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House of Commons

Thursday 18 October 2001

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Household Waste

1. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): What action she is taking to reduce the proportion of household waste that is put into landfill; and if she will make a statement. [4668]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): In "Waste Strategy 2000" the Government made clear our determination to minimise waste production and to maximise recycling and composting wherever that is cost-effective to reduce our reliance on landfill.

We have a landfill tax that encourages diversion of waste away from landfill and there will be further reviews of its rate. We also consulted earlier this year on a system of tradeable landfill permits to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that goes to landfill and to meet the directive targets.

To achieve more recycling and composting, we have set tough statutory targets, under best value, for local authorities to double the amount of household waste recycled by 2003–04 and to treble it by 2005–06. To support those targets, we have increased funding to local authorities, including a £140 million ring-fenced grant and £40 million to set up the waste and resources action programme, a company that will tackle market barriers for recycled products.

Mr. Love: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. There are two main alternatives to landfill. The first, as she suggested, is recycling and the other is incineration. To encourage both, recent departmental guidance said:

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a strong argument to suggest that we should not concentrate incineration in a small number of plants, such as the one in my constituency, but that we should spread them out across the country where the benefits of combined heat and power can be realised?

Margaret Beckett: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern about the proposals for his constituency. He will be aware that they are not a matter for my

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Department, but I take his point. I am grateful to him for suggesting that we should consider the way in which some incineration might be used and for recognising that there is a role for such use.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): What plans does the Secretary of State have to deal with the increasing problem of fly-tipping in rural areas? She will be aware that it is not only unsightly and a health problem, but places an increasing burden on farmers and landowners who are, after all, responsible for the cost of disposing of it.

Margaret Beckett: I am aware of the problem, as all hon. Members are. The hon. Gentleman will understand the difficulties, because much of the material tipped in this way is household waste. We will seek to place a range of pressures on individuals and on local authorities when that is the right approach to minimise the occurrence of such events and to deal with them when they occur.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that the non-metal components of cars whose lives have come to an end are an increasingly important element in landfill sites. Is she aware of the innovative work on the recycling of those components that has been carried out by Professor Peter Gardiner and his colleagues at the university of Brighton and its subsidiary, the Brighton environmental body? Will she ask her officials to give serious consideration to the results of that research?

Margaret Beckett: I am conscious of the excellent work that is being done in Brighton and other areas. I am also conscious of the innovative work that is being done by many people in British research institutes and universities to try to tackle these problems. It is one of the sectors—in the United Kingdom and across the world—where there are opportunities for innovation and for new business to be developed. It has long been my wish to do more to encourage that development.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): I am surprised that the Secretary of State did not refer to reducing the amount of waste. That is the first step. However, she might not have referred to it because the Government have not managed to reduce the amount of household waste. Reducing household waste and recycling are important waste management strategies.

It is a pity that, in 1998–99, 19 per cent. of Conservative councils did not make separate provision for the collection of household recyclables, but the Secretary of State might like to know that I have written to each and every one of them. But why is it that, according to Audit Commission figures, 29 per cent. of Liberal Democrat-controlled councils and 42 per cent. of Labour-controlled councils have made no provision whatever?

We know that the Liberal Democrats are little more than environmental poseurs, but if the Secretary of State cannot persuade her own party to act green, what have the Government been doing for the past four years?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman asks what the Government have been doing, but I am sorry to say that it appears that he has not been listening. I pointed out in

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my reply that the Government have set demanding targets to double household waste recycling by 2003–04 and almost treble it by 2005–06. We believe that that will transform the position, which I accept is not sufficiently good in areas run by councils of all political shades.

The hon. Gentleman began his remarks by accusing me of having said nothing about reducing the incidence of waste, and I must point out to him that I referred to that in the first sentence of my reply.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): May I remind my right hon. Friend that household waste increases each year, thus posing a great problem for local authorities in particular and communities in general? When did she last meet representatives of the packaging waste industry to reinforce the regulations on the reduction of packaging waste and to ensure that there will be less such waste going into landfill?

Margaret Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's view that household waste is a great problem for local authorities. That is why, although I do not agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), I do agree that it is incumbent on us all to do everything that we can to minimise the production of waste.

I fear that I have not met representatives from the industry's association to which my hon. Friend referred, although my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment meets them on a regular basis. Obviously, it is one of the many organisations that have a pressing claim on my time. In the first week after my appointment, 400 organisations announced their pressing need for a meeting with the Secretary of State, and my hon. Friend will understand that it is not always easy to accommodate all those with a genuine need and desire to meet me.

Flood Defences (Wyre Forest)

2. Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest): What plans she has to visit Wyre Forest to inspect the proposed flood defences during their construction at Bewdley. [4669]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I have no such plans at present, but I have carried out a programme of visits this summer to flood and coastal defence schemes under construction and completed, and always welcome the opportunity to do so.

Dr. Taylor: I thank the Minister for his reply and assure him that if he decides to visit my constituency, he will receive a warmer welcome than was afforded to the Prime Minister last November. Will he recognise the expertise of the Bewdley residents flood committee, which has organised flood defence fairs across the country, and look favourably on an application from the committee for funding its aim to set up a national flood defence forum and flood action network?

Mr. Morley: I accompanied the Prime Minister on his visit to Bewdley, and the people were very grateful to him for taking the trouble to visit when they were suffering the effects of floods. I certainly pay tribute to the residents committee. Its members came to see me in London, and I was impressed by their ideas as well as their energy and

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drive. The committee has not submitted proposals for a national forum directly to the Department, but if it wanted to do so, I would give them careful consideration.

Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester): Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance, if not at the Dispatch Box then perhaps in writing, that when flood defences are constructed in Bewdley, they will not have a detrimental effect downstream in Worcester? When the Environment Agency announces plans for flood defences in Worcester, will he do all that he can to make sure that the cash is available to pay for them?

Mr. Morley: By 2003, expenditure on flood and coastal defences will have increased by about 50 per cent. since last year. We recognise that there is a need for more resources. I can assure my hon. Friend that the assessment of any flood defence scheme takes into account any possible detrimental effects downstream or within the catchment area. We are looking at the Severn as part of a catchment area study, which will include his area.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): The constituents of the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) have been in touch with me more than once because North Yorkshire shares the problem of flooding. I listened carefully to their suggestions on establishing a national flood defence forum, an idea that I commend to the Minister.

Surely the problem is that there is inadequate direction from Government. There is insufficient responsibility because far too many agencies are involved in the provision of flood defences. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have suffered from the problem in the past few months as a result of the October flooding. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government are not satisfied with the present arrangements and will introduce proposals so that central Government ensure that there is strong Executive power to improve and strengthen our flood defences?

Mr. Morley: Following the recommendations of the former Agriculture Committee, we are carrying out a full funding review of flood and coastal defence, the results of which will be published shortly. Flood and coastal defence is a shared responsibility between central and local government. There is an important element of local democracy because local councils are represented on regional flood defence committees. That is a strength although, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are sometimes weaknesses in local democracy and problems with local issues.

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