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6 Mar 2003 : Column 944—continued

Waste Incineration

3. Bob Russell (Colchester): If she will make it her policy to prevent local authorities from transferring waste for incineration to other local authority areas that have waste plans opposed to incineration. [101112]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): To be brief, no. I should add that decisions on the transfer of waste and its incineration are for local authorities to take within the framework provided by national policy as set out in "Waste Strategy 2000" and the guidance on municipal waste management strategies.

Bob Russell : Presumably, the Government feel that incineration is a safe method of getting rid of waste. Does the Minister agree that local councils that wish to have their waste incinerated should have incinerators in their own backyard, not carry the waste 40, 50 or 60 miles to local authorities with proper recycling facilities and collections? Colchester is a visionary council that is threatened with two incinerators. Surely the best way to ensure that no councils incinerate is to say that a council that wishes to do so must have the incinerator locally, not carry the waste 40, 50 or 60 miles.

Mr. Meacher: I know that the hon. Gentleman has been involved in the issue locally and has taken his concerns a considerable way, including to court. The original draft of the Essex waste plan included proposals for incinerators around the county, but after extensive public protests, consultants were appointed to carry out a public consultation, which is being assessed. The whole place of incineration within the plan is now being reconsidered, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased about that. I entirely support the proximity principle to which he referred, but ultimately it is a matter for local authorities to decide.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Will my right hon. Friend be even firmer than he has been today in standing up to the Liberal Democrats, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who take a remarkably negative approach towards incineration? As he will know, I am a long-term campaigner for good environmental solutions for waste, and the fact is that incineration does play a part, especially in relation to energy from waste solutions, in tackling the waste in our towns and cities.

Mr. Meacher: The Government strongly support a waste management hierarchy whereby the prime goal is to reduce the generation of waste in the first place. Then, where waste is generated, to recycle, re-use, recover or compost it and then—and only if none of those options

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is possible—to consider incineration and, conceivably, landfill. We have to meet very tough landfill directive targets by 2016.

Our goal is the maximisation of recycling. Whether all the waste generated can be recycled is a moot point, but incineration will be chosen only where it is the best practicable environmental option—by that, I mean where it provides most benefits or least damage to the environment at acceptable cost, both in the long term and the short term, and that, very importantly, it will be considered only where it can be demonstrated that it will not crowd out future recycling options.

Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): The Minister will know of Wealden district council's success in reducing the need for incineration through its outstanding recycling programme. It is one of the most successful in the country and recycles almost half the household waste that it collects. Does he realise that the animal waste by-products order, to which the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) referred, has put the scheme in jeopardy because it would prevent the inclusion of any meat products in the waste for recycling? That is clearly an unrealistic target. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that that unrealistic policy will not undermine the scheme and mean that we have to go further down the incineration route?

Mr. Meacher: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already answered that question. I am aware that the animal waste by-products order, as it was originally drafted, could be construed as a constraint on composting. It originated in the Government's determination to block all channels that might conceivably resuscitate foot and mouth disease. However, the original drafting went further than intended and could constrain recycling. We therefore hope to table an amendment, which will ensure that there is no chance of causing another outbreak of foot and mouth and protect the genuine and desirable objective of maximising recycling.

Norman Baker (Lewes): On the proximity principle, does the Minister accept that transporting waste long distances for incineration means that those who generate it have less incentive to minimise it? Perhaps he knows that Brighton and Hove council is adamant both that it will not have an incinerator in its backyard and that my constituency will deal with its waste. Is not that another reason to discourage incineration? Is not it time for an incineration tax to support robustly the waste management hierarchy that the Minister proposes? The money raised could be used for doorstep recycling for every house in the country.

Mr. Meacher: I have already said that the Government do not support any significant expansion of incineration. However, we do not rule out the possibility that it may be necessary in some cases. That cannot be refuted. Only 14 municipal solid waste incinerators exist in this country, and we incinerate 8 per cent. of our waste. Let us consider the green countries, if I may use that description. Denmark incinerates 50 per cent., the Netherlands 41 per cent., and Sweden 35 per cent. We intend to maintain our low level.

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I strongly support the proximity principle, and the criteria for gathering waste to feed an incinerator would be considered in any application. The proximity principle is a key point in that.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The Minister has broad support for his emphasis on recycling. However, does he accept that well-designed, carefully monitored incineration plants that provide heat from waste have a place in our waste disposal strategy? Will he advocate that strongly against vested interests?

Mr. Meacher: The Government have already made it clear that there are two criteria for applications for an incinerator. First, its size must be appropriate: it should be smaller rather than larger. Secondly, it should provide combined heat and power facilities when appropriate. The criteria for judging applications already take account of my hon. Friend's point.

Warm Front

4. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): If she will make a statement on the funding of the Warm Front programme. [101113]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Final decisions on allocations for Warm Front in 2003–04 are now being considered. Resources are tight and we will face difficult decisions. However, we are on track to meet our public service agreement target of assisting 600,000 households between 2001 and 2004, and we remain committed to achieving our other targets for eradicating fuel poverty.

Dr. Cable : Two weeks after the Prime Minister put fuel poverty at the centre of energy strategy and the independent Fuel Poverty Advisory Group said that a 50 per cent. increase in the budget was needed to achieve the Government's target, why are contractors being told that they can expect budget cuts in the next financial year? Is not the Department making a fool of the Prime Minister?

Margaret Beckett: No. There is some confusion in the reaction to the report, which covers the longer-term prospects. The Government have set ambitious targets as we approach, for example, 2010 and 2015. We remain committed to trying to achieve them. However, in a sense, we are ahead of our current targets. As I said, our PSA target is 600,000 households by 2004, and more than 500,000 households have already been assisted through Warm Front. When one takes into account all Government action rather than one specific scheme, an increase will take place this year.

We would like to do more; we wanted to put even more resources into the scheme. We shall probably not be in a position to do that, but I repeat that decisions have not yet been made.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): If Warm Front requires more funding, should it not first put its own house in order? I am spending masses of time going round in circles with Warm Front, Lionheart, East Coast Gas, Dearle Henderson, Ideal Boilers and

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DEFRA, trying to get a boiler in the home of an 83-year-old woman constituent working. A previous boiler worked but the new boiler does not. There are indications that the boilers from Ideal are known to be defective when they are installed. The whole thing needs sorting.

Margaret Beckett: I am sorry to hear of the problem that my hon. Friend identified. If he finds that raising the matter in the House does not result in speedy activity, I urge him to raise the matter with me again and we will see if there is something that we can do to assist. In the longer term, we are reassessing the impact of the pilots to make sure that the money being made available is used as effectively as possible.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): The Government are required by law to implement a strategy that will lead to the end of fuel poverty for the vulnerable by 2010. The energy White Paper states:

of the Government's energy policy. One of those objectives is

Why is it that the White Paper fails to set targets for improving energy efficiency and to allocate any new resources for achieving fuel poverty targets? Is not the consequence that 3 million people will continue to be condemned to live in homes that are not, in the Government's own words, "adequately and affordably" heated?

Margaret Beckett: I know that memories are sometimes short in the House but when the hon. Gentleman's party was in Government, it presided over a tripling of fuel poverty involving 4 million people. He said that the Government "are required by law", as though it were a burden imposed by somebody else. It was actually this Government who placed that provision on the statute book. We are not only implementing it but ahead of the present target. However, I do not dissent from his observation that the White Paper identifies the enormous contribution that energy efficiency can make, not only to resolving fuel poverty but to the effective running of the economy and the prosperity and competitiveness of the business sector. Energy efficiency is extremely important and the Government remain committed to pursuing it with as much force as we can. Other agencies, energy companies and local authorities are involved in dealing with that issue as well as the Government directly.

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