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Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I   begin by paying tribute to the campaigners for the Make Poverty History campaign and the trade justice campaign in my constituency and throughout the country. We should reflect on the success of those campaigns: people were motivated throughout the country and young people, especially, were seized by those projects. That has had a great deal to teach all of us in terms of a political campaign.

I say that with a tinge of regret, having listened to today's statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about the deliberations of the World Trade Organisation in Hong Kong last week. It is unfortunate that it was not possible for the Government to secure proper reform of the common agricultural policy earlier during their presidency. We know from parliamentary answers that the Minister for Europe did not even start to have serious negotiations with our European colleagues on the CAP before October. If we had been able to sort out the CAP and arrive at some sort of proper agreement earlier this year, there would have been a real chance for us to secure a far better outcome at the WTO meeting in Hong Kong. As a result, hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people would have received a much better outcome.

It is glib and easy to talk about poverty and the Make Poverty History campaign, but what does that mean? I   was impressed recently by the work of the UN World Food Programme, based in Rome. We must remember
 
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that some 6 million children die every year through malnutrition or disease. Those children are loved by their parents and are just as special to their families as are UK children to their families. I note what we have just heard about Hong Kong with a great sense of regret. Of course some progress has been reached, but it is a pity that we could not make real progress under the British presidency to secure CAP reform.

I want to reflect on what the House heard yesterday from the Prime Minister about the European budget negotiations. It is curious that only two weeks ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the House, on 5 December, to set out the state of the nation's finances up to 2008. We learned yesterday from the Prime Minister that we will have some £7 billion less than the Chancellor had anticipated when he made his statement to the House. It is extraordinary that Parliament has not been consulted about such a massive change to the national budget. We have not been told which taxes will rise to pay for the £7 billion or which services will not now be funded. Apparently, not even the Chancellor was contacted to ask to give his agreement to £7 billion coming off the rebate.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that it was all about supporting the new entrants to the EU, and there is much sense in that. However, it is curious to find that Ireland, which has a higher per capita income than the United Kingdom, is receiving more per head than Lithuania, Slovakia and Poland. It would be possible, however, to support the new entrant states properly with a budget that was fair and ensured that money went to the poorest nations and not to some of the richest nations.

These are serious issues. As Members of Parliament, our prime duty is to hold the Government to account and to be the guardians of taxpayers' money. It is extraordinary that this matter has not come anywhere near the House; instead, it will be debated in the European Parliament. We are talking about huge sums. I understand that £7 billion is more or less what the Government spend on policing in England and Wales.

That brings me to the next part of my speech, which is the reorganisation of the police service. If we spoke to most of our constituents about police restructuring, they would probably look slightly blank. When I speak to my constituents about policing, they say that they would like the police station, for example, in Houghton Regis to stay open later in the evening. The same thing could be said about the police stations at Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable. People in villages in my constituency say that they would like to see a police officer more often.

Many of my constituents, like those of all other Members, suffer from the scourge of antisocial behaviour. It is appalling that, in some cases, such behaviour continues for two, three and sometimes three and a half years before those suffering from it are able to get relief. These are the real issues that our constituents want us to answer when we discuss the police service.

The Government's reorganisation of the police service raises the question whether the proposed changes are likely to address the concerns of our constituents better, or whether the situation will become
 
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worse. I have a great concern that larger forces will shift the focus from those local policing concerns that our constituents want the police to deal with.

The chairman of the Association of Police Authorities says:

Members on both sides of the House are happy to work with the Government to consider how to save money within the police service and to spend money more efficiently. We have grave doubts, however, about the way in which the Government are proceeding. In my own area, Bedfordshire police say that the set-up costs of a regional east of England force—one of the options proposed by the Government—are £70 million with net savings of only £10 million. The cost of the east-west option that will merge Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire forces or the north-south option that will merge Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex is £66 million to set up the new force, with savings of only £6 million a year. There is therefore a 10-year payback period, which is quite a long time in which the police service must borrow to fund start-up costs, possibly having to make cuts in front-line services before those costs are recouped. Nationally, the Government need between £500 million and £600 million to bring about the changes. We can all think of better ways of spending that money to put more police officers on our streets without resorting to reorganisation.

I accept that, in some respects, the Government have a point. Do we need 43 directors of finance in our police forces, or 43 directors of human resources? We could easily centralise functions such as finance, human resources and purchasing to save funds. There are many   ways in which we could achieve the economies that the Government seek without a massive amalgamation of forces.

Accountability is key for the police, but it is stretched to the limit. My constituency is at the bottom of Bedfordshire, and the county town of Bedford is a 55-minute drive away. It is not as far as the distances that colleagues in larger counties have to travel, but it is still a significant distance. We need accountability in terms of the BCU—the basic command unit—of the police service, but chief superintendents do not have a structure of accountability. They look up to the chief constable, and the police authority covers the area in   which the relevant police forces operates. Chief superintendents who manage police divisions should be made accountable to local representatives, who know very well the concerns of the people whom they represent.

Bedfordshire, too, has been told that any merger plans must fit within the region covered by the Government office for the east of England. Bedfordshire police considered the option of merging with Thames Valley police, who are next-door to us and with whom we share some functions, but we were told that that was not possible because they were in a different Government region. Like many hon. Members, I can confirm that our ambulance and fire and rescue services in Bedfordshire operate on a regional basis. Our strategic health authority is heading in that direction
 
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and important planning decisions are effectively made on a regional basis. It appears as if our police force is heading that way, too.

Finally, on behalf of Bedfordshire police may I reiterate the point made my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) yesterday? Bedfordshire police have been asked to pay the full security costs of policing Luton airport, which is a national facility used by planes from across the United Kingdom, Europe and further afield. It is not right that £400,000 should be taken from our police budget to provide security so that people across the south-east can   fly safely. That does not happen at Gatwick or Heathrow, so I urge the Government to end that discrimination and give that money back to the people of Bedfordshire.

I, too, wish to conclude by wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr. Speaker, all the Clerks and the staff of the House a happy Christmas.

3.24 pm

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): May I begin by sending my good wishes to everyone who works in the House, not least people in less highly regarded areas such as the Whips Office? I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) would pass on those wishes to his colleagues.

A week today, on 27 December, we celebrate the third   day of Christmas, when the quarry products industry receives from the Government not three French hens but something else of continental origin with more than a paltry impact—the European waste incineration directive. The constituency of North-West Leicestershire is a mineral-rich area. Roadstone extraction and treatment is a key industry that employs many of my constituents. The waste incineration directive poses a serious threat to their employers, given the additional costs that it will impose, and to the local and national environmental, given the extra emissions that will arise if the WID is allowed to ban the use of recovered fuel oil in the roadstone coating process and use as a substitute more polluting virgin fuels—which have nothing to do with Richard Branson.

The simple facts are as follows. Asphalt producers have used RFO as a fuel to provide the heat to dry stone for more than 30 years under strict emissions control arrangements without any apparent detrimental effects to the environment. That is largely due to the fact that   the emissions from plants using RFO are environmentally more benign than plants using alternative, so-called virgin fuels. There is substantial evidence to underwrite those claims. However, the Environment Agency is adamant that RFO is a waste when bought by the quarrying industry and, because burning it constitutes disposal, it must now comply with the WID. The Environment Agency's arguments are based on rulings by the European Court of Justice that are quite irrelevant. Without significant, technically difficult and costly—in other words, impractical—changes to plants, the quarrying industry cannot meet the WID criteria, and will have no alternative but to stop using it from 27 December 2005 and switch to less environmentally sensitive virgin fuels such as gas, oil and light fuel oil.
 
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The revision of the European waste framework directive, which will be published tomorrow as it starts to proceed through the European Parliament, redefines "recovery" so that RFO purchased from members of the oil reprocessing association is now classified as fully recovered and will no longer be a waste. Above all, the Environment Agency decision flies in the face of the   Government's own sustainable development strategy, and waste prevention objectives, as the use of RFO, which is mainly derived from old motor vehicle engine oil, replaces an equivalent volume of virgin hydrocarbon fuel of about 4 million litres a week.

Bearing in mind that the new classification of the period at which a waste ceases to be a waste will be in the   public domain tomorrow and that it will be clear for everyone to see that RFO, as bought by industry, is recovered under the new definitions, it is inconceivable that the European Commission should commence infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom if the UK allows the continued use of RFO by the quarrying industry after 27 December. Knowing that   my right hon. Friend the Chancellor deplores red   tape and that slavish adherence to apparent ECJ legal opinion and infraction constitute the paranoia underpinning the Environment Agency's attitude, the quarrying industry would be grateful to Ministers, including my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, for any pressure that they can bring to bear on the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency in the next few days to replace dogma with logic and common sense.

May I take a minute or two to outline the case that I   hope my hon. Friend the Minister will put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? The   roadstone coating industry currently uses approximately 200,000 tonnes of recovered fuel oil annually, which is about half of the UK's entire consumption. Roadstone coating plants burn RFO to dry and heat stone before bitumen is applied to make asphalt. The burning of RFO in roadstone coating plants significantly reduces the consumption of virgin gas oil by the roadstone coating industry, which preserves natural resources and avoids energy consumption in the production and refining of virgin gas oil, and it decreases emissions across a range of substances in comparison with the burning of virgin gas oil, which is perfectly lawful.

The market for RFO creates an economic environment within which the waste oil collection and treatment industry can thrive. Since the costs of waste oil collection and treatment are effectively underwritten by the end user of RFO, so-called producers of waste oil   have every incentive to dispose of their waste oil responsibly and lawfully. The use of RFO by roadstone coating plants in my constituency is therefore of significant environmental benefit. No alternative option currently exists, and no viable alternative has been proposed that would guarantee the same environmental benefit as that received from the established pattern of RFO use by roadstone coating plants.

In my view, the use of RFO by roadstone coating plants is the best practical environmental option, and the Government should fully support it. However, DEFRA and the various waste regulators appear to
 
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think that the burning of waste-derived fuel is either a waste-recovery operation or a waste-disposal operation, and that as a consequence all waste-derived fuel must be waste. That is an over-simplification of the legal principles determining when something derived from waste ceases to be waste. As a consequence of that approach, the use of RFO as a fuel in roadstone coating plants is being considered as the co-incineration of non-hazardous waste under the waste incineration directive, and operators of such facilities are obliged to submit applications for permits under the pollution prevention and control regulations by 31 March this year. Those applications are required, even if roadstone coating plant operators choose not to use RFO beyond the compliance date for the waste incineration directive of 28 December 2005.

The industry has continued to co-operate with DEFRA and the various waste regulators in all aspects of the regulation of roadstone coating plants. Indeed, it has an excellent environmental track record, which I   have observed because of my regular visits to plants in North-West Leicestershire. However, DEFRA has not yet replied to the industry's concerns about what will happen if RFO is no longer considered as a waste.

Although I am an accountant and not a lawyer, I have seen the legal advice and assessed the status of RFO under the applicable waste law. In my view, the facts justify the classification of RFO as a completely recovered product, in which case the waste incineration directive does not apply to it. The purpose of my contribution is to demonstrate that that argument is well-founded both in law and on the facts, to seek acknowledgement via the Minister from DEFRA and the waste regulators that that argument is well founded and to encourage DEFRA and the waste regulators urgently to work on finding the most sensible resolution to the issues.

Extensive comparative emission and product trials have taken place over the past few months at four asphalt plants around the country using different suppliers of RFO, different types of stone, different fuels and different ages of machinery. The fuels used were RFO and the primary hydrocarbons—gas oil and light fuel oil—to which I have referred. The quarry industry can demonstrate unequivocally that emissions from RFO are more benign than those from so-called natural alternatives. I encourage DEFRA to inspect and respond to those results. Indeed, if the quarrying industry were to stop using RFO next week, the environment would suffer two blows: not only would the   quarrying industry have to use more virgin fossil fuel, but one of the most efficient used-oil collection regimes in Europe would be jeopardised.

Adherence to the waste incineration directive will not help the environment in this case. I urge DEFRA to defer the requirement for asphalt plants to obey the letter of the directive until it has had the chance to examine the arguments thoroughly and pragmatically and to read the final rewrite of the waste fuel directive, which disapplies the incineration directive in such cases.   To do as I request would not compromise environmental protection, but it may avoid causing
 
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irrevocable and avoidable harm to the quarry products industry, which is a crucial employer in North-West Leicestershire.

In summary, the quarry industry and those who work within it seek confirmation that there are circumstances in which it is legitimate to regard waste-derived fuel as a fully recovered product that has ceased to be waste; that the production of recovered fuel oil is the production of a product that has ceased to be waste; that the burning of recovered fuel oil in roadstone coating plants is not   the incineration or co-incineration of hazardous or non-hazardous waste; that operators of roadstone coating plants in North-West Leicestershire and elsewhere do not need to apply for PPC permits that incorporate the requirements of the waste incineration directive, which takes effect a week today; and, finally, that roadstone coating plants can lawfully continue to burn RFO, provided that they meet the emissions standards generally applicable to the burning of fuel products.

Although I consider the current methods of quality control employed by the oil reprocessing industry to be adequate to demonstrate the complete recovery of a product, the quarrying industry would be happy to work with DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the oil reprocessing industry to produce a quality protocol if that is necessary for reinsurance purposes. The industry is aware of a US quality standard—ASTM D6823—which relates specifically to the production of RFO. That could provide valuable assistance to speed up the finalisation of any UK RFO quality protocol.

The industry has every intention of maintaining its excellent track record in co-operating with DEFRA and the waste regulators to address any concerns that it may have prior to giving the formal acknowledgement that it seeks. In order for it to do so, I urge the Minister to ask his colleagues to explain any objection to the arguments that I have presented.

This is an urgent economic and environmental matter. I hope that the Government will address it before they depart on a well-earned Christmas break from European controversies and turn to resolving domestic disputes, which we all anticipate with great relish.

3.36 pm


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