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Paddy Tipping: In response to my previous intervention, the hon. Gentleman said that he was not against incineration in practice, but he now seems to be saying that he is against it in principle. Will he clarify in simple terms his position and that of his party?
Norman Baker: I have clarified the position and I do not know how much more I have to do so. The hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically disingenuous. He suggested earlier that the incinerator that he described was preferable to the others being built across the country. I was happy to agree with that proposition while not endorsing the creation of such incinerators. That is the position. If we are to have incineratorsthat is the phrase that I usedit is better that they be the sort that he described than those that local authorities are currently planning to build. In making those comments, I am not suggesting that we should use incinerators as a matter of course, as I am keen to avoid them.
Mr. Morley: It is not clear to me. The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the waste hierarchy, in which incineration is listed above landfill, especially where it is linked with energy re-use. He is probably aware that we have commissioned a detailed study in conjunction with the Royal SocietyI shall deal with it in more detail lateron the environmental and health effects of all the various ways of disposing of waste. I have no idea what that study will say, but what will his position be if it says that incineration is the best option in certain circumstances in terms of environmental and health objections? Does he agree that incineration may be justified in certain circumstances, depending on what those circumstances are?
Norman Baker: I do not know how many times the Minister used the word "if" in that intervention. I have already answered his question: there are certain circumstances in which incineration is the best option.
Norman Baker: It is not a matter of saying "at last", as I have made the same comment about eight times. In dealing with clinical waste, for example, incineration is clearly the best technique. There is nothing new about thatit is the hypothetical example that the Minister wants and he has now got it. I hope that that is now clear. Many problems also arise in respect of landfill, but it may be the best solution in relation to inert building waste, for example. There are circumstances in which landfill is an entirely appropriate solution.
The Minister is keen to push the cause of incineration, and people out there in the country should be aware that he has intervened regularly this afternoon to defend it. That will not be missed by local authorities and others outside the House. If he does not want to believe me, however, let me refer to work done by his colleague, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who made effective contributions on Second Reading. He carried out a study in which he received replies from 130 councils about what they were planning to do with their waste. Some 45 of those councils, or 35 per cent., are contracted to private incinerator firms individually or as part of a consortium, and 36 of them, or 28 per cent., will start using incinerators within a set time frame. Only 49 of the 130 councils that repliedit was a big surveyhave no plans to use incineration, and 19 of the 36 councils considering incineration have relatively short-term plans. So it is clear that, whatever the Minister may say about his hierarchy, local authorities are opting for incineration.
The reality is that under the Bill, local authorities are faced with a very short time scale within which to conform to the EU landfill directive. They know that they have to reduce the amount of landfill very quickly. The situation is not comparable to that in Denmark or anywhere else. We landfill about 80 per cent. of our household waste and we have to get that down to 35 per cent. Doing that quickly will require either an explosion in recycling, a really radical waste minimisation programme, or more incineration. Local councils are saying that only way in which they can meet the target quickly and effectively is to opt for incineration.
Incineration is not the best solution by any stretch of the imagination. There is no tax or other disincentive to incinerationon the contrary, once landfill is eliminated, there are perverse incentives to incinerate, and it is not surprising that local councils are taking them. The Government want to avoid a chain of incinerators, but that is what they will get.
Norman Baker: The Minister shakes his head again, but I am sorry to say that he does not know what is going on. Planning permissions are being granted all over the country. If we end up with a chain of incinerators, that will represent a failure of the waste plan. Local authorities will be tied into what the European Union now officially calls a disposal techniquenot a recovery techniquefor 25 or 30 years, because they have to enter into long-term contracts with incinerator manufacturers in order to recoup their funds. They will not be able to change direction and we will be stuck with this fourth option in the waste hierarchy for the foreseeable future.
Sue Doughty: It is worth reminding the Minister that the Environmental Audit Committee regularly tells the Treasury that, because it is cheaper to send waste to incineration than to landfill, the perverse incentive will remain until it starts to tax waste that goes to incineration, as well as to landfill, and accelerates it to some £35 a tonne in a far shorter time frame than is currently planned. The Bill will maximise that perverse incentive. We require the Government to take the threat seriously and to understand that they have a choice, as well as responsibilities, in this matter.
Norman Baker: I am grateful to my hon. Friend: that is absolutely correct. I hope that the Minister will deal head on with whether the Government are going to introduce an incinerator tax, because he has so far studiously avoided that question.
Mr. Wiggin: I have kept very quiet because I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. He is right that the Bill promotes incineration, but does he agree that for the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) to urge an increase in the landfill tax sends a wrong signal? Surely we require some sort of disincentive for incineration, not for landfill.
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to be careful how such fiscal measures are introduced. They should not be introduced individually so that they send the wrong signals. The Government should implement a comprehensive overall waste strategy through an Act of Parliament that brings in measures to achieve the ends that they, and we, want. By contrast, all that we are getting is the part of the Bill that discourages landfill. As long as the Government continue to run behind EU directives instead of considering the waste hierarchy as a whole and producing joined-up legislation, they will continue to send perverse, stop-start signals that, for example, discourage landfill and encourage incineration. What is missing from the Bill is a comprehensive, overall, holistic view of the waste stream.
As I have said, local authorities will be tied to their contracts with incineration companies for 25 or 30 years. If we find that the health problems are greater than we may now think them to be, or discover other problems with incinerators, we shall not be able to do much about it. We shall be stuck with those problems, as will local populations.
The situation is even worse than that, however. Sensibly enough, for business reasonsI do not blame themthe incinerator companies want to guarantee throughput. They have to operate their plant at near capacity to reduce dioxide emissions, and they want to be assured, as part of their contracts, that they will be delivered a certain amount of waste with which to deal.
What will the consequences be? I do not happen to believe that the Government are right about waste minimisation, but let us suppose that the Minister proves me wrong and that the Government reduce the amount generated by, say, 10 per cent. over the next 10 years. The amount to be incinerated, however, will not diminish because it is guaranteed under the contracts. In the event of minimisation, recycling must suffer, because there will be no waste to recycle. We can have minimisation and incineration or incineration and recycling, but we cannot have all threeand I know which option I want to dispose of: incineration.
The Minister must face the reality of the fixed-term contracts, and what they mean in terms of guaranteed waste throughput. When the amount of waste is changing, the only fixed point is the amount that authorities are required to give the incinerator companies. Notwithstanding the Minister's protestations, this is a Bill for incineration. It will lead to incineration up and down the country, in council area after council area, as landfill gives way to that option. Unless the Government produce real measures to implement the waste hierarchy, that is what will happen, and I intend to be here in 10 years to say to the Minister, "I told you so".