Members present:
              Mr Andrew F Bennett, in the Chair
              Mr Hilary Benn
              Mr Crispin Blunt
              Christine Butler
              Mr John Cummings
              Mr Brian H Donohoe
              Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody
              Mrs Louise Ellman
                      EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES                            
                 RT HON MICHAEL MEACHER, a Member of the House, Minister for the
           Environment, MR MARTIN HURST, Head of Air and Environmental Quality,
           and CATH SHAW, Team Leader, Waste Strategy, Department of the
           Environment, Transport and the Regions, examined.
        1101.    May I welcome you to the Committee.  Could I ask you to
  identify yourself and your team for the record, please.
        (Mr Meacher)   Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment, as far as
  I know!  On my left is Cath Shaw, who is Team Leader for the Waste Strategy. 
  On my right, Martin Hurst, Divisional Manager for Air and Environmental
        1102.    Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you
  happy to start? 
        (Mr Meacher)   I always think these priceless opportunities to read out
  prepared statements are a waste of time, so I will desist.
        1103.    You know on these occasions that we have powers to send for
  people and papers.  I am not quite sure whether that counts for your rubbish
  bin at home but we did wonder about asking you to bring that with you. 
  However, we thought it might have been a bit messy.  Then we thought about
  producing our own rubbish bin totally and asking you to rummage through it,
  asking you for a bit of advice.  We have actually been very kind this morning
  because we have taken out the chewing gum, the cat litter, the privet hedge
  cuttings, the left-over trifle, we just have a few samples of things.  What
  I thought you might like to do is just to have a look at some of the things
  that go into people's waste stream and tell us how you would deal with them. 
  (Same handed)  I do not know whether you would like to fish them out of the
  bag yourself or whether you want us to fish them out for you.  It is a sort
  of lucky dip for you but I can assure you that there is nothing really nasty
  in there at all.  You have brought out the pizza box.  What should be really
  happening?  Should those be filling up our dustbins?
        (Mr Meacher)   I certainly think we need a much higher level of recycling
  of such cardboard containers.  We need separation at source of such items.
        1104.    So what does that mean?  You have to persuade the pizza
  delivery man to take the box back?
        (Mr Meacher)   That is a scheme which I think we certainly should
  consider.  These producer responsibilities for fast foods of this kind is
  certainly an eminent example of returnable containers.  We already do have,
  of course, a high level of recycling of paper and cardboard products.  I think
  it is something in the order of 65 per cent.
        1105.    That is not in the domestic bin, is it?  Most people who
  receive one of those pizzas will put it into their bin and it will not be
  recycled, will it?
        (Mr Meacher)   At the moment it will not be recycled.  Some of it, of
  course, will be separated out at a later point and can be recycled but in many
  cases that is not so, I agree.  I think a returnable scheme, producer
  responsibility on the part of fast food manufacturers, is certainly something
  which we would like to promote.
        1106.    Before you dig in - I do not suppose you want to open the lid
  - but I think there is a piece of rotting pizza there.  What should be
  happening to that?
        (Mr Meacher)   Rotting organic material can, of course, be composted. 
        1107.    But does it not encourage the rats? 
        (Mr Meacher)   Rats?
        1108.    If you put in food waste, then that tends to encourage
  vermin, does it not?
        (Mr Meacher)   It could do. It depends, of course, what is the composter.
  Rats would find it difficult to get into some of them but I appreciate that
  is a problem.  Apart from putting it as a contaminant into a general waste bag
  under the sink, I certainly think that we would want to see organic waste,
  together with garden material, increasingly composted.  We estimate that
  something like to 2 to 300,000 tonnes of household compost is achieved each
  year, with something like half of the total which is centrally collected, so
  it is quite considerable.  I can tell you, Chairman, I do it myself.
        1109.    Keep digging.
        (Mr Meacher)   This is very exciting.
        1110.    Perhaps you or I ought to describe it.  It is a carton.
        (Mr Meacher)   A Safeways pure unsweetened orange juice. 
        1111.    It has cardboard on the outside, silver foil on the inside,
  plastic on the top to stop you spilling it.  Three or four different
  materials.  It is a bit of a problem for recycling, is it not?
        (Mr Meacher)   That is perfectly true.  It has to be separated out, which
  increases costs and increases complexity.  Again, I think if one had a
  requirement or initially some voluntary scheme with the manufacturer, it would
  encourage perhaps the preparation of containers which did permit recycling
  more easily.  I certainly think that again, this is something we would want
  to encourage.
        1112.    Right.  Dig in again.
        (Mr Meacher)    It happens to be the Financial Times.  "Gore set for
  formal challenge" but that is not the point.
        1113.    It is pink, of course, which perhaps is quite important to
  draw your attention to.
        (Mr Meacher)   It certainly can, nevertheless, be recycled despite the
  pink hue.  We do have an agreement with the Newspaper Publishers Association
  to increase the current production of newsprint from waste paper.  It is
  roughly about 55 per cent.  We have a target for 60 per cent, rising to around
  to 70 per cent by 2006. 
        1114.    We have to import recycled newsprint because we are not
  producing enough in this country.
        (Mr Meacher)   That is perfectly correct.  We are, at the present time,
  considering an application for assistance in regard to a second mill at
  Aylesford precisely to try and reduce that problem.  Now this could be
  described as a nappy.  Fortunately it is an unused one or a very well cleaned
        1115.    3 per cent, I understand, of the waste stream in this
  country is disposable nappies.
        (Mr Meacher)   I did not know it was as high as that.  That is
  considerable.  There is innovation in the provision of nappy washing services
  in order to reduce landfill.  I do not think it is our role to decide one form
  of nappy recovery as against another, or disposal.
        1116.    What should happen to it then when it goes into the dustbin?
        (Mr Meacher)   If a local authority is providing a nappy washing service,
  of course, again it has to be separated at source.  That is absolutely
  essential.  I believe that does already happen in a number of cases.  What I
  am saying is that I do not think one can require that.  There are still some
  environmental costs, even with nappy washing services, in terms of the
  environmental costs of the actual washing service and transport.  I certainly
  think we would want to encourage such services. 
        1117.    Dig again - a fluorescent tube.
        (Mr Meacher)   I cannot see any dark markings at either end which suggest
  it is still usable.  I did myself open a fluorescent tube recycling unit in
  the north-west.
        1118.    And promised them a million recycled tubes from government
  offices, which they still have not received.
        (Mr Meacher)   This is quite right, and it is the cause of some
  embarrassment.  I did say at the time, on the basis of advice as to what the
  potential was, that something like (as you say, Mr Chairman) a million
  fluorescent tubes could be made available to a unit like this.  All I can say
  is that DETR has pursued other departments very vigorously.  I think there has
  recently been some increase, but I accept that it is nowhere near the level
  of what it ought to be.  This is one of the issues that in the Green Ministers
  Committee I have been pursuing.  In the end we are dependent, of course, on
  other government departments.
                              Mr Donohoe
        1119.    Your own Department is sending how many tubes in?
        (Mr Meacher)   I cannot answer that.  I hope we are.
        (Ms Shaw)   Can we put that in writing.
        1120.    How many do you think?
        (Mr Meacher)   I do not know.  We have certainly made an issue of it in
  the Department.  I would be very surprised if we were not doing so.  We will
  provide you with the figures.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1121.    We have asked before, Minister, so you cannot be entirely
  surprised to be asked that question.
        (Mr Meacher)   It is a surprise to me, I have to say.  I am sorry I have
  not come with the figures; but we will see that you get the figures.
                                Mr Benn
        1122.    Is it not the case that probably for most departments the
  replacement of fluorescent tubes has been out-sourced to some maintenance
  company?  Could it not be worked into the contract that departments have with
  various companies to ensure when they take the old one out they set it aside
  to send it to this factory you have opened?
        (Mr Meacher)   I can see no reason why we should not do that, and I
  certainly think that is a good idea.
                              Mr Donohoe
        1123.    Why has it not been done before?
        (Mr Meacher)   That is also what was occurring to me.  I am not
  specifically briefed on this.  It is possible we do it, but I doubt it.  It
  is certainly something we will find out.
        1124.    Why should we be worried about a fluorescent tube?  An awful
  lot of people, particularly in a domestic situation, would take one out and
  just throw it in the bin, where it would crack into bits and go off to the
  landfill site, and it will not even fill up much of the landfill site.  Why
  should we worry about it?
        (Mr Meacher)   There is a mercury component which can leach from
  landfill, and because mercury is a highly toxic substance and potentially
  hazardous, particularly if it does leach and get into aquifers, it is
  worrying.  We certainly should not be land-filling fluorescent tubes; and we
  certainly should be recycling.  As a result of this Committee we will redouble
  our efforts.
        1125.    If you would like to dig again there may be one or two other
  things left.
        (Mr Meacher)   There is an envelope with a picture inside.
        1126.    We could not really get the dumped car which was on a
  footpath.  I did a walk last week of only about five miles and came across
  five dumped cars on public footpaths.  I thought that was pretty appalling.
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes, I entirely agree with you.  The number of dumped cars
  is increasing and it is a serious environment disfigurement.  We have been in
  discussion with the DVLA about this and with the Local Government Association,
  and we do need to come forward with new proposals as to how to deal with it. 
  We are looking at it in the Department.  Indeed, one of my officials who is
  here today, Sue Ellis, has particular responsibility on this question of
  dumped cars. 
        1127.    If that note tells us about the End Use Directive, in a sense
  the End Use Directive is going to make life worse, is it not, because that
  will not come in for another couple of years, which discourages anyone doing
  anything about it until the End Use Directive is in place?
        (Mr Meacher)   You are right to refer to the End of Life Vehicles
  Directive; I think it became law in October of this year and in order to get
  transposition into national legislation and the whole European parliamentary
  process, it does unfortunately take about two years.  I agree it is a very
  unfortunate hiatus within the EU system and I am not sure how we can short-
  circuit it.  I repeat, we are looking in the meantime at ways of dealing with
  this problem.  It is now becoming a serious problem.
        1128.    Dig in the bag again.
        (Mr Meacher)   A metal can and a plastic bottle.
        1129.    What about having a returnable bottle system in this country
  with deposits?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes, I have always been in favour of a deposit/refund
  scheme.  There is the bottle bank scheme which is operated in respect of pubs
  and clubs on that basis.  I would certainly look favourably on a Private
  Members Bill which proposed that.  If it is to be Government legislation of
  course we do need a next slot - we need a new Environment Bill, and I can tell
  you that I am certainly looking at that as well.  I agree with you, that a
  deposit/refund scheme is, I think, obviously the right way for dealing with
  this.  With steel cans, something like 25 per cent. of the content is recycled
  at the moment, and I think it is much higher with regard to aluminium cans.
        1130.    As far as cans are concerned, as I understand on drinks cans,
  you get quite a reasonable return; but the ones for cat and dog food, which
  I am told are the largest number of cans in this country, the level of return
  is pretty low?
        (Mr Meacher)   They are, as you say, contaminated.  They are usually tins
  rather than cans.
        1131.    But they will pull out with a magnet?
        (Mr Meacher)   You can certainly extract them from a waste stream par
  excellence because they are highly magnetic.
        1132.    Dig in for the last one.  It should be a battery.
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.  We are expecting an EU Directive on this to be
  published early in the new year, which will certainly propose recycling
  targets.  The real problem with recycling of batteries is that it only becomes
  commercially viable if the mercury content can be reduced.  I certainly think
  what we would want to encourage is more rechargeable and reusable batteries
  which are essentially nickel cadmium batteries.
        1133.    I did not want you to dig in because I left the shirt in the
  box - but have you got any comments on the level of wrapping in this.  There
  is a plastic container, about seven or eight pins and other bits of plastic. 
  Is it really necessary for items like that?
        (Mr Meacher)   For a moment I thought this was a Christmas present!
        Chairman:   No such luck!
        Mr Donohoe: Do you really want to wear a shirt like that!
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1134.    Do you really want to have a present from this Committee!
        (Mr Meacher)   There are the Packaging Essential Requirements Regulations
  which are designed to reduce the amount of packaging - and of course Packaging
  Waste Regulations in general as well.
        1135.    But they are not working, are they?
        (Mr Meacher)   I do not think we can say that.  The 50 per cent. target
  has to be achieved by all Member States in April of next year.  We were I
  think at something of the order of 38 per cent. last year - quite a big leap
  to get to 50; but I have actually raised the mandatory targets to a level of
  56 per cent. in order to ensure that we do hit that 50 per cent. target - so
  I hope that we do.  The only other point I would make about packaging is that
  it is not wholly bad:  for example, in respect of food it does actually lead
  to less waste of the food which it contains if you put it in a container of
  an appropriate quality which is likely to lead to the householder using all
  the food rather than wasting it.  I accept that there are many examples in the
  shops, particularly at this time of the year, of excessive wrapping.  I hope
  that the increase in the targets under the Packaging Waste Regulation will
  begin to tighten on that problem in the next few years.
        Chairman:   We will leave the rest of the rubbish that we might have been
  able to produce and go on to some general questions.
                              Mr Cummings
        1136.    A number of witnesses have severely criticised the Waste
  Strategy for being too timid and for failing to aspire to the levels of
  achievement in waste management accomplished in other countries.  Minister,
  how do you respond to that criticism that the Waste Strategy is lacking in
  ambition, especially compared with the aims and achievements in other
        (Mr Meacher)   I am astonished.  We do start at a very low point.  The
  recycling of household waste in 1992 was 2 per cent; in 1997 it was 6 per
  cent; and it is now about 9 per cent., but that is before we start with the
  new recycling targets.  We are proposing, as I am sure you know, to double the
  level of recycling to about an average of 17 per cent. in the next three years
  (which, given our past record, is a very big increase), and to triple it to
  around 25 per cent. by 2005.  That is still below the level of achievement of
  other countries - for example, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland outside
  the EU, and Germany.  We can do better than that, and I would expect that once
  we have achieved that 25 per cent. target we will set new and further
  ambitious targets.  Given the low level at which we started, I think if we
  were more ambitious still it would begin to look vaguely incredible.  I think
  we have to prove our capacity to hit these middle level targets first before
  we aim for the high targets.  The fact is, some local authorities are already
  recycling in the upper 20 per cent. level, and there is absolutely no reason
  why we cannot do that across the country.  That is our firm aim but it is in
  a short timescale.  I believe, rather than saying it is unambitious, it is
  pretty challenging.
        1137.    Is there anything you can do with the tools available?  The
  Waste Watch memorandum states, "If the targets in Waste Strategy 2000 were the
  equivalent of trying to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, then the tools
  available to date are the equivalent of fielding a team like Oldham Athletic
        (Mr Meacher)   I do take exception to the comparisons at the end of that! 
  There are three requirements for a satisfactory recycling programme.  First,
  are challenging statutory targets which I have just addressed; but I repeat,
  a tripling in five years is not the end of the story - it is a mid point in
  a more ambitious story.  Secondly, there is the need for financing.  We have
  provided, in the Spending Review, 140 million which is ring-fenced for
  recycling.  We have also provided 1.1 billion under the slightly curious
  title in the SSAs of "Environmental and Cultural Services for Local
  Authorities" - a very odd combination, but I hope we will get a significant
  proportion of that, but that depends on local authorities.  There is also a
  further 50 million under the New Opportunities Fund specifically for
  community recycling.  Of course, one could provide more but that again is a
  very big increase on current levels of recycling.  The third requirement is
  markets.  We are all agreed that there is very little point in increasing
  recycling if you cannot find a market and you cannot find a productive use for
  it and it then in the end goes to landfill - that is a waste of everyone's
  time.  The purpose of WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which
  we have set up (and you have just been speaking to Vic Cocker and other
  executives within that newly established body) is to develop new markets in
  conjunction with bodies like ReMaDe; to identify gaps in the supply and demand
  for recycling; and, of course, provide solutions; to provide research and
  information on technologies and engineering that are relevant; and encourage
  investment in reprocessing - for example, I have already referred to the
  second Aylesford plant.
        1138.    Could you just clear up what is actually happening.  Is the
  Treasury vetoing the money for it?
        (Mr Meacher)   No, that is not the case.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1139.    Heaven forefend that they should even think of such a thing!
        (Mr Meacher)   I thoroughly agree, Mrs Dunwoody, that is absolutely my
  view.  Your reproof to your Chairman is strongly supported.  No, what has been
  proposed is a substantial level of support for government because of its
  impact in the improvement of newsprint recycling.  We have been in discussion
  with the company over a considerable time.  We have also been speaking to the
  two main shareholders who have been the bodies that believe they cannot
  justify this increase in investment without some government support.  We are
  currently making further proposals on this.  Hopefully, in the short future,
  we shall be able to publish, I hope, some solution to this problem.
        1140.    "The short future", is that a new phrase for government?
        (Mr Meacher)   I did not want to say "soon" because you would ask me what
  "soon" meant.
        Mr Donohoe: Do you know what "short" means?
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1141.    Before or after the General Election!
        (Mr Meacher)   Within the next few months.  Considering that this is an
  issue which has actually been current for something like the last two years,
  in my experience the next few months would be a relatively short period in
  which to resolve it.
                               Mr Blunt
        1142.    Six, five, four, three, two, how many is "few"?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think, Mr Blunt, you should leave us to try and
  determine this as quickly as we can.  I cannot tell you because it has not
  been predetermined in that way.  I am very keen to see this matter resolved. 
  I have to get agreement between all the parties; I have to protect taxpayers'
  money; and I also have to expand and improve my newsprint recycling
  objectives; and it is bringing all those three together which is causing a
        1143.    Are boroughs like Reigate and Banstead, that have achieved
  high levels of recycling quite quickly, now running into problems because
  there is not a market for newsprint and they cannot get the newsprint away? 
  This is an urgent problem if people are not to turn round and say, "This is
  all too difficult and expensive".
        (Mr Meacher)   It is an urgent problem.  The Chairman has already
  correctly said that we are importing newsprint.  That is a nonsense when we
  can do it ourselves and should do it ourselves.  We are simply talking about
  the essential requirement for a given level of funding which can be justified
  to Treasury, DTI and DETR.
                              Mr Cummings
        1144.    Minister, which is more important: achieving the recycling
  targets in Waste Strategy 2000, or ensuring that the Best Practicable
  Environmental Option is selected for each waste management decision?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think in most cases there is not a conflict there, but
  the answer must be achieving the best practicable environmental option - and,
  as I say, in the vast majority of cases I believe that that is recycling.  You
  can think of extreme cases, for example in rural areas, where the nearest
  recycling banks or units are a considerable distance away and you cannot
  ignore the transport impacts of continually taking relatively small amounts
  of material long distances.  I think that that is unusual.  The best
  practicable environmental option in the vast majority of cases is recycling.
        1145.    How do you believe that the tension between BPEO and
  sustainable waste management can be resolved?
        (Mr Meacher)   By the Government issuing guidelines making absolutely
  clear, as we have, that best practicable environmental options should be
  pursued.  Sustainable waste management means, in principle, that it is based
  on BPEO.
                                Mr Benn
        1146.    Why do you say that incineration is safe?
        (Mr Meacher)   No industrial process in an absolute sense is safe; no
  combustion process is safe; and, therefore, no incineration process is
  absolutely safe.  However, I do think there is considerable public
  misperception about the safety of modern incinerators.  It is quite another
  matter as to the standard of incinerators in the 1960/1970s, I concede that.
        1147.    So we could have one next to Oldham Athletic's ground without
  any trouble?
        (Mr Meacher)   Perhaps I could just complete the answer.  It does depend
  on planning control - and planning control would look at the siting and
  whether it was appropriate and take account of local objections.  In terms of
  safety, and I will come on to this, I think there has been great
  misunderstanding.  In 1996, in November I think, a new EU Regulation governing
  incinerators came into force which led to many, probably most I think, of the
  incinerators in the UK being closed down because they could not meet the
  standard.  The others that remained had to have their standards raised and
  that left something like only a dozen, if I recall.  Abroad there are many,
  many more incinerators in countries which have very green recycling levels -
  for example, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.  The standard which was set
  in November 1996 with regard to dioxins, furans which are regarded as the most
  worrying component, was that there should be no more than 1 nanogramme/metre3,
  which means no more than one part in a billion.  In the proposed Waste
  Incineration Directive, that standard is being tightened ten-fold, to 0.1
  nanogramme/metre3, so it is no more than one part per 10 billion.  You can
  still say, of course, that dioxins, which are a very toxic substance, are
  still permitted at that level; but that is absolutely minuscule.  When I say
  that on Guy Fawkes Night the amount of dioxins released is hugely greater, the
  amount of dioxins released by other industrial processes, for example, steel
  making is much higher, the amount of dioxins produced by burning wood, not
  just on Guy Fawkes Night but other processes including household, is
  considerably higher, then I think we do have to see this in perspective.  I
  am not saying that incinerators are totally safe.  Dioxin emissions from
  municipal waste incinerators in 1994 were 521 grammes; and in 1998 14 grammes. 
  There has been a substantial reduction.  With regard to health effects I am
  extremely conscious that the consultancy which we used, namely Entec, made a
  mathematical error in estimating the health effects of the tighter standards
  in the proposed Waste Incineration Directive.  There is this concept which I
  should explain of deaths not brought forward.  The concept is this:  if you
  have a standard which is a typed standard, nevertheless, deaths can be brought
  forward as a result of the operation of an incineration plant.  If you tighten
  the standard then you have a number for deaths not brought forward and that
  should reduce.  They calculated that the deaths not brought forward were 51. 
  As a result of their miscalculation they now believe the correct figure is
  six.  In other words, that the health impact of incinerators is less than
  Entec originally estimated.  I think the most important fact is that the
  Environment Agency, using the correct Entec data, and also data from COMEAP
  (which is the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution) now estimates
  that of the 24,000 deaths brought forward each year in Britain by air
  pollution only three or less than three may be attributable to the ten
  operating municipal solid waste incinerators in 1999.  That, I think, sets it
  in perspective.  I know there is great fear about this, and I think we have
  to listen to this, but we do have to explain the facts and the relative
  consequences of incinerators as against other processes.  Even if you consider
  those three, you have to look at the costs and benefits of alternative forms
  of disposal - for example, landfill.  There have, of course, been allegations
  of health ill effects of landfill and of transport impacts.  I do not wish to
  pretend that they are nil, but I do think we need to look at this seriously
  and in proportion.
                                Mr Benn
        1148.    You have described clearly what the standards are but one of
  the causes of great public concern is the gap between the standards and
  regulation of what actually happens.  Do you think the Environment Agency has
  the capacity in every sense to regulate incineration effectively?
        (Mr Meacher)   I certainly hope so.  I have no reason at the moment to
  believe that that is not the case.  The Environment Agency does have the
  responsibility of deciding whether industrial processes, including of course
  municipal waste incinerators, can operate, which means looking at potential
  environmental impacts, including health impacts, and (going back to
  Mr Cummings' first question) assessing whether they can operate on a BATNEEC
  basis, best available technique not entailing excessive cost.
        1149.    What is the public meant to make of what happened to Byker
        (Mr Meacher)   I hope the public will make of what happened to Byker what
  the Environment Agency Report does when it is announced shortly (and I hope
  that will be in the next few weeks rather than the next few months) as to
  whether there were any breaches of waste management controls.  I have not seen
  the report.  I think we should wait for that report.  It has been reported in
  the press that incinerator bottom ash and fly ash were mixed before being
  disposed of which should not have happened. I am merely repeating what has
  been said; I am not giving credence to that story, and I think we should wait
  for the official report.
        1150.    Can you understand why the public might have concerns about
  the Environment Agency's capacity, given that it is both monitoring the way
  in which incineration operates and advising on new planning applications?
        (Mr Meacher)   It is the regulator and I do not see why it should not
  perform both of those functions.  I do not think anyone has suggested that the
  independence or integrity of the Environment Agency is at risk or under
  challenge.  I think we do have to rely upon them imposing and exercising the
  highest standards.  Those standards are of course set by Parliament, and they
  are continually being increased.  I have no evidence to suggest that they do
  their job inadequately or sloppily, or do not regulate tightly.  If I have
  that evidence I will pursue it.
        1151.    Finally, do you think that one way in which the public might
  be reassured is if there were to be continuous monitoring of the output of
  incinerators and for that information to be shared fully with the public and
  local community?
        (Mr Meacher)   I do very much agree with that.  I myself, together with
  the Environment Agency, set up the pollution inventory, which is precisely
  designed to allow people locally to know the exact details on a continually
  updated basis as to what are the levels of pollution to air, water or land of
  all the main pollutants in their area.  Indeed, the current pollution
  inventory does take into account 150 polluting substances; I think in Europe
  the level is much less, but we have a much higher level; and those figures are
  republished each year.  I am certainly keen that that should include the
  discharges from incinerators.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1152.       Is that easily available?
        (Mr Meacher)   It is available in a public place, which would normally
  be in the civic centre.  If we are talking about waters, I would expect that
  to be available on a notice board in a coastal area by a river.
        1153.    If someone was living in a council estate round the corner
  from an incinerator how would they know where to get that information?
        (Mr Meacher)   You could certainly ring up the local authority civic
  centre and they would give you the information.  I would hope that if you were
  interested in finding out the information it would be in a sufficiently
  prominent place that it would be readily available to you, i.e. near the
        1154.    I would hope so too.  I agree wholly with what you say about
  the need for people to be accurately informed on a continuous basis; but what
  concerns me - you and I know how the system works - supposing a group of mums
  get together and say, "It's very strange, I think there an effect from that
  incinerator over there", and everybody in the area says, "That's anecdotal and
  totally ridiculous, of course your child hasn't got this", and responds in a
  way that authorities always respond:  how would I know easily where I could
  go and check those figures and find my 14 year-old who had some scientific
  training to tell me what they meant?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think the only sure way is to ring up the town hall.
        1155.    You are satisfied that information is going to be made
  available by all local authorities?
        (Mr Meacher)   I am.  Again, there are a very large number.
        Chairman:   You did not say that with a great deal of conviction!
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1156.    Is Ms Shaw, with her anti-pollution hat on, satisfied?
        (Ms Shaw)   I was suggesting the Minister draw attention to the
  Environment Agency website which is a very good source of information.
        1157.    You and I know how the system works.  How many people in
  Crewe do you think will click on to the Environment Agency website - not a
  great many?
        (Mr Meacher)   Not a great many, I entirely agree.  Therefore, I think
  the more conventional sources, like ringing up the local authority - and it
  means being persistent and getting through to the right person - I am sure
  they would provide you with the information.  There are 500 local authorities,
  or something of that order, and I cannot guarantee the results of ringing all
  of them.
        1158.    Is there any direction from your lot which says, "We think
  this information ought to be available for the public"?  You obviously believe
  it; you are doing the work; do you say to them, "Make sure somebody can find
  it"?  That is all I am asking you.
        (Mr Meacher)   It is a very fair question.
        1159.    All my questions are always fair, Minister.  I thought over
  the years you had gathered that.  That is why if they can get rid of me they
        (Mr Meacher)   Whether we have issued guidelines specifically
  requesting/requiring local authorities to make available -----
        1160.    A direction, Mr Hurst.  Have you not told them what to do?
        (Mr Hurst)  Not in so many words.  This is something on which the UK is
  well ahead over the rest of Europe.
        1161.    That is nice, but what do we do?
        (Mr Hurst)  The Environment Agency each year compiles information on 150
  pollutants from the 2,000 sites they regulate.  In a year or so that will go
  up to 7,000 sites.  These are the main industrial sites in the country.  That
  information is put together on their website and feeds into this document,
  which is the National Atmospheric Commission's Inventory which I would hope
  any enterprising school child would be able to find in the local library. 
  There are ways we could think about to make this more publicly available, and
  we are thinking about them.
        1162.    Like a one page letter saying to people "make sure this is
        (Mr Meacher)   We will follow that up.  If we have not already said to
  local authorities that we expect them to make it prominently available and
  that there must be someone in the town hall to give accurate information in
  response to a telephone call, if that is not the case, we will make clear we
  expect it to be made the case.
                                Mr Benn
        1163.    Should that not be an obligation on the operator of the
        (Mr Meacher)   They, of course, have to provide the information.  In a
  sense, that is already what we do.  You could get the Environment Agency
  attending every incinerator and making its own calculation, but in the first
  instance you would be expecting the incinerator owner to provide the
  information which feeds into the pollution inventory (and that of course to
  be audited or checked by the Environment Agency) so they are already providing
        1164.    In that case, if one of Mrs Dunwoody's constituents chose to
  approach the operator of the incinerator they ought to be able to get the
        (Mr Meacher)   They ought to, but I would not guarantee that the operator
  would not actually say, "You'd better consult X or Y", and it is more
  difficult to get it from there, of course.
        1165.    Can you tell us how much rendered material from cattle
  slaughtered as a result of BSE still remains to be disposed of, and can you
  give us any assurances that this will not be by means of incineration?
        (Mr Meacher)   I have not got those figures in front of me.  We will
  provide that by letter, if we may.
        1166.    And the principle of disposing of remains by incineration?
        (Mr Meacher)   Including that.
        1167.    Colin Pickthall, West Lancashire, has been very concerned
  about this question.  This question about reassuring people - I did think you
  had been warned that these issues might come up, but you cannot tell us any
  more about it?
        (Mr Meacher)   I was certainly briefed on that and I have seen
  correspondence.  This is a case of change of use from a vehicle dismantling
  plant to a bone meal incinerator.
        1168.    BSE?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.  The general planning rules are that the change of
  use does not require planning permission.  However, I agree that this 
  is -----
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1169.    A depot to this kind of incinerator is a bit of a change?
        (Mr Meacher)   I entirely agree.  I think the fairness of your remarks
  continues to strike me forcibly.
        1170.    I am ever so glad I came today, and I shall write you a
  cheque as soon as I can!
        (Mr Meacher)   It is subject to appeal.  For that reason, given the quasi
  judicial role ministers have, I cannot take the matter further.  I am well
  aware of the significance of this particular case.
                               Mr Blunt
        1171.    In your draft Strategy "A Way with Waste" you said there
  would be 165 incineration facilities of capacity up to 200,000 tonnes per year
  needed to meet the aims of the Landfill Directive.  When the Strategy itself
  came out that number had disappeared.  How many new incinerators do you think
  will be built in order to pursue the aims of the Waste Strategy in the next
  ten years?
        (Mr Meacher)   The 166 figure was based on a worst possible scenario. 
  Namely, that there would be a continued growth in arisings of about 3 per
  cent. a year and no decoupling of economic growth from creation of waste. 
  Secondly, that recycling did not increase as we intended.  Thirdly, that
  planning allowed any number of incinerators that were requested to be built. 
  The reason we dropped it is because, frankly, none of those premises are
  remotely likely or, indeed, feasible.  The number of incinerators will depend
  upon our success of waste minimisation.  That is the other factor.  It is not
  a question of recycling, or incineration, or landfill.  The other option, of
  course, is waste minimisation, and that is very important.  It is difficult
  to achieve but we have some riders in place to try and achieve it.  That is
  the first one:  waste minimisation; secondly, reducing the growth of arisings,
  and preferably making it negative per year; thirdly, the increase in recycling
  which I am absolutely sure we can achieve and will go even further than the
  initial targets; and of course planning decisions, which are a matter for
  local authorities.  Against that, it is impossible to say what the number is. 
  Let me take the opportunity of saying, whether it is 166, 177 which I have
  seen or 100 which I have seen, it is totally and utterly without foundation. 
  There is no justification - government could not have a figure in its back
  pocket.  We are not working to anything.
        1172.    The DTI have a figure.
        (Mr Meacher)   It was a DETR figure - 166.
        1173.    165 I think the figure was.  It is your figure in the draft
  Strategy on the basis of assumptions you have given us.  I am not sure those
  assumptions are presented in the document in that way.  The DTI are saying
  they assume that 25 per cent. of renewable energy will come from incineration,
  and that implies an incineration capacity of 20 million tonnes - which is 80
  new incinerators with a capacity of 250,000 tonnes/year?  Have we got joined
  up government here, or what?
        (Mr Meacher)   These are all estimates, and they are all projections;
  they are not commitments.  We have laid down a 10 per cent. renewables
  obligation.  The number of renewables is substantial.  Wind power - the
  capacity for both onshore and offshore wind turbine electricity generation is
  very considerable in this country, as everyone knows who has stood on the east
  coast or Blackpool Pier; biomass energy crops, landfill gas, sewage gas and,
  above all, the whole question of solar power and photovoltaics.  All of these
  are still in the initial stages of being worked through what is cost
  effective.  I do not think one can say with any reliability of the proportion
  which might be required to be met by energy from waste, if anything at all. 
  These are still just projections.
        1174.    Except you are saying that these planning applications are
  matters for local authorities, rather giving the impression if you can
  possibly get away with it that you are not got to take a role in the planning
  applications for major sites.  The local authorities are now putting the waste
  strategies together now based on the financial support that has been given in
  the past to energy from waste.  For example, in the county of Surrey the
  company that won the contract for the disposal of Surrey's waste has put in
  an incinerator on a Green Belt site because it had NFFO support on it to the
  value of about 2 million a year, which has clearly made that site more
  economic than perhaps other sites that are more suitable in planning and
  environmental terms.  Let alone the fact that, of course, that gives a subsidy
  to the whole waste stream which then means there is an over-reliance on
  incineration capacity for economic reasons, and the fact they have got Surrey
  secured PFI for the building of these plants which then works against
  recycling and composting as waste management options.
        (Mr Meacher)   I take that argument, but I would qualify it.  Only 14 of
  the 88 contracts let under NFFO are live; in other words, have actually been
  built, and not all of these are mass burn incinerators.  Of these 14, six have
  not received payment from the Fossil Fuel Levy since December 1998 when the
  contract for these projects ended, and there will be no new NFFO projects.
        1175.    I understand that, but local authorities are finding that
  now, in terms of the subsidies that already exist in the system to support
  incineration.  You are saying nothing will happen in the future, and my next
  question is whether there is a case for a tax on incineration rather than
  subsidy?  You accept there is an issue now of government subsidy to
  incineration which undermines the other objectives of recycling and
        (Mr Meacher)   Can I make clear, in line with the Waste Strategy which
  we published in May, I did change the criteria on 22 September, so that all
  proposals on incineration must now demonstrate, if they are going to be
  approved, firstly, that all opportunities for recycling have been considered
  first,and that has to be demonstrated; secondly, that there is no barrier to
  the future development of recycling; and also that it should include combined
  heat and power wherever possible.  It is the first two, of course, which are
  key.  I am extremely well aware of the need not to crowd out recycling.  I am
  determined to ensure that that applies.  The point which I make here is, if
  we could meet the UK mandatory requirement under the Landfill Directive
  entirely through recycling no-one would be happier than me; but you have to
  look at the effects.  At the moment, something like 25-28 million tonnes of
  household waste goes to landfill.  If we continue with 3 per cent. growth in
  those arisings, and we are trying to reduce it, then by 2020 that will have
  risen to something of the order of 52 million tonnes.  By 2020, which is when
  the Landfill Directive becomes mandatory, no more than 11 million tonnes
  should be land-filled.  Something of the order of 40 million tonnes has either
  got to be waste minimised, or recycled, or incinerated.  If we could do the
  whole lot through waste minimisation and recycling, absolutely fine.  The
  problem is, first of all, I do not believe we can.  I think we can probably
  get near it, but we will not get the whole way.  Secondly, there are issued
  of non-recyclets, such as chemical waste, clinical waste, contaminated
  materials; there is this whole contentious issue of BSE material.  There will
  continue to be some role for incinerators.
        1176.    Could we get on to the issue of tax on incinerators.  If
  energy from waste simply replaces the ordinary mix of electricity generation
  it is actually a worse economic cost, on your own figures, than landfill. 
  Surely there is a case for a tax on incineration?
        (Mr Meacher)   The key point is the discharge emission standards from
  incinerators are hugely and totally changed.  I really do think the public
  perception and our perception of incinerators should take that into account. 
  There is the impression that incinerators are somehow thoroughly bad and wrong
  and ought to be taxed out of existence.
        1177.    Is the external cost estimate you published in the Waste
  Strategy wrong?  That is where I am taking the figures from and they are your
        (Mr Meacher)   They are based on the older generation of incinerators.
        1178.    You are saying for new incinerators the figures would be
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.
        1179.    Even so, is there not a case for a tax on incineration,
  without having any idea of what these new figures will be?
        (Mr Meacher)   I do not think that is justified on the grounds that I do
  think incineration, meeting the criteria which I have laid down, inevitably
  will have a role in a sustainable waste management programme.  I think the
  figures will be vastly smaller than many people expect.  A tax suggests that
  this is an undesirable, unwelcome, unneeded economic activity and I do not
  think it is justified to see incineration in that way.  We need to be acutely
  aware of the health impacts.  We need to provide updated new information of
  the health impact as it becomes available.  We should keep the public fully
  involved in the discharge levels so that everyone knows what are those impacts
  but, subject to that, I think it would be wrong to impose taxes.
        Mr Blunt:   The advice I am receiving is that the work done which led to
  the publication of your figures did not include a number of pollutants in the
  external cost estimate of the cost of incineration.  There is clearly further
  work to be done.
        Chairman:   I think we can pursue this through written questions.
                               Mr Blunt
        1180.    Can I move on to the issue of planning which is directly
  linked to incineration.  How do you reconcile the need for a major waste
  management facility with the principle of local accountability for planning
        (Mr Meacher)   Perhaps with some difficulty.  PPG No.10, which is
  Planning and Waste Management, is the relevant guidance that we give. 
  Planning applications, as you imply, have to be decided in accordance with the
  local authority development plan.  I think that is right.  I do not think in
  the end there is an incompatibility.  I do believe that some local authorities
  will come forward with proposals, but they do have to persuade their
  electorate.  They do have to get popular consent for them and that is not
  easy.  I do not think it is equally a matter that government should intervene
        1181.    If the local authority were proposing to build an incinerator
  in the green belt against massive local opposition, would you regard that as
  a matter on which should be called in a planning inspector, and on which the
  local authority itself felt distinctly uncomfortable if they were not only the
  planning authority but also the waste management authority?
        (Mr Meacher)   Maybe you are referring to a specific case, in which case
  I do not wish to imply about a particular case.  I would be surprised in
  general - very surprised - if an incinerator in a green belt were to be given
  approval; but there might be particular local circumstances which would
  justify that.  I am not making comments about a case you may have in mind.
        1182.    I am very happy with your answer.  Could you see a role for
  shadow planning?  Just following the example of Essex, whereby Essex County
  Council identified potential sites for an incinerator which drove a huge
  reaction, as I understand it, from the borough and district council saying,
  "We do not want these things here" and in the competition to make sure that
  they did not happen in Essex in people's back yards, it mobilised opinion to
  achieve very high levels of recycling, driving the local community forward. 
  I wondered whether one could see a role for shadow planning saying that a
  waste incinerator would only be built if the local community did not achieve
  targets for landfill diversions through other means.
        (Mr Meacher)   I do not think we can lay that down as a rule at the
  outset.  This is a matter for local authority determination but I can see the
  beneficial result from the point of view of local inhabitants of being
  threatened, as they see it, with an incinerator and therefore having to
  achieve those high targets.  Shadow planning in terms of planning to build an
  incinerator if you do not meet your recycling targets is reasonable, I think,
  quite apart from the impact on local perceptions.  Some local authorities are
  taking on even more ambitious targets than the ones that we have set them, but
  they do actually have to have a fallback if they do not meet them, so I quite
  understand that and it may be perversely that there could be some benefit in
                              Mr Donohoe
        1183.    I noticed earlier, when you were asked a direct question, you
  side stepped it.  It was: would you have one of these incinerators in your own
        (Mr Meacher)   I would not regard an application for an incinerator in
  my constituency any differently from elsewhere.
        1184.    That is not answering the question, Minister.  Would you have
  one of these incinerators in your constituency, because I would not.
        (Mr Meacher)   When you say "would I have it", I may happen to be a
  minister but I cannot dictate where these things are located.  If an
  application was made by an incinerator operator to have one in my
  constituency, I would expect that to be assessed on exactly the same basis as
  elsewhere.  This is my very strong view with regard to all of these
  controversial applications, whether it is GM, whether it is nuclear, whether
  it is chemical plants or incinerators: there must be openness and
  transparency.  There must be public discussion.  There must be full disclosure
  of the documents.  There must be an opportunity for the public either in
  written form but preferably at face to face meetings to give their reaction. 
  I would also insist that the local authority takes that on board and explains
  its reaction to those objections and does not just brush them on one side. 
  Subject to all of that, I think the procedure should go ahead as normal.
        1185.    Are you happy with the DTI's decision to define incineration
  of waste as a form of renewable energy?
        (Mr Meacher)   There has been much discussion about this issue and we
  have decided that energy from waste from incineration shall not be included
  in the ten per cent renewables obligation.  There is still the question about
  the conceptualisation of energy from waste and whether that is renewable.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1186.    "Conceptualisation"?
        (Mr Meacher)   I agree; "conceptualisation" was just my word.
                              Mr Donohoe
        1187.    It is certainly just yours.
        (Mr Meacher)   There are two sides to this, but I have a particular view
  which I have been expressing in government.  I am not going to discuss it
  here, if you will permit me, until this matter is resolved, but there are
  issues about questions of subsidy in the form of exemption from the climate
  change levy.  All of these matters are again being discussed within
        1188.    If we minimise the municipal waste that there is --
  "arisings" they call it -- and we successfully move into recycling, does not
  that have serious consequences for the DTI's policy on renewable energy?
        (Mr Meacher)   I do not think so.  We are at 2.8 per cent at the present
  time.  We have hardly clearly yet begun to put in operation the whole range
  of renewables, particularly wind power.  Denmark, for example, has just
  proposed 500 new wind turbines.  I do not know how many we have in this
  country but it is a very small number.  I have been told we have 40 times the
  potential of electricity generation for wind turbines compared to Germany and
  yet Germany has a far higher level of wind power generated electricity than
  we.  There is a lot of potential in this country and I refuse to accept that
  at this stage you can say that, in order to meet the ten per cent target, we
  either have to have in or not have in energy from waste.  The range of other
  alternatives is sufficiently large and the potential for expanding them
  sufficiently great that you cannot make that assumption at this point.
        1189.    If I can turn to the basics, the landfill tax has been hit at
  a level that is far too low, has it not, and what you really need to do is to
  virtually double it.  That is what the people in industry tell me.  Do you
  accept that as being the case, because the figures that you are announcing in
  terms of increasing levels up to 2004, a pound a year, are not going to impact
  on industry at all, are they?  What you should be doing is going to your
  friends in the Treasury -- I suppose they would be fairly receptive to this --
  and suggesting that they should double the tax year on year in order to meet
  the targets.
        (Mr Meacher)   I understand the force of that question.  The only way to
  answer it is to look and see what the impact is in reducing landfill compared
  to what you would expect with a three per cent growth of arisings.  In the
  case of inactive material, there has been a reduction from about ten million
  tonnes in 1996 to six million tonnes last year.  It is operating in regard to
  inactive material.  With regard to active material, I think there may be some
  force behind your question.  We are going to have to review as to whether one
  pound increase up to 2004, which is what the government has stated up to now,
  is adequate.  It is true that in other countries it is a level of tax on
  active waste which is up to or even more than twice the level we are
  contemplating, but we have to look at it in terms of impact.
                              Mrs Ellman
        1190.    What is the maximum level of recycling attainable in the
  United Kingdom?
        (Mr Meacher)   We are already committed to 25 per cent in the next five
  years.  There is no reason why we should not do as well as other countries do. 
  If other countries can get to the thirties, even the high thirties, even 40
  per cent plus, I do not see why we should not either.
        1191.    What has stopped you putting that as the target?
        (Mr Meacher)   Nothing has stopped us except that to be over-ambitious
  on the basis of an exceedingly poor performance up to now would not look very
  credible.  If we get to 25 per cent -- or should I say when we get to 25 per
  cent -- by 2005, I would certainly, on the basis of the momentum which has
  been generated, want to produce new figures which take us towards those high
  levels.  At the moment, having achieved those quite ambitious targets by 2005,
  the figures we have published seem to be rather unambitious beyond that.  I
  do not mind that on the basis that they can be reviewed upwards, once we know
  that we have generated the process that can deliver.
        1192.    What needs to be done so that that process is generated? 
  What needs to happen apart from the setting of targets?
        (Mr Meacher)   All the things that we have put into place, as I have
  indicated: the extra funds, the statutory targets, the limits to landfill,
  including trading permits which is a means of trying to reduce amounts going
  to landfill.  We have set up WRAP.  We have put 30 million behind that.  We
  have amended the landfill tax credit scheme in order to ensure that more goes
  to community recycling.  We are issuing new indicative guidelines to ensure
  that more goes towards sustainable waste management.  We are reviewing
  fundamentally the landfill tax credit scheme to see if there is more that
  could be done to meet the government's targets.
        1193.    Are the funds sufficient?  A number of local authorities have
  already complained that the net increase to them is very minimal or does not
  exist at all.
        (Mr Meacher)   I do not quite see how they can make that assumption at
  this stage.  I repeat that 1,127,000,000 is being allocated in the SSSAs, in
  the spending review 2000, over the next three years for environmental and
  cultural services.
        1194.    That is making sculptures out of waste?  Is that it?
        (Mr Meacher)   It is a combination which I have not entirely understood
  and I think it is a miscellaneous item.  It is true that not all of the money
  will go for environmental purposes, but I assume -- and of course this is a
  local authority choice -- that a significant and high proportion will.  If the
  local authorities are prepared to use the money which is available, I do not
  think they can say it is inadequate.  In the light of best management, in the
  light of the reports that we get from the waste resources action programme,
  this new private sector body that has been set up to give assistance to local
  authorities, if they have done everything that we have asked and they are
  still short of money in order to meet those targets, obviously we will review
  it, but I think in the first instance these are huge increases in funds and
  we want to see the benefits before we will consider more money.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        1195.    It is a weird category, is it not?
        (Mr Meacher)   It is.
        1196.    If anyone is looking at the cost of the Newick Theatre in
  Crewe which is live theatre, which they are hanging on to for grim death, and
  then they look at this other, much more vital service, who is going to take
  that decision in a way that is going to satisfy everybody?
        (Mr Meacher)   It is the local authority, but ----
        1197.    Whose idea was that categorisation?
        (Mr Meacher)   I have no idea.  It is lost in the bureaucracy.
        Chairman:   I had better rescue you at this point because I am sure that
  this meeting you are about to have might get COP6 back on the road.  I am sure
  we would all be very concerned about that.  We will probably want you to come
  back to finish the questions.  Can I thank you very much for this morning?