|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): When I resigned my post as a shadow Environment Minister, the Government's waste and environment policy was a shambles, and 18 months later little has changed. The Government have promised to review their waste strategy this year. The review must consider the current problems with hazardous waste disposal that have arisen following the implementation of European directives. Unless the Minister acknowledges that the problems exist and says how they will be overcome, they are set to continue.
We know that 5.2 million tonnes of hazardous waste is produced annually, a figure that increases 8 per cent. year on year. It must be disposed of safely and efficiently, and it must be our priority to ensure that the infrastructure exists to achieve that. Although environmentally sustainable methods of disposal should be explored and strongly encouraged, we cannot ignore the reality that 40 per cent. of hazardous waste is still sent to landfill. The implementation of the European landfill directive, the factor that continues to have the biggest impact on hazardous waste disposal, should be the focus of our debate today.
I want to examine the Government's preparation for banning the co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste in landfill sites, following the directive implemented on 16 July 2004. I believe that their approach had four flaws, relating to regulation, awareness, enforcement and communication, which continue to characterise their overall approach to hazardous waste.
First, the Government did not provide the regulation required by the waste management industry to invest in the new hazardous waste treatment infrastructure demanded by the directive. Regulations bringing into United Kingdom law the waste acceptance criteriaWACthat regulate pre-treatment standards passed through Parliament only in June 2004, one year before they came into force. Strict regulation of the waste disposal industry requires detailed legal guidance, which in turn can be achieved only with accurately targeted investment.
Waste management companies, however, had only one year in which to identify potential markets, raise finance, gain planning consents, obtain environmental permits, construct facilities and conduct appropriate testing before finally accepting and treating hazardous waste. As it is a commercial decision whether to apply for a licence to treat hazardous waste and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cannot force companies to do so, the Department should have done everything it could to encourage investors, or should at least have made it feasible for companies to make the necessary commercial decisions to obtain a licence. However, far from leading the way, the Government, through their indecision, have created uncertainty and confusion.
Secondly, DEFRA's lack of forward planning is underpinned by a lack of awareness and understanding of patterns and volumes of hazardous waste flows. Only six weeks before the ban on co-disposal, the hazardous waste forum's projections showed huge variations
2 Feb 2005 : Column 277WH
between best and worst-case scenarios: shortfall estimates varied between 350,000 tonnes in the interim year and, in the worst case, 2.9 million tonnes, an eightfold difference. However, that is not all. No account is taken of seasonal variations in hazardous waste levels as a result of fluctuations in the amount of contaminated soil produced by the demolition and construction industry. That problem is set to intensify as more brownfield sites are redeveloped.
Thirdly, the enforcement of regulations has been flawed; their implementation is neither stringent nor consistent. Non-compliance tends to snowball. The more people get away with the illegal disposal of hazardous waste, the more the business case for waste management facilities is undermined. Fly-tipping will become an ever more attractive option if waste disposal costs increase while penalties and enforcement remain static. An Environment Agency report stated that people fly-tip because it costs "money and time" to dispose of waste properly. That is a statement of the blindingly obvious. As the cost and trouble of proper waste management increase, so will the incidence of illegal disposal.
Will the Government accept the recommendation of the Environmental Audit Committee that the fines imposed should better reflect the seriousness of the environmental crime and act as a greater deterrent and punishment? Will the Environment Agency be directed by the Government so that we do not get what we did with the end-of-life vehicles directive? We do not want inadequately trained inspectors focusing on repeat visits to those tackling the task satisfactorily, but rather a concentration on the real rogues, who may not even be registered as producing hazardous waste. If matters continue as they are, all we will have is another Child Support Agency-type fiasco, where providing parents were pursued and the rogues ignored.
Fourthly, communication by the Government and the Environment Agency with waste producers and managers has been inadequate. The Federation of Small Businesses has identified "an information vacuum" among many of its members. A survey by the Environment Agency itself revealed that, in 2003, 76 per cent. of businesses were unaware of their legal duty of care to ensure that waste was managed lawfully. I would like assurances from the Minister as to the strategies in place to make businesses aware of their duties resulting from new legislation.
Subsequent to the implementation of the landfill directive, what has been the effect of the prior inaction and lack of forward planning? How has it impacted on both the hazardous waste industry and the environment? The immediate effect was to create a substantial shortfall in the capacity of the industry to treat hazardous waste. Only 11 merchant landfill sites are operational and, of these, only five can accept a wide range of hazardous waste streams. Infrastructure exists to dispose of only 1 million tonnes of hazardous waste annually, but 5 million tonnes are produced every year. This is compounded by the uneven distribution of commercial sites, which are concentrated in the north-east and north-west of the United Kingdom, while no sites able to deal with hazardous waste are located in Greater London. Hazardous waste must now be
2 Feb 2005 : Column 278WH
transported greater distances, which is costly, increases bureaucracy and risk, raises further capacity issuesas transportation must be with a registered carrierand makes neither environmental nor economic sense.
Economic factors are rarely the best drivers of environmental policy as they tend towards short-term myopia, while many environmental benefits are not financially quantifiable. However, cost must be considered when it has a direct impact on the level of compliance. Implementing the landfill directive has resulted in a threefold increase in the cost of landfill and a potential further increase after July. The "polluter pays" principle is probably the best way to operate environmental policy, but the Government must think realistically rather than adhering to that dogmatically. Costs must not be increased unfairly due to poor policy implementation and, ultimately, they must not discourage the safe disposal of hazardous waste.
If enforced to the letter, the "polluter pays" principle will hit small and medium-sized companies hardest. Those with the tightest margins may begin to cheat, misclassifying their waste, disposing of it illegally or hiring unregulated, illegal contractors. Subsequent costs to society, regardless of the physical danger, could then outweigh the income garnered from making these smaller hazardous waste producers pay. Possibly, a fairer and more effective alternative would be for the Government to consider a threshold whereby small amounts of hazardous waste can be disposed of safely, at lower cost, and an incremental charge imposed thereafter.
Hazardous waste disposal problems have not yet been resolved. The additional capacity required due to the landfill directive is not forecast to be met until 2009. Other key challenges have not even begun to be tackled. I am sorry to say that the Government seem to have learned nothing from implementing the landfill directive.
The Government must rethink how they implement European directives. They must ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of draft directives so that there is awareness and action well in advance of implementation, and only after industry-wide consultation. The main problem is not the directives, but the Government's approach to implementation, which has caused the United Kingdom to develop a far less comprehensive hazardous waste-treatment infrastructure than other member states have developed and has compounded their already weak performance on waste.
The Government's approach is still characterised by the same four flaws. There are still no regulations and guidance from the Environment Agency to transpose hazardous waste regulations or to produce the WAC for monolithic waste. DEFRA has not allocated sufficient resources to communicate responsibilities to waste producers or for resource enforcement: the £2 million available through the business resource efficiency and waste programme is inadequate.
Lack of awareness continues, as there are no real-time data on waste flows, and DEFRA is only now developing a waste data strategy. In this interim year between the end of co-disposal and the enforcement of WAC, it is timely to assess the impact of the landfill directive on the Government's waste strategy and
2 Feb 2005 : Column 279WH
to press for the end to the lack of regulation, of information and of enforcement and the mis-communication that has been a characteristic so far. The current strategy is wasteful and is certain to prove hazardous to our environment.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) on securing the debate. I know that he spends a great deal of time worrying about the subject, which has always been high on his list of priorities, and he is doing us all a favour by bringing it to the attention of the Chamber today.
At the end of the day, this is not a political issue in the party political sense of the word. Whatever the party we belong to, we know what we are trying to achieve. The quarrel is about how we achieve that and the administration of the policy. Waste, whether non-hazardous or hazardous, is a fact of life. It is part of our society, and given society's thunderous momentum, it is inevitable. The question is how we deal with it.
The Government have good intentions, which I do not criticise. They are making a genuine effort, but there is a shortfall between what they say they want to achieve, their method, and what they actually achieve. In true Blairite style, they have the big vision and all the ideas, and local concerns are dealt with, but are we achieving the results and producing the initiatives that we need? As someone who represents a south London constituency, I know that waste is a very serious issue. London does not have enough waste facilities. Waste has to be taken out of London, and the Government do not have the courage to deal with the issue of incineration.
A small illustration of the problem is the local municipal tip in south Croydon, which is being shut. It is open for only three days a week at a time when we need more tips and outlets. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire mentioned fly-tipping, and one of the problems is that small businesses must pay to use these tips. I might be off message so far as my party is concerned, but I believe that there should be no charge for municipal tips, because small businesses, deterred by the fact that they have to pay to use them, are engaging in increased fly-tipping. It is a serious problem in south London, and, in that regard, I am very critical of my local authority, which has not addressed the issue.
Recycling is to be encouraged; it is very welcome. The problem is that it is weight based, so local authorities, in order to meet their worthy targets, are encouraging people to recycle things that need not be recycledtoo much green waste, but not enough of the hazardous substances that ought to be recycled. There is not enough plastic being recycled, because it is not heavy. If there is a weight-based target for recycling, plastic, which is not only light but voluminousa plastic bottle takes up a lot of space but not much weightis not attractive to local authorities.
Mr. Sayeed : Is my hon. Friend aware that, certainly two years ago, our party had a policy that involved setting a ratio between weight and volume? I think that it was 1 kg to 3 cu m. If the Government had adopted that, as was pressed on the now Minister for the
2 Feb 2005 : Column 280WH
Environment and Agri-environment, there would have been a greater chance of plastic and other light but voluminous materials being recycled.
Richard Ottaway : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, he pre-empts my next remark, which is that that is the direction in which we ought to be going. Whether there should be a multiplier effect or a tariff of some sort to encourage local authorities to recycle more plastic, I do not know, but that is the way to go. I hope that the Minister who, I know, takes these matters seriously, will respond to that point.
I come to the specific matter of hazardous waste. It is a tremendous problem. It is dealt with in a manner that was excellently described by my hon. Friend, and the rules of the game have changed. There are businesses that are prepared to dispose of hazardous waste commercially, meaning that when they invest, they want to make sure that their money is secure and they want to see a profit from it. However, the Government have not encouraged that process. As the deadline approached, investors complained that they had had inadequate detail from the Government about the criteria for the establishment of a hazardous waste disposal centre. They were prepared to invest, but they were not prepared to do so unless they knew what the criteria werewhat the Government wanted from them. They wanted to know what the bottom line would be.
This is the first time that the private sector has been asked to invest big time in waste disposal; we are talking about serious money. The Government have to take seriously the fact that businesses want to have every last t crossed and i dotted before they will invest. It should come as no surprise that there was, and still is, a problem over the disposal of hazardous waste, because there is not enough private sector investmentthe Government are not doing enough to attract it. The lack of detail is critical.
I said in opening that the Government are on the right track, but are not implementing the policy in the right way. This illustrates my point. Something can be done. It is well within our ability to deal with hazardous waste in a way that is acceptable to everybody, but the Government have not grasped the nettle, and they are not giving us enough detail. That is my central point to the Minister, and I hope that he will deal with it when he responds.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) on introducing this important debate. Indeed, it is unique, because all of us on the Conservative Back Benches are ex-Navy men, although that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to add that I am a graduate of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I am currently undertaking my second programme, so I, too, am connected with the Royal Navy.
Dr. Murrison : I am grateful for that intervention, which makes it clear that this occasion is, indeed, unique. I am afraid, however, that that has nothing to do with the subject in hand, to which I shall now turn.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 281WH
I want exclusively to discuss the disposal of hazardous waste, because I have a constituency interest in the issue. As the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment knows, I have a cement works in my constituency; it is operated by Lafarge and its operation has caused a lot of difficulty locally. That bears directly on the subject of hazardous waste.
To a large extent, what we are really talking about today is the EU landfill directive, although it has not been mentioned as such. None the less, much of the pressure on us when it comes to the disposal of hazardous waste stems from the Government's need to be extremely carefuland rightfully soabout what we tip into holes in the ground. We would all agree that it is right for them to be careful about that, but my concern, which relates directly to what is happening at the Westbury cement works, is about the alternative. The worry in my constituency is that, instead of stuff being put into a hole in the ground, it is being put up a chimney without proper environmental controls.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some people see incineration as a panacea or a magic cure for the problem of waste, and particularly hazardous waste? They think that if we somehow keep burning this stuff, there will not be a problem any more. What we should be asking ourselves is why we produce so much of this stuff in the first place.
Dr. Murrison : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, it is tempting to tip things into a hole in the ground or to put them up a chimney without thinking how best to deal with them. The best approach would be not to create them in the first place, or to recycle them in a way that did not have an environmental impact. Tyres, for example, can be recycled in a very environmentally friendly way because they can be turned into road surfaces. That happens extensively in America, but very little in this country. It does not happen here, I believe, because we are under an imperative to meet the targets generated by the EU landfill directive, and one of the only ways to do that in a reasonable time is to dispose of them in cement kilns, rather than develop the technology necessary to turn them into road surfaces, as happens in the States.
The cement industry is all too willing to oblige the Government by helping to dispose of hazardous waste; it has certainly been disposing of tyres for some time, and it is now trying to do the same with recycled liquid fuel, which is an unholy concoction of all manner of poisonous substances that can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels in firing cement kilns. Of course, the cement industry is not necessarily altruistic, and it seeks, quite legitimately, to obtain a financial gain from its operations. My concern is that at least part of that gain should be used to ensure that the best available techniques are employed to dispose of hazardous substances, and I am not entirely clear that the industry has hoisted that on board sufficiently. Of course, we can ultimately filter just about anything out of the stack at a cement works, but there is a marginal utility in so doing, and it becomes increasingly expensive as fewer contaminants are released.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 282WH
Nobody will insist that every last particulate is removed from the material coming out of the top of a cement kiln. Nevertheless, we must ensure that at least some of the profits that I am convinced the cement industry is making from the disposal of hazardous waste are channelled back into best-available technique so that we at least reduce the amount of pollutants leaving cement works such as the one in Westbury. I am not sure that that is happening.
The cement industry put pressure on the Environment Agency to reduce the standard for emissions from cement works, and that has happened. The standards for dedicated incinerators are much more rigid than those for cement works. That is extremely worrying. The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment has given all sorts of sophisticated reasons as to why there should be a differencefor example, the temperature at which cement kilns operatebut few of them are convincing. I know from my chemistry days that halogens cling quite nicely to particulates. Both are produced in ample quantity if recycled liquid fuel is burnt. The worry is that the temperature will not affect them and that many particles full of halogens, which are potentially hazardous to human health, will exit the stack at Westbury. The case has not been made by the Environment Agency or the cement industry that what they propose is entirely safe. We should operate under the precautionary principle in this matter, but I do not believe that we are being precautionary enough.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what matters to his constituents and anyone else is the quality of the emissions and the air that they breathe. It is of little consequence to people who sufferif that is the right wordthe emissions whether they come from a cement kiln or an incinerator. Therefore, should not the Environment Agency's concern be the standardisation of emissions rather than determining what process generates them?
Dr. Murrison : I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right. We need standardisation of emissions from incinerators, cement works and so on. The risk is that cement works will become quick and dirty incinerators. The Government are very reluctantunderstandably soto propose purpose-built incinerators with clearly understood standards. I fear that they consider cement works an easy, back-door way of incinerating material that offers the best prospect for rapidly satisfying their targets. The Government have leapt at this option. They have grabbed at it as an opportunity to achieve their targets in a way that is not too painful and that minimises the number of local inquiries that would undoubtedly be needed if they were to propose purpose-built incinerators.
My constituents and those who live downwind of the cement works at Westbury are not at all happy with that, as it is all being done on the back of their health. I am keen to impress upon people who ask me that, in my view, the health effects of what goes on at Westbury are likely to be very small indeed, if they exist at all. It is important to say that and to put the matter into context. Nobody should be shroud waving.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 283WH
If we believe in the precautionary principle, however, we must do much more to monitor what is happening at sites such as the Westbury cement works and not be put off with blandishments from organisations such as the Environment Agency, which has not exactly covered itself with glory in this matter. That is why my district council is absolutely right to set up an independent committee to review the matter on behalf of the local people, who have lost all confidence in the agency. Expert advice is needed to reassure them that what is happening at Westbury is reasonable and will not damage their health.
The issue is even more serious because of the amendment to the substitute fuels protocol, which I believe is a sleight of hand. It will re-badge waste as fuel. It will allow material to be classified as a fuel provided that more energy is generated by its burning than is needed for its burning. In other words, if we generate one calorie more by burning a substance, we can reclassify it as a fuel. That has a particularly insidious significance, because it would then allow material that is not allowed to be imported to the UK to be imported as a potential fuel. It opens up the door to the possible transportation of hazardous waste from the continent of Europe into this country for disposal.
It is important that the Minister says quite categorically that that will not happen. Otherwise, we have the grisly prospect of tank-loads of such stuff trundling up from the south coast to works such as Westbury for disposal, with all the potential environmental consequences that that will bring, not least the cost in carbon of the transportation of a high-volume, low-value material such as recycled liquid fuel. My constituents and others would be up in arms if that were to happen. If it were to happen, and it is difficult to see how it might not, given the amendment to the substitute fuel protocol, it will be pinned firmly at the door of the Minister and his colleagues.
I am doubly concerned because the Lafarge cement works recently had an admission to make. It told the public that what it describes as "rogue employees" had, over the course of two years up to December last year, falsified the content of batches of its cement. That was an extraordinary revelation, and to date the company has been opaque when asked for details about that episode. It has done a great deal to dent the company's already sketchy reputation in my constituency. I have written to the Health and Safety Executive to ask what investigation it has carried out into the implications of that revelation, to the Environment Agency to ask if it will review the data that it has from Lafarge and its consultants, and to the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment. To date, I have had no meaningful response.
I would have thought that such an episode should set the alarm bells ringing. So far, there has been a deafening silence. It is relevant to hazardous waste, because if Lafarge is trying to tell us, as the Environment Agency is saying, that the disposal of recycled liquid fuel in a cement kiln is safe, the company will use its own data to prove its case. Given that data relating to the content of its product have been shown to be false, what confidence can we have in its assertion that the disposal of hazardous waste at the Westbury cement works is safe? We would have to treat that assertion with a great deal of caution, and I hope that the Environment
2 Feb 2005 : Column 284WH
Agency will mount an investigation on the back of that company's revelation. I look forward to the written reply from the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment to the letter that I have sent him on the subject.
I hope that given the doubt that has been cast upon the veracity of data coming from that company, West Wiltshire district council will redouble its efforts to ensure that there is some form of independent scrutiny of what is going on at that plant, and an assessment of the implications for the local population of the disposal of hazardous waste. Even at this late stage, I strongly urge the Minister to revise his thoughts on how we should deal differentially between the cement industry and dedicated incinerators. We must apply universal standards to both to dispel the notion that has arisen understandably and correctly that there is no even playing field and that the Government are using cement kilns as a back-door way of quickly disposing of hazardous waste.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook): Before I call the first of the three Front-Bench spokesmen, may I point out that we have 55 minutes left? The convention is to divide the remaining time equally into three parts, although no one is necessarily required to fill their time. However, bearing in mind that the purpose of these debates is to give the Minister an opportunity to give the Government's views and answer questions, the Chair would frown on anyone who exceeded a third of the time available.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that indirect warning. I assure you that I have no intention of exceeding a third of the time that is left. Indeed, it would be an interesting experience for one of these debates to finish early. We always miraculously seem to find just enough to say to occupy the hour and a half available on these occasions.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) on securing this debate. He has a long interest in waste matters, as has already been said. He was, as he says, a shadow Environment Minister, and I remember serving with him on the Committee considering the Waste Emissions Trading Bill. We have had a bewildering succession of shadow Environment Ministers on the Conservative sideI am losing track of them allbut his knowledge of the subject made him one of the better ones. He is, therefore, well qualified to raise the matter this afternoon.
Before I approach the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, I want to follow up directly the matters raised by the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison). He makes some powerful points, and I want the Minister to be in no doubt that those concerns are shared beyond the Westbury constituency, and indeed beyond the Conservative party. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is speaking for his colleagues on that matter as well.
The basic principle of using cement kilns for incineration is one with which I am instinctively unhappy, because such kilns are designed to make cement, while incinerators are designed to incinerate waste. Mixing the two up in a cavalier manner is not satisfactory when we are considering public health, regulation of emissions and matters of that nature.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 285WH
Incinerators are largely unpopular up and down the country. In the view of local authorities, however, they are required: since the Government have been so late in transposing the EU landfill directive, the local authorities have no time to do anything other than build incinerators to meet their landfill reduction targets. As the hon. Gentleman says, there is considerable evidence that the Government, who do not want to get the blame for a chain of incinerators, are looking to do two things: shift the blame on to local authorities, and find a back-door way of dealing with waste. I fear that cement kilns are just such a back-door method.
Like the hon. Member for Westbury, I do not wish to overstate the case, but I believe that emission levels and, potentially, public health are being brought into the equation unnecessarily because of that strategy. Again, I urge the Government to look at what that means in terms of emissions from cement kilns and, indeed, the use of cement kilns for hazardous waste. The substitute fuels protocol was published yesterday, as I am sure the Minister is aware.
Mr. Sayeed : I admit that the hon. Gentleman has alluded to this, but should not the real question be the quality of emissions? There are brick-making kilns in Stewartby in my constituency. The only thing that matters to anyone is the quality of the emission howsoever it occurs, no matter if it is from brick-making, cement-making or a designated facility.
We were faced with an incinerator in Newhaven in my constituency, and I looked into the matter. As incinerators are now classed as producing energy from waste, there is no ban on the importation of material from elsewhere in the European Union for disposal of materialI call it disposal, they call it something elsein incinerators. Of course, one cannot import material for landfill, but it can be imported for incineration. There is the prospect, particularly for those of us who have constituencies close to mainland Europe, that such material will be imported, in the same way that the Government are increasing and encouraging the importation of nuclear waste, apparently to please the Treasury. Who is to say that waste will not be imported for disposal in incinerators?
Dr. Murrison : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another damaging aspect of the substitute fuels protocol is the lack of public consultation that it ushers in? At the moment, there is a facility for public consultation that the substitute fuels protocol will degrade.
At the beginning of his contribution, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire talked about the lack of forward planning by DEFRA. I do not wish to be too
2 Feb 2005 : Column 286WH
down on the Government but it is a fact that, over the years, we have had a number of opportunities to make that particular point and nothing seems to get much better. We have had to deal with fridges, abandoned cars and next it will be batteries. There is to be a requirement to recycle 40 per cent. of batteries and there are no battery facilities, apart from the one that will be opened shortly. Yet again, we face mountains of waste, for which the Government are ill-prepared.
The same argument applies to hazardous waste; the Government were clearly unprepared for the co-disposal rules on 16 July, despite warnings made at great length by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and others.
Richard Ottaway : If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I would like to return to the subject of incineration for a moment. His opposition to incineration is well known, but how does he feel about combined heat and power? Is it all right to incinerate if something productive results from it, such as heat and power?
Norman Baker : I must not be tempted to go down the route of the entire waste strategy. The Government have a waste strategy, and my party adheres to it. My only complaint is that it is not implemented. In fact, it is implemented upside down in a sense, with landfill being encouraged most of all. Combined heat and power has a role, but we are not in favour of incineration, except for certain small quantities of hazardous wasteif that process can be properly controlled. Combined heat and power is clearly a better end result than letting heat drift out, but incineration is not necessarily implied in that process.
Norman Baker : That is the answer I have given. We are in favour of combined heat and power; we are not in favour of incineration, except for the small, purposeful use that I mentioned for hazardous waste.
Richard Ottaway : I want to press the hon. Gentleman on this because it is an important point. One cannot have combined heat and power without incineration. If the hon. Gentleman is in favour of combined heat and power, logically he is in favour of incineration.
Norman Baker : I will try again. I am not in favour of facilities being created for the purpose of incineration from which combined heat and power is a by-product. I hope that is more helpful in clarifying my position.
One of the other matters raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was the lack of sites for disposal of hazardous waste to landfill, irrespective of the landfill directive and its requirements. That is a serious issue for my constituency where there is now a proposal that has suddenly emerged to fill that void. There are no sites for
2 Feb 2005 : Column 287WH
the disposal of hazardous waste anywhere remotely near to my constituency. No such site to deal with hazardous waste has been identified in the East Sussex, Brighton and Hove waste plan, but a speculative application has arrived for a site in Chailey in my constituency, which is wholly unsuitable. The proposed site is the old Hamsey brickworks, and it is unsuitable because it will lead to the generation of a huge number of lorry movements. Because there are so few sites, and there are none for miles around, a large number of lorry movements from Kent, Surrey and West and East Sussex will all bear down on that site.
It is interesting to note that when health authorities and primary care trusts are asked to comment on incineration facilities, the health issue they comment on most is the movement of lorries and the pollution that they generate, which is significant. There will be a massive increase in lorry movement if that proposal is accepted.
The proposal would also place the site on top of a geological fault, of all things. It is close to a stream and it is very close to a residential area, and it would be a nightmare if that were allowed to proceed. However, I am afraid to say that the Conservative county council, which is in charge in my area, has seen fit to ask the applicant, Lloyds Environmental, to combine the application for a landfill site for hazardous waste with a materials recycling facility. They are quite clearly different decisions, but it is being asked that they be considered together. On behalf of my constituents, who have written to me in large numbers, I call on the county council to reject that application. I hope that those comments will be picked up and relayed to the county council.
I also want to confirm my agreement with the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire on the issue of what is happening to the waste. We were warned before the ban on co-disposal of hazardous waste came into force that there were no sites. The Government were ill prepared for that. The question that has not been properly answered by anybody is: what has happened to the waste that has not been disposed of properly? There may have been a rush to deal with some of it before the ban came in. We may be having a quiet winter and that may have helped people to stockpile waste. Some waste may have been disposed of improperly through non-hazardous-waste channels and some may have been fly-tippedthere is a real issue there.
I have not had a decent answer to this question from the Minister when I have raised it before: what happens to a farmer who suddenly wakes up one morning and finds that he has got a field full of asbestos because someone else has tipped it there? He is faced with a choice. He can ring up the Environment Agency and say, "I've got a field full of asbestos," to which it will say, "Thanks very much. Here is the bill. We'll take it away." Alternatively, he is forced to pretend that the asbestos is not there in order not to incur a penalty for something that is not of his making. That is a difficult situation. I am afraid that it is quite possible that private landowners find material tipped on their land that they do not report because they will incur a financial penalty. What is the Minister's answer to that point and how will he deal with the issue? What reporting mechanism is in place to identify what hazardous waste is being fly-tipped on private land? The Minister seems rather
2 Feb 2005 : Column 288WH
occupied with his correspondence. Perhaps one of his officials will record my point and send him a note when he comes to reply.
I am sorry to bring in a party note, but it is important if we are going to talk about the issue seriously. As I said, I have respect for the knowledge of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire on this issue. I would go so far as to say that I do not doubt the integrity and commitment of those who speak on the environment for the Conservative party. However, I am bound to say that their credibility has not been helped by the recent James reportthe exercise carried out at the behest of the shadow Chancellorwhich proposed swingeing cuts to the Environment Agency, which is the very body that we rely on to deal with the dumping of hazardous waste up and down the country.
"The James report for the Conservative Party on the savings to be made from bureaucracy proposes cutting government grants to the Environment Agency by £47 million, which it describes as cuts in 'intrusive enforcement by the Environment Agency'.
My board takes the views and objectives of the major political parties extremely seriously, and it is part of our duty to the public that we understand them properly. In the circumstances we can hardly fail to conclude that Mr. James's recommendations have no basis in even the most rudimentary understanding of our business."
The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) is not responsible for the proposals in the James report, or for the shadow Chancellor, but if she and her colleagues want credibility on the environment, they had better undo that particular cut pretty damn quickly.
Dr. Murrison : On the subject of credibility and the Environment Agency, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pay a visit to my constituency and speak to the The Air That We Breathe Group, which is a champion of the concerns of local people in respect of the Westbury cement works. He should ask that group what credibility the Environment Agency has. He would find that it is much dented. We should not for one moment suppose that it is a faultless champion of the environment. I fear that it is full of faults.
Norman Baker : The Environment Agency is not without fault, although I noticed that in the debate on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Billyesterday, I thinkthe Conservatives proposed an amendment to give the Environment Agency more power to tackle fly-tippers. There seems to be some contradiction between cutting the powers of the Environment Agency and giving it more powers. The Environment Agency is not always as effective as it might be because it is under-funded. It cannot carry out the necessary inspections and the Conservative proposals would make that much worse. Tony Juniper, who has a key position as executive director of Friends of the Earth, said:
"The Conservatives' plan to slash and burn spending at DEFRA is a dangerous attack on Britain's environment and countryside. Cutting Environment Agency staffing risks undoing some of the excellent achievements made over recent years . . . Oliver Letwin's plans are nothing short of madness."
I want the Conservatives to be credible on the environment; I want people in all parties to argue for better environment protection, because that is how we will get it. I want serious action on global warming, for example, but we ain't going to get it with the recent half-baked proposals to cut budgets.
Richard Ottaway : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be even-handed, and that he is aware that the chairman of the Environment Agency is a member of the Labour party, and not a completely neutral voice. Would he like to explore the Gershon report, which calls for substantial cuts in the recycling budgets? The Minister has been totally unable to explain how they will be achieved.
Norman Baker : I am happy to be even-handed. I spend most of my time criticising the Government in my contributions in the House, even if I have not done so today. We do not agree with the proposals to which the hon. Gentleman referred and they will not feature in our manifesto, which will be committed to properly funding local authorities and recycling projects.
Hazardous waste raises serious issues. The Minister cannot pretend that everything is hunky-dory and has gone swimmingly since 16 July. He must deal with the points made about the lack of facilities, the huge imposition on local communities where facilities are provided, and about the cement kilns and transport movements, to which I referred. I hope that he will address those matters when he replies, and if he cannot do so that, he will write to the hon. Members present and give them his full and considered views on the points that have been raised in the debate.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): May I join in the hearty congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) on securing the debate? I also congratulate another illustrious predecessor in this excellent debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway).
The most staggering thing is that the credibility of the Liberal Democrats has been shot in the water. They opposed an incinerator in Guildford but built one in Sheffield, under a Liberal Democrat administration. However, I was not aware of the confusion and muddle of their policy on incineration and combined heat and power until we focused on their comments.
For the sake of clarity, I should say that we take very seriously the so-called allegations made by the two Labour stoogesthe chairman and chief executive of the Environment Agencywho are both still members of the Labour party. Those allegations will be rebutted fulsomely in the same medium from which they emerged.
Locally, I enjoy an excellent relationship with the Environment Agency in the region, which had a difficult role in the scenario of the ghost ships, especially the Able plant. ENCAMS and other organisations in my local region also play an excellent role.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 290WH
Norman Baker : Far be it from me to defend members of the Labour party, but it is unfair to call John Harman and Barbara Young stooges. I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw that remark, because in my experience of working with them their approach has been entirely professional and independent.
Miss McIntosh : Had they been more even-handed in their analysis of Gershon, as well as James, Conservative Members would have taken their comments much more seriously, as would those who are deeply concerned about the environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has played a role in the Conservative party on which we continue to build. Hansard records that as early as May 2002 he alerted the Government to the problem of the delay and lack of preparation in signing up to the EU landfill directive. I am staggered that even now there are only 12 hazardous waste merchantable sites, which is a gross underestimate of what is required. By my hon. Friend's calculations, there are still 4 million tonnes with nowhere to go. That is very serious.
My hon. Friend raised the serious concerns that we Conservatives have about the pre-treatment required and the lack of technologies to dispose of and prepare such waste under the new criteria that will be set. We want to take this opportunity to press the Minister on the matter. I am sorry not to have the company of the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment, who I gather was in Cumbria yesterday and is even further afield today. However, I hope that our concerns will be conveyed to him.
Of the 200 sites that were licensed before 12 July 2004, only five were licensed to continue to operate past that date. On 16 July, we had the capacity to dispose of only 1 million tonnes of hazardous waste, leaving a shortfall of 4 million tonnes. That significant amount of hazardous waste may well not be missing, but it is of great concern to us. The industry and the businesses concerned would welcome an assurance from the Minister that that shortfall is not missing and unaccounted for. Only eight sites had permission as of 12 December last year to dispose of hazardous waste. On 12 December, The Daily Telegraph apparently recorded that the cost of hazardous waste disposal had risen to £50 per tonne, compared with £10 per tonne for normal waste. Hazardous waste includes, among other things, computer monitors, fluorescent tubes and contaminated soil. More than 60 per cent. of hazardous waste is soil, according to the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment.
As recently as 23 January, an article in The Mail on Sunday warned that mountains of TV sets could be joining that veritable electronic mountain. From August this year, they will also be considered hazardous waste. More than 2 million are disposed of each year. Industrial leaders and specialists in the field, such as the Environmental Services Association, say that no plans have yet been made to deal with the problem. Biffa says that there is no reason not to think that this will be a rerun of the fridge saga. That echoes the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire: this is clearly another example of the Government's failure to plan for EU directives and of a deepening of the hazardous waste crisis.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 291WH
Other newspaper stories have something like 120,000 fridges being discarded on banks in Manchester. In spite of the fact that 2.3 million fridges and freezers are discarded each year, the Government can account for only 1.3 million. Perhaps the Minister could tell us where the other million have gone.
On 12 December 2004, it was reported that the London 2012 Olympic bid will lead to a crisis in hazardous waste disposal due to the removal of contaminated soil to construct the athletes' village. The cost of that would be immense, at more than £50 per tonne. In a further alarming report on 30 January, The Independent on Sunday reported that nuclear waste may have been dumped near Totnes.
We have also identified the forthcoming battery mountain. We have a number of questions for the Minister and would like some clear answers and assurances. It is extremely important that the UK Government do not agree to something that we cannot implement by the due date. Our battery recycling levels are very low, so can the Government supply a route map, showing how they intend to reach the standards set, before signing up to the directive?
We need an open assessment of the UK's battery recycling capacity. I understand that Britannia recycling of Bristol went into receivership in November 2003 and closed down, leaving only one company in the west midlands, of which I do not have the name. That one company appears to be the sole recycler of household batteries in the country.
Without adequate recycling capacity, the likelihood is that we shall continue to send batteries to France and other continental countries to be recycled. That is environmentally unsustainable. Will the Government state what plans they havepresumably through the Waste and Resources Action Programmeto grow the required capability in the United Kingdom? There is much good will among the public about the need to recycle batteries. We need to facilitate that and make it as easy as possible for the public to take batteries to accessible recycling points. These may well be best placed in schools, supermarkets or other easily reached facilities. The Minister's Department has maintained
Mr. Sayeed : Is my hon. Friend aware that, under the IMO carriage regulations which deal with the transport of hazardous waste by sea, it is quite likely to be impossible or prohibited to send a battery which contains acid by sea?
Miss McIntosh : It is just as well that we have my hon. Friend's expertise in commercial transport by seanot least by the Royal Navyon our side so that we can give the Minister some possible direction in that regard. That was a very helpful intervention.
The Minister's Department's stance is that such minor collection points may need a waste management licencewhich would take time and money to acquire. That is not the best nor the most appropriate route. The European Commission, in correspondence with Dr. Caroline Jackson MEP, who speaks for us in the European Parliament, has maintained that the batteries directive does not require such a licence, nor does other associated legislation. That seems therefore to be an area where we need less bureaucracy and more common
2 Feb 2005 : Column 292WH
sense. As schools, supermarkets or other facilities may soon be wanting to put in such collection points, will the Minister state once and for all that such collection points will not require the full panoply of detail and burdensome administrative proceduresof a waste management licence, which was surely never intended for such small sites?
I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said regarding hazardous waste, whichif it is unsortedwill have waste acceptance criteria applied to it from 16 July this year. They will require hazardous waste to be treated to a specified standard before it can be accepted into a hazardous landfill site. My understanding, however, is that the UK's hazardous waste treatment infrastructure is the least developed of any EU member state. For example, there are 16 high-temperature incinerators operating in France, compared with only two in the UK.
As for contaminated land, developers begin clearing land prior to developing in spring. Therefore, an increase in the amount of contaminated soils needing management is expected shortly. Contaminated soils account for 20 per cent. of all hazardous wasteapproximately 1 million tonnesso I wish to press the Minister on a number of points. Conservative Members want to see the licensing process speeded up, so that more merchant-dedicated hazardous waste sites are opened as soon as possible. I am grateful to the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment who, in response to a series of parliamentary questions in August 2004, brought us up to date on the number of site applications there had been until then. In many cases, planning applications had been refused pending planning permission being granted, but a number were refused outright. Will the Minister bring us up to date again on whether the total of 12 is correct?
The official Opposition would introduce stricter penalties for the fly-tipping of hazardous waste, including making it an arrestable offence. Like the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who also raised this issue, I am only too aware of the prospect that in a deeply rural constituency such as mine it is only too easy to dump contaminated soil, asbestos and other forms of hazardous waste, including fridge-freezers and other items, on the land without the knowledge or permission of the landowner. Increasingly, that is causing great concern. I understand from the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality, speaking in Committee yesterday, that the Government are saying that that will be an arrestable offencearrestable, that is, by a police officer. However, we all know that a police officer can never be found in rural areas at precisely the moment one is required. We therefore hope that it will be considered important to extend similar powers of arrest to the Environment Agency officers, who are the very people being asked to tackle the issue.
The Government have so far not released any recent figures showing how many hazardous waste sites are in operation. Will the Minister do so today? What effect has the 85 per cent. decrease in hazardous waste sites as of July and August last year had on the environment? Does the Department have any evidence of an increase in fly-tipping of hazardous waste to date?
The Environmental Services Association and the Environment Agency agree with the Government that there is no longer any significant amount of missing
2 Feb 2005 : Column 293WH
waste. Will the Minister confirm that that is correct and give details of what has happened to the waste produced between July last year and now? Some 4 million tonnes are produced annually, but only 1 million tonnes have been accounted for.
There is no waste strategy in place. A waste strategy and/or guidance regulations drive investment, which was the point that my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, South and for Mid-Bedfordshire made. We increasingly rely on commercial operations, without which there would be no investment. That is particularly important for the waste acceptance criteria, which come into effect on 16 July. The criteria require treatment of contaminated waste before it is landfilled. However, as the Department has published no framework, there has been no investment to date and the treatment technologies are not available.
The Government have persistently demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to deal with hazardous waste effectively. Tens of thousands of fridges have blighted the landscape and they will soon be joined by hundreds of thousands of TVs. There are more than 2 million TVs a year to be disposed of, but no plans to recycle them. We face the increasing challenge of household batteries and no recycling point easily identified, yet the Government are poised to sign up to the new EU directive. The Government seem totally unprepared for the fact that TVs will soon become hazardous waste. What is the Minister doing to prevent a TV mountain being created before August?
We have also built up a body of evidence, not least from proceedings on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, to show that the Government do not consult properly, if at all, with the waste management industry. What plans does the Minister have to change that? If people can, allegedly, dump radioactive waste in Totnes, what hope do we have of the Government preventing people from dumping less dangerous but equally serious waste? Again, where are the 1 million fridges?
I welcome this opportunity to debate the issue and would like to record again my appreciation of my two illustrious predecessors, most recently my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, and previously my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) that we have no immediate plans to convert cement kilns into incinerators, but we see scope, albeit limited, for combined heat and power. I do not think that we shall match the giddy heights reached in Denmark of 58 per cent. of household waste incineratedI bow to the knowledge of Denmark that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) hasbut we would look favourably on any possibilities for micro-generation from combined heat and power.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) on securing this debate and apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment,
2 Feb 2005 : Column 294WH
who, as many hon. Members know, is one of the world's leading experts on the subject. He is unavoidably abroad on ministerial business.
I apologise also to hon. Members who have participated in the debate and to those following our proceedings that, as a consequence of my hon. Friend's absence, some of the answers to the questions asked, particularly those asked by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), will not be as satisfactory as they would have been had he replied to the debate. I shall deal in writing with anything that I do not manage to cover in my short response this afternoon. I apologise in advance to my officials for the extra work involved in that.
It may help if I give some background to the current state of affairs on hazardous waste, and the way in which the Government envisage things progressing. Approximately 5 million tonnes of hazardous waste was consigned in England and Wales in 2002. Some 70 per cent. of that came from four categories: 25 per cent. was construction and demolition waste and asbestos; 20 per cent. was oil and oil and water mixes; 12 per cent. was from organic chemical processes; and 13 per cent. fell into the category of "not otherwise specified".
Approximately 39 per cent. of all that hazardous waste was disposed to landfill. In addition to consigned waste, some 4.5 million tonnes of hazardous waste was treated or disposed of at the site where it was produced. The solid element of that waste amounted to 500,000 tonnes. As we shall see, those amounts of hazardous waste are set to decline in coming years, as additional controls drive waste producers to consider waste prevention and minimisation above treatment and disposal.
Some of those significant changes to the management of hazardous waste have already taken place in the UK, and more changes are due in the coming year. The most significant, as hon. Members have already mentioned, relate to the implementation of the EU landfill directive, which was agreed in 1999. Most notable is the ban on the co-disposal of hazardous with non-hazardous waste in the same landfill cell. From 16 July 2004, hazardous waste destined for landfill has had to go to a dedicated landfill site for hazardous waste.
In addition, however, the landfill directive allows so-called stable non-reactive hazardous waste to go to a separate cell in a non-hazardous landfill. The term "stable non-reactive" denotes waste whose leaching behaviour will not change adversely in the long term under the landfill design conditions. Examples of a stable non-reactive hazardous waste would be asbestos or contaminated soil mixed with concrete. In addition to the co-disposal ban, there is a requirement from 16 July 2004 that hazardous waste be pre-treated before it is placed in landfill.
Further changes to the treatment of hazardous waste for landfill are being made this year. On 16 July 2005, the waste acceptance criteria will apply to hazardous waste going to landfill and to stable non-reactive hazardous waste going to separate cells in non-hazardous landfill. The waste acceptance criteria do not create new wastes, but set limits on the amounts of substancesmainly heavy metalsthat are permitted to leach from the waste. To ensure that waste meets the criteria it must be tested, and guidance is available on those testing requirements.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 295WH
The changes will improve the management of hazardous waste. They are already leading to more sensible decisions by waste producers and waste managers and are broadly welcomed by the industry. We are already seeing benefits, with early indications of a reduction in hazardous waste going to landfill since July last year. Waste producers must now consider the costs of hazardous waste management and be aware of the new controls, especially on landfill. They also have responsibilities to know what waste they are producing, its characteristics and how it might be treated.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : That is not a point of order for the Chair. The Minister answering the debate is a qualified Minister of the Government, and in the absence of the fully qualified specialist on the issue under debate, who is on duty elsewhere, he is the best we are going to get.
Mr. Bradshaw : I did preface my remarks with a reference to the absence of my hon. Friend, and perhaps I might have hoped for more graciousness from the hon. Gentleman. I shall write to him on the point that he raises. Hon. Members can interrupt as often as they like to try to trip me up, but it will not achieve much for their constituents.
One issue that was raised today, not least by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, who initiated the debate, is what will happen to waste electronic and electronic equipmentknown as WEEEonce the new directive is implemented. We will see greater treatment and recycling of WEEE. New capacity is already being developed for the proper treatment of such waste; only two weeks ago, a plant opened in Wales that has the capacity to deal with 500,000 television sets a year. Once the treatment requirements of the directive are in place, and if they are communicated and enforced, industry will develop the necessary treatment. I assure the House that there is no prospect of what the hon. Member for Vale of York unhelpfully called television mountains.
Overall, the Government are committed to reducing the UK's reliance on landfill in order to reduce the environmental impact of waste and because, with landfill, we miss the opportunity to recover value from the waste.
The hon. Members for Mid-Bedfordshire and for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) suggested that there had not been enough consultation on some of the decisions, and that people had not been given enough time to make the necessary investment decisionsthe hon. Member for Croydon, South particularly
2 Feb 2005 : Column 296WH
mentioned private businesses. That surprises me, because only the UK and Sweden have transposed the decision before the July 2004 deadline; all the other member states have yet to do so. We have gone through the compulsory consultation process. We have set up the hazardous waste forum. The Federation of Small Businesses, to which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred, apparently complained that it had not been consulted or included, but it is represented on that forum. I will certainly respond to the hon. Gentleman's criticisms, but they surprise me.
Mr. Sayeed : The reason for people's doubts about the Government is the way in which they have performed in the past. The fact is that there was a fridge mountain. The fact is that Ministers did not realise that the regulations stopped them sending redundant fridges to poor countries in Africa until it was pointed out to them. They have a history.
As for the WEEE directive, it was my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York who brought up the problem. We have facilities to deal only with 1 million tonnes a year. How are we going to deal with the other 4 million tonnes?
The Minister will appreciate that I spent 10 years trying to negotiate and sign up to some of those EU directivesall in Britain's best interests. The criticism is not personal to the Minister or his officials. However, the global impression that we get from his Department is that we are signing up to EU directives without having the necessary infrastructure in place and without giving business the lead time to prepare for them. It would help the Minister if we did not sign up to any more until we have the facilities in place. Further to that, Denmark and Sweden are incinerating and have stopped recycling because of the transport problems mentioned earlier by a number of hon. Members.
Mr. Bradshaw : I shall come to the transport problems if I have time. I take the hon. Lady's point that it is important not to sign up to EU directives; indeed, I am always extremely careful about what I sign up to, especially if I feel that we have not had enough consultation or that we have not considered the potential impact of what is proposed.
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire asked whether we approved of increased penalties for fly-tipping, as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee. Yes, we do. I am not going to join the party political mudslinging that we heard earlier, but I am somewhat surprised at that comment given the official Opposition's opposition to the Clean
2 Feb 2005 : Column 297WH
Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. That Bill will do exactly that; it will raise the maximum fine for fly-tipping from £20,000 to £50,000. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that, and I hope that he will try to persuade his Front-Bench colleagues to change their stance on the Bill.
The changes are beginning to have a positive impact, but we cannot achieve our waste strategy goals alone. We need the active involvement of waste producers, the waste industry and the regulators if the very real benefits are to be realised.
As for the regulators, I decry the sort of language that was used by the hon. Member for Vale of York, when she described the chairman and chief executive of the Environment Agency as stooges. I do not always agree with the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), but he was right to criticise the hon. Lady for saying that, and I look forward to her promised rebuttal of the Environment Agency's criticisms of the official Opposition's spending proposals.
The Environment Agency has been working hard; its work in this area is vital if we are to address the problems that were raised today by official Opposition Back Benchers. In addition to landfill and treatment site inspections and audits, the agency has undertaken more than 1,800 targeted producer inspections, numerous cradle-to-grave audits, more than 2,200 stop-and-search vehicle checks and audits of port facilities, and reports that there is no evidence from those checks that waste is deliberately being stockpiled or misdescribed in large volumes. The hon. Lady sought assurance on that. The agency will continue to monitor the situation and take enforcement action where necessary, but it needs the funds to do so. It is clear that the regulator is taking the issue of compliance seriously.
The issue of capacity has been raised. There were concerns, last year, that we would not have enough hazardous waste landfill capacity, but, as the Government predicted, that is not the case. Industry responded to the need for capacity by minimising hazardous waste, and there is now sufficient hazardous waste landfill capacity to meet current needs. Concerns were expressed that not all regions have a dedicated merchant hazardous waste landfillWales and south-east England have been given as examplesbut each of those regions has separate cells in non-hazardous landfill for stable non-reactive hazardous waste.
We must not exaggerate the problem of transport. In response to the question raised by the hon. Member for Lewes, the proximity principle, whereby waste is dealt with as close as possible to where it arises, is clearly important, but hazardous waste has always been transported to the most suitable or best-value sites for treatment and disposal, regardless of distance. There are only two merchant high-temperature incinerators in the UKat Fawley and Ellesmere Port. They are able to deal with our most intractable hazardous waste, which often has to travel some distance to those facilities.
We should not forget that our overall aim must be to reduce our reliance on landfill, which is at the bottom of the waste hierarchy, and simply leaves the problems of contamination and hazard for future generations.
2 Feb 2005 : Column 298WH
Another plank of our controls on hazardous waste relates to its tracking and movement. That issue that was also raised by the hon. Member for Lewes. The hazardous waste directive provides controls in that area, and the Government have embarked on a review of the main controls implementing the directivethe special waste regulations. The Government had a consultation on revised hazardous waste regulations last year, which closed on 29 October. They will introduce the final regulations in the spring, with the intention that they should come into force on 16 July, to coincide with the application of the landfill directive waste acceptance criteria.
The new controls will provide a streamlined system. That is important, given that the amount and types of hazardous waste were increased in the EU in 2002. The new controls provide for a system of notification to the Environment Agency for sites producing hazardous waste, with exclusions for low-risk producers such as shops, offices, farms and charities. Companies that move hazardous waste off site will, as now, have to ensure that a consignment note describing the nature of the waste travels with it. However, the current requirement that companies obtain permission from the Environment Agency before moving hazardous waste will be dropped, as it adds little to the controls.
Overall, the focus of the controls is to move from the waste manager, who is already subject to regulation and permitting, to the hazardous waste producer. Thus, the regulatory effort can be directed at the beginning of the chain of hazardous waste management. The agency will be able to offer advice to waste producers on techniques to minimise their waste and on methods of treatment, and will be able to better target its enforcement on those that do not comply, which is in the interests of better regulation.
An important part of the controls in the hazardous waste directive is the ban on mixing different categories of hazardous waste, or mixing hazardous waste with non-hazardous waste. That is sensible, because mixing can make it more difficult for waste to be recycled or recovered, and can lead to higher costs if more hazardous waste results. The new regulations will apply the mixing ban, which we propose to apply to producers of hazardous waste.
Mr. Sayeed : The Minister may not be able to deal with my questionin which case, I hope that he will make sure that the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment doeswhich is about having incremental charges, particularly on small and medium-sized producers.
Let me deal briefly with the constituency issue about the cement works raised by the hon. Member for Westbury, on which he indicated that he had had a long-standing correspondence with my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment. I am unable to comment on the specific case, but I will ask my hon. Friend to respond to the points the hon. Gentleman raised.
In generalalso dealing with the concern of the hon. Member for Lewescement kilns are and will be subject to the strict emission controls in the waste incineration
2 Feb 2005 : Column 299WH
directive. There is no prospect of lowering those standards. Cement kilns provide a useful outlet for some wastes. The recovery of energy from waste, to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, is good for the environmentsomething that I hope all hon. Members would welcome.
I should say a little about the hazardous waste forum. The Government set up the forum in 2002, in response to concerns about the impending changes to hazardous waste management. That forum has been an important body, offering advice to Government and the Environment Agency on the direction of policy, and giving us the mechanism better to communicate changes to businesses, including the interests of the Federation of Small Businesses, which is represented on the forum.
A survey of the forum's members has confirmed that its work is welcomed by both industry and business. We will maintain the forum in its current form, although we are always open to suggestionsfrom both sides of the Houseas to how we can improve its work and outlook.
Norman Baker : In the time available, will the Minister deal with a point that I raised, as did the hon. Member for Vale of York? One of the reasons hazardous wastes may not appear to be a problem in some quarters is because it is illegally dumped on private land. There is then no incentive for the landowner to report thatin fact, there is a disincentive, because he faces a penalty. Could the Ministeror his colleague, in writingclarify the Government strategy for identifying how much hazardous waste has been put on private land? Is it their intention that the private landowner who is innocent in this equation bears the bill? Would that appear to be the position at present?
Mr. Bradshaw : Further to the Environment Agency's assessment that the problem had not increased, there are extra measures which the hon. Gentleman knows are included in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. I am afraid that I will have to write to him on the other points on which he requested clarification.
We have had a worthwhile and interesting debate. We have heard a number of concerns about the future management of hazardous waste. Overall, the combination of the landfill and hazardous waste directives controls will improve the management of hazardous waste in this country. That will benefit the environment now and for generations to come.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|