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Norman Baker: The situation in other countries in Europe is different from that in this country. Over a long period, those countries have stopped landfill and have grown recycling as a desired option, as well as incineration. In this country, however, we must move off landfill very quickly, and that is the difference. Local authorities are faced with that quick, stark choice. Under the circumstances that Liberal Democrat Members have described, local authorities will opt for incineration more than we would like, because they are not starting with a strong recycling base in the way that other countries are.

Mr. Morley: I certainly accept that we are not starting with that strong recycling base, although we are making increasing progress in relation to accelerating the process of improving the percentage of recycling and re-use in this country, and we will continue to do that. I return to the point that statutory targets exist, which local authorities must meet, that incineration cannot remove. Some examples have been given of authorities that have high rates of recycling, and I do not necessarily believe that, with incineration, those rates would go down.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud made a good point about the difficulties of the planning process in relation to incineration. Incineration is very unpopular—no two ways about that—as is landfill. These days, even applications for large-scale composting are not popular with people. None of those things is popular. It is absolutely right that local authorities will have to reduce landfill under the Bill's obligations—that is its objective—but there are several ways in which they may do that. They will not necessarily have to go down the route of incineration because that is unpopular with local people and local democracy means that that must be taken into account. Although this is not an argument put forward by the Department, the point made by my hon. Friend shows that understandable local concerns will put enormous pressure on local authorities to up their levels of

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recycling and re-use rather than going down the road of incineration and landfill. That pressure will be on, so I do not accept for one moment that the wonderfully easy route to incineration that has been spelled out will exist.

4.45 pm

Mr. Sayeed: Will the Minister deal specifically with the case of Norfolk, where the authority intends to recycle only 36 per cent. of waste by 2010? It has pledged to stop all landfill, so what will happen to the other 64 per cent.?

Mr. Morley: I do not know all the details of what the authority in Norfolk is planning. Part of the approach is for local authorities to determine the best way in which to deal with waste in their areas. We expect them to consult and have a joint strategy, and that will apply to Norfolk as much as any area. Any decision that authorities reach must be made on the basis of what they think the most appropriate approach, and they will be accountable for that to their electorate and local communities. It is for them to justify the choice that they make. Local authorities should have the right to determine the best steps that they can take on waste minimisation with regard to the measures that we introduce.

On the potential impact from incinerators, the hon. Member for Lewes fairly recognised that things have changed greatly during recent years. Indeed, the most modern incinerators bear little comparison with older ones. Directive 2000/76/EC replaced earlier directives on hazardous waste incineration and the prevention and reduction of air pollution from municipal waste incinerators. The 2000 directive imposes stringent operating conditions on incinerators. It was partly transposed into UK law through the Waste Incineration (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 and remaining provisions have been transposed in directions to regulators. That led to the closure of several older incinerators and a two-hundredfold reduction in dioxin emissions from incinerators compared with five years ago. I know that the hon. Gentleman conceded that.

We want to go further. We need more information to compare the impact of incinerators with landfill. The Department has commissioned an independent review on health and environmental effects, as I briefly mentioned earlier. The review will cover all waste disposal options because they all have associated risks. It will include an assessment of the potential risks attached to incineration, and will especially consider the latest science and technology. The review is nearly complete and we expect it to be published in the near future. We are taking seriously the points raised by the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes and addressing them, as the House will discover when we publish the report.

We are not actively encouraging incineration as a waste management option, but it is part of the hierarchy and people should be able to consider it. We have been through the hierarchy—there is no need for me to go

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through it again—and hon. Members know that minimisation and recycling are at the top of it and that we are putting measures in place to encourage that.

Norman Baker: Will the Minister support an incinerator tax?

Mr. Morley: All financial instruments should be regularly reviewed. There may be a case for reconsidering them whatever the waste route. That is a possibility. We have no plans to do that, but financial instruments are an important tool, especially in terms of environmental outcomes.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): There is considerable sense in what the Minister advocates. However, I am struck by the fact that local authorities are deciding to have incineration today and that could tie them in to long-term disposal methods. That approach by local authorities will bind future generations, will not allow best technology to be used in future and could have an impact on re-use, recycling and minimisation strategies. Surely the Minister must share some of the concerns expressed.

Mr. Morley: I understand why hon. Members raise that point. Again, I return to the thrust of the Government's approach. We have confidence in local democracy and such decisions need to be taken locally. People will have to weigh up the capital costs of long-term contracts. I do not dispute that.

Even if we make good progress on recycling and re-use, which I am confident we will, and achieve a recycling rate of 50 per cent.—I would be more than pleased to hit that target, which would be pretty good in this country—14 million tonnes of municipal waste would still need to be disposed of each year. We could reduce that by using waste minimisation measures, which we have to address, but we would still need to dispose of a similar level of waste. Some of that could be dealt with in other ways, but there is a limit to the amount of material that is biodegradable and can be composted. The choice is to use landfill or incineration to dispose of that residue. Incineration may be the most sensible option, especially if it involves energy recovery, which the Conservatives mentioned. We agree that we need energy recovery if we are to benefit from the waste.

Mr. Thomas: What proportion of the current waste stream would fall into that category? I accept what the Minister says about local democracy, but would he not be well advised to give guidance to local authorities on the letting of contracts so that they do not tie the hands of future generations?

Mr. Morley: The latter idea goes a bit far on the legitimate role that central Government play in the decisions that local government makes on contracts. Local authorities are issued with guidance on a range of issues in relation to financial and practical matters. The waste implementation programme that we established also provides advice and support to local authorities on a range of waste strategies. That support is in place. The proportion of energy recovered from incineration is very

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low, although I do not know the exact figure. We need to increase that percentage if further development is to take place.

New clause 6 requires continuous monitoring of dioxin emissions for all waste incinerated by 2006. I am not unsympathetic to that approach. Work is being done on the technology to achieve that. I am not sure that the technology has been established or proven to the extent that I could be confident that it would be robust enough to put in place by 2006, but it is coming and we think that it has a role to play.

That technology may not be appropriate for all types of incinerator. The material that goes into municipal solid waste incinerators is very homogenous, so the pollutants produced during combustion tend to be more predictable than hon. Members have suggested. Nevertheless, we do not rule out the use of such technology in future.

Amendment No. 59 and new clause 17 would allow the waste collection authority to direct that the waste disposal authority shall not dispose of that waste by incineration. That goes a little too far for the waste strategy because it would rule out what might be the most appropriate option, so we cannot accept those amendments.

I hope, although I am not confident, that I have given a detailed explanation, because this is an important issue that the Government take seriously. I genuinely do not believe that the Bill, in itself, is a stimulus to large-scale incineration. We have established the waste hierarchy, within which, all hon. Members agree, incineration should be considered if it is the safest, most environmentally sound and most appropriate option. However, given the problems with planning, local opinion and the views of local councils, I cannot see that there will be a massive expansion of incineration capacity. I do not believe that the Bill will in any way upset the targets that we have set for waste minimisation, recycling and re-use, which are far above incineration in the Government's hierarchy of priorities.

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