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4.30 pm

The public are worried about incineration and we need some good studies on the impact of incineration, fears about dioxins and other health concerns. One problem is that even the monitoring of dioxin emissions from municipal solid waste incinerators is unreliable. Two years ago, the Environment Agency told the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee that it did not believe that viable, continuous monitoring systems existed, yet in Belgium such systems have been implemented with no great increase in either the capital costs of incineration—the figure is about 0.2 per cent.—or the running costs. The laboratory costs have been driven down; market forces have had an effect and more samples can be taken at lower cost.

The Belgian experience shows that when there is continuous monitoring—every two hours or so—the result is different from the snapshots that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) pointed out, might be taken when the incinerator was just being started up. Overall, the recording of dioxin emissions in Belgium was much higher—50 per cent. higher—than had been experienced previously, because the sampling system that had been used was so unreliable. That should become a thing of the past; we have improved water sampling so that it is statistically viable, but we do not seem to be able to do the same with incinerator sampling.

Mr. Sayeed: Was that unexpected result due to the fact that when certain materials are incinerated there are peaks of some types of dioxin emission? People tend to ignore those peaks and consider only the mean figure, so continuous monitoring and closure of plant may not be the best idea, even though it was suggested in the report to which the hon. Lady referred.

Sue Doughty: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. The report, which was published in 1998 in the Journal for Organohalogen Compounds, identified several long and technical reasons and suggested that continuous monitoring equipment could give dioxin emission readings that were up to 50 times higher than when measurements were taken only twice a year. There were many factors involved in those low readings, many

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of which were identified, but the fact remains that our current sampling method is not based on sound statistical science and it is high time that the public received the information that they need about the health risks from dioxins. Our decisions must be based on sound science rather than on information collecting methods that are widely mistrusted by the public and thereby add to their concerns.

On the provisions relating to collection and disposal authorities I welcome the amendment. In an area where a council of one political persuasion is responsible for disposal while another is responsible for collection, it would be tempting when drawing up a countywide waste strategy to place the incinerator where people would not vote for the ruling party in any case. That is why it is so important to know whether the Conservative party will support holding real consultations between county and district or county and borough, so that there can be a co-ordinated response and local wishes can be taken into account. The wishes of people living in the collection authority area must be considered, whatever their party view, as that is important for local democracy.

In Essex, it is well known that the Friends of the Earth group in Mersea has got recycling up to 60 per cent., yet the Essex waste strategy still includes the possibility of incineration. One group is saying, "We can do it" and another is saying, "We'll use incineration." The authority in Colchester signed the zero-waste pledge. We have heard about the problems in Surrey and those experienced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes.

Many of those problems could be avoided if the Government were to adopt a coherent waste strategy that took into account fiscal measures, the economics and the number of jobs that would be produced by a sustainable waste strategy. We have been talking about lots of jobs in recycling—for example, refilling ink cartridges—but that is not what the Bill is about, so I shall not detain the House further, except to make the essential point that, even if the Bill does not explicitly promote incineration, by golly, that is what it will do.

Mr. Morley: Interesting contributions have been made by a range of hon. Members—the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), and the hon. Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) and for Guildford (Sue Doughty)—and I was very interested in what they had to say. I appreciate that incineration was a major issue in Committee, where it was discussed in some depth. People feel very strongly about it, but I make no apology for probing the Liberal Democrats on exactly where they stand.

The hon. Member for Lewes took a bold stand on water metering when debating the Water Bill and he was perfectly reasonable about that, but his position on incineration is a bit weaselly—although I do not know quite why weasels always get that reputation—and I am still not absolutely clear about it. I thought that we had moved forward a bit.

With regard to the points made by the hon. Member for Guildford, I do not think it coherent to have a waste strategy that apparently rules out one strand whatever

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the circumstances and whether or not it is justified. That is not a coherent strategy; it is just populist pandering, without trying to weigh up properly the advantages and disadvantages of each strand of the hierarchy.

In all fairness to Conservative Members, I do not disagree with their position on incineration. They want to consider the options as part of the hierarchy—which has been established, as we all agree—and, occasionally, there just might be a case for some form of incineration or, indeed, some form of thermal treatment. I do not say that I advocate incineration; all I am saying is that it should not be ruled out of consideration.

Sue Doughty: We have been consistent about incineration in the context of the Bill and municipal waste. We have been thinking out a coherent waste management strategy, and it seems a bit rich for a Minister of a Government who do not have a coherent sustainable waste strategy to criticise any other party.

Mr. Morley: That is just a load of old nonsense. I have just gone through in great detail a range of work streams and strategies, including "Waste Strategy 2000", the strategy unit and the waste and resources action programme. Incidentally, in respect of what was said by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, that programme provides a range of support to develop markets for using recyclates, which we regard as an important part of the overall strategy. We have strategies coming out of our ears. It is important to make them work effectively, but part of doing so involves considering the range of options available—not ruling them out, without consideration, in the way that Liberal Democrat Members suggest. I repeat that the Bill is not in itself the principal deliverer of the waste hierarchy; it is part of the delivery of the waste hierarchy. It is one of a number of elements in relation to the Government's strategy and approach.

The aspect of new clause 5 on which I do not particularly disagree with the Liberal Democrats relates to the potential health and environmental effects of incineration and the concern that incineration could crowd out other forms of waste disposal. That is a serious point that we should examine, and a full national environmental impact assessment of existing incineration capacity should be carried out, on which I will touch in a moment. I do not agree, however, with the press release from Friends of the Earth, which I have looked at in some detail, in relation to the assumptions being made about this Bill and its potential to increase incineration. In that sense, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Leominster. I am not saying that there may not be further incineration in this country, because the Government's approach in relation to the joint strategies in the Bill, while not advocating incineration per se, is that people should look at all the options. I return to the point that incineration is above landfill in the hierarchy, and in some circumstances that may be the more preferable approach. Local authorities, as part of their strategy, will determine whether they think that that is appropriate.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister's point is genuine, and none of us has questioned that the Government's approach is well intentioned. However, will he tell the House exactly how many incinerators he accepts must

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be built? If more than that number are to be built, will he reconsider whether the Bill has been successful? The Opposition are worried that we will see an explosion in the number of incinerators. If he is prepared to say that that will not happen, will he set some parameters?

Mr. Morley: I certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not see an exploding number of incinerators. The answer is that I cannot predict how many incinerators may be constructed. I do not believe that such an incentive is part of the Bill. Let us look at the situation on mainland Europe in relation to recycling, as one of the concerns expressed is that the Bill might crowd out recycling as part of an increase in incineration. Where there are no restrictions on incineration on the continent, no evidence exists of recycling being pushed out. In Flanders, for example, in 1999, the recycling rate was 62 per cent., which I would be very pleased to see in this country, and the incineration rate was 22 per cent., whereas ours is 8 per cent. There is a very large difference between the recycling rate in Flanders and in this country. No evidence exists that looking at incineration as an option necessarily pushes out recycling.

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