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14 Mar 2003 : Column 548—continued

Mr. Drew: The hon. Gentleman is stealing part of my thunder on the reintroduction of deposit schemes. Does he accept that the scheme in Denmark operates through the full involvement of the manufacturers? For example, every bottle that is sold by Carlsberg carries a deposit. The only problem is people bringing in beer from Germany, which does not have a deposit scheme, although I know that an attempt is being made to cope with that as well.

Norman Baker: That is a valid point that shows the value of having an EU rather than a nation state solution to these matters, which, I am afraid, will be second best environmentally. I am afraid, too, that the EU sometimes goes for a solution that is the lowest common denominator rather than the highest common factor, if I remember my mathematics correctly from a long time ago. We need to do more there.

We could do more in terms of reuse and industry. There is an innovative scheme, which I am happy to say I was part of, in East Sussex when I was chair of economic development. We went round each firm on an industrial estate to identify the waste that they were producing and what they were doing with it. We found that a lot of the waste being thrown away was being bought as virgin material by other companies on the estate, so simply by matching up individual businesses we not only reduced the waste stream, but saved them money as they were getting material free of charge that, otherwise, they would be purchasing. If anyone needs convincing, that shows that helping the environment also helps businesses and the economy. That message, I hope, will also go through to the Treasury.

The EU landfill directive is coming up, and it is right that we are seeking to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Of course, landfill is simply a mediaeval way of dealing with unwanted material—simply chucking it in a hole in the ground. It is not a sophisticated way of dealing with waste. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford is right: if we do not deal with the alternatives to landfill now through a proper recycling and reuse strategy, a massive splurge of incineration capacity will

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be built. We are at the crossroads. Landfill is being stopped, but what will happen to the waste that has traditionally gone to landfill?

We must put that recycling and reuse strategy in place now. Otherwise, incineration will take off. When incineration has taken off and 40, 50 or 60 per cent. of our waste is being dealt with by it, we can all just go home, because there will be no prospect of achieving a significant recycling capacity in this country. One reason for that is that incinerators are hungry mouths. They operate 24 hours a day and, like nuclear power stations, they have a particular capacity to which they want to operate. To ensure that they do that, they also want to take more and more waste.

Mr. Simon Thomas: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that, under the waste strategy approved by the National Assembly, local authorities in Wales are asked specifically not to tie themselves into long-term contracts, particularly regarding incinerators, in order to remain flexible enough to deal with the issues of recycling and reuse to which he refers. Surely, whether the Bill goes through or not, it would be a good idea to apply a similar policy in England and, indeed, in Scotland.

Norman Baker: I absolutely agree and congratulate the Welsh Assembly if that is the strategy that it has adopted. It is important that we do not commit ourselves to decisions now up and down the country that in 10 years may be deeply regretted but of which there is no way out. That is the danger with long-term incineration contracts. Incineration is not simply an alternative to recycling that is less desirable. Incineration undermines recycling by removing the recycling market and directing the waste elsewhere, where it will stay for the next 25 years. That is one of the reasons why incineration is undesirable. Another reason is the potential harmful emissions, to which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford referred.

There is also the proximity principle, to which I know the Minister subscribes. That principle is that those who generate the waste should dispose of it and be seen to dispose of it, so that they are aware of the cycle of waste. The trouble with incineration is that people can produce waste, put it on a lorry, send it 50, 60, 70, 100 miles somewhere else and have no responsibility for that waste—it is out of their area and they feel no responsibility. That is what is happening with Brighton and Hove, which prides itself on being a city. It is happy to be a city, providing it can dump its waste outside, whether it be sewage, household waste or anything else. It wants it to be dumped in East Sussex. It treats parts of East Sussex like a Soweto to deal with its waste, which it is not prepared to deal with itself. If it wants to be a city, it has to be a city in its entirety and take responsibility for all aspects of being a city.

Mr. Mark Field: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, which is well made. There is a tendency for urban areas to take a view that they can allow their waste to go elsewhere. Equally, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), a number of London boroughs have been at the forefront

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of recycling. In the city of Westminster, which I represent, there is nowhere to have a landfill site, other than potentially in Hyde park. None the less, there is a commitment to recycling both from the local authority and from individuals living there.

Norman Baker: I am happy to accept that point. I am not criticising all urban areas. Some are innovative and constructive. Others have genuine problems in terms of space and that is recognised; that is particularly the case in some London boroughs. However, it is not the case in Brighton and Hove, where there are clearly sites that could be used.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): I entirely associate myself with those remarks, not least because some of the rubbish from Brighton and Hove seems destined, if certain people have their way, to come into my constituency, in another part of East Sussex, across miles and miles of very bad roads. We are determined to resist it.

Norman Baker: I am grateful for that intervention. It makes the point that it is not a sensible environmental solution to transport waste long distances. If we are looking for environmental solutions, we need to minimise transportation of waste, not encourage long journeys on unsuitable roads from one end of the county to the other.

The Government unfortunately have implicitly supported incineration by the financial structures that they have set up. I am sure the Minister for the Environment has not given support for incineration but those structures are in place. If one puts down the train track, that is the way the train goes, unfortunately. East Sussex, which I am most familiar with, has been given borrowing credits that encourage it directly to go down the incineration route. Indeed, it has to use those credits by the end of this month. It has signed a contract with Onyx Aurora this week, in the teeth of opposition from thousands and thousands of people across East Sussex, particularly from Newhaven in my constituency, weeks before a public inquiry is to begin into the waste plan, which is looking at whether an incinerator should be built. That is the sort of topsy-turvy world we now have. Local authorities, whether they wish to or not, are encouraged to go down the incineration route. The credits and the financial support available for incineration seem to be greater than that available for recycling. The Government need to deal with that matter.

It can be done. We need three things: the will, the money and the markets. I believe that the will is there from the vast majority of the population, and I suspect from the vast majority of Members of Parliament from all parties; we have heard support from all four parties represented in the Chamber today.

On the money aspect, figures have been suggested: £400 million per annum was the suggestion from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford. That figure may or may not be right but we must take into account the economic cost of not doing something, and the environmental cost, which is also an economic cost, of disposing of waste inappropriately. We never value the environment properly in economic terms. There is also the cost of supporting incinerators, which is the

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alternative. If one started to take those externalities into account, the £400 million figure would start to come down.

Let us face it. The Government suddenly produced a cheque from nowhere for £650 million to bail out British Energy to support nuclear power. They can do that with a flourish of the pen. That would pay for doorstep recycling twice over up and down the country.

Mr. Simon Thomas: Iraq.

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman mentions Iraq. I do not want to go down that line. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be awash with blank cheques for his own schemes but not for doorstep recycling. Perhaps the Minister for the Environment could draw attention to the blank cheques that the Chancellor has been waving around and see whether there is one going for doorstep recycling and for this Bill. Therefore, I do not believe that cost is an issue. The cost is not that great in real terms. The Government seem to have money. When they want to use their cheque-book somewhere, they find money to do so.

On the markets issue, it is in some ways the most difficult to deal with. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford. I do not believe that that aim is unachievable. However, there will be difficulties if one has one recycling point which is in south Wales for aluminium. It will mean massive lorry journeys. There will be difficulties if one has a sudden increase in the recycling of one particular commodity and no market has developed for it. Therefore, careful planning is required. It is by no mean insurmountable.

Part of the answer comes back to the Chancellor. He can do a lot by means of economic instruments. He can encourage particular directions to be taken. People tend to follow their pockets. If there is a good reason financially for doing something, they will do it. If it makes sense financially to follow a recycling path, people will do so, so we need the Chancellor to look carefully at what he can do to support the Bill. He should not leave local authorities in the lurch, where they are good at collecting but then not able to find a market for that.

I visited a council in the north-west recently. It was dismantling a tower block and wanted to deal with the windows from the block. It told me that it cost £5 to landfill the windows and £8 to recycle them. That is completely the wrong economic message to give. I accept that in that case the landfill tax will help, so the Chancellor has got that right, but he could use other instruments to encourage recycling and markets.

In the long term, we need to look at a resource tax. We should be looking at giving a disincentive to use virgin material and more of an incentive to use material already in use on the planet. I suspect that that is a long way away but that seems environmentally to be the proper solution in the long term.

I congratulate again the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford on her Bill. I know that she has worked hard on it. She has had strong support from Friends of the Earth and others, as she graciously acknowledged. She has full support from Liberal Democrat Members, and I wish her Bill well.

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