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7.28 pm

Mr. Kaufman: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to thank the House for an excellent debate. I hope that we can now leave behind both self-justification and recrimination, and concentrate on getting these things right for the future. I am encouraged by what the Minister for Sport said twice in his winding-up speech about the need for a structure for events. Our Select Committee has a full programme, and we hope that we will not have to return to these issues in the near future, but if we have to, we will. In that case, this show will run and run, even if, sadly, our athletes will not on home ground.

Debate concluded, pursuant to Resolution [26 November].

Question deferred, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54 (4) and (5) (Consideration of estimates).

11 Dec 2001 : Column 776

Waste Management

[Relevant documents: Fifth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 2000–01, on Delivering Sustainable Waste Management, HC 36–1; and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Office of the Rail Regulator, the Office of Water Services and Ordnance Survey: Annual Report 2001, Cm 5105.]

Motion made and Question proposed,

7.29 pm

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the fifth report of what was, in the last Parliament, the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, on delivering sustainable waste management. Before I refer to the report itself, I should declare an interest: this autumn I have been chairing a Select Committee-style inquiry in Newcastle, organised by BAN Waste and supported by Newcastle city council, for which I am to receive a fee. That has been an interesting experience as I have had an opportunity to hear a lot of evidence on applying waste management to the locality of Newcastle. I have also had a chance to see how a local inquiry into such issues is conducted.

A lot of people have talked about how local authorities can organise Select Committee-style scrutiny and how people's panels and similar things can be established. I certainly learned a lot from trying to participate as the chair of an inquiry outside the parliamentary framework. One cannot, of course, compel witnesses, and one is dependent on the effort of individuals. I have been impressed with the effort that people from BAN Waste have put in and the support that Newcastle city council has provided. I look forward to the publication of the inquiry's report on 7 January.

As for the Select Committee report, I shall begin by placing on record our thanks to our two advisers, Dominic Hogg and David Mansell, and to all the Committee staff who as always worked hard to help us prepare the questions and the report. I also thank my colleagues on the Committee for their hard work during the course of the inquiry. I have a slight whinge about the Government. At the end of the process of producing a Select Committee report, we usually get a response from the Government. Sadly, on this occasion, we did not. The rules are supposed to be that we get a response within two months of the Select Committee reporting. I accept that the election intervened and it was perfectly reasonable for the response to be a bit late. However, we still have not had a response and it is getting very late. I suppose that the Government have the excuse that Select Committees in this Parliament are different from those in the last Parliament, but I still think that we should have had one. I hope that the new Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will pursue these issues, because a sustainable waste management policy is important for this country.

The world's present use of resources is not sustainable. The developed world—the richest 20 per cent.—uses 80 per cent. of the world's resources and creates a vast

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amount of pollution. The least developed parts of the world use 20 per cent. of those resources. That injustice cannot go on; I do not see how, if the less developed world raises its standards and spends as much on resources and creates as much pollution as the developed world, there can be sustainability for the whole world. We must look at other ways of dealing with the problem. A small number of people suggest that people in the developed world could accept lower standards of living so that there would be more resources for the less developed parts of the world. I do not accept that most of my constituents would volunteer for such a reduction in their standard of living. The developed world must try to find ways in which it can do the same things that it is doing now, but using far fewer resources.

People talk about factor 4 or factor 10—the idea that we should do what we are doing now, but using only 25 per cent. or 10 per cent. of resources. That would be a substantial challenge, but it is necessary if we are to manage waste in a sustainable world. People often say that it is impossible to achieve that sort of reduction in resources; I do not believe that that is true. There are cases in which, in a relatively short period, the developed world has suddenly started to use far fewer resources to achieve something. The best example of that is computers. When I was first elected to the House, I used to go on visits in my constituency and elsewhere and see people who were delighted to show me a big room of steel cabinets in which computers were operating. Someone would try to explain what was going on, but I half sensed that they did not have a clue. I certainly did not have a clue, but everyone made polite noises. Those computers used a huge amount of metal and other resources, but the same thing can now be contained in a machine on a desktop; in some cases, portable computers can operate with equivalent power.

It is therefore possible to achieve factor 10. When talking about a sustainable waste management policy, it is important to look at the use of resources to begin with. There is a moral imperative to make better use of our resources, but there is also a strong economic argument for doing so. If we can do something with fewer resources, we will have a considerable competitive edge in the world. The first thing that we should do in the waste hierarchy is minimise the resources that we use and the pollution that is created. We must then consider re-use, recycling and composting, recovering energy from waste and, finally, disposal. It is disappointing that the Government are not doing more on minimisation and are not giving a stronger lead to organisations like the regional development agencies in looking at ways in which we can minimise the waste that is created and the resources that are being used.

In their waste strategy for 2000, the Government set recycling targets. On the one hand, those targets were pretty feeble and were not at all challenging but, on the other, I must give credit to the Government because setting those targets has proved a substantial spur to an awful lot of local authorities that were not taking recycling seriously, encouraging them to start things like kerbside collections. The targets are minimal, but I credit the Government with encouraging some local authorities to get started. When the Minister for the Environment responds, will he explain how he is working on the

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question of markets for waste paper, glass and plastics? Now that the collection process has been kick-started, the price that local authorities can get for waste materials or, if you like, resources, is crucial. I understand that the Government are looking at giving a grant to encourage another waste paper mill to begin operating; I hope that the Minister will tell us exactly what is happening. Having kick-started many local authorities into getting on with recycling, I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will look hard at the question of markets, and that they are doing much more to buy recycled materials.

I hope that the Minister can give us a progress report on the waste and resource action programme or WRAP. When he appeared before the Select Committee, he placed great emphasis on the fact that WRAP would be one of the organisations that would start to make the Government's waste management programme sustainable. So far, it seems to have got some nice note paper and had one or two meetings, but few members of the general public have heard of it and I am not sure what it has achieved so far. I look forward to the Minister explaining what progress has been made.

Further down the hierarchy, the question of incineration arises. I am not someone who thinks that it is impossible to create an incinerator without emissions; I think that it is possible to create such an incinerator that will work, but poor management in recent years and the mixing of bottom ash and fly ash mean that few people can have confidence in incinerators.

My argument against incinerators—or combined heat and power, as the people who are in favour of it like to call it—is that to build an incinerator, one has to borrow the money over 15 to 20 years. That means ensuring the security of supply—committing the country or a locality to produce sufficient waste over the next 20 years to justify building the incinerator. That is a damning indictment of a CHP programme. If we are to have incinerators, the case must be made for a steadily diminishing supply of calorific material to burn in them. As a result, the economics become very doubtful.

Whatever one says about emissions, my impression is that no one wants an incinerator or a combined heat and power plant near their home. If the Government intend to encourage them, we need a demonstration combined heat and power plant located somewhere central—perhaps within half a mile of the Palace of Westminster. Such plants should be in town centres, where the hot water generated can be used. It is wrong to think that a CHP plant can be sited at the back of some depressed housing area where no one will make a fuss.

If we adopt a policy of building CHP plants, we should look for town centre locations and demonstrate that the plants need not be out of the way. However, the main question is the security of supply of rubbish. It will be an indictment of us as a nation if we are producing as much rubbish in 20 years' time as we are now.

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