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20 Mar 2003 : Column 1163—continued

Mr. Drew: My hon. Friend is making a compelling case and I have my own fears about any repercussions that may ensue. Does he agree that there are two further implications? First, owing to the capacity of incinerators that will be built, they will not be local solutions, but sub-regional and perhaps even regional solutions. Secondly, incineration is almost certainly predicated because of the centralisation of urban solutions. We could almost drive away small-scale rural responses because the easy solution to the problem will be to send waste to the next-door city or an alternative for incineration.

Dr. Whitehead: Yes, indeed—my hon. Friend makes an important point. In my work I tried to look at the

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trend in decision making on incineration, and did not take into account, for example, the way in which long-distance transport may be involved or the way in which the logic of large-scale incineration drives out what should be part of the hierarchy—small-scale incineration in localities where appropriate.

Notwithstanding those effects, my figures suggest that the rational choice effect that I set out is in fact taking place. In the absence of other developments, a large number of large incinerators may well come on stream in the UK, in most instances providing heat and power, over the next 15 years unless measures over and above the very welcome and important mechanisms in the Bill are introduced. That will mean that the country may well jump out of the frying pan of landfill into the fire, literally, of incineration as the major method by which we dispose of our waste. What is more, in many instances we may be locked into that method of doing things for 25 years or more, most notably at the expense of the measures which really set us free—waste minimisation, reuse, recycling and composting. I fully support the Bill, but I wonder whether the alternative to landfill of large incineration plants in use over a long period is a good idea.

5.16 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): This has been a thoughtful debate, with interesting speeches from Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead). Mid-Worcestershire wants to pay particular tribute to Mid-Bedfordshire, as the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) was an impressive performance. His resignation from the Front Bench is a loss not just for my party but, on this issue, to the whole House, as he has considerable expertise. We are grateful for his contribution to the debate, notwithstanding his resignation. I was particularly interested in what he said about foot and mouth disease, and hope that the Minister, in the short time he will probably have for his winding-up speech, will address that important point.

My interest in the issue derives largely from two constituency considerations. First, I have two landfill sites in my constituency. One is a conventional hole in the ground, as referred to by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, at Hartlebury. The other is not a hole in the ground but a landrise site. A mountain of waste is being built between Wyre Piddle—one can see it clearly from the new bypass—and Throckmorton, the site of a proposed asylum centre, which, I am glad to say, has now been dropped. A huge mountain of waste rises in a bizarre and eerie spectacle with seagulls wheeling overhead. An average of 200 lorry-loads of waste from large areas of Worcestershire and Herefordshire are taken there every day, and that is on top of the private cars that go there to use the private recycling and waste facilities.

The site still has 18 to 20 years of life, so it should see out my time as Member of Parliament. Sadly, our diversion targets in Worcestershire will probably not be met because we have lost the incinerator that we hoped to have in the north of the county. I do not want to get into arguments about whether it was right or wrong to put that incinerator in that particular location, but I would tell the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman

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Baker)—I hope that he will read the record when he returns—that he need not be quite so pessimistic about the threat of incineration. In the public inquiry, the inspector gave as a reason for rejecting a planning application "perceptions of health risk". I find that an extraordinary and bizarre decision by a planning inspector. However, if an inspector can say that perceptions of health risk are a good enough reason to frustrate a development, many others can use that argument too. Personally, I find that regrettable because incineration is an important part of a comprehensive solution to waste management, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) said.

In common with virtually everyone who has spoken, certainly from the Opposition and, to an extent, from the Government too, I regret that the Bill does not take a more comprehensive approach to the problems of waste management. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, we are considering these issues in isolation. Departments do not get many opportunities to introduce legislation—there is always a fight for slots in the legislative timetable—and it is a shame that this important Bill does not take a more comprehensive approach to the problems of waste management. The long title says that the Bill makes

It does not—it makes provision about biodegradable municipal waste, and only partly deals with that problem. It is therefore a shame that the Bill does not take a more comprehensive approach to waste management.

Targets are very easy to set, but more difficult to meet, as the Chancellor discovered in his public service agreements with various Departments. Those in the Bill are, by any standard, ambitious, so we will have to see whether its objectives can be achieved in the medium to long term.

In my constituency, we have recently made considerable progress, in general, in recycling, after what was, to be honest, a period of lethargy. We have been too slow to move, and I have always contrasted my household's enforced habits on recycling with the habits that we adopt when we go to the United States of America on a house swap. There, the biodegradable municipal waste goes down the sink disposal unit; however, there are separate bags for tins, plastics and papers—it is a really comprehensive solution. It was interesting to note how a family that does not recycle everything at home—it is easy enough to recycle our papers and glass at home—easily fitted into the model of full recycling, when presented with the easy opportunities provided by the local authority in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

However, progress is being made, and it needs to be made. Worcestershire county council's website says:

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Another, more bizarre comparison is that that same waste

That shows the scale of the problem that the Bill seeks to address.

I am glad that the bids of all the local authorities in the county were successful under the waste minimisation and recycling fund, and I am grateful to the Minister and his Department for that. As a result, all the district councils are now rolling out their recycling targets. Wychavon district council and Worcester city council, both of which are Conservative controlled, are in the vanguard, I am glad to say. Wychavon's scheme—a twin-bag approach, involving vans that can take the bags and the ordinary household waste—will be rolled out by the end of April to 94 per cent. of households. That will make a big difference in terms of recycling. All that waste will go to the landfill site at Hill and Moor, where there is a new recycling facility. That constitutes great progress, and all of this is very good news.

However, the issue on which I want to focus—there are many things that I wanted to say about this Bill, but time is pressing and other Members wish to speak—is a worrying aspect of the Government's approach to landfill issues, which has been discussed on several occasions by Members, including by the hon. Member for Lewes. He said something with which I both profoundly agree and profoundly disagree. He spoke eloquently, and rightly, about the impact of fly tipping on the British countryside, and the problems that it poses for the agricultural community in particular. He proceeded to argue for a sharp increase in landfill tax rates, but until we have thought of a way to deal with the fly tipping menace, it would be premature to increase landfill tax, even though there may well be a strong environmental case for doing so.

At the moment, the landfill tax rate is £14 per tonne. This year, it will rise to £15 per tonne, and a subsequent £3 per year escalator is envisaged, with an eventual target of £35 per tonne. This rapid rise in landfill tax will further increase the number of landfill tax criminals. They are creatures of the Government—they are the monsters of this tax, which the Government have created—and I have them in my constituency. [Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head, but I will tell him what is going on in my constituency, and then he will understand the problem. Ann Gartlan and John Bruce are the names—they do have names—of the people concerned. She has been fined repeatedly in the courts, and he has just been released after completing half of a prison sentence for activities related to the illegal tipping of waste.

The enforcement effort required to control the company in question—it has adopted various guises, of which Ivory Plant Hire was the most notorious—has been extraordinary. It has involved a huge amount of effort on the part of the Environment Agency, the Vehicle Inspectorate, the traffic commissioners, the local constabulary, the district council and the county council. We thought that we had won. Suddenly, the courts started to impose decent fines, and one of the people in question was sent to prison; but no, it has all begun again.

I shall read from a letter written to the county council by Adrian Hardman, a county councillor for Crabbe Yard, in Wadborough, which lies exactly on the

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boundary between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer). The letter states:

a letter from a Wychavon district council officer who is dealing with this matter—

He goes on:

The county council does not view the problem as a waste matter. The council thinks that a building material is being recycled. It must be joking.

I have sympathy for the county council. So much effort has gone into controlling the firm in its various guises over so many years, but as Adrian Hardman writes:

The issue is exceptionally serious.

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