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20 Mar 2003 : Column 1153—continued

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Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): The Bill is far reaching and I warmly welcome it. The management of waste is becoming an increasingly vital concern for all our communities. Excessive waste is becoming more and more of a problem for society as a whole. I want to refer to the impact of the Bill on my region and to highlight in particular the Teesside waste-from-energy plant to which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) referred.

My right hon. Friend the Minister said that the 2000 waste strategy had a waste hierarchy, which boils down to three simple things: reduce, reuse and recover. They are all perfectly sensible ideas. By minimising the amount of waste produced by reducing the packaging, there is less waste to reuse, which is the next best option. Finding an alternative use for waste or alternative owners for goods regarded as waste by the current owners can also lessen the amount of waste that needs to be disposed. Finally, recovery is the next best option.

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Waste of different types can be separated out and reduced to its core components for use in the production of future products and goods. That includes the incineration of waste for energy recovery.

There are varying forms of each of the options, but the essential difference between them and landfill is that within each process there is something positive to be gained from what has been traditionally regarded as rubbish; waste is used in one form or another to replace other materials, thereby conserving natural resources. The fourth option, and the exception to this, is disposal, of which landfill is only one option. I can think of few people who believe that burying rubbish is the best way to dispose of waste. Imagine if we did that in our daily lives, burying travel tickets, crisp packets and tissues. People would think we were mad, but that is what we do every day in landfill sites across the country. So reducing landfill is good and I welcome the decision to place the onus on local authorities to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill, but I do so with a caveat to which I shall return.

On virtually every measure, landfill is the worst method environmentally. According to a recent Library paper, the UK produces 400 million tonnes of waste annually. Of this, 29.3 million tonnes is municipal solid waste, most of which is disposed in landfill. Currently, the area covering the former Cleveland county council handles approximately 310,000 tonnes of municipal waste from Teesside. Some 240,000 tonnes per annum are handled at the Teesside energy-from-waste facility.

One of four local authorities in the Teesside area—Redcar and Cleveland borough council—disposes of about 52 per cent. of municipal waste via waste to energy and 49 per cent. to landfill. The local landfill site, Carlin Howe farm, is based in Dunsdale, near Guisborough in my constituency. The north-east regional assembly prepared a consultation document last month. It plans for the waste recycling and disposal needs of the four boroughs currently partnered through existing waste management and disposal plants and sites.

For Redcar and Cleveland, the targets set out propose to increase the current total percentage of tonnage of household waste sent for composting. It is set to rise from 0.62 per cent. to 4 per cent. by 2005-06 by the introduction of the kerbside collection of garden household waste. The pilot scheme begins in Saltburn in my constituency next month. If successful, it will then be extended throughout the rest of the borough.

Similarly, the total tonnage of household waste that has been recycled currently stands at 8.4 per cent., with proposed targets of 14 per cent. by 2004–05, 18 per cent. by 2005–06 and 20 per cent. by 2006–07. For an area that currently ranks bottom in the recycling stakes, these targets mark a cultural change locally. The north-east currently holds the title for the fewest households served by kerbside recycling, and the lowest percentage of household waste recycled. Nevertheless, the commitment of the local authority and the recent award of £600,000 from phase one of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' waste minimisation fund are enabling the construction of two new recycling centres. One is to be co-located with and linked to the region's existing incineration site. I hope

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that my right hon. Friend will acknowledge this approach and commitment to integrated waste management in his summing up.

From listening to the debate, I know that serious criticisms have been made of incineration, but I want to say a few words about incineration on Teesside. The figures available on the Department of Trade and Industry's website show that, at the moment in the UK, about 2.5 million tonnes of waste a year are being used to fuel 180 MW of power generation. That is enough for 250,000 homes. The Cleveland-based Teesside energy waste plant incinerates 240,000 tonnes a year of municipal solid waste. It then uses the energy generated—around 20 MW of electricity and more than 10 per cent. of the national total—to meet the heating and power needs of 40,000 homes.

Although I am aware of the benefits of incineration, I am also aware of the concerns that have been expressed. Environmental organisations and many hon. Members have expressed concern about the environmental impacts of major installations, such as waste management and energy generation plants. However, technology has improved in leaps and bounds. Sites such as the Teesside energy-from-waste plant can now employ proven clean-up systems, based on lime and carbon injection and dust filtration, to ensure that emission limits are met. If we add to that the lack of notices served by the enforcement authority responsible for monitoring environmental performance—the Environment Agency—I do not think that it is an overstatement to say that incineration is as clean a waste management and disposal method as most others.

Following the implementation of the incineration directive, the amount of emissions that the plant is allowed to make are extremely low. Virtually everything except for fly ash is recycled in some way. That site includes a bottom ash recycling plant for ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Thanks to the non-fossil fuel obligation commitment to more sustainable energy, incineration is a significantly cheaper form of disposal. With the addition of the landfill tax, the scales will weigh even more heavily in favour of alternative waste disposal methods.

Although I warmly welcome the Bill, I have some outstanding concerns that I want to raise with my right hon. Friend the Minister. The contract for landfill services in Teesside allows penalties to be imposed in the absence of a set tonnage being deposited regularly, yet the Bill will introduce penalties on authorities for not reducing the waste that they send to landfill. Given that the Teesside authorities send among the lowest amounts of waste to landfill in the whole UK and that they are bound by a 25-year contract to continue to send that minimal amount to landfill, what would the Minister suggest that local authorities do to prevent being squeezed financially between—I think this phrase has been used—the rock of the contract and the hard place of the Bill's penalty clauses?

I welcome the measures targeted at reducing high levels of landfill in favour of alternative forms of waste disposal. But—and this is a big but—I am concerned that those authorities that are already displaying a regard for such issues may be penalised under the new regime.

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In speaking to local authority waste management and disposal experts in advance of the debate, a number of other concerns and issues were brought to my attention. It was put to me that some of our European counterparts have a wider definition of the waste-to-energy processes and fuels eligible to be classified as renewable, thereby counting towards renewable targets. Is there any intention to look again at the definitions applied?

I also ask my right hon. Friend to provide an assurance that the move from landfill to recycling will not penalise the affected authorities that have already pursued alternatives to landfill. When the 2000 waste strategy was introduced, serious concerns were expressed by, among others, the Institute of Wastes Management. It welcomed the strategy, but questioned whether adequate funding will be made available to achieve the measures outlined in it.

Similarly, as has been mentioned, the Local Government Association has said that the Government need to make significant and increased funding available to allow local councils to achieve significantly greater diversion from landfill. It has also argued that the introduction of a penalty scheme will make it more difficult for waste disposal authorities to comply with landfill targets. It is worried that funds will be diverted from addressing the real challenge of providing alternatives to landfill. Despite some of the concerns that I have expressed, I strongly welcome the Bill and wish it speedy progress through the House.

4.43 pm

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for his very kind remarks. He will be aware that I had intended to speak from the Opposition Dispatch Box. However, other major matters intervened. One of the things that speaking from the Back Benches permits me to do, however, is to be a bit more robust in some of my remarks than I otherwise might have been.

This is a useful Bill, but it is a wasted opportunity. It is extremely narrowly drawn and fails to provide a much needed comprehensive strategy for all forms of waste. It simply perpetuates the Government's piecemeal attitude to the issue. I am sorry to say that it is a testimony to their policy of serial compliance with EU directives, as and when they start to put the United Kingdom in a difficult, possibly costly or embarrassing position. The Bill is specifically time committed to deliver the landfill directive, and therein lies its overall weakness. Its scope is narrow, its vision is small minded and its provisions are inadequate. Moreover, the questions raised by their lordships as it passed through the scrutiny of the other place have been at worst ignored or at best incompetently answered by the Government.

The Government strategy unit report of last November, "Waste Not, Want Not", specifically recommends regulation that deals with the problem in a holistic manner. We should be starting at the front line of battle by dealing with the minimisation of waste, but instead we are starting at the rearguard and with its final disposal. The Bill affects and penalises local authorities in their disposal of waste, but neglects to assist them in the minimising of waste at source. Furthermore, it fails

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to connect with other waste legislation—for example, the waste electrical and electronic equipment and end of life vehicles directives. Although it is hoped that a large proportion of the waste arising from waste electrical and electronic equipment and end of life vehicles will be recycled—and a very good thing too—there will be a certain residual amount left.

If we are trying to deal with waste in a more comprehensive fashion, why is it that the Bill does not at least acknowledge the difficulties with the planning procedures, or deal with energy from waste plants and measures to combat fly tipping? The Bill does not and will not exist or operate in a vacuum. It will have a knock-on effect on incineration and other forms of waste, including inert waste.

Already the introduction of new regulations, coupled with the need for better waste management facilities, has exacerbated the problem of fly tipping. The Country Land and Business Association estimates that the cost of clearing that up is about £50 million a year on agricultural land alone. The CLA has recommended that where waste has been fly tipped on private land and where the occupier can prove his innocence, it is for the authorities, either the local council or the Environment Agency, to be placed under a duty to remove the material. That at least would ensure an adequate clean-up and enable the scale of the problem to be assessed. Perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that fly-tipping incidents should be reported to the police and the Environment Agency and be given a crime reference number, in order to improve available data and to further promote criminal proceedings. All too often gross examples of fly tipping happen in rural and urban areas and cannot be dealt with. No prosecutions come, or when they do come, the fines are paltry.

Why is it that only biodegradable municipal waste is considered appropriate for the whole concept of trading allowances, trading surpluses and buying in of allowances by authorities that do not have sufficient funds to cope with needs? After all, biodegradable domestic waste accounts for only 30 per cent. of total waste.

The Bill also fails to reduce the transport of waste from one area to another. Clearly, the trading scheme does not imply the literal trading of waste, but some areas accept the waste of others. Indeed, my constituency has long accepted a high proportion of waste from London, owing to the proximity of Bedfordshire to London and the unfortunate existence of a multitude of cheap holes in the ground. By not tackling the situation we are ignoring the proximity principle which we all support, and we are only adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the implications of the borrowing and banking of landfill allowances? The banking of permits may act as a disincentive for waste disposal authorities to improve continuously year on year and to invest in required new infrastructure. The process that is outlined in the Bill may well create a culture of disincentive and short-termism. Has any serious attempt been made to assess the total compliance costs of the Bill? At the moment, we have a two-tier system of government for the management of waste and two types of authority that will incur expenses under the Bill. However, all the

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obligations are on the waste disposal authority. What will be the cost, to both tiers, of implementation? How do we ensure the fair distribution of resources between the waste collection and the waste disposal authorities? What will happen when a waste disposal authority incurs a penalty for the failure of a waste collection authority to discharge its duties? The Bill also creates an incentive for the waste disposal authority to blame the waste collection authority for its own failure to meet targets. I am in favour of joined-up governance, but there may be even more difficulties if the two authorities are run by parties of different political persuasions.

From Second Reading last Friday, we know that the Municipal Waste Recycling Bill has made some headway towards an arranged marriage for waste disposal and waste collection authorities, with the production of a joint sustainable waste strategy. That strategy allows the waste disposal authority to direct the waste collection authority to collect waste in a manner that facilitates maximum reprocessing and recycling. Those provisions have been endorsed by an amendment to this Bill that was approved in the other place. I hope that a harmonious relationship will be established between the two Bills—the Municipal Waste Recycling Bill and this Bill. However, it remains unclear who is to pay for the enforcement of the Bill's provisions.

What will happen to money that is collected in fines? May I suggest that the Minister consider that the money should be used to assist waste disposal authorities? Although initially designed to be revenue-neutral for business, the landfill tax does not necessarily help local authorities to acquire the capital to invest in the required waste management infrastructure. In the other place, my noble Friend Lord Dixon-Smith raised the issue of the landfill increase being used directly to support local authorities to fund the capital requirements for recycling. That was rejected by the Government. However, 54 per cent. of the revenue from landfill tax is money that is paid by local authorities. It seems only right that, if the revenue were to be substantially increased, at least a similar proportion of that escalation should be recycled back to those who have to foot the bill, in order that they may be encouraged and assisted to have the plant that will reduce the amount going to landfill. There is no doubt that the gap between the funding that is available to local authorities and the need for expenditure to meet sustainable waste objectives is widening. We have to recognise that the current funding mechanisms are inappropriate. Using the increase in landfill tax in the way that has been suggested would demonstrate that it is a tax designed to help the environment rather than a tax designed to fill the Chancellor's back pocket.

If the measurement of waste were to incorporate volume as well as weight, we may further raise the sum and provide a greater incentive to reduce lightweight packaging. At the moment, the measurement is weight based only. It is therefore far more attractive for local authorities to collect heavy materials—such as newspaper, card, glass and compostable waste—and ignore the light fractions, which are much harder to deal with.

That brings me on to the vital issue of the safe composting of catering waste. Compost that is to be spread on the land requires proper pre-treatment to ensure the safety of animal and human health, if we are

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not to face yet another agricultural catastrophe. Composted domestic biodegradable waste spread on agricultural land could be a cause of another outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and the Government have not yet demonstrated that they can guarantee zero risk when compost containing animal by-products and catering waste is spread on land.

I acknowledge, however, that composted catering waste has an important role to play in helping local authorities to meet both their recycling and composting targets. I also recognise that my noble Friend's amendment, to heat selected biodegradable waste at 98o C for a minimum of two hours before storing, would have unwelcome consequences. The process would be cumbersome and more expensive, and would consume more energy, which is obviously contrary to the objectives on emissions trading in the Bill. However, like national security, biosecurity, too, must have priority.

We still do not know the exact cause of the foot and mouth outbreak, but it can hardly be denied that, with only two sniffer dogs to guard all UK ports, we cannot prevent the illegal importation of the sort of meat and meat products that may have been the cause of foot and mouth. It is absurd that municipal biodegradable waste should be treated less rigorously than pigswill. If the Minister will not accept that heating selected biodegradable waste at 98o C is necessary, will he confirm that the Government will compensate all affected farmers in the event of another foot and mouth outbreak occurring as a result of spreading compost from animal by-products and catering waste? After all, the latter will be permitted under new EU regulations that will soon supersede the UK animal by-products regulations.

My final point concerns the end use of recycled materials. Source separation secures high quality secondary resources, but it cannot be an end in itself unless there is a market for the materials. We still lack measures to support and sustain the markets necessary for recyclates, which is surprising given the market-orientated nature of both parts of the Bill. It would appear that while the Government are rightly content artificially to stimulate a market for emissions and waste permits, they are less concerned to assist a market for the constructive use of the waste materials collected. We risk defrauding the public, who will dutifully separate their waste only to have it end up in a landfill site or exported to China.

I realise that one cannot legislate to provide for a comprehensive and holistic vision, but legislation should certainly slot into a progressive and coherent framework and direction. Although I welcome the Bill, I am sorry to have to say that it is simply a piecemeal attempt to rescue the Government from their failure to meet pressing demands from Brussels. It may even be a careless and somewhat irresponsible cover-up that leaves agriculture and food production vulnerable to another disaster.

The Government must do better than that in Committee, if we are to be convinced of their real commitment to long-term planning and a robust, comprehensive waste management strategy.

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