that the Government may have woken up too late to the harm that they are about to inflict on various industries.
I shall deal first with the worries of the Retail Motor Industry Federation. It believes that the directive would have a serious impact on small and medium enterprises, which make up the bulk of businesses in the retail motor industry. Those businesses, which have vehicle maintenance and repair workshops, are the primary users of small waste oil burners. Contrary to the statements of the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions, neither the federation nor any of its constituent associations was approached by Entec, the environment consultancy employed by the DETR to gather views on the proposed directive. Consequently, it was not until 22 February this year in a meeting with the Environment Agency that the federation was made aware of the impact of the directive on small businesses.
As there is no threshold to the application of the directive, the same flue gas monitoring requirements are equally applicable to major country waste incineration projects and to small workshop heaters. The initial monitoring and control equipment for the heaters will cost as much as £40,000, whereas the initial cost of the heaters is only £6,000. The equivalent value of the heat from burning the engine and gearbox oils taken from vehicles is £1,800 to £2,000 a year. The cost of the emissions control equipment is clearly disproportionate, given the fact that the heaters will no longer be able to burn waste oil. The alternative is that garages will buy gas oil if the heater can burn it, and will have to pay for waste oil to be taken away. That will add at least £3,000 a year to the cost of small businesses, and more if an alternative form of heater has to be purchased.
I believe that the industry is right. The directive is another example of gold-plated legislation being supported by the DETR with no concern for the impact on small businesses. The DETR needs to recognise its inadequate consultation on the subject, and to insist at the European level on the introduction of a threshold in the directive so that it will not apply to heaters of less than 0.4 MW.
Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): Has the hon. Gentleman read the Entec report that covers this aspect of the regulation? It is clear in its advice to the Government on the impact on small farm-based incineration, stating that it would be almost impossible to pass on the compliance costs of the regulation. For a small business with a turnover of around £75,000 a year, the capital cost of compliance would be £200,000 and the annual running cost £12,000. Hardly surprisingly, one would expect that business to close. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
Mr. Amess : I certainly do. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. If the directive goes ahead unamended, it will have a devastating impact on small farmers. I know that there are such farmers in his constituency, and that many of them will go out of business. It is desperately disappointing that the Government did not cotton on to those concerns earlier.
The Countryside Alliance's policy team has spoken to the directive rapporteur, Hans Blokeland. He was aware of the difficulties that the directive would create in Britain and assured the Countryside Alliance that an amendment was still possible. He claimed:
Mr. Amess : The hon. Gentleman again makes an excellent point, which I shall address in some detail. Obviously, we do not blame Ministers directly for such matters--[Interruption.] Perhaps some of my hon. Friends would blame Ministers directly; they seem slightly worried about that weakness on my part. However, Ministers cannot be expected to monitor everything. The Entec report suggests that the effects of proportionality should have been thought through much more clearly.
The conciliation process began in June. I am advised that when an amended draft of the directive becomes available, the Countryside Alliance policy team will examine it to assess the outcome and other options. I am also advised that if the directive is passed as amended, two further options will be available. First, as existing incinerators will have four years to comply with the directive, it may be possible to incorporate a review clause into the directive to assess the impact of regulation in four years' time. That might provide an opportunity to reform the law in future.
The second option is a small additional directive to provide an exemption from the directive. Pointless though that sounds, it would be the least painful option if the Government were minded to choose it. It could provide the United Kingdom with the best available opportunity for a positive legislative role.
The draft directive requires higher standards for all incinerators equipped with flue gas monitoring. Small incinerators, costing on average £5,000, will have to fit that equipment, at an estimated cost of between £30,000 and £40,000. As I mentioned, the plant will also cost an extra £3,000 to £5,000 a year to operate.
No one is suggesting that incineration should not be undertaken at the highest standards possible, a point to which I shall return. However, it is important that the effect of the proposal on several business sectors is properly evaluated.
As the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) said, the Government employed consultants Entec UK to examine the effect of the proposal on pet crematoriums in particular. There are about 60 pet crematoriums around the country, providing a caring service for many families when they are bereaved by the loss of a cherished pet. Some people might consider that a huge joke, but when I return to my house in Chalkwell, the only thing that I can guarantee is that my dog is always pleased to see me. For many people in the United Kingdom, their animal is everything. Therefore when an animal dies--by and large, with the exception of tortoises and parrots, animals do not live as long as human beings--it can be devastating.
Mr. Amess : As my hon. Friend says, I have no plans to do so at the moment. However, I would prefer to be put in the ground. Other people have different views on the matter, but increasingly more people are of the view that when they lose their beloved pet they would like it to be cremated. It is a very big issue for many people. An important article appeared in the Sunday Express at the beginning of the month, which dealt movingly with the trauma of losing a pet and the impact of the directive if it were passed unamended.
Entec's small-business litmus test on a pet crematorium showed that businesses will have to close. The Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria estimates that upgrading each site would cost a minimum of £75,000--a huge amount of money--and that the majority of pet crematoriums would have to close as the increase in the cost of pet cremations would be prohibitive for a large section of the community.
Mr. Todd : The hon. Gentleman has been very kind. What is his view of the impact of the policy on the Government's approach towards diversification on farms? That is clearly an option for many farmers, including at least one in my constituency, but it would clearly be ruled out by a regulatory environment on such a scale.
Mr. Amess : The hon. Gentleman makes another splendid point far better than I could. I hope that the Minister, who has been listening carefully to the debate, will take that option seriously. Small farmers would certainly welcome such an opportunity.
When they came to power, the Government--ominously--renamed the deregulation unit the better regulation unit, a renaming at which some of us might groan, although it is an interesting piece of Orwellian socialist rebranding. The small business litmus test on every proposed piece of legislation or regulation rightly remains part of the Government's better regulation guidelines. However, in this case, we discover a remarkable new principle of applying the litmus test, but then deciding that the result does not matter. That is absolutely ridiculous--all spin and no substance.
excessive or poorly conceived legislation, which risked being
particularly damaging to our small firms. Yet two years later, an entire small business sector, largely composed of family businesses, is about to be wiped out. What an earth is the purpose of all the spin? There has been no substance and absolutely no delivery.
Especially relevant to United Kingdom farmers is the strict regulation of the disposal of bone-meal and meat, which does not operate elsewhere in the EU and means that carcases have no value. Incineration is therefore the disposal method of choice, backed and encouraged by Government policy. A regulatory impact assessment was undertaken, based on sound scientific advice. Entec reckoned that there were about 60 on-farm incinerators. William White Fabrications Ltd., one of the manufacturers of the incineration units, had already installed about 300 units in the United Kingdom and wanted to raise production by 80 units in the coming year before the threat of the directive hit home. The company stated:
Another principle of better regulation is proportionality, a matter raised by the hon. Member for South Derbyshire. The "Better Regulation Guide" advises fitting the remedy to the risk and regulating only when necessary. What are the risks that are worth destroying pet crematoriums and the small incinerator construction industry and burdening farmers with millions of pounds in extra costs at what is already a very tough time for them?
The quantifiable cash benefits identified by Entec amount to £40,000; the quantifiable health benefits are virtually negligible. Even allowing for Entec getting it wrong again, those insignificant pluses may be completely outweighed by the risk to health involved in implementing the directive.
We are facing a nightmare scenario. How does that fit in to joined-up government? What price would be paid for the Government's reliance on the proximity principle for waste disposal? The DETR proclaimed only in May
Mr. Amess : The hon. Gentleman is very sharp in summing up how angry the public are because the United Kingdom, being honourable through and through, adheres to the regulations while the rest of Europe turn up their noses and do their own thing. That is most unfair and damages the Government's position in our developing relationship with the European Union.
It is not too late for the Government to extricate themselves from their self-inflicted pickle. I hope that even at this extremely late stage the Government will press to exempt animal remains from the scope of the directive as they are already covered by the animal waste directive. I accept that it needs reviewing and updating and that some incinerators on farms do not conform to an acceptable standard. However, that should be dealt with by batch certification of incinerator models.
There must be consultation, which has been lacking so far; and the Government must try to avoid serially shooting the nation's interests in the foot. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to my plea, which I make on behalf of 120 small businesses that perform a much-valued service to the community, a dozen or so manufacturers of small incinerators, hard-pressed farmers who are trying their best to do their environmental duty and for the sake of common sense.
Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on his success in the ballot and on his excellent and typically powerful and persuasive opening speech. My emphasis will be different from that of my hon. Friend.
I have tried for many weeks to obtain a similar debate on Government waste incineration strategy. Since their strategy hinges on the European Union directive, our interests are, broadly speaking, one and the same. I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety about the effects on small business of too rigid an interpretation of the draft directive, but the directive as interpreted by the European Parliament is also full of loopholes, in typically European fashion.
As my hon. Friend said, the public are angry and anxious; my interest this morning is in the toxic fallout from major new and planned, but not yet built, high-chimney incineration plants. Small incinerators as part of small businesses on farms would be better than major new plant, as my hon. Friend said. The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) also has an interest in the subject.
My concern about waste incineration and the EU directive was prompted by East Sussex county council's proposal last December to site a waste incineration plant at Mountfield in my constituency. I shall not detain the House with a blow-by-blow account of the tortured deliberations of the joint committee of East Sussex and Brighton and Hove councils, which failed dismally to come up with an agreed joint waste strategy for the two authorities. However, after that committee had made its best--or worst--attempts, East Sussex county council turned to its own plans; the councillors went against the recommendations of their officers and opted for an incineration plant to be sited at Mountfield, which is slap in the middle of the designated High Weald area of outstanding natural beauty and close to three important water reservoirs. It is also close to the Tunbridge Wells to Hastings railway line, with all that that implies for shipped-in waste, on the A20100 into the historic town of Battle; the A21 trunk road to Hastings is nearby. The country lanes around the tiny village of Mountfield would become impossibly congested if the proposal became a reality.
However, what concerns me this morning are not just the arguments for and against Mountfield as a site for an incinerator, but the underlying principle of waste incineration as an appropriate and adequately safe technology. Whatever the outcome of the debate, Mountfield may yet be let off the hook because a sub-committee of East Sussex county council recently recommended dropping that proposal. I hope that the rest of the council will have the good sense to endorse that decision in a few days' time. Whether or not that happens and the people living in and around Mountfield are able to brief a collective sigh of relief, the dangers to public health, the contamination from toxic emissions and, in particular, the carcinogenic threat will continue wherever major high-chimney waste incineration plants are allowed to operate.
The Minister, responding to the hon. Member for Lewes in an Adjournment debate on 3l January, seemed to argue that waste incineration was justified because recycling and composting alone will not enable Government targets to be met. He stated that
among the most strictly regulated waste management options available which will soon be subject to even more stringent requirements under the directive that we are now debating.
The European Parliament's common position paper on the draft directive, which was adopted last November, noted that a high level of environmental protection requires the setting of stringent operational conditions. It also provides a loophole for the less-than-assiduous member states by stating that where this is not practicable the limits set should do no more than
there may be grounds for exemption from emission limits.
I have something different in mind. It would be a far better world if we allowed small businesses to get on with their own incineration practices, with small-scale plants. The same could apply to farms. My worry is about major new high-chimney installations. Highly toxic material, spreading fall out in the form of fly ash over extensive areas, and gathering in the incinerators as bottom ash too, is a matter of genuine concern. Dioxin
If the dangers are ignored, in future, the Government of the day and local authorities could face huge compensation demands from cancer patients and others made ill by toxic fly ash. Without seeking to be unduly dramatic--hon. Members know that it is not my style--the sums involved for compensation from court orders could even dwarf the gigantic payout ordered a few days ago by the US courts against cigarette manufacturers. We should act now to safeguard our future health.
Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): I am delighted to take part in this morning's debate to consider the EU incineration directive. I intend to concentrate on the implications for East Sussex. I fear that those of us who represent East Sussex constituencies might hijack the debate, but other hon. Members will appreciate that this is a hot issue--no pun intended--for my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), just along the coast.
I am grateful to the Minister for making time available last week for a meeting with members of the public in my constituency and me. I fear that he might have to listen again to some of the points that I made then, but it is helpful to put them on the record.
I am worried that the incineration directive represents a further step towards making mainstream a form of technology that still has question marks over it on safety and environmental advisability, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle rightly said. One of the worst aspects of incineration is that, because an incinerator has a high capital cost, a large amount of waste must be processed in order to repay the capital investment. In other words, once the plant exists, it is important for the person who runs it to secure as much waste as possible to try to recoup the initial investment. That undermines any
The Minister will be aware of the situation in Cleveland, before the system was abolished. The local council had a deal with the operators of the local incinerator to provide them with a certain amount of waste. As the council was so successful at recycling, it could not provide the contracted amount of waste and therefore had to make a penalty payment to the operators of the incinerator. We all want to avoid such consequences.
I accept that the Minister and the Government have a difficulty. The EU landfill directive sets the maximum amount of municipal waste to be deposited in landfill at 35 per cent. by 2014. The Minister for the Environment admits that the Government's recycling figure is a "pathetic" 8 per cent. That leaves a 57 per cent. gap. I am disappointed that the Government's answer is to take the easy way out and establish a chain of incinerators largely to fill that gap--[Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head and denies that that is the Government's position. No doubt he will expand on their view in his response, however, in yesterday's comprehensive spending review, the recycling target of 25 per cent. by 2005 appeared to be downgraded to 17 per cent. by 2004. That may achieve the same target in the end, but nevertheless, many of us wanted the target to be increased massively, not simply reiterated or at worst, diminished. We need to change the Government's approach, which I shall discuss shortly.
East Sussex has identified potential incinerator sites in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle. Two places in my constituency have been mentioned. The first site is at Beddingham, not far from where I live--I suppose that I should declare that as a matter of interest. Beddingham is a village in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Local landmarks, such as Mount Caburn, feature regularly on postcards and drawings and are recognisable landmarks of a beautiful part of East Sussex. Yet Brighton and Hove borough council suggested that an incinerator should be placed not far from those landmarks in the middle of that pristine countryside. No development or industrial land surrounds the site, which is above a water table. The landfill site has already polluted the ground water supply.
The incinerator might replace the landfill site. When that was opened, the people of Beddingham were told that once it was full, that would be the end of the matter. The landfill site application described its purpose as restoring chalk downland and not as the precursor to an incinerator. It is impossible to imagine any environmental justification for placing an incinerator on that site. Unlike most people in East Sussex, Brighton and Hove councillors have argued for a south downs national park to take away power from democratically elected local councils. They have been the first to argue for an incinerator in the middle of the area of outstanding natural beauty and a football stadium at Falmer, as soon as the national park is designated and the boundaries are redrawn, as they would like them to be.
That choice of location is out of order, as is the suggestion of a site at Newhaven, which is even more worrying. I can show the Minister and hon. Members last week's front page of The Leader, which is delivered free to every door. An article contains quotes from Marek Lorys of the Newhaven chamber of commerce, who says that businesses will leave Newhaven in droves if an incinerator is built in the town. That is also the view of the Newhaven economic partnership, a private-public partnership established by the previous Government, which has support across industry and the councils. In many ways, that group speaks for the town. Its chief executive, Julian Rea, takes the view that an incinerator in Newhaven would send all the wrong signals to those who have tried so hard to boost Newhaven recently, including the Government office for the South East, and that it would set back those efforts.
Last Thursday, the Minister admitted to me that it was perfectly possible under EU law for waste to be imported for incineration in Newhaven, Mountfield or elsewhere. Importing waste for landfill is prohibited, but there is no such prohibition on importing waste for incineration, or energy from waste, as the Government prefer to call it. Newhaven is a major port, situated directly opposite Dieppe. For the reasons that I gave, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an incinerator operator would want to maximise the amount of waste processed by importing waste into Newhaven. The proximity principle is thrown out of the window when we talk about dealing with French waste from "Monsewers", as the Sunday People said. That must be avoided, but that is the Pandora's box that we will open if we pursue incineration in East Sussex.
The Minister's strategy is "A way with waste". There is a gap between "A" and "way", which is just as well, because waste is not diminishing overall, but increasing at 3 per cent. a year. The Government's strategy rightly emphasises the proximity principle. Yet Lord Bassam, the Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, when he was leader of Brighton and Hove council, said that Brighton and Hove would never have an incinerator--so much for the proximity principle when it suits Lord Bassam and his colleagues. They are happy to dump waste over the fence into rural East Sussex--an area designated as a national park.
Brighton and Hove's stance is hypocritical. If it is arguing that incineration is perfectly safe--as the Minister may argue--under the proximity principle, the incinerator should be located in Brighton and Hove. If the argument is that incineration is dangerous, how dare Brighton and Hove council impose its dangerous waste on my constituents and others in East Sussex. The council cannot have it both ways. Either incineration is safe or it is not: its logic should follow on from that.
For the reasons that I have outlined, we do not want an incinerator at Beddingham or Newhaven. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) will deal with safety issues in his speech.
I want to raise another serious matter relating to the East Sussex Brighton and Hove waste plan. There are six bidders for the contract, one of which is Viridor--the operator of the landfill site at Beddingham. Under the previous Government's arrangements, landfill tax funds went to a body called Entrust, and Viridor now has a role in the distribution of those funds. It has advised on distribution to pet projects for Brighton and Hove council and East Sussex county council. I am not blaming Viridor, which never asked for those circumstances to be created. Nevertheless, it has been put in a difficult position. It is helping the councils that created the plan with largesse running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. At the same time, it is bidding for a contract from those same authorities to deal with their future waste stream. That is worrying. Under those circumstances, does the Minister believe that Viridor should be allowed to bid for the waste contracts?
Finally, let me suggest some possible ways forward. It is easy to identify what is wrong with the Government's strategy and with incineration. I have not mentioned safety issues, which were dealt with by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle and will be addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington. However, there must be a presumption against incineration until such time as the scientific community is convinced that it is safe. There is no scientific consensus and there is no confidence in the population at large that incineration is safe. Recent reports from the US Environmental Protection Agency and others suggest the opposite and show increasing concern about the safety of incineration.
We should also redirect available funds to help local authorities. We should abolish Entrust, which is a private-sector body accountable to nobody and whose funding decisions are obscure at best and bear little relation to the waste stream. I am pleased to say that I have persuaded the body to fund some projects in my constituency, including Beddingham church, but I have achieved that through exploiting the system. I have received the funds for my constituency, but remain committed to the abolition of Entrust. The funds would more properly be invested in dealing with the waste stream.
Entrust money should be used for waste minimisation, recycling and re-use schemes, but it is not. Indeed, in my constituency, an innovative application for funding for recycling was rejected. That cannot make sense. One might argue that those who seek to build incinerators and are involved in the bidding process might have an interest in rejecting bids from other bodies. There is a clear conflict of interest. Entrust should be abolished and the money should be handed over to local authorities who should undertake that work.
We also need some fiscal measures. I am not sure what the small print in yesterday's comprehensive spending review says the DETR is doing about waste. I hope that the Minister will tell us that there will be some money for that.
Mr. Baker : Yes, but is it for waste? It is important that we have direct fiscal measures from the Chancellor. Even if local authorities are given more money or the Government do something themselves through the DETR, it is not sufficient to deal with the problem of waste. We must look at fiscal measures to discourage packaging. It is not enough to rely on the European directive on packaging. We must consider fiscal measures to discourage the use of virgin materials and to encourage the use of recycled materials. We need to take measures to encourage waste minimisation generally and, most importantly, we need action from the Government to develop a market for recycled products. My local authority in Lewes is good at collecting material for recycling, but it cannot always find a market for it. That is very dispiriting for an authority that makes the effort, as many do. We need action from the Government on those fronts.
I hope that I have made it clear today that there are severe difficulties with the Government's strategy and that there is a lack of public confidence in incineration as a technology that the Government have not addressed. I have identified a way forward which, if it did not eliminate incineration, would go a long way to reduce the need for this chain of incinerators which, I fear, may stretch across East Sussex and the rest of the country before very long.
Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on securing the debate. He is having a busy week: incineration today and the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill on Friday. The former could help with the latter in some respects.
It is often said that pollution recognises no boundaries, and that is clearly the case. It is one of the reasons why we should co-operate at a European level on many environmental matters, and incineration is no exception. It is also, however, a source of concern to my constituents, most recently expressed when my local authority put forward proposals for a crematorium. The waste incineration directive has taken on new significance since the Government published their waste disposal strategy at the end of May. Although it was presented by the Minister for the Environment as a strategy to boost recycling, it was effectively a blueprint for the building of hundreds of incinerators all over the UK. Unlike the hon. Member for Southend, West, I will target Government plans for incinerators.
New fears about the impact of incineration have been raised following the leaking and subsequent publication of research by the US Environmental Protection Agency. According to the Environmental Data Services report, the ENDS report, the EPA has suggested that dioxins could pose considerably higher health risks than previously thought. The EPA has an on-going project to reassess dioxin exposure and human health risks, and a key finding has been that dioxins are more toxic than previously realised. It puts the chances of dioxins producing cancers at 10 times the previous levels.
I should point out that the report notes that there is currently no indication of ill effects in the general population from dioxin exposure, but it warns that there is no strong evidence for no effect either. It could be that deficiencies in scientific knowledge, as with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, prevent those clear links from being seen. The EPA's dioxin risk management strategy is due out this autumn and I do not want to pre-empt the report. We do not know whether it will impose even tighter controls on dioxin emissions from waste incinerators. Currently, the US national rules, which were passed in 1995 and 1997, aim to achieve a 95 per cent. reduction in dioxin emissions. The same Environmental Data Services report states:
I often take the opportunity to quote the record of my borough, the London borough of Sutton, which has promoted recycling policies effectively since the 1980s. [Interruption.] I would welcome interventions from Conservative Members on that. I am proud of my borough's record, which has been praised by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), the London Mayor, and the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). Sutton's strategy aims to encourage recycling and divert waste from landfill. The Minister will know, as it has been well publicised, that the local authority has dual bins--green bins and
The Association of London Government has used Sutton as an example of good practice. During 1999-2000, Sutton recycled 34.7 per cent. of its household waste compared with a London average of only 12.8 per cent. The Audit Commission has confirmed that Sutton not only recycles the most waste but has the second most cost-effective waste management service. The local authority in Sutton has achieved in 2000 the target set by the Government for 2015--15 years ahead of schedule. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) attacked the scheme. He may want to comment on it further, although the fact that such schemes run in other local authorities, such as Conservative-controlled Daventry, may discourage him from doing so. Sutton has set itself the target of recycling 80 per cent. of household waste by 2005 and believes that it is on track to achieve that target. The approach adopted locally could, therefore, be replicated nationally. I hope that incineration can begin to be seen as the last resort.
I also hope that the draft EU directive will clarify whether energy from waste is renewable, or, if not, that the Minister will do so. The Government seem to believe that energy recovered through combined heat and power is renewable. I would argue that that is complete nonsense. No internationally recognised definition of renewable energy deems energy from waste to be renewable. It is a pity that the Government did not accept the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, which sought to clarify that point. Even in Westminster there is confusion about definitions of environmental matters. In response to a parliamentary question that I asked about recycled paper, I was told that vast quantities of paper are recycled, but that it is then incinerated. I am sorry, but that is not recycling. It was a bizarre response.
Waste contains large quantities of plastics and that is another reason why it cannot be considered renewable. Indeed, the director and general manager of SELCHP, a combined heat and power plant, readily accepts that energy from waste cannot be defined as renewable when plastics goes into the incinerator. A further source of concern, as expressed by the Paper Federation of Great Britain, is that much waste paper currently going to recycling will, if large numbers of incinerators are built, end up in incinerators, because paper has a high calorific value that keeps incinerators burning, instead of going into recycling. I hope that the Minister will assure us that that will not happen.
The hon. Member for Southend, West elegantly expressed the commercial concerns about the proposal. I remind him that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have taken a clear position against incineration. It is surely illogical not to address the issue of the incinerators that are currently in place. It is not good enough to say, "Well, we don't want to build any more incinerators but we are happy to let the ones that exist carry on burning, with the potential health risks of that."
Mr. Green : I should like to address that point now. Can I take it that it is now Liberal Democrat policy that all small incinerators on farms and pet crematoriums should be closed down? That is the logic of what the hon. Gentleman just said, but--despite the characteristic incoherence that one expects from Liberal Democrat policy--he cannot mean that.
Mr. Brake : It would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had just listened to what I was about to say on the issue. That is not Liberal Democrat policy, but it may well be our policy that the Government should consider measures to assist owners and users of small incinerators. It is entirely illogical to argue against incinerators while also arguing that smaller incinerators, about which there may be health concerns, should be left to continue their production.
The hon. Member for Southend, West outlined clearly concerns about incinerators used on farm premises and in the motor trade industry, and I hope that the Minister will respond to those points. Can he confirm that the compliance costs are in the region of £200,000 to £300,000 and, if so, can he offer any assistance? Has progress been made on clarifying whether animal carcases are covered by the directive? I look forward to the Minister's response and I hope that he can deal with some of the commercial anxieties that have been outlined, as well as the genuine environmental concerns about the proposed plans for an expansion of incineration.
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on securing this morning's debate. I do so for two reasons. First, the issue is significant and, in that regard, it is noteworthy that of the 417 Labour Members of Parliament, the only one who has turned up for the debate is the Minister, who is a pressed man and whom we always welcome to such debates. Not one Labour Member who did not need to be here has bothered to turn up for this important debate.
Mr. Green : Yes, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) made important and helpful interventions. I shall rephrase what I said. No Labour Member who is not a Minister has bothered to make a speech. That is significant.
The second reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West should be congratulated on securing the debate is that the Department has made a catalogue of mistakes in dealing with the directive and, as negotiations are continuing, it is important to ensure that such errors do not continue. I shall address the bulk of my remarks to what my hon. Friend said about the specific effects of the directive on small farm incinerators. However, as the wider issue of the directive has been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) and by the
A key issue is the interaction between the amount of incineration that is required, the number of incinerators that are needed and the amount of recycling that is undertaken. Yesterday's announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer exposed the Government's dishonesty in their claim of how much extra money they will spend on recycling. They are trying to give the impression that they are improving their targets for recycling. The hon. Member for Lewes made a generous formulation of what the Government have done, however, if hon. Members read the national waste strategy that was published two months ago, they will see that the Government were aiming at a target of 17 per cent. recycling by 2003.
Yesterday, we were told with a great fanfare that the Government are aiming at a target of 17 per cent. recycling by 2004. They have weakened their targets over two months. The Government seem to think that the general public have a memory span of a goldfish and cannot remember what the Government said previously about certain issues. However, some of us can remember what the Government said. We have copies of their national waste strategy and they announced yesterday a reduction in their recycling target from the one that they published two months ago.
Mr. Green : I am not sure whether that is right. In the national waste strategy, the general target was 17 per cent. However, I am sure that the Minister will clear the matter up. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington intervened, I feel that I should congratulate him on his nice try at defending the Liberal Democrat council. It must be the most unpopular council in Britain in terms of its waste collection. In return for all the recycling that it manages, it commits its residents to the misery--especially at this time of year, when it is hot--of having their rubbish collected only once every two weeks. He will be aware that many thousands of signatures have been put on a petition presented to the Prime Minister by Lady Olga Maitland. Sutton council's waste collection policy is fantastically unpopular, and will be a significant factor in respect of the hon. Gentleman's seat at the next general election.
Mr. Baker : We are descending into party politics. In my constituency, a similar policy is operated on collection in the Polegate area by Wealden district council, which is controlled by the Conservatives. It is a very popular policy.
Mr. Brake : I am sorry, but I cannot let that go without comment. The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that Sutton council regularly has one of highest, if not the highest, council satisfaction ratings in the country in opinion polls carried out by MORI.
There is one key question for the Minister about incineration, given his recycling targets, however they are being softened and changed by the month. How many incinerators do the Government think need to be built to meet the target? He shook his head at the figure of 160 or 170, which Friends of the Earth suggested. It beggars belief that the Department does not have a range of calculations about how many incinerators will need to be built. Unless and until the Government can give us some figures, hon. Members on both sides of this Chamber are entitled to be sceptical about the Government's performance in respect of recycling and their commitment to a significant improvement in recycling as a way of meeting our international obligations on reducing landfill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West made several points when he introduced the debate. When the Government negotiate the terms of a European directive, it is clearly their duty to ensure that it does not damage the country. I am sure that all hon. Members welcome the thrust of the directive, which is meant to make incineration cleaner and safer. No one could argue with that intent, but we all know that the devil is often in the detail. Therefore, the Government have a duty to negotiate the detail properly, and they have lamentably failed in that duty.
The history of the Government's action in response to the directive is worth my rehearsing before I ask the Minister to deal with some specific points. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West eloquently said, the directive will have a significant effect, especially on small incinerators. They cost an average of £5,000, and will have to fit new equipment at an estimated cost of between £30,000 and £42,000. Clearly, that will have deleterious effects on many farmers and on pet crematoriums.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington brought up a specific environmental point. I am glad that he has clearly read our waste strategy. As he said, we would like to see the emphasis moved much more towards recycling rather than large incinerators. There will be some role for incineration, large and small, and I hope that he would welcome a commitment to small, local incinerators. Pet crematoriums and on-farm incinerators not only provide a useful service, but mean that less transport of waste and carcases is needed. The unnecessary use of transport, especially polluting lorries, leads to an increase in the noxious emissions that cause global warming.
Mr. Green : It will not necessarily work for the existing ones. I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West that a derogation is needed and a balance needs to be struck. In purely environmental terms, it would be foolish to close down the entire network of small incinerators, as the Government propose. That might reduce emissions, but it would certainly have the effect of increasing greenhouse gases as all the carcases were transported around the country. Therefore, the policy would be to our environmental disadvantage.
The Government were faced with the possibility of significant industries being closed down. What did they do? The answer is, not a lot. I refer to two written answers that I received from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill). I asked him about the assessment that he had made of effect of the directive on the disposal of animal carcases, and his reply began:
The Government have failed to negotiate the proper derogations as they should have done. There is now some hope that the directive will exclude from its scope animal carcases, which will be regulated by a different directive, but that would be without prejudice to any future amendments. The Government have been
The Minister owes hon. Members some specific guarantees, and I ask him to address the specific point about Entec. Will he guarantee an exemption for small farm incinerators and, separately, ensure that pet crematoriums will not be hit by the directive as they will not fall under the derogation to which I have referred? Will he give an estimate of when the process will finish? The Government have one last chance to rescue themselves from this disastrous episode and, for the sake of farmers and of those who run and use pet crematoriums, I hope that they get their act together and take it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin ): The debate has ranged more widely than we were led to believe. However, the clever people who advise me suspected that it might.
I shall start by touching on the points raised by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), as he secured the debate. He raised an important issue, as has been made clear by the speeches that we have heard today, and he made some interesting points, which the Government have already taken on board. To some extent, his points have been overtaken by events, therefore much of his indignation is misplaced. Suffice it to say that it was not until 10.48 this morning that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) referred to the fact that an agreement has been reached that meets the points about which he is concerned. I shall return to that in a moment.
The hon. Member for Southend, West, in a throwaway line in his opening remarks--on which later contributions elaborated--said that the Government have a plan for a network of mega-incinerators. We do not. Anyone who pretends that we do is misleading people, although I can see the political advantages of pursuing that line in certain areas. Questions such as how many incinerators are built, and where they are built, are matters for local authorities. There are plenty of alternatives to incineration and we expect them to be pursued.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) was right to say that it would be undesirable if big incinerators were driving our waste disposal policy. Those issues should be taken into account by local authorities when deciding whether incineration should be part of their programme. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) referred, as did other hon. Members, to the dispute between East Sussex county council and Brighton and Hove council. That is private grief, on which I should not intrude. Clearly, as I am a Minister in a Department to which that dispute--or a similar one--may be referred for arbitration, he cannot expect me to get bogged down in the details of an application.
There are plenty of alternatives to waste disposal, and the best one is recycling. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) referred to his authority's record in that regard, and other authorities also have good records. The Government are making
For years, waste has been shovelled into landfill. Nobody wants an incinerator or a landfill site on his doorstep. The landfill policy cannot continue, so we must address the alternatives maturely. There is no doubt that incineration, in some shape or form, must be a factor in waste disposal; indeed, it already is. Many European countries that have a better record than us on waste disposal already use a good deal of incineration. Part of the concern about the environmental effects of incinerators--which is perfectly legitimate--arises from problems in relation to an older generation of incinerators. I agree that we should not be complacent, but the technology has moved on considerably and we should bear that in mind. Many countries with a better record on waste disposal and environmental matters--Denmark and Holland, for example--use incineration much more than we do. It is interesting to observe an alliance between a new, green, compassionate and merciful Conservative party--different from the one that we kicked out three years ago--and Friends of the Earth. However, I have heard representatives of Friends of the Earth privately admit that there is a place for incineration in our waste disposal policy.
The hon. Member for Lewes made some interesting and important suggestions, some of which he mentioned when he came to see me the other day, and the Government are actively considering them all. His stance verged between the high ground of lofty moral principle and nimbyism--and he needs to decide which of those two he intends to pursue. He is right to take a close interest in this important issue and we all respect his views, but at times I felt that his sleeves were rolled up and that he was taking part in a local brawl, which did not help his argument.
The hon. Member for Ashford asked about the number of incinerators, but the Government have no figures. I repeat that the Government have no target to aim for. I have heard a figure of 160 bandied about,
In the few remaining minutes, I should address the point made by the hon. Member for Southend, West. Last Thursday, an agreement was reached between all parties on the amendments proposed to the common position following its Second Reading. Agreement was reached about small-scale animal carcase incinerators and Commissioner Wallstrom issued a press release on Friday heralding this. Although the agreed text is yet to be published we are confident that, as a result of UK efforts, the directive will be adopted with the specific exclusion from its scope of animal carcase incinerators--with the proviso that appropriate controls will be brought in via the proposed revision to the animal waste directive. It will cover pet and farm incinerators. The hon. Gentleman may also be aware that Commissioner Wallstrom stated separately that the incineration of animal waste must comply with environmental standards, which will be included in a proposal for legislation to amend the animal waste directive.
The environmental regulation of animal carcase incinerators is necessary. As farmers and pet crematorium operators would agree, it is part of their commitment to safe disposal. In the context of the revision to the animal waste directive, we shall continue to propose controls to ensure appropriate environmental standards while minimising the burden on small-scale animal carcase incinerator operators. We have not yet received any information on the environmental controls that the Commission will include in the revision. In supporting a clear exclusion from the directive, we recognise that the Entec report significantly underestimated the number of small-scale animal carcase incinerators operating in the UK. The full requirements of the directive will be disproportionate for small-scale animal carcase incinerators.