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3. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): What progress the Government's packaging recovery note scheme has made in encouraging the growth of new recycling initiatives. [63003]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): The UK's packaging recovery system, including the packaging waste recovery note and the packaging waste export recovery note, has succeeded in increasing the UK's packaging waste recovery level from some 30 per cent. in 1997 to 48 per cent. in 2001.

Gregory Barker: I welcome that increase, but the Minister would admit that we still lag way behind our European partners in recycling rates. Does he agree that that disappointing performance is not the fault of Wastepack, and can he give examples of further initiatives that have been taken since the new Secretary of State was appointed last year?

Mr. Meacher: I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman refers to relatively poor performance, given that I have said three times in the past 10 minutes that there has been an improvement of some 60 or 70 per cent. since 1997. Performance was extremely poor before 1997, and the hon. Gentleman's Government were responsible for that through their arrangements with industry. We have made a dramatic improvement, although it is not enough and I entirely accept that we must go considerably further. I agree that our performance is not outstanding compared with that of other EU member states, but it represents a major improvement and we are on a steady and rapid upward curve.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to Wastepack. We did not achieve our recovery obligation in 2001–02 because Wastepack, one of the 19 registered compliance companies, failed to meet its obligation by a large margin of 235,000 tonnes. It is based in Scotland, and is therefore a matter for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. I understand that the Scottish Minister for Environment and Rural Development is considering whether to withdraw approval from the scheme. However, the UK achieved its recycling objective and its material-specific targets. Despite the Wastepack episode, UK industry did well last year.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): What progress has been made in extending the packaging waste regulations to wood recycling? The introduction of packaging recovery notes—PRNs—would encourage recycling schemes for timber, thus reducing the amount of new timber that we must use in this country. As far as I know, the regulations do not extend to wood products.

Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The scheme has been primarily aimed at paper and board

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and has not concentrated on wood as a form of packaging. Discussions have taken place about that in Europe, and I agree with my hon. Friend that we need clearer targets and a clearer commitment to reduced wood packaging.

Foot and Mouth

4. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): If she will visit Throckmorton to discuss with local residents the management and consequences of the foot and mouth disease burial site there. [63005]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): That is not possible at the moment. My officers are working closely with the local community to develop site restoration and management plans; I anticipate an early, satisfactory conclusion to their efforts.

Mr. Luff: The hon. Gentleman is a compassionate, humane and diligent Minister. I therefore urge him to reflect again on the implications for local residents of the Department's actions at Throckmorton. There is growing anxiety that the cells in which 130,000 animal carcases have been buried were not properly constructed. Mysterious illnesses, such as throat infections, are striking people who live near the burial site. Their homes have become unsaleable through a combination of those circumstances and the Home Office's decision to go ahead with an asylum accommodation centre in the area.

The Department has established a precedent by buying two houses from local residents. The Government are renting them out on the open market, and effectively they thus cost them nothing. Will the Minister consider extending that precedent to other local residents who are in pressing personal need of making a move and selling their houses, which are currently unsaleable on the market?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case on behalf of his constituents, and we recognise that it was unpleasant for anybody who lived near any sites where animals were being disposed of at the height of the national foot and mouth emergency. However, the site is now closed and being grassed over. It is being properly run and monitored, and we have no evidence of pollution there. At the hon. Gentleman's request, our head of the foot and mouth claims unit has visited every family to listen to their anxieties.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have no legal obligation to purchase houses, and we examine the cases on their merits. We shall consider his representation carefully.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): As my hon. Friend knows, the village of Great Orton in my constituency contained the largest burial site in England. I want to ensure that there are no more such burial sites anywhere—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the question is closed and relates to the constituency of the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). However, there is a connection with the constituency of the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer).

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Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): For the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) mentioned, does not the Minister have a duty to ensure that the existence of the burial site at Throckmorton is fully taken into account by the forthcoming public inquiry into the asylum centre?

Mr. Morley: All the relevant issues will be taken into account in the public inquiry, and I am sure that if there is any relevance in relation to the use of the site, that will also be considered. We recognise that there is a duty on the Department in relation to the proper management of all the sites, including Great Orton, which my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) mentioned, and I believe that they are being monitored and run in a proper and responsible manner. We also have a duty to minimise the cost to the public purse, and we have to look at those issues as well.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Do Opposition Front Benchers wish to come in? The same rules apply. No, they do not.

Special Extinguishment Orders

5. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): When she will issue a consultation paper on special extinguishment orders. [63006]

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): I have now published proposals on how we will enable local authorities to close or divert alleyways on housing estates, where this is necessary to cut crime. I have also published proposals on the closure or diversion of footpaths on school premises to promote pupil and teacher safety.

Mr. Chaytor: May I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, and say how much the consultation paper will be welcomed by officers in the Bury division of the Greater Manchester police, who are keen to move to these special extinguishment orders? Does he agree, however, that it has taken rather a long time to get to this position? Will he assure the House that, when the consultation period concludes on 20 September, he will ensure that his Department analyses the response to the consultation as quickly as possible, so that police forces and highways authorities across the country can introduce the special extinguishment orders, in particular, to advance their work in crime prevention?

Alun Michael: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. Yes, this has taken a long time. That is partly because the requirements of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 are complex, precisely because there is a need to balance the closure of rights of way with the protection of them. The designation process is being used to ensure that there is no inappropriate use of this facility. I will certainly take a personal interest in ensuring that the results are analysed as soon as the consultation period is over, and that the facility becomes available to police and local authorities as quickly as possible. We have accelerated the process, although I agree with my hon. Friend that this has taken longer than I would have liked.

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Electrical Goods

6. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): If she will make a statement regarding her Department's strategy for recycling electrical goods. [63007]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): The Government are committed to increasing the reuse and recycling of all types of waste, including electrical goods. We welcome the EU waste electrical and electronic equipment directive—the WEEE directive—which may be adopted towards the end of this year, as its objectives are in line with our national strategies on waste.

Mr. Randall: Has the Minister made any estimate of the costs to local authorities of implementing the directive?

Mr. Meacher: The additional costs, over and above current practice, are estimated at between £190 million and £390 million. I hasten to add that the higher figure is entirely dependent on the adoption of the most expensive form of implementing the directive, which would come about if one of the requirements set down by the European Parliament in its vote on this issue were to be adopted—namely, the banning of the disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment in the household waste stream. That has yet to be discussed, and there will be conciliation on this matter. The directive is still in draft; it will probably not be decided before the end of the year, and it remains to be seen whether that option will be adopted. It might be better to regard the additional costs as of the order of £200 million, and that will, of course, be taken into account in the current spending round.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): The Minister will be familiar with the refrigerator situation. This week, we have learned that television sets might also be caught under the toxic waste provisions of the landfill directive that will come into force shortly. The recycling of television sets might seem rather strange, but, bearing in mind the change from analogue to digital, is any work being done to find out whether, rather than disposing of lots of television sets, some of them could be recycled as part of the digital switch-over?

Mr. Meacher: I presume that the hon. Gentleman meant recycling television sets, not recycling programmes, which goes on already.

The aim of the directive is not just to achieve a more environmentally sustainable form of disposal. The objective is to secure the recycling and reuse of component parts. That is what the directive is designed to do, and I believe that it will have a considerable effect.

As the hon. Gentleman was good enough to make the refrigerator comparison, let me again make it absolutely clear that the circumstances involving fridges were unique. We were given only seven months to implement an arrangement for which we did not have the technology. It consisted of a regulation that came into force in exactly the same form everywhere in the Community. Member states have greater flexibility in transposing WEEE because it is a directive. The current position is very different from that involving fridges, and I do not believe

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that those problems will occur again in the case of the WEEE directive or those relating to the end of life of vehicles, hazardous waste or landfill.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I wish the industry and the general public could share the Minister's optimism, but his record to date does not encourage such an expectation.

Will the Minister confirm that from next month European law will require every one of the 2 million television sets that are disposed of annually in this country to be treated as hazardous waste? That will require their collection and disposal by specially licensed operators. Is the Minister confident that the new arrangements for licensing and disposal will be ready on time—or was the spokesman for Dixons right when he said earlier this week that televisions could start mounting up like fridges?

Mr. Meacher: I should be very surprised if a representative of Dixons, which is a very responsible company, had made such a loose and idle comment. That is certainly not the case.

Before I answer the hon. Gentleman's question may I, with grace and enthusiasm, welcome him to his new position? I am sure he will do very well as Opposition spokesman, and I am sure he will maintain that post for a very long time.

As I have said, the WEEE directive is still in draft. We do not know the final details, and probably will not know them until the autumn. The hon. Gentleman, however, also referred to the hazardous waste directive. There has been a delay in the determination of exactly what the waste acceptance criteria are, but the Commission recently completed that determination—rather late, but not as late as previously—and the criteria will of course be adhered to.

I believe that the criteria are manageable, and that there will be no special difficulties. The WEEE directive will not come into operation until 2004, so we have nearly two years, and I am sure we can manage the criteria satisfactorily.

Mr. Lidington: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his gracious words of welcome, but I feel that the phrase he used earlier—"loose and idle"—in connection with the statement by the Dixons spokesman could serve as a summary of the Select Committee's verdict on his policy on refrigerators, which can be found in its recent report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) asked about the costs of the WEEE directive, which, as the Minister says, is due to come into force in about two years and will affect everything from freezers to electronic greetings cards. It will be complicated and expensive to administer. The industry and local authorities are asking the Government to make clear whether Ministers expect the costs of administration and recycling to be borne primarily by manufacturers, retailers or local authorities. The Minister has two years in which to give people time to plan. Will he now state clearly on whom he wishes the burden of those additional costs to fall?

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We are currently hearing statements from the industry like that of the director of development at Biffa Waste Services, who said—again, earlier this week—

Is that not an accurate description by an industry spokesman of the lackadaisical and complacent approach that the Minister and his colleagues are taking?

Mr. Meacher: I did see that alleged quotation from Peter Jones of Biffa Waste Services, and I was extremely surprised by it because I have always regarded him as a thoughtful representative of the industry. It was an extremely loose and rather silly statement, and when I see him I shall make that clear.

The truth is that the directive requires member states to set up a system for the separate collection of waste electronic and electrical equipment, with a target for private households of 4 kg on average per inhabitant per year. We have two years to implement that, but as I have already made clear, changes could be made in the common position as it was left by the European Environment Council. In particular, the European Parliament has proposed that there should be mandatory individual producer responsibility, or collective producer responsibility if the former is disproportionately costly. That is one unknown. Secondly, it is proposing a higher collection target of 6 kg per head of the population and, thirdly, the banning of the disposal of waste electronic and electrical equipment in the household waste stream. That would certainly be very costly.

It is impossible to calculate the final costs until the exact form of the directive has been decided. It is certainly not true that there has been no consultation with the industry. I cannot understand how any responsible industrial representative should say that. I have had discussions with the industry about this matter and my officials have had many more. I expect to have still more in future. We are prepared to look at the matter and to consider industry's requirements. Indeed, we want to do all that we can to assist industry, but comments such as that from Peter Jones are not helpful and not accurate.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does the Minister agree that when Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister, she was the one who laid the basis for all these tinpot directives that he is having to deal with now, backed not only by the Tories who were in the House at the time, but by those tinpot fanatical Liberals? This lousy, rotten Common Market has a lot to answer for. There are a few moments when I have the desire to rush across there and tell them to get stuffed. Then I get back to reality and say, "Thank God I voted against it all."

Mr. Meacher: The only point where I can agree with my hon. Friend is that I also voted against in 1974. I have changed my mind, and quite strongly, particularly with regard to the environmental acquis.

Whatever one feels about the details of some of these directives, and I agree that they are contentious and we contend many of them, the thrust of the range of recycling and recovery directives has enormously improved the environment in this country. There is no question about

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that. The state of our water, air and contamination levels have significantly improved. That is largely due to Europe. That does not mean that everything it does is right—I certainly do not think that either—and we need to be much more active, and industry needs to be involved at a much earlier stage in producing the changes that we want. Change should not just be imposed by Brussels.

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