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14 Mar 2003 : Column 556—continued

11.28 am

Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree): I welcome the opportunity to support my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), and I congratulate her on introducing this important Bill. I appreciate that brevity is the order of the day, and I intend to impose my own programme motion on my remarks. However, I cannot waste the opportunity to say a few words about my own district council. Braintree district council, although not necessarily a pioneer, has made great strides in introducing recycling in the town of Witham, which has 10,000 households, and it expects 50 per cent. of household waste to be diverted away from landfill sites. Across the entire Braintree district, some 16 per cent. of waste is currently recycled, and the council is on target to reach a figure of 48 per cent. in the next four years. It receives £1.4 million in grants from the national waste minimisation and recycling fund. I sometimes think that such things would be better known if they had simpler names; nevertheless, such grants must be incredibly helpful to our local authorities.

As others have said, recycling becomes much easier for people when we move away from bank collection to doorstep collection, One has to have a certain devotion and enthusiasm to take disposables to a bank, but devotion is not necessary when one can simply put them in a separate container within one's own household curtilage. Through that process, numbers are gained at an immeasurable pace.

The avoidance of incineration and landfill is the overriding attraction of recycling. In my constituency, the old Rivenhall airfield is one of the prospective sites for an incinerator. It is euphemistically referred to as a brownfield site, because the United States air force happened to use it during the war for the purpose of bombing Germany, but in essence it is agricultural land. If the incinerator is built in that rural location, it will contaminate not only the air, which is a matter of scientific analysis, but the environment and local residents' quality of life, through the burden it will impose on the roads and local facilities.

I am most encouraged to hear London Members on both sides of the House tell the House of the strides that London boroughs are taking towards recycling. Since Roman times, my county, Essex, has been the dumping ground for London's waste. It is about time that that ended, but it never will if incineration becomes the order of the day. As the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) told the House, the incinerator has an appetite that can never be satisfied—it demands ever more waste to be fed to it. What an easy option it is for an urban authority to put its waste out of sight and out of mind by sending it many miles down the road to one of our constituencies.

I wish the Bill every success. It appears to have all-party support, and we must be mindful not to mutilate it in Committee. I am sure it will become one of the most important pieces of legislation that we pass this Session.

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11.32 am

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I, too, shall keep my comments brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on introducing the Bill. I confess that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), who is no longer in his place, I have been unlucky in the ballot for private Members' Bills in my two years as a Member of Parliament. Had I come as high as the hon. Lady, I would probably have considered a recycling measure. She will know that in October, I introduced a debate in Westminster Hall on recycling of household waste by individuals.

Much of the effort must come from the heart. Although the Bill refers to powers and duties for local authorities, we have to inculcate a sense of responsibility among the population at large. Inevitably, a carrot and stick approach will be used—the stick of higher taxes, which might be levied on supermarkets and manufacturers, and the carrot of encouraging people as far as possible to do the right thing. All MPs who visit schools or have school parties visit us here will know that young children have a positive attitude towards recycling, which is heartening.

When I was growing up and as a young adult, I was fairly indifferent to recycling. As has been said, the big push towards recycling has become a mainstream political activity only in the past decade or so. Many of us remember the European elections of 1989, in which the Green party scored great success. That heightened awareness of environmental issues, of which recycling is one. I take it to be part of my responsibility as a local Member of Parliament to avail myself of the recycling facilities in the City of Westminster. I probably cut a rather sad figure as I go to collect my newspapers on a Sunday morning carrying a basket—courtesy of Westminster city council—full of newspapers, bottles and other paraphernalia, which I dump into the various bottle banks and other recycling sites. That is a positive thing that all Members of Parliament should do, and it is encouraging that it is now being done by far more people generally.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) commented on the European position. Although I accept that we have to compare like with like, there is little doubt that this country's figures are extremely disappointing. Some weeks ago, I went to Germany on a short lecture tour. I was struck, especially in the former East Germany—a socialist command economy from 1945 to 1989—by the enormous strides that had been made in recycling. The people with whom I stayed made it clear to me that what we call recycling they call secondary raw materials; they took the view that recycling was essential in view of the scarcity of raw materials. On every railway platform, and throughout all the main towns, are large bins segregated for paper, plastics and other types of waste.

We in this country should look at the example set by much of Europe, because we are to a large extent the dirty man of Europe. Various statistics have been quoted. At the time of my debate last year, about 10 per cent. of our household waste was recycled, and the figure of 12 per cent. has been mentioned today. Those are extremely low rates compared with those in much of the rest of Europe. In places such as Germany, roughly 50 per cent. of household waste is recycled, and I imagine that the rate for municipal waste is similar.

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The Bill sensibly calls for doorstep recycling to be introduced by 2010—an ambitious but none the less realistic target, which focuses our minds firmly on what we need to do. I am slightly concerned about one or two of the caveats mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, especially those relating to clause 3. I have reservations about the costs and the provision of funding to local authorities, especially in a general economic climate that might become more difficult for this country in coming years. As a London MP, I was disappointed to see that the new funding formula might result in several London boroughs of all political colours suffering as the funding for environmental, cultural and protection services is cut. That is the experience in the City of Westminster, and I hope that all London MPs will do their bit, irrespective of party allegiance, to ensure as far as possible that as the new funding formula hits the capital and the south-east, funding for environmental and recycling services is ring-fenced.

My focus is on London, and is not party political in nature. I am a great walker throughout London, and I have seen the successes that we have achieved. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) is no longer in the Chamber, because she is right to say that Camden is a terrific success story. As one walks though the streets of Camden, one sees the many households that have recycling paraphernalia outside and are committed to recycling. The same is true of the London borough of Haringey—another Labour authority—and the borough of Lewisham. Similarly, one can see a strong commitment to recycling when one walks the streets of Blackheath, Deptford and down into Catford.

We have to do more. In London there is a high level of education on the subject, which is a positive starting point. I hope that the Bill will play its part in ensuring that we put some pressure on local authorities. However, to return to my initial point, much of the effort must come from the heart; there must be a sense, shared by everyone, that this is our responsibility and that we have only a leasehold on this planet. As the hon. Members for Lewes and for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) said, parts of the country outside London feel that over the decades they have been treated as dumping grounds. In Essex there are many landfill sites, and an increasing number of incinerators are planned. As far as incineration is concerned, we are at a crossroads. Let us hope that the Bill will play an important part, and that we make the right decision for the future.

11.39 am

Sue Doughty (Guildford): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on the work that she has done, not only in securing this debate but in preparing the Bill so as to get as much support as possible from all sides. Like everyone else, I will support the Bill—and in Committee we will have to remember that any amendments must be constructive and acceptable, so that it becomes law. Without this Bill, we will lose an important part of our recycling strategy.

One problem with recycling and waste management in this country is the fact that we are victims of our economic success. We buy things and we throw them away. Through television, children become used to the idea that always having the latest toys and gadgets, and

14 Mar 2003 : Column 559

always having over-packaged food—in fact, people are probably paying more for the packaging than for the food—is acceptable. It is hard to undermine that idea as people grow up, but we will have to. It is rather like what happened when I was young, when we were encouraged to eat what was on our plates because we had to think of the starving in Africa—although thinking of the starving in Africa did not work, because we still did not learn to like tapioca. However, we will have to do something.

We have to look at what other countries are doing, especially the poorest countries. We have talked about chucking things away, but those of us who have been to Africa, or to some Asian countries, will have seen how they deal with goods. They are constantly repairing, reusing and cannibalising goods. We should learn more about that. However, there is the problem of making goods attractive. The recycling exhibition yesterday not only showed us some virtuous things to do, but showed some jolly attractive things to do, too. It was very encouraging. I visited one of the plastics recyclers last year and saw how it dealt with fairly contaminated plastic—recycling it for use in underground pipes, for example, for which a particular quality was needed. Why is it that Belgium sends its plastic bottles to us for recycling, but we send ours somewhere else?

We have to think about the huge amount of plastic that is used to bottle water. It seems ludicrous. This week in my constituency, I was awarding prizes at an water company's event, looking into the ways in which water was delivered to households. It was a good competition. We have to let our children know that the water that comes out of the tap is of such a quality that, unless it is tainted by chlorination or something, they should think carefully before buying yet another bottle. They can fill bottles from the tap, and then keep them in the fridge if they want, but they should not keep buying bottled water. We have some of the cleanest water in the world. What we do is a farce. We have to minimise waste, not do things that create more waste.

We want the Government to do a lot on waste management. This debate is not about the shortfalls of the Government and I do not intend to turn it into one, although it is tempting. We have to be careful about economic instruments. Some good points have been made about the fact that we have to increase the landfill tax rate massively. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) said, we have to introduce a resource tax and an incineration tax, so that we are not feeding the beast of the incinerator. We have to reduce the dreadful landfill mountains, and the misery of the people who live close by them. Those people suffer the pollution of contaminated air, seagulls, noise, mud on the road and all the other awful things.

We are in danger of alienating the public on a number of issues. There is a political argument over which council is recycling more than which other council. However, many good words have been said, irrespective of their political direction, about councils that are making headway. In Guildford a difficult bit of literature came through our doors; it shows how recycling figures have changed but fails to say that we changed the way in which we counted the figures. An adjustment was made, which showed an increase. It is possible to paint the wrong picture by forgetting to point out that one is not counting the same things, but is putting them on the same graph.

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During questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 19 December, a comment was made about figures being misreported to give an erroneous impression. That is being dishonest. The public want to know that when they put things in to be recycled, they will be recycled. Arguing about figures on a false statistical base can only demoralise the public. This Bill talks about proper reporting, making information clear, and making an onwards and upwards improvement in our recycling figures. The Bill sets high targets, which we must reach. Other countries are far ahead of us. In Germany and the Netherlands, recycling is already at 50 per cent. With political will, we should be able to do that too.

We will support this Bill, and I am proud to be a sponsor of it. However, I plead with the Government to raise their sights. When will we see a response to the "Waste not, Want not" report, so that we can see how things fit into the greater economic argument? I look forward to the Committee stage, and to seeing the Bill becoming law. It will be a jolly good piece of work when it is complete.

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