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Sustainable Landfill: ECC Report

8.05 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon rose to move, That this House take note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Sustainable Landfill (17th Report, HL Paper 83).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Motion relates to an investigation which we carried out earlier this year and on which we reported in March.

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Unfortunately, the pressure of parliamentary business has precluded debate on this important and interesting topic until the present time.

The draft European directive on landfill is intended to prevent or reduce pollution to water, soil and air as well as risks to human health. Another key aim of the directive is the reduction of methane emissions in order to reduce global warming.

In the United Kingdom, there are currently 2,857, licensed landfill sites--often old quarries or exhausted clay or gravel workings. A prime intention of the directive is to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill sites. About 500 sites in the UK currently receive significant quantities of biodegradable waste. In this country the practice has been to co-fill landfill sites with a mixture of organic wastes and various industrial wastes. This system has helped to speed up the chemical processes and breakdown of both sorts of waste, but in a badly managed site this enhances the risks of seepage and water pollution by leachate.

We found that sites in the UK are engineered and managed to a very high standard and that in only one or two old sites has there been a problem of water pollution. In the long-term, however, no site can be guaranteed leak-proof. In some other European countries mixed refuse has been dumped indiscriminately into open sites and there are long-standing and serious problems which the EU directive seeks to address by insisting on the separate disposal of biodegradable and hazardous wastes.

During this inquiry we visited landfill sites in Cambridgeshire and Scotland and saw recycling and composting facilities. We were very impressed by the strategic approach adopted by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. We also took written and oral evidence on behalf of the industry from a large number of witnesses, including the Environment Agency, Friends of the Earth, and the Institute of Waste Management.

One of the consequences of placing biodegradable material in landfill sites is the production of methane and carbon dioxide gases, which are serious contributors to global warming. We had interesting but conflicting evidence about whether methane is eight or 70 times worse than carbon dioxide, since it is initially more damaging but has a much faster decay rate and is less persistent in the upper atmosphere; but as it decays to carbon dioxide that, in a sense, is perhaps irrelevant. Only 160 of our landfill sites have methane recovery systems and at only 52 sites is the captured methane used as fuel. On the other, approximately 300, sites which have organic waste deposited in them, there is no system for collecting methane. It merely seeps out into the atmosphere. The estimates of the proportion of methane that is captured range from 40 per cent., which is the EU Commission figure, to 90 per cent. according to the waste industry. One of the beneficial effects of the European directive of moving to sites that are mono-filled with biodegradable waste only is that more waste could be recycled and composted and the technology for methane capture and use could be made more comprehensive.

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I very much regret the absence from tonight's debate of the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham. Not only has the noble Lord helped me towards some understanding of the methane problem; he has also been forcefully eloquent in the committee about another aspect of the directive, which requires specific and separate sites for hazardous waste. Currently in this country some bulky hazardous waste with no leaching characteristics, such as asbestos, is co-filled with other wastes. That presents no danger if they are permanently entombed and undisturbed. If quantities of such inert wastes have to be added into the new specially constructed hazardous waste sites, that would increase their number and size. One of our concerns is that it would be difficult to secure long-term insurance against the risks posed by such specific hazardous waste sites. Inevitably, in the long term governments will be the people who have to shoulder any costs of damage to the environment or to public health. Clearly an important aim of the directive is the reduction of the amount of waste going to landfill sites by encouraging waste minimisation and recycling. These are areas where we lag behind many of our EU partners.

If recycling is to be successful, the evidence is that it is important to create a market for recycled materials and products. For example, under the directive car tyres may no longer be land-filled; 75 per cent. of car tyres are presently dumped in landfill sites. So other ways of disposal such as the re-use of material for playgrounds and road surfaces will have to be found. I understand that a government working party is currently examining that problem. No doubt the Minister will tell us more about that. The composting of organic matter, although financially borderline, is clearly an important contribution to sustainable development. We saw some splendid compost heaps in both Cambridgeshire and Scotland, and those of us with gardens longed for sacks to carry some away. We welcome the current growth of municipal composting schemes and hope that they will be extended and encouraged by the Government.

In the 1993 House of Lords report on packaging waste we established that modern methods of incineration are virtually pollution free if carried out at appropriately high temperatures and that, combined with energy recovery, that could be preferable to other methods of waste disposal.

We are a small and over-crowded island and cannot continue to use scarce land resources indefinitely for waste disposal. Incineration leaves residues which have to be landfilled, but it greatly reduces the bulk of material and is particularly appropriate for certain types of hazardous waste, such as clinical waste, where it is essential.

I wish particularly to stress my concern over the construction industry and its current practice when demolishing large buildings such as the tower blocks which we are so pleased to have blown up in some of the more deprived areas of our big cities. The rubble, bricks, stone, concrete, tiles and so on from those buildings go into landfill sites. The enormous bulk of the material that goes into the landfill sites consists of waste from the construction industry. In the meantime, it continues to quarry stone from some of our most

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beautiful landscape sites which it then uses merely as hardcore for motorways and car parks. That is an area in which the Government could act, and insist that the residue from buildings that are taken down is used for various sorts of hardcore rather than allow the endless quarrying of rock from our landscape.

The Government's response to our 55 recommendations, although belated, was broadly supportive and describes the further progress that has been made in the meantime in negotiations with our EU partners. No doubt the Minister will be able to describe the welcome amendments to the directive that have been achieved in the intervening months since we published our report.

Finally, I wish to express the great debt of gratitude that we owe to our specialist adviser, David Mills, who acted as our guide through this complex topic, and to Tom Radice, the Clerk to the committee, who did all the hard work. I should also personally like to thank all the members of the committee, especially now as I come to the end of my time as chairman. It has been an enormous pleasure and I have found it very enjoyable chairing this particular committee. However, I know that I leave it in safe hands in handing over to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House take note of the report of the European Communities Committee on Sustainable Landfill (17th Report, HL Paper 83).--(Baroness Hilton of Eggardon.)

8.15 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, who so ably chaired this inquiry. As she herself explained, she led us not only from the Chair in the Committee Rooms in your Lordships' House; she also tramped with us across the mud in Scotland and through mounds of waste paper in England and sniffed and compared the compost of Dundee and Peterborough. Our outings were often enjoyable.

I ought to declare my interests, which are stated in the report. I am chairman of ENTRUST, the regulator of environmental bodies under the landfill tax regulations; I am also chairman of an independent advisory board to a large commercial waste management company which operates across the United Kingdom and in Belgium.

Sustainable development is a Community and a national objective. It is a fundamental driver of environmental policy at European Union and member state level. Paragraphs 4 to 8 of the report emphasise that waste management strategies have an essential part to play in attaining sustainable development.

Drawing on the evidence that was offered to us, the committee defined "sustainable landfill", which is the title of the Report, as:

    "landfill that is necessary for society and is managed without causing irreversible harm to the environment, so as to ensure that no risks or resource compromises are presented to future generations".

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The objective, as stated at paragraph 9, is that,

    "within a generation, any landfill should reach a state where it needs no active controls to contain the wastes, the landfill gas or the leachate produced".

The aim as declared in Article 1 of the directive is to prevent or reduce negative effects on the environment from the land-filling of waste. On page 9 of the report we list those negative effects on the environment. All the adverse effects listed can arise during the operational phase of the landfill or subsequently after closure. Closed landfills remain an environmental hazard. However, during the working life of a site, there are also other impacts not listed in the table which most people, especially those who live near a site, would consider to be environmental. I refer to the terrible crashing noise of the compactors as they work over the landfill mass and the dreadful bleeping noise that they make as they reverse. They incessantly grind backwards and forwards. There is traffic all round a site; there is dirt on the road, rubbish blown in the wind and wasteland weeds growing on the site. There is a general unsightliness and unneighbourliness to a landfill site and people do not like living near to them.

As mentioned in the report, in the autumn of 1996 the landfill tax was introduced into the United Kingdom. At paragraph 126 the committee recognised that the tax is a useful tool in the overall strategy for sustainable waste management. Differential rates impose more heavily on biodegradable materials. Similar taxes already operate in other European Union countries. But I believe that the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme is unique to this country. Through the scheme voluntary contributions by landfill operators made to enrolled environmental bodies can be offset against up to 20 per cent. of their tax obligations. For your Lordships' interest, in the first two years of operations in round figures, 1,100 environmental bodies have enrolled and £95 million has been made in contributions to approved projects. About two-thirds of those projects are for environmental action in the vicinity of landfill sites. So these projects bring some compensation to the people who are most affected by the local impacts of landfill sites and to that extent contribute towards sustainability. In addition, about 10 per cent. of the funding has gone to research and development in sustainable waste management practices, including recycling. That research and development component is expected to increase in the year ahead.

The Government response to our report on page 12, seems to propose the direct use of landfill tax revenues,

    "to encourage sustainable waste management".
The Environment, Transport and the Regions Select Committee in the other place has gone even further and has called for landfill tax subsidy as regards recycling.

However, I believe that anything that requires a perpetual subsidy in order to be maintained is, by definition, not sustainable. So I have serious reservations about any proposal to use landfill tax directly and permanently to subsidise recycling, however beneficial recycling may be. I wish to ask the Minister to look again at the proposal in due course. The Landfill Tax Credit Scheme has taken a generous view

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of pilot schemes and allowed them to extend to five years, but I believe that anything that goes beyond five years is clearly outwith research and development.

Among the broader environmental concerns that are listed on our table on page 9, protection of fresh water resources has for long been a significant component of European Union environmental policy. Representing the Commission services, Dr. Ludwig Kraemer, who is the head of waste management services in DG XI, gave evidence to the committee. It was his view that across Europe landfills are the biggest identifiable source of groundwater contamination. He called them "ticking time bombs".

On the other hand, the Environment Agency argued that in England and Wales landfill sites are less of a problem than other sources and other types of pollutant. This view was reflected by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency's assessment of the situation in Scotland. We took no evidence on Northern Ireland.

Noble Lords will see from paragraph 41 that the committee was broadly satisfied by the Environment Agency's argument that close regulation, coupled with safeguards provided by the planning system, has been effective in the United Kingdom in minimising the risks to groundwater from landfill. The Government's reply has endorsed that view.

Having had time to reflect, thinking with the benefit of my past connection with the water industry, I remain content that this analysis, as it relates to today, is probably true. But in the past era of "dilute and disperse"--and there are many old dilute and disperse sites still in existence--many of those landfill sites, some quite small, will have left a plume of underground pollution extending into adjoining aquifers. It is true that in the Anglian Water region in the 1970s and 1980s, abstractive use of some groundwaters for public supply was constrained by contamination from old landfill sites. However, I accept that modern landfill practice, involving impermeable linings and leachate management and so on, minimises current impacts on the aquatic environment.

However, Dr. Kraemer's ticking time bombs are not defused. They are still there. If anything, the practices required by the directive could add to their number and intensify the hazards they present. Our report emphasises the undeniable risk that over time,

    "all landfill sites, including those designed to be 'containment' sites, have the potential to fail and cause damage to the environment".
That appears in paragraph 88.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, described, the current British system works on the assumption that, under management involving full external sealing, leachate recirculation and treatment and extraction of the landfill gas, decomposition processes within a landfill mass will ultimately reach an end point which will be physically and chemically inert. But if the sites are kept dry, the process of biodegradation will be extended interminably. It may never be reached in the dedicated hazardous waste landfills advocated by the directive unless, as we advise, there is greater pre-treatment of wastes consigned to them. The committee's concerns are summarised in paragraph 74

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and our conclusion that the directive does not explicitly advance the cause of sustainability is reiterated in paragraph 115.

The Government's response on page 8 does not face up to this critical dilemma. I do not believe it is acceptable to shrug off the problem onto the industry and say that the industry can find its own solutions.

Air pollution is the third concern for the environment. As the noble Baroness has just explained to us, during the past decade convincing evidence has accumulated to show that anthropogenic emissions of the greenhouse gases are a significant cause of global warming. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases. Whatever the exact figure, there is scientific concurrence that methane is by far the more active.

The Commission's communication quoted in our report at paragraph 49 identifies landfills as accounting for about 32 per cent. of known methane releases in the European Community. That means that landfill is a considerable contributor to the overall problem of global climate change. I very much look forward to the consultation document on climate change that is promised in the Government's response on page 4. However, as regards achieving sustainable landfill, I believe that the Government will want to include this strand as well as the others I have mentioned in their national strategy.

As a member state of the European Union, the United Kingdom's strategy will need to take account not only of the new landfill directive and the existing framework directive, but also of a raft of other binding European legislation. I counted at least 25 directives which impinge on landfill.

At the supranational level, considering the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions made by landfill, again the national waste strategy will need to take into account commitments to international conventions, including the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto agreement.

Since we conducted the inquiry, there have been waste strategies published for England and Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland strategy was put out in June and is open for comment until 30th November. It is clear that by the time definitive versions of these country and Province strategies are published, the next stages of the devolutionary process will be in place. That is critical.

Environmental matters, including waste management, are devolved functions. The devolved parliament and assemblies will have a duty to fulfil UK obligations under international conventions and European legislation, but it is the UK Government that are answerable for implementation. Moreover, if there is infringement, it is the UK Government that will go before the European Court. It is the UK Government that will be liable for fines and other sanctions. If large fines are incurred, will these be passed down to the devolved administrations? That question needs consideration.

I believe that a new mechanism will be needed for consultation and co-operation between the Scottish parliament and the two assemblies and central

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government to come to a common position. I believe that it will have to cover not only sustainable waste management but the full range of devolved environmental issues. If the topic has not already featured on the agenda of the present Committee of Green Ministers, I hope that it will do so very soon with some urgency.

There is an existing model, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee which was founded to carry forward United Kingdom and international obligations of the three country agencies for England, Scotland and Wales when the Nature Conservancy Council was broken up. It was the subject of intense debate in the House which many of us remember. The end product was not an immediate success. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has left the Chamber, but I mention the fact that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee did not begin to work smoothly until its strategy was clarified under his firm direction. As a relict centralising body, it did not work. The JNCC began to work when it genuinely provided a service to its component country agencies in fulfilling their special functions with regard to international, European and Great Britain-wide remits. So it is now a model that could be looked at.

I wish to make a final point. Noble Lords may say that I am anticipating tomorrow's debate, but I wish to make it. In its response to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee Report on Sustainable Waste Management, the Government have firmly emphasised on page 1 that the committee's remit in that area is limited to matters that concern England only. So in future, when the new parliament and assemblies are functioning in all devolved areas, the House of Commons in many of its institutions and deliberations will be restricted to the consideration of English affairs.

As far as our House is concerned, whatever is decided on the future membership and method of appointment, I urge your Lordships to hold fast to our present standing as a Parliament of the United Kingdom. Most of us are Peers of the United Kingdom. This House should avoid structures and procedures that will limit the scope and range of its activities, as will be experienced by Members of the elected House. We should not fail to continue to direct our attention to matters important to all or any part of the United Kingdom. That includes especially overall scrutiny of European Community proposals,

    "whether in draft or otherwise",
as is the remit of your Lordships' Select Committee.

8.29 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I believe that I first became aware of the issue of landfill when I saw a map showing the source of waste in the South East and its destination. That could be summed up as "London dumps on the rest of the South East". So I very much support the concluding thoughts of the committee at paragraph 148 when it makes,

    "a plea for a wider vision".

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It refers--as did the noble Baroness Lady Hilton of Eggardon--to,

    "the population pressures ... and the need to protect an irreplaceable natural heritage"
and the,

    "powerful challenge to landfill in the long run".

That same paragraph also referred, as did the noble Baroness, to the construction industry saying that it

    "cannot take it for granted that raw materials can be quarried and extracted from the environment on demand without regard to the alternative of using recycled... wastes".
On that point, I hope that the Government might put on their agenda for consideration the wisdom of still requiring a perfect standard of material for infilling when roads have holes dug in them and then repaired. One hears tales of this entirely virgin, I suppose, material being put into a road, dug up again almost immediately and being replaced by yet other virgin material.

Like the noble Earl, I look back at the definition of sustainable landfill. He has already quoted from Paragraph 9, saying that, in the view of the Committee,

    "within a generation, any landfill should reach a state where it needs no active controls to contain the wastes, the landfill gas or the leachate produced".
It was interesting to read that comment against those of the insurance industry. Its evidence indicates that insurers require a high degree of certainty in legislation and that there is little insurance market capacity for environmental risks. I wonder whether it is certainty in legislation or about the effects of landfill with which we need to be concerned. In my view that is why there are such difficulties as regards the issue of liability and the changing state of knowledge about the effects of what we are doing to our country.

The report comments on the balance of political expediency and practical experience coupled with the state of scientific understanding. Given the ever-developing state of knowledge, it is difficult to balance those factors. I fully support the view expressed that the price for goods and services should reflect environmental damage if--and I stress if--that damage is unavoidable and if it can be repaired. Certainly, reflecting environmental costs at present is more of a political than an economic principle.

Reference has been made to the new landfill tax in the United Kingdom. The noble Earl mentioned the comments of the Select Committee of another place. At Recommendation 25 of its recent report it states that it considers,

    "it to be essential that the Government states clearly its plans for the tax to the end of this Parliament in order that waste holders may plan effectively for the future management of wastes arising".
I was sad to see the response that the Government will consider whether further increases are necessary in the light of EU targets, for reducing landfill. It seems to me that there is a certain circularity in that. And what about leadership? I suggest that it is probable that the landfill tax will have to rise quite significantly. If that is so, then I suggest that it is better to be clear about that in order that both waste collection authorities and businesses can plan.

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It is rarely necessary to suggest that the current Government, or indeed the previous one, should blow their own trumpet, but I believe that publicity about the use of the 20 per cent., to which reference has been made, going to environmental bodies and the real achievements of using the cash represented by that, would be very valuable. It is not something to which one sees much reference. At a local level where money raised from schemes is ploughed back into environmental projects, one can gain quite a lot of kudos and, more importantly, support from the public for the overall programme. Therefore, I hope that we shall see more publicity in that respect.

Some noble Lords may take the view that sustainable landfill is not an immediately obvious EU matter. I wonder whether I detected some divided views on the committee. I rather liked the device of a reference to a "snapshot of views" covering quite a wide range and whether the proposals were over-prescriptive and failed the subsidiarity test. It is the case that waste is a cross-border issue. Quite apart from greenhouse gases, we have recently seen how countries have shopped around for disposal sites and regimes for the most obnoxious--and perhaps noxious--waste, which in some cases seems to have had almost permanent refugee status. I suggest, too, that it is entirely possible that in future non-hazardous waste may also cross borders.

I take the view that waste is a local, regional, national and an international matter. I mention the regions because I believe that strategic issues are raised in the area of waste which can often be quite difficult to deal with at local level. I am not, of course, suggesting that local interests should be ignored. For instance, combined heat and power schemes might work best where there is local ownership of a scheme, where the local community can easily see the use and benefit of the heat which is produced. But regionally, planning has an important, positive role. I agree that however undesirable landfill may be, some will be required. It is important to plan for it and not just to impose controls. It is the kind of activity which is easier and more appropriate for a regional body. I shall be interested to see what is the attitude of the new regional development agencies as regards waste.

We have mentioned the landfill tax at local level. It must have had a considerable effect on the waste collection authorities although I do not know what scope some of them will have had for altering their arrangements when part-way through contracts which had been entered into under CCT. On that subject there can be acceptance that the avoidance and recovery of waste might be a criterion in the best-value regime. That is something that I would welcome. If the Minister is able tonight to report on the effect of the tax on the way in which waste is dealt with and whether there has been a reduction in landfill, I shall be interested to hear it.

Probably, the other side of that question is whether recycling has been increased. After all, that is where local authorities tend to have such a major role. The

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Select Committee in another place recognised the difficulties for local authorities and stated in its recent report,

    "If local authorities are to be held accountable for the success of the UK's recycling strategy there must be real incentives for them to take action and sufficient resources available for them to do so. Governments must find some means to measure improvement on a consistent basis or it will leave itself open to allegations of unfairness and lack of accountability".
I differ here from the noble Earl. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Government have come to a view on how they can improve funding for local authority recycling on which I know they invited views on less waste and more value. I would support recycling revenue coming from the landfill tax going to local authorities in order to provide investment for waste reduction programmes.

It is difficult to make recycling totally attractive. There is a natural limit and raising it is quite awkward. At a very local level--perhaps parochial--it occurs to me that giving more thought to making recycling quite attractive might provide a better message about its importance. Throughout the country one sees recycling banks painted in dingy colours, sitting in a sea of detritus. I think that gives the wrong message. It is staggering how much of the contents of the domestic dustbin can be reduced by separating waste. I daresay that the downturn in economic activity which we are warned to expect may result in less waste, but this may also cause us to hold back on innovation.

It is said that we get the waste management industry--as indeed with all other industries--that we deserve. Things have certainly moved on a lot. Basic quality standards in landfill management have improved because of tougher regulations, and I suspect that even better resourcing of inspection and enforcement would lead to a further improvement.

Fly-tipping is always going to be a problem. I realise, thinking about this subject, that the first words of Italian that I learned when I started going to Italy were "divieto di scarico"--no tipping. One saw those notices against piles of old beds, fridges and cars.

As well as increasing concentration on enforcement, one needs to look at the contents of landfill. I think we are likely to become increasingly aware of the issues of freedom of information and access to information around this subject. We are unlikely to be able to ignore questions of liability arising from the effects of the treatment of landfill. Again, I note the committee's comments on the lack of consistent data on the efficiency of methane capture and the relative global warming potential of methane and CO 2 .

To conclude, to many of us the personal is still political--that I know dates me. It is always easier to see things in personal terms, and I was very impressed some years ago when a friend moved to Switzerland and reported on the custom there of putting out cast-off items available for collection by one's neighbours before they were picked up by the waste authority and disposed of by them. It rather reminded me of the "I'm not proud" bag which was kept by some friends, in which they put cast-offs which were shared around the group. "I'm not proud" is not a bad idea in regard to

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reducing waste, and we certainly cannot be so proud as to ignore these issues. I congratulate the committee on its report.

8.42 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, in view of the hour and the important business still before the House, I shall try to be brief. I too would like to put on record how good it was to serve under the leadership of my noble friend Lady Hilton of Eggardon. Her commitment to thoroughness, and the good humour with which she put that commitment into action, was something we all deeply appreciated. It was a good committee. There was a wholesome absence of partisanship and a determination by everybody, from whatever quarter they came, to look at the issue in terms of the public interest.

One of the things I enjoyed about the committee was that it gave a practical demonstration of the House of Lords at its best. Certainly the committee had within it relevant expertise, of which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, was a good example. He referred to the interesting times we had together, not only within the House but outside it, and I do not think any of us will ever forget the visit to Dundee. I should like to dwell on Dundee for a moment because there we saw the demands on an imaginative and courageous leadership at local government level when faced with all the other pressures and priorities which perhaps preoccupied those members of the local authority not immediately concerned with the issue.

I am not suggesting necessarily that Dundee had got it all right and that there was not more to learn. But I believe that the spirit and the way in which that local authority and a small number of people within it were trying to take the issue seriously and find the way forward deserve recognition in this House. It deserves all possible support.

In reading the report again, I suppose if I had one reflection--and this is with hindsight--it was that we were perhaps just a little too complacent. There is reference to the high standards which have been achieved in this country, and I would not dissent from that judgment, not even on reflection. However, it seems to me that the need to underline that only the highest possible standards can be acceptable in this area into the future is something which all of us must take very seriously. There are inevitably a considerable number of uncertainties about what is at stake, not least in the implications of long-term storage of hazardous materials, some of which we do not yet fully understand.

In that context it seems to me that the other question which we need to emphasise is that while we may have a suitable and effective balance at the moment between public policy and responsibility and the role being played by private enterprise, we would be foolish to overlook the fact that there is a residual public responsibility which could turn out in certain circumstances to be of gigantic proportions.

Again, I think we need, if we are to avoid complacency, to keep this reality constantly in mind. We do not know absolutely--we are doing our best; we are

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up-front with the latest understanding, the latest analysis, the latest techniques and scientific knowledge--what it is we are engaged in. We have to understand that all of us, not least here in Westminster, are therefore collectively carrying a heavy degree of responsibility for future generations.

If I might be allowed just one other, as it were, strategic observation--because I promised to keep my remarks brief--there were moments when we were going about our work when I became a bit despondent. That was because it seemed to me, as so often happens with public responsibility and public policy, that it was arguable that we were dealing with the symptoms of the challenge rather than the challenge itself in society. Obviously these systems have to be dealt with and dealt with effectively, but what worried me was that we were bringing all this concern into how we manage waste and in the meantime we were drowning in waste so that the issue was, were we going to be able to keep ahead of the problem, or was waste being generated at too fast a rate for humanity to be able to cope?

It seems to me therefore that if we take the report of this committee seriously there is a bigger challenge which we must all face; that is, what we are going to do about the generation of waste. What are the public policies? How are we going to work them out together with industry and commerce to limit the almost wantonly irresponsible way in which waste is being generated in some quarters? We all know the experience of this. If I may without being flippant make this point: if we are to put that challenge to society and if we are to shoulder it in one way or an another, as I hope we will, in this House and in the other place, it is tremendously important that we are able to speak with credibility about the way we manage our affairs within the Palace of Westminster. I take this as just one example, like equal opportunities. It is by what we do here that we will be judged when we speak out on the responsibilities of society as a whole. It is how self-evident those principles in the operation of our affairs within the Palace of Westminster are that matters. None of us who dispose of the paper that comes across our desks every day can be satisfied that within the Palace of Westminster we are setting an example to the whole nation of responsible conduct in this sphere.

This raises a tremendously important issue relating to our visit to Dundee. I was sad to hear that Dundee had to cut back on this matter because of the economic pressures piling in upon that area. There is a tremendous need for education to enable the young, as well as industry and commerce, to understand the dimensions of the problem that confronts us so that we can all work together. I hope that in finding a strategic approach to waste management, not just waste disposal--the curbing of excessive and unnecessary waste--we can take forward the process in a spirit of understanding and voluntary endeavour by commerce, industry, government and the rest. But I would be deceiving myself and others if I did not say that I believe one day in the not too distant future there will be no alternative but to introduce draconian legislation to deal with the problem that confronts us.

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8.51 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the Minister for the Environment, Mr. Michael Meacher, has commented in his commendation of the committee's work that the report is a thorough and wide-ranging review of the issues relating to sustainable landfill. It is so wide-ranging that I have decided to restrict my contribution to this debate to recycling, composting and the domestic consumer. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, who spoke so eloquently, said that we do not realise what we are up against. In that he is not alone. The draft directive is a second attempt at Community legislation on landfill. The first proposals were made in 1991 and rejected by the European Parliament. The new directive was introduced in 1997. It contained two new features in particular: the reduction of the landfilling of biodegradable waste and the pre-treatment of waste before landfilling. I venture that it will be some years before we can significantly reduce landfilling and turn to the directive's favoured method of disposal: incineration.

Our worries have already been expressed by previous speakers and are outlined in the report. That said, while I am not wholly satisfied with all aspects of the directive, like the committee, I believe that if it is sensibly applied it will be an influence for good.

The committee chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, has already spoken about recycling and I support her comments. Most of those who gave evidence on recycling were sceptical about the likely effect of the directive in stimulating waste minimalisation and recycling. They felt that the targets and timescales proposed by the Commission would create demand for the greater use of incineration which would be hugely expensive to install and difficult to promote in our densely populated islands. Recycling is a subject that warrants an inquiry and report in its own right. But if within this directive recycling is to be a major policy objective we must first look at its economics and the best practicable environmental option.

First, economic incentives or simple regulations are needed to get the recycling markets going. In the UK greater commitment and effort through regulation are required; for example, that newsprint should contain a minimum percentage of recycled material. Secondly, the logistics of recycling are critical to its viability, so let us separate the paper from the cardboard at the point of collection, not arrival. Thirdly, recycling can make heavy demands upon the environment in terms of transport costs, energy consumption, noise and air pollution. Therefore, it is not necessarily the best practicable environmental action in sparsely populated areas. Fourthly, rigorous life-cycle analysis--"cradle to grave" or, as my Australian colleagues taught me on my trip, "womb to tomb"--is the key to finding the best practicable environmental action for dealing with particular waste streams, including minimalisation or recycling.

Therefore, as a major policy objective I recommend that this House fully supports the importance which the Commission attaches to recycling as a component of

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sustainable waste management. The United Kingdom Government need to be more positive in their initiatives in environmental policy. The new guidance to local authorities from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions is a useful first step but many more steps are needed along the way.

The two main alternative methods of dealing with biodegradable waste are composting or incineration. Of the 9.24 million tonnes of recoverable organic waste generated per year in the UK, only 6 per cent. is composted and it produces only 159,000 tonnes of compost. The Local Government Association told the committee in evidence that, although many local authorities looked at composting for their municipal solid waste, the barriers to increasing the level of composting in the UK were lack of markets for the product and poor product quality. However, we were assured that technology was advancing.

Both the Commission and the European Parliament favour composting. The Commission plans to table a proposal on composting in the Union. No doubt to cement this intention the European Parliament has proposed a new recital to the directive. The committee agrees in principle with the amendment proposed by the European Parliament and considers that where conditions for collection and processing are appropriate municipal composting operators should be encouraged. We look forward to the proposals of the Commission to encourage composting in the Community.

I turn finally to the domestic consumer. I am sure we all agree that waste reduction is an imperative. Government, industry and consumers must all play their part. I have spent seven years representing the domestic consumer as chairman of the National Consumers' Council against the great power blocks of industry and commerce, unions, government and Whitehall. A consumer is not a woman who shops until she drops in the high street.

A consumer is male, female or some other who buys or uses goods or services, whether publicly or privately provided. Therefore, it is you and me from the moment that we get up in the morning, turn on the light or tap, unzip a banana or open a yoghurt, read a newspaper or deal with the post. Each of us has consumed today and every one of us has been wasteful. Each of us has put something in the bin. I guess that we count ourselves as pretty responsible consumers who want to do our bit but are often confused by recycling claims. So often when we are told that something is right to do it is immediately refuted. Someone produces a counter argument that it is not such a good idea after all.

Is it worth going to the brown bottle bank or do we cause more trouble by driving there in the first place? Why is not my public service broadcaster that I pay my levy for not telling me what my contribution could have been today, not educating me, not surprising me and not applauding me when I get it right? If it is good enough for the Secretary of State for Education to use "Eastenders" to promote reading and literacy, why is it not good enough for our Environment Minister to talk about composters on the allotments in "Eastenders"? Why is it that in shops people are not encouraged to refuse the bags and wrappings that they are offered?

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These are not frivolous points. The domestic consumer is responsible for creating about 20 per cent. of the total of industrial, commercial, construction and demolition waste in England and Wales which amounts to 20 million tonnes. An awful lot of stuff is being thrown in the bin, and we have an awfully long way to go.

When working on the Citizen's Charter with John Major as Prime Minister to improve public services I found that some of the best ideas for improvement came from the consumers of those services. There was great enthusiasm. People realised that they could own part of the process. I am delighted that the Citizen's Charter has been continued by the present Government. It has been relaunched and renamed Service First. It will be building on that success. I should like to see some new initiative from the Government to bring the same collaborative enthusiasm and encouragement into waste reduction.

In conclusion, I can do no better than to repeat the words of my chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, who has guided us so skilfully, as we have heard, over waste tips and compost heaps to our final conclusions in the report before the House tonight. The UK disposes of over 80 per cent. of its municipal solid waste in landfill sites. Well managed sites pose little threat to the environment. But not all European Union states are as fortunate as the United Kingdom in having efficient and environmentally conscious waste management industries. It is right that standards should be raised to a common level. But we should also aim to reduce waste or get value out of it through recycling, making compost or recovering energy from it rather than just putting it in the ground. Sensibly applied, the new directive will be an influence for the good. I commend the report to your Lordships.

9.1 p.m.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, I believe that paragraph 149 is the most important paragraph in the report. It states:

    "Waste reduction is not just an option: it is an imperative".

My comments this evening involve rural areas and rural problems. It is easy to think that I might be referring to the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland or even the Highlands. However, I am talking about rural Norfolk, which is even more rural than the area of Suffolk referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. I have been throwing away rubbish for nearly 60 years. Therefore I thought that noble Lords would allow me to reminisce because I believe that there are points to be learned.

In the 1940s and 1950s, when I was first conscious of rubbish, there was no waste collection in our part of the world. No one came with a van, a lorry, or a vehicle with compartments. We had to get rid of it all ourselves. I do not refer to people living in large houses, but to everyone, whether they lived in a large or a medium-sized house or a cottage. Everyone had a garden or an allotment. What did they throw away? They threw away food. That went exclusively to animals which they kept--chickens and pigs. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, can remember this. We imported

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from London "Tottenham cake". When I asked my father what on earth that was, he said, "That is what is scraped off the dishes of all the London restaurants, put in bags, and sent to us for our pigs". The bags rotted away nicely, and after picking it over--there was quite a lot of cutlery and crockery in it--the food went to animals.

Bottles were returned. It did not matter whether they were wine or beer bottles, or ginger beer bottles from the local factories--those nice ones with the little bubbles in them. They were still in use and were recycled. Strangely enough, in our part of the world the milk bottle is still in use.

If the material would burn, we burned it. That included wood burnt on the fires in the houses. Most houses around us burned wood at that time. All the ashes were put in the garden; that was no problem. The slightly worse kind of ash, the clinker which came from behind a coal or other solid fuel fire was used for garden paths, in particular the path from the back door to the privy.

Anything organic was composted. That left a few glass jars, a few pieces of china and a few bits of indestructible rubbish to bury. I suppose that those are useful in order for future archaeologists to know what we did in the 1930s and 1940s. There were of course no plastics.

By the 1960s I, for my sins, served on a rural district council. We started collecting rubbish. We collected everything except bottles because there was still a deposit on most of those, so one gained more money by taking them back. Everything, unless one fed it to the animals or composted it, was put into a bin, not a plastic bag, and tipped into a hole. There were plenty of holes in north Norfolk--gravel and sand workings; lime pits and, post-Beeching, even railway cuttings. We filled them all. The biggest problem was paper blowing about, and seagulls.

There was not much plastic about. There were not many waste chemicals about. I have not yet heard of any leaching problems from any of my district council's landfill sites in those days. Hospital waste was incinerated, usually on site. And let us not forget that needles were sterilised and reused. That was 30 years ago; it is probably not an acceptable method today.

What on earth happens now? We take the bottles to the bottle bank. I am lucky: my bottle bank is the local pub and that is my excuse for going there. I have to drive half a mile out of my way to get there. Paper is recycled. My secretary was once asked, "What is Mr. Walpole's new year resolution?" She said, "To throw away 100 pieces of paper until his office is clear". I have been throwing away 100 pieces of paper ever since. I can assure noble Lords that we throw away in excess of 15,000 pieces of paper from our postroom every year. That is recycled. In a white plastic bag we can now put tins, textiles and any other paper we have. Compost goes to composting in the garden. The remainder we put in a black plastic sack and it goes to the landfill site. What goes into that plastic bag? Plastic. Anything else? No; it is a plastic bag for bits of plastic.

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I am sure that there are few Members in the House tonight who would take a Saturday morning off to go to the open day of their district council recycling plant. I did that two weeks ago. I was fascinated because I went with other Members of your Lordships' committee to Peterborough. I did not go as a Member of a House of Lords committee but as a member of the public and I was asking rude questions. I regret that most people on the district council know me, but that cannot be helped. They told me that their throughput, the economics and the success of their operation was better than in Peterborough and that 25 per cent. of the waste that they collected was recyclable. That is tremendous. I do not know what the potential is.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we are educating the public about what to do. I do not say, "Put it in the black sack or put it in the white sack", because someone must investigate that separation and find out what has happened. I say in parenthesis, "Don't go into wheelie bins because they produce rubbish". It is a fact that wheelie bins produce more rubbish than black sacks plus white sacks.

I discussed the matter with members of the district council who are actively considering what slips into the black sacks. There are many plastics which you and I buy which are recyclable. I probably drink more Coca Cola than most Members in the House. The plastic bottles state that they are recyclable but how can I recycle them? I cannot. Why? I am told that there are five different kinds of plastic and that it is very difficult to differentiate between them as they pass by on a conveyor belt. Furthermore, some noble Lords may remember that the biggest recycling dump in the country at Thetford went up in flames about five years ago. Since then--I think quite rightly--the good citizens of Thetford have decided that they do not want it back.

I am also extremely worried about mixed packaging. We all know those lovely drinks cartons which have "sort of" cardboard on the outside and "sort of" foil on the inside. What does one do with them? The only use I know for them is to give them to my namesake, Lois Walpole. She is an artist craftswoman who makes very nice woven baskets out of them. Chelsea Craft Fair is to take place soon and I am sure that one can see her there. However, you would need 10,000 Lois Walpoles to get rid of all the cartons. They are the most appalling things! And so are batteries, especially rechargeable ones, and fluorescent and energy-saving bulbs. They produce heavy metals, which are not acceptable in a landfill site. We must educate the public.

I have a quality-assured farm. Our biggest problem is getting rid of plastic. One type is black and it comes off silage. The only way we can get rid of it is to give up sheep, which we have done at the right moment. The other type is the plastic bags containing fertiliser. No one wants them. You cannot burn them and you cannot recycle them. At the moment, we are storing them and fairly soon we will have an awful lot of them.

I wish that members of the public would appreciate that spray cans on farms are most dangerous if one is not careful with them. We, and I am sure most farmers,

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have a machine which extracts the spray from the cans and washes them. They are then perfectly all right to go into landfill.

The biggest problem for the rural areas is that the landfill sites will be located in those areas. Distances and fuel have already been mentioned and pre-treatment and the energy involved have been touched upon. I am sure that an increase in landfill tax will see an increase in fly-tipping around the countryside.

Finally, I am glad to see that many cars will be recycled. Well, that is almost a reality. So perhaps the car which previously had in its back window a sticker stating, "My other car is a Lamborghini" will have instead, "Next time I'll be a Lamborghini".

9.13 p.m.

Lord Middleton: My Lords, during the early weeks of our inquiry into waste disposal under the firm and expert chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, which I very much appreciated, I formed the view that the Commission's directive was not very well founded in science, was over prescriptive and took little account of the principle of subsidiarity.

In the UK, no less than 85 per cent. of our solid waste is put into holes in the ground. We have an efficient disposal industry which has put a great deal of money into safe and sophisticated methods of disposal; we have a wealth of regulations which the industry must operate in order to minimise pollution of the environment; yet we are now faced with a Council directive that sets targets of phased reductions by specified dates of the amount of biodegradable waste going into landfill, at 25 per cent. of the 1993 levels by the year 2010. Only waste that has been incinerated is to be landfilled. There is to be a phasing-out of a practice well established in the UK, co-disposal, which is a reportedly beneficial method of allowing some hazardous wastes to be mixed with and eventually broken down in the tip by non-hazardous wastes.

The evidence we received as to the potentially harmful effect of landfill through water pollution, soil contamination and through the creation of greenhouse gases was conflicting. This less than perfect scientific understanding of the processes within landfill was, I thought, a shaky base for policy making. It is not surprising that the DETR was alarmed, as I was, at the estimated cost of compliance with the Commission's proposals. The additional annual cost to the UK by the year 2010 would be in the range--it is a fairly wide bracket--of £262 million to £695 million, most of that being attributable to meeting the biodegradable waste reduction targets and ending co-disposal. Between £3 billion and £7 billion of capital investment would be needed, mainly on incinerators. This concern about cost was strengthened by the Commission's own cost-benefit report compiled by Coopers & Lybrand.

As was to be expected, we heard in evidence a consistent defence of the British way of doing things, supported by the argument that the modern UK landfill practice fully met the objectives of the directive, which are: to prevent environmental pollution and risk to human health from landfilling of waste. Despite hearing

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a different view from Friends of the Earth, we gave general support to the UK practice. In paragraph 59 we say:

    "The United Kingdom waste management industry and the regulatory authorities have good reason to feel proud of the high standards which have been developed for landfill over the years".
We agreed that some aspects of the draft directive are over-prescriptive; we agreed that the overall timescale for change must be proportional to the cost which the directive would impose; we criticised the anti-co-disposal provisions; we asked for flexibility for member states to decide when and how to meet such targets as may be set; and we concluded that we would not support an option which is economically less favourable than landfill.

So it looked as though our inquiry was leading up to a report that would be critical of an over-prescriptive, poorly researched and vastly expensive imposition from Brussels on this country. But--there is a very big "but"--as we have heard, we took particular notice of the British Geological Survey evidence. It said:

    "No landfill site, however well engineered and lined, can be expected to retain its integrity indefinitely. Ultimately, all landfills will leak".
Furthermore, landfill is land-hungry. Sites which are acceptable will be increasingly difficult to find. We were therefore led to conclude, as our chairman has explained, that while landfill will continue to play a central part--we expand on this in paragraph 151--as a general principle, anything that can safely be burnt should be, and wherever possible it should be combined with energy production. I agree with that conclusion.

9.20 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I am a recent recruit to the committee and, of course, a humble one because my line is agriculture; but I have been absolutely fascinated even by the small amount of work that I saw. I was also immensely impressed by our chairman who ruled the whole proceedings with a rod of iron and made a mere man like me feel as though I were in my proper place.

I am happy to see that the next chairman is to be the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who has a passion for, and a tremendous knowledge of, the subject. I am sure that under his chairmanship the excellent work on this important subject will continue. I no longer hanker after the agriculture committee because I can see that this committee covers a wide and fascinating field.

I was quite appalled by what I heard in the speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, immediately took up my main point about Dundee and left me with little to say about it. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, was absolutely eloquent and quite right about the great need to organise our recycling and marketing. My noble friend Lady Hamwee with her wide experience of local government covered the subject in a way that I could not touch.

The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, said word for word what I was going to say about a farm of 60 years ago. He is only a boy so he can only go back for a while,

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but I go back much further and can confirm everything he said. When I was young, in the 1920s and 1930s, in our community of 50 or 60 souls the collection of ashes went into what was called the ash midden, which each house had. It was emptied once a year and spread on the land or put on the roads. There was no plastic. In our house of about 12 people, the only waste was not waste at all. There was a pail for the pigs and the two domestic pigs were fed from that. That is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, said about Norfolk. It is true that that was a complete system which worked and did not pollute the countryside.

The difference now is the blasted plastic, but I do not see how we can do away with it. The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, said, that he still has milk bottles. The fact is that plastic milk containers ensure that the milk is kept fresh for a week. It is quite extraordinary that that can happen but that is of great use to the housewife and I am afraid that we are stuck with them. However, we must do something about it.

I agreed very much with the tenor of the report and, indeed, with the Government's comments on it because it is quite obvious that the committee has been extremely practical. It has recognised that landfill is here for a long time to come and it is our job to see that it is not as harmful as the committee in Brussels seems to make out.

I was struck by some of the evidence that I heard and, in particular, by the notion that you mix the biodegradable stuff with the other stuff. That causes a reaction and there is then a consolidation through the biological heating-up which settles down into something that can be left permanently. I believe that we must visit some of our old dumps to investigate exactly how well or how badly the stuff has settled down. Certainly I know of some in my area of Angus where it has settled down and appears to be 100 per cent., but we really need a scientific investigation into the matter.

I turn to recycling. I was very impressed with the efforts made by Dundee Council in that regard. Although I lived only 20 miles away, before I went there with the committee I did not know that recycling was taking place. I was also impressed with a rather good-looking lady councillor who was obviously leading the field and by other able women who made me feel inferior. They were really trying with regard to recycling; for example, the compost that they were producing looked good. It could have been better because obviously with compost there are problems with heavy metals, and so on. They appeared to tackle that, but had a problem with marketing the compost.

The same is true with paper. In Angus I see great piles of paper in bins and I am told that there is no point in recycling it as there is no market for it. There must be concerted action so that recycling is an economic proposition for districts which are large enough to burn paper and produce electricity from it.

I have seen the Swedes at work with the waste from their forests. Of course, they have a great deal of wood and they know exactly what they are doing. They line up waste from forests with odd pieces of waste from farming. They site their power stations in areas large

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enough to support them. Having produced electricity, heat is then dispersed through the houses. All that takes considerable organisation.

The Government, who are obviously pleased with the report, and rightly so, must bend their minds to the question of how in future, when all the landfill sites are filled, recycling can be made to work. That will be difficult. However, the report has been a great help in looking at the problem and suggesting solutions.

9.27 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, and her committee on the report before us today. It is informative and obviously the result of many months of dedicated research and discussion. Perhaps I may also be allowed to draw your Lordships' attention to the importance of work of this nature that is brought into the public domain in this way. I support my noble friend Lord Cranbrook because I feel that we must all ensure that, as we discuss the future of your Lordships' House, such significant work is not overlooked. It would indeed by a tragedy if that were so.

We on these Benches welcome the report on this complex matter. It builds on the work done by my right honourable friend John Gummer when he was Secretary of State for the Environment and the resulting policy of 1995, Making Waste Work. I believe we should recognise the high standards that have been achieved in the UK generally.

I, like the noble Lords, Lord Walpole and Lord Mackie of Benshie, refer to the past. I grew up during the war when I am sure there was far less domestic waste. I remember so well, for example, visits to the local grocer and watching the butter being cut from a huge block and then wrapped. I also remember the biscuits being taken out of a large tin, weighed and then placed in a bag that my mother had taken with her for reuse. Of course they were exceptional times, but over the years packaging seems to have become almost an art form. The use of non-biodegradable substances has exploded. With some items, one is reminded of party games as one struggles to get through layers of packaging.

My own experience of landfill is following the birds on our monthly visits with our car loaded with paper for the paper bank, bottles for the bottle bank and garden cuttings. On occasions we have to queue to get in. It is a very popular place at the weekend. I never cease to be amazed by what people throw away. In that regard, I am reminded of friends moving house. My friend, the wife, loaded the car with things for the tip and asked her husband whether he would go with the car. On unloading, a substantial amount was reloaded as he did not wish to get rid of it, while two chaps on the site asked him if he minded them having some items. He readily agreed and suggested some real goodies, as he saw it. These were rejected but their eyes fell on some old epaulettes that had come out of the attic. They were taken with enthusiasm and it seems that everyone was happy.

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I support my noble friend Baroness Wilcox in her plea for recycling, composting and the personal responsibility that we have in this field. Waste management is an issue that needs to be highlighted on a regular and frequent basis. We are grateful to the committee for alerting us to the formidable talks that we continually face.

We feel that it is less important to have common standards on landfill management because there are differing circumstances in member states. However, we understand that it is a matter of special Community concern to achieve reductions in methane gas production.

I was interested to hear about the hardcore. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, made a valuable point when she talked about the type of hardcore being used. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to virgin substances being used for hardcore. When we consider the 4 million new homes that are talked about, and the infrastructure that will have to be built to support them, I hope that builders will be encouraged to use building rubble as hardcore.

We have worries about the pace of change. We feel it is essential that change must be phased in over a period of time. We are confident that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and his committee will keep Members of your Lordships' House, and indeed the nation, well briefed in the months ahead. We wish them well in their future deliberations.

I conclude by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, for her very skilful chairmanship.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging debate on this subject. My noble friend Lady Hilton of Eggardon said that she regretted that it had taken us some time to consider the report in the House. In fact the timing is ideal--for three reasons. First, it gives us all an opportunity to hear and congratulate the noble Baroness not only on this report but on her tenure as chair of the sub-committee. There is great appreciation for that on all sides of the House. Secondly, the draft directive was submitted to the European Parliament for a second reading at the beginning of this month. The Parliament is now considering the common position which was reached in March. Thirdly, the Government have now--admittedly just in time for this debate--issued their own response to the work of the Commission.

Like other Lords, I congratulate not only the noble Baroness but the whole of the committee. It undertook a thorough and wide-ranging review, and the process of producing this report went from the graphic stories of the mud that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, delighted us with, to a thorough and sophisticated report.

This has been going on in parallel with the Government's negotiations in Europe. Many of the committee's recommendations reflected the view that we took in those negotiations. We worked hard to secure a draft directive on landfill which was acceptable to the United Kingdom. In my previous capacity I remember the negotiations being seen as one of the major problems

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for the UK during the period of its presidency. It turned out not to be so. The current text now addresses many of the issues that the committee raised and several which have been raised tonight and have been taken on board in those negotiations. We do not have a perfect directive--it still leaves some problems--but the work of the committee has helped us through that process.

Final disposal--generally in this country through landfill--makes little practical use of waste. In principle, it is the least desirable option, yet 84 per cent. of our waste is dealt with by this process. For both global environment and immediate neighbour environment reasons we need to switch the way in which we deal with our waste.

However, there are wider issues than the disposal of waste, as has been mentioned. The Government's main objective has been to develop a comprehensive waste strategy. We support in board terms the theoretical hierarchy in waste management; namely, that the first and most effective environmental solution for waste management will often be to reduce the generation of waste.

A number of noble Lords have referred to choice of material by domestic consumers, separation of waste at domestic level and arrangements for collection at domestic level. Both the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Wilcox, made valuable contributions on that point. However, most waste is produced by industry and commerce. I refer in particular to packaging. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is absolutely right that there is a more fundamental problem than the disposal of waste; namely, the production of waste and the use of waste in our consumer economy.

The second principle of the hierarchy I have mentioned is that if we cannot achieve a reduction in waste, value should be recovered from the waste. The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, have said that the combination of affluence and plastics has destroyed more traditional methods of recycling and disposal. However, we need to return to that process. Only if reduction of waste and recycling are not efficient solutions should waste be disposed of. The Government are therefore committed to reducing our traditional reliance on landfill. As has been made clear in our consultation paper on waste strategy, there will be cases where the best practicable environmental option for particular waste is further down the hierarchy. For example, recycling can often be more costly than other methods of waste management, particularly if there are no immediate outlets for recycled materials. However, we believe that we must start to make a concerted effort to overcome these problems.

Historically, of course, the suitability of our geology has meant that the UK has made great use of landfill as a means of waste disposal and has considerable experience--more than most of our European partners--in soundly managed landfill. Our landfill facilities generally operate at a high standard under our existing waste management licensing regime. It is critically important to ensure that any regulatory regime provides the environment and the public with a high degree of

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protection. This directive meets many of those objectives. As regards reductions in the landfill of biodegradable municipal waste, the Government were successful in ensuring that we achieved a realistic compromise on the targets which were eventually adopted and that the deadlines for meeting them were not unrealistic.

The text of the draft directive now requires reductions on the 1995 level to 75 per cent. by 2006, 50 per cent. by 2009 and 35 per cent. by 2016. However, additional flexibility is built in as a result of our negotiations and member states can vary those deadlines by up to four years. We negotiated this flexibility as such a large proportion of our waste disposal is carried out through landfill. That flexibility was a considerable negotiating achievement.

The common position sets far more realistic targets than the original proposal. It also allows us sufficient time for the development of a variety of sustainable waste management options, so that rather than relying solely on increased incineration--the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, was concerned about that--we shall develop other waste management possibilities.

The Government's response to the report makes it clear that we agree with the committee that the strategy to meet the reductions for biodegradable municipal waste must be aligned with broader national strategies to encourage waste minimisation, recycling, materials recovery and energy recovery.

Possible measures to achieve these aims include using the landfill tax--I shall return to that in a moment--improving packaging regulations, considering how to improve markets for recycled products and working with industry on producer responsibility.

A number of aspects of this have been touched on. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and others have mentioned methane emissions. The objective of the targets is to reduce the landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste in order to reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases. The Government take very seriously their obligations to tackle climate changes which lie behind this. Noble Lords will be aware that at Kyoto we agreed to a legally binding target to reduce a basket of the six main greenhouse gases, which includes methane, to 12.5 per cent. below 1990 levels by the period 2008 to 2012. We will also be consulting shortly on options for meeting our Kyoto target and our domestic aim of a 20 per cent. cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. Waste management will make a major contribution to this.

Research shows that large active sites are responsible for the majority of methane emissions from landfill. Recent guidance means that the Environment Agency will now not intend to license such sites without whole body extraction of methane gas. A passive venting of gas will no longer be acceptable. The Government recognise that more methane gas collected at landfills is burnt off than is used for energy, but the Environment Agency is now actively engaged with industry to address this issue.

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There were also concerns, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, in relation to the directive's effect on co-disposal. There is no doubt that the phasing out of co-disposal and the classification of landfills into the three categories of hazardous waste, non-hazardous waste and inert waste will require significant changes to landfill practice in the UK.

In negotiations, our efforts to allow the continued practice of controlled co-disposal were unsuccessful. The arguments were not accepted by the Commission or other Ministers from other member states or indeed by the European Parliament. In the face of such opposition we were prepared to accept the ending of co-disposal provided that there were positive moves in other aspects of the directive and which we had in relation to the timetable as I have now outlined.

Noble Lords will wish to note, however, that the common position allows certain hazardous waste to be landfilled in separate cells at non-hazardous sites. These are those hazardous wastes which are stable, non-reactive, with leaching behaviour which is only equivalent to that of non-hazardous wastes. There is therefore again some flexibility there.

The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, was also concerned about the costs of compliance, and indeed they are high. The estimated investment in new incinerators started at a minimum figure of £3 billion. Although that is over almost a 20-year period, it is nevertheless a substantial investment. The potential total cost to all concerned on the banning of certain landfill practices is estimated at between £250 million and £700 million. The noble Lord rightly pointed out, however, that this has to be set against the long-term costs of failing to deal with landfill, the effects which landfill leaks will have in the long term and that there is no security of those landfill sites.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, raised questions relating to incineration. We believe that the deadlines that have been fixed and the flexibility built into the directive should allow sufficient time for the development of other sustainable waste management options, rather than a total reliance on incinerators. On the other hand, we also believe that there is considerable scope for an increase in energy recovery in the form of electricity or heat which can be put to beneficial use, particularly in combined heat and power schemes which can then be part of the integrated approach of the incineration aspects of waste management.

The noble Baroness was also concerned about the option of composting. As she will know, the government document Less Waste, More Value recognises that it has been difficult to develop larger-scale commercial composting schemes, there being barriers on standards, on markets and on acceptability to the customers. Nevertheless, we wish to encourage it. We have established a working party in this area; we are looking at the results of a consultation exercise which ended on 25th September and we hope to take that further.

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So far as concerns the European level, the proposed recycling and composting have not been included in the common position text referred to by the noble Baroness. There will be a proposition from the European Commission on a working paper on a composting directive by the end of this year.

The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, raised the need for the Government to boost recycling. Again I refer to the document, Less Waste, More Value. There are a number of measures in place, some of which were referred to: for instance, in relation to packaging and paper and the landfill tax. We were also asked to examine a range of new initiatives in this area. That consultation is continuing. It includes possible ways of increasing assistance for local authorities for recycling purposes.

In response to the point raised by my noble friend Lady Hilton about hazardous waste mono-fills, the UK's existing waste management licensing system places strict monitoring and control requirements on all sites. I assure noble Lords that hazardous waste sites will be rigorously controlled following the implementation of the directive.

The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the question of the landfill tax. The landfill tax credit scheme was supported by most of the respondents to the review of the tax last year. The scheme is proving a success, with £72 million having been contributed to environmental bodies in the last financial year. We are aware of the concerns expressed that sustainable waste management options such as recycling and waste minimisation have benefited somewhat less than we had hoped. The bulk of contributions have instead been routed into more high-profile activities such as nature reserves. It was largely for that reason that in his previous Budget Statement the Chancellor announced that we are looking into ways of improving the landfill tax credit system to provide greater assistance to sustainable waste management, and work has already started on that.

The noble Baroness also asked what was the effect of the landfill tax on recycling rates. One has to admit that the effects have been slow. That is partly because local authorities are tied into long-term contracts for their waste management work. However, we consider that the tax rise announced in the previous Budget and the results of the work to which I referred should in the longer term ensure that the tax has a significant effect on behaviour.

A number of quasi-constitutional points were raised during the course of the debate. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, raised the question of devolution. Clearly, the targets in the directive are legally binding on the United Kingdom Government. The targets set will be statutory and will need to be met by the UK as a whole. The question of apportionment of the targets is one that we are pursuing with the Scottish Office, the Northern Ireland Office and the Welsh Office. Responsibility for those will be devolved to the administrations when they are established. However, we have yet to agree precisely how it will be passed on to the devolved administrations. Responsibility for

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delivery and meeting those targets will rest with the United Kingdom Government, and the devolved administrations will play their part in meeting them.

The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, raised the constitutional issue of subsidiarity, also referred to by the noble Baroness. The Government would have preferred the directive to have set goals for reductions in, for example, methane emissions and left to the discretion of member states, within reason, decisions as to how to meet those goals. However, it is also arguable that compliance with the goals set can be met only through tough and challenging targets, and that is what we have. Therefore, we can combine a European level of target with subsidiarity as to how to meet those targets.

The noble Baroness referred in her opening remarks to the matter of tyres. The Government support the general principle of recovery being preferable to disposal for all waste, including tyres. The noble Baroness will be aware that tyres are dealt with separately in the report. We have set up the working group to examine the options for increasing recovery of old tyres from the present level of around 75 per cent. to that which will be needed to comply with the ban on landfilling with tyres. The intention is that that working group will report by the end of the year.

I have dealt with many but by no means all the points raised this evening. I commend all the speeches to other noble Lords who are interested in the environmental debate. As regards the directive, the final text should now closely resemble the text of the common position and we expect it to be adopted some time next year. We shall have two years after that in which to transpose it into UK law, so we have not seen the last of it.

The directive makes environmental sense. It will fill a long-standing gap in European waste legislation. I am confident that it can make a positive contribution to the management of waste in the UK. The success of reaching agreement on the directive is in significant part due to the work of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Hilton. Perhaps I may once again echo the expressions of gratitude to her from all around the House for the report and for all her work on the committee.

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