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Session 2006 - 07
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European Standing Committee Debates

Waste Prevention and Recycling

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Wilshire
Barker, Gregory (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben (Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)
Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Gray, Mr. James (North Wiltshire) (Con)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Jackson, Mr. Stewart (Peterborough) (Con)
Khabra, Mr. Piara S. (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) (LD)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab)
Wood, Mike (Batley and Spen) (Lab)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)

European Standing Committee

Tuesday 5 December 2006

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

Waste Prevention and Recycling

[Relevant Documents: Extract from European Scrutiny Committee’s 18th report of 8 February 2006; Extract from European Scrutiny Committee’s 26th report of 26 April 2006.]
4.30 pm
The Chairman: Order. I draw the attention ofhon. Members to the fact that there may be a Division at 7 o’clock. The witching hour for the end of the Committee is also 7 o’clock, but it would be convenient not to have to adjourn at 7 o’clock and come back afterwards.
The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I welcome the opportunity to debate the Commission’s thematic strategy on waste and the accompanying proposal for a revised waste framework directive. The Commission’s thematic strategy does not alter the basic objectives of current waste management policy, which are to reduce the negative impact of waste by prevention, by reuse and by recycling. The Commission’s aim in publishing its strategy was to address the issues that it considers to stand in the way of achieving those objectives. The Government welcome the waste thematic strategy as a means of developing strategic policy aims, not only for waste but in relation to the sustainable use of resources. Those aims are reflected in the conclusions on the strategy, which the Council of Ministers adopted in June 2006.
The waste thematic strategy itself has no legislative force, and the associated legislation is therefore important in fulfilling the strategy’s objectives. The associated legislative action comprises a revision of the existing waste framework directive, the repeal of the waste oils directive, and the repeal of the hazardous waste directive and its integration into the revised waste framework directive.
On 12 October, I announced the publication of a consultation paper on the Commission’s proposals to revise the directive, copies of which are available in the Library. The purpose of the consultation paper is to invite a wide range of views on the proposals and to ensure that the UK’s involvement in the negotiations on the revised directive is informed and has as sound an evidence base as possible. The consultation period runs until 5 January.
An issue of concern to the Government is the proposal that would enable the Commission to adopt by comitology minimum standards for waste disposal and waste recovery operations on an EU-wide basis. The Government consider that the Commission has not justified the introduction of comitology-based standards for waste disposal and recovery operations and has not assessed either the environmental impacts or the economic costs of comitology-based standards in its impact assessment. We shall therefore continue to press the Commission to justify the proposal and to provide a full and proper assessment of the proposal’s impact and economic costs, and, in particular, its impact on the recycling of waste.
Although the Government welcome the increased emphasis that the revised directive places on waste prevention, we have concerns about the Commission’s proposals for waste prevention programmes. The proposals are prescriptive in nature and would require significant resources, without providing clarity or allowing meaningful measurement of progress on waste prevention. The revision of the waste framework directive therefore presents opportunities for simplification and improvement, which the Government wholeheartedly support, but it also contains some proposals which are less helpful.
I shall deal briefly with the status of discussions in Brussels. Last week, the European Parliament environment committee approved about 140 amendments to the Commission’s proposal. The next step will be for those amendments to be considered in a plenary session of the European Parliament, probably in February 2007. The Finnish presidency has not been able to complete the technical examination of the proposed directive in the Council of Ministers, so the negotiations will continue under the German presidency in the first half of next year. The earliest point at which the Council of Ministers is likely to be in a position to reach political agreement on the proposal is therefore at the June 2007 meeting of the Environment Council.
I request the Committee’s agreement to the proposed motion and the corresponding negotiating position.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions. I ask hon. Members to confine themselves to one question at a time, and I shall take questions from each side of the Room on an alternating basis. However, as I want to make sure that everybody has askedtheir first question before I give anybody a second go, I may call several hon. Members from the same side in succession.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): The UK has officially sanctioned the EU’s waste hierarchy, which makes the reduction of waste a priority and places landfill at the bottom of the scale. However, landfill is still the cheapest option in the UK, which means that the hierarchy is still the wrong way round in practice. What plans do the Government have to reduce the cost of waste reduction, reuse and recycling and increase the cost of landfill? If that were to mean the landfill tax escalator being increased, how would the Government propose to prevent diversion into incineration, which is the next cheapest option?
Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman is right that we have a waste hierarchy, and we believe that we have the right economic framework to support it. The landfill tax is escalating year on year, which increases the cost to local authorities and businesses of disposing of their waste by sending it to landfill sites. The effect of that is shown by our significantly improved recycling figures.
The hon. Gentleman is also right that we are still a long way behind most northern European countries in our reliance on landfill. One thing that we are considering in the context of our revised waste strategy is whether to change the landfill tax escalator. Landfill tax is significantly lower here than in most comparable European Union countries. Such decisions are for the Treasury to take, and we might hear more about that tomorrow.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does the Minister believe that the documents on waste prevention and recycling in the bumper bundle before us contain proposals that will encourage local authorities to use localised recycling centres rather than, as is proposed in Essex, two or three major centralised sites? The consequence of that will be waste being driven many miles, which, I hope the Minister will agree, defeats the object of reducing waste. We will be dealing with waste the wrong way round if it has to be carried many miles by road. Will he therefore encourage Essex county council to use localised sites rather than two or three mega-sites?
Mr. Bradshaw: We believe in allowing local authorities to make the decisions that they believe are best suited to their circumstances, rather than central Government dictating to them. There is a proximity principle involved in disposal, not only in our waste policy but that of the EU, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that recycling work on particular materials is very specialised. It would be prohibitively expensive for every local authority to provide recycling for certain materials in every locality. I suspect that that has driven the decision of his local authority.
Of course, we try to take into account the overall environmental life-cycle impact of transporting waste. The hon. Gentleman knows that we export a considerable amount of recyclable material to developing countries. The advice that I get is that it is much better for certain materials to be recycled, even in developing countries, than to be dumped in landfill sites here. There is demand for the material in developing countries, and it obviates the need for them to use virgin materials to produce goods. Although he has a valid point on the transport impact, it is better for his local authority to increase its recycling rates however it can.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): The document mentions a review of the end-of-life vehicles directive and the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive. I served on the European Parliament conciliation committee on the WEEE directive, and it strikes me that that was not long ago. We have not started to implement the directive. The end-of-life vehicles directive applies only to new waste and has not come into force in relation to historical waste—the vast bulk of the vehicles that will need to be recycled. Does the Minister not think that it is a little early to discuss reviewing something that has not yet been put into force?
Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I do not think that the proposal could be described as a root-and-branch review of the WEEE directive, but it would ensure that the provisions of the revised waste framework directive are consistent with the requirements of the WEEE directive, which, as he has rightly pointed out, the UK has not yet implemented.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Given that anaerobic digestion makes a significant contribution to renewable energy, what are the Government doing to promote it?
Mr. Bradshaw: I repeat what I said a little while ago to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, who is speaking from the Opposition Front Bench: we have put a number of measures in place to encourage that sort of technology, but we are actively examining whether we can do more to incentivise the development of anaerobic digestion in the same way as Denmark, Germany and one or two other countries on the continent.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am delighted to have this opportunity to wade through this large document. I do not intend to pick out every one of the Government’s items in support of or against a particular section, but I would like to make one point. The Government use the cover of subsidiarity to question what seems to me, in some cases, to be quite harmless pieces of European law. For example, article 10, on page 147, which deals with a network of disposal installations, consists of three paragraphs of legislation that look so harmless that it must hardly have been worth the time of the European civil servants who doubtless were paid to draft them. All the same, the Government have objected to them. Will the Minister tell us what precisely is the objection?
The first paragraph reads:
“Each Member State shall take appropriate measures, in cooperation with other Member States where this is necessary or advisable”—
that is a generous get-out clause—
“to establish an integrated and adequate network of disposal installations, taking account of the best available techniques”.
I cannot see that there is a great deal to object to in that. Perhaps—
The Chairman: Order. You managed to get your question in just in time, but you have rather passed beyond it, so can we get an answer, please?
Mr. Bradshaw: I will attempt to clarify that point before the end of the debate, with the help of my officials. I imagine that we object to the reference to “best available techniques”, which is actually quite a restrictive technological imposition for member states, rather than to the reference to “the network”, with which I do not think that we have a problem.
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Prepared 6 December 2006