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House of Lords

Monday, 5 February 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Health: Hepatitis B

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we have one of the lowest prevalence rates of hepatitis B infection worldwide. Therefore, screening of the general population is not justified. Blood, tissue, organ and gamete donors are screened for hepatitis B. Screening is also offered to all pregnant women, so that babies of infected women can be protected. Hepatitis B testing is also offered to individuals at increased risk of infection.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. What criteria are used to determine which screening tests should be introduced and whether they are matched by results—whether they prove to be successful? Is he concerned about the report in the paper that young women no longer want to face cervical smears? Is that a fact or is it just a scare story?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, clearly, there will be a number of criteria and considerations but it is essential that screening is proportionate and that there is deemed to be benefit by introducing screening and testing. An independent committee provides continuous advice to the Government. On cervical screening, we clearly share the concerns expressed about why there is a fall in the number of young women taking up an invitation to be screened. I understand that the NHS cancer screening programme is currently exploring the reasons why women do not intend to do so. That will be fed into the advisory committee on cervical screening. We are as concerned as the noble Baroness about that.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, is this not part of a general problem? Are not PSA tests a major expense for the health service? What sort of progress is being made when there seems to be so much waste?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I hope that the NHS is not being wasteful. We are doing everything we can to improve its overall performance. I think that the noble Lord is referring to prostate cancer screening, which I know is of great interest. The Government's position on that is that we are

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committed to introducing a national screening programme for prostate cancer if and when screening and treatment techniques are sufficiently well developed. My understanding is that at present there is no evidence anywhere in the world that screening for prostate cancer would reduce mortality. At the end of the day, that must be the key consideration.

Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, what are the Government thinking of doing about hepatitis C as well as hepatitis B, given that its prevalence is expected to double in the next 10 years and given that the UK is the only country in the world with an upward trend in liver diseases at the moment?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, hepatitis C is of course a matter of concern. I understand that, based on an estimated general population prevalence, about 200,000 patients have a chronic infection in England. We keep the matter under review; we have expert advisory committees; we will be advised by them. We are certainly not complacent.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is there a uniform policy on screening for prostate cancer in the sense that it applies not just to England but to the devolved areas?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, many of these matters are the subject of discussion with the devolved Administrations but, in this case, the Government are advised by the National Screening Committee. The clear advice at the moment is that there is simply no evidence that would warrant the development of the kind of national screening programme that some people argue for. That will continue to be the position. We will continue to be advised by the expert committees.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, would the very widest screening programme be the one used on every newborn baby, where blood is taken and assessed?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the position on newborn babies is this: we are working with local primary care trusts to ensure that all women receiving antenatal care are offered antenatal screening for hepatitis B. In particular, this is for infected mothers. We do not think that a national screening test for all mothers is justified. It should be focused particularly on infected mothers. The programmes that have been instituted seem to be successful. We cannot be complacent, but the figures from September 2006 in relation to infected mothers show that coverage of three doses of vaccine in children aged one has reached 75 per cent. We are not complacent. Some PCTs with infected mothers have reached 95 per cent. That is encouraging, but clearly we can do more.

Earl Howe: My Lords, do the Government have any plans to screen men over the age of 55 for abdominal aortic aneurysms, which, as the Minister will know, kill many hundreds of men each year and which can be effectively detected?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are moving quite well away from the Question. I have to confess that I do not know the answer, but I will certainly find out and let the noble Earl know.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether you get the evidence that is required unless you have done an experiment on an infected person which shows a blank? Then, perhaps, it is a lack of evidence. Is that what has happened and is that what he is referring to? It is difficult to understand.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I follow that, either. I am in danger of treading in deep waters. The Government have to be advised by the evidence that is available about whether a particular screening test would be clinically effective and cost effective. Where it is shown to be both and we have received the advice from the relevant independent body, the Government will consider introducing screening. That has happened in a number of programme areas but, as I have already indicated, when it comes to prostate cancer, the evidence simply is not there to support a national screening programme.

Waste Management: Recycling

2.43 pm

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, in 2005-06, an estimated 6.8 million tonnes of household waste collected by local authorities in England was recycled. The small proportion of this waste that did not meet the standard for recycling was sent for energy recovery or landfill, depending on the availability and cost of local facilities. Waste is a devolved issue, so figures for the whole of the UK are not available.

The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply. Is he aware of the reports that 2.2 million tonnes of recyclable materials were exported from the UK to the Far East and China in the past 12 months and that a large proportion of those materials ended up not recycled but in unregulated landfill sites? Can he comment on the truth of those reports, and what action do Her Majesty’s Government intend to take to prevent such exports?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the answer is not that different from the one that I gave a fortnight ago. It is illegal to export waste outside the UK other than for recycling and recovery. You cannot export waste from the UK or from the EU for landfill. It is as simple

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as that. It is illegal. It is up to the authorities and organisations concerned to police this. The Environment Agency polices the system and I understand that some prosecutions are pending. Regarding the reference by the noble Earl to 2.2 million tonnes, I do not have a figure on that. Essentially, we now have a good record on waste recovery in this country and are doing more recycling than ever before, but sending material abroad for landfill is illegal.

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, are the Government aware of how important it is to recycle aluminium cans because aluminium can be recycled infinitely? It is a more economical process than bauxite mining. Therefore, I hope that the Government are putting great emphasis on the importance of collecting and recycling aluminium.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, depositories for recycling aluminium cans have appeared around this building in the past couple of years. There is more recycling than there has been previously. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that aluminium can be recycled infinitely—although we will never know whether that is the case because we will not be around. The energy saving is massive when compared with the amount of energy used in converting bauxite into aluminium.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, many millions of people in this country are now setting aside and separating waste for recycling. Would not the worst possible thing be if scare stories that a lot of this material was not being recycled for whatever reason gained credence? Therefore, would it not be a very good idea if each local authority that collects waste for recycling issued from time to time a clear statement to the residents in their area as to where the waste goes and what it is used for?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, that is an excellent suggestion, which local authorities concerned with best practice would be well advised to adopt. They should not only tell their residents but do what a local recycling area that I have used is doing. Wingmoor Farm at Bishop’s Cleeve is a household civic amenity award winner and recycles more than 60 per cent of what arrives at the site. On each bin or container the public are told what will happen to what they put in the bin. Giving people such information allows them to make a connection between what they are doing and the end product. It is a very useful suggestion.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, given the almost universal perception that the quantity of packaging of goods sold in many areas has grown over the past few years, can the Minister assure us that enough of it is recycled? Is he happy with the results so far? Can more be done to ensure the availability of products with less packaging, which is very difficult to get into, particularly for older people?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it is not always older people who have trouble getting into packaging. The noble Baroness is quite right; massive programmes are under way with industry to cut the amount of packaging waste, both on food and other products.

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We are recovering more industrial waste than ever before. The waste recycling action programme, which is partly funded by my department, works with industry to cut down the amount of packaging waste and to recycle waste better.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, on the subject of packaging, could the officials responsible for sending out the Official Report ensure that it is not contained in a material that must be separated from the report and placed in a separate container because it is not paper? Surely, in this place, we ought to be giving a lead regarding the sensible use of coverings that can be recycled.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am pleased to say that I answer at this Box for the Government, and that question will be passed to the appropriate House authorities.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, has the Minister seen some of the documentaries about what is happening to our waste in China? Rivers and land are being polluted and people’s health is being affected. Have Her Majesty's Government done anything to ask the Chinese Government to protect their population, including very young children, who scavenge from our waste?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have not seen any of the programmes, although I have read notes about them. People from the Environment Agency and from some local authorities have been to China. The Chinese Government are as concerned about these deficiencies in the system as we are, because it concerns the health of their own people. It is illegal to export waste for landfill and work is ongoing with the Chinese authorities and the Environment Agency. As I said, some prosecutions are pending on this.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, this country used at one time to recycle 98 per cent of its vehicle batteries, which was one of the best records in Europe. Regrettably that situation has considerably deteriorated, with hundreds of thousands of batteries going to landfill or, too often, fly-tipped. At the same time, nothing visible is happening to ensure that the smaller but very convenient batteries used around our houses are recycled. Do the Government have a satisfactory explanation for that?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am pleased to announce, although I do not want to upset any Euro-sceptics, that a batteries directive is on its way for next year which will deal with the very issue that the noble Lord has raised.

Planning: Airfields

2.51 pm

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, the footnote in question, relating to planning policy guidance 3, was an example of a large site where it would not necessarily be appropriate to build to the edge of the boundary, but it was not an indication that airfields were exempt from development. Planning policy statement 3 continues the same approach and makes it clear that there is no presumption that previously developed land is necessarily suitable for housing development or that the whole of the curtilage should be developed.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her less than interesting Answer, which rather dodges the whole question. If the footnote was good enough for PPG3, why is it not good enough for PPS3? Is it the Government’s intention to make the greenfield areas of airfields and hospitals more vulnerable to development by housing?

Baroness Andrews: No, my Lords. As an ex-historian, I would never dispute the value of footnotes, but I assure the noble Lord that PPS3 strengthens the case. In PPS3 we are saying that PPG3 did not exempt airfields from development, although I can see that this was perhaps a misunderstanding made by people whom the noble Lord represents. We are making a new addition to the text. There is no presumption that previously developed land is necessarily suitable for housing development or that the curtilage should be developed. That protects airfields in exactly the same way as it protects other sites. It is important that we have suitable and sustainable development, which applies as much to abandoned or derelict airfields as to any other site.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords—

Baroness Ford: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the recent report from the Town and Country Planning Association that the best way to protect the countryside and support much needed new housing growth in many parts of the country is to continue to promote new settlements—I declare an interest as chair of English Partnerships—but to promote new settlements on previously developed land and brownfield land, and by much better use of surplus government land?

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords—

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am very happy for the noble Lord to answer the question.

I welcome the participation of my noble friend in this House because of her extremely important experience in English Partnerships. The TCPA report is a very timely addition to the debate on how to put brownfield land to the best possible use. In our new planning policy statement on housing, we make it absolutely clear that we prioritise brownfield land. But that does not involve brownfield land at any cost; it involves brownfield land that is planned and

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prioritised in a way that has evaded us today because it will determine the difference between derelict land, vacant land or whatever. Therefore, we will have a planning and housing policy which is much more appropriate to the needs of the populations in our country.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I apologise for jumping up—I was anticipating a couple of years hence.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, there is some confusion here, and I hope that either the noble Baroness could put it straight or that the Government will make an announcement. We all support the development of brownfield sites—there is no problem with that—but there is a fear that greenfield civil aviation sites might be developed, which is not what they want; they want to keep their sites. The policy that has been announced merely designates the aim of having more brownfield sites than there are now. The fear in the aviation industry is that these sites might end up being developed; they are often in rural areas and are not very suitable for development. The Government need to clarify that they do not really want to build on these sites, apart from the building that is required for use as runways.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord knows the CAA Strategic Review of General Aviation inside out and he will recognise that within it is a clear statement that while our planning system does not act as a disincentive or barrier to development, it does not encourage it either. His comments force me to say that airfields or former airfields are treated like any other site; there is no presumption of development. In fact, the statistics show that we have 142 airfields in the general aviation category, which is about the same number as that which we have had for some time. I can find no evidence of loss of airfields or case law to indicate that they are being prejudicially developed. The point is that airfields are likely to be considered as previously developed land if there is a permanent structure on the land associated with use or, for example, hardstanding in the form of runways. Every site has to be judged on its merits, as would be done with every other site.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the Minister turn her attention, in defining brownfield sites, to the question of city gardens? They are increasingly the target of developers, resulting in cramming and the destruction of the environment in some cities.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I have no evidence that any more building is taking place on city gardens than there ever has been. Local authorities have exactly the same powers as they have always had to resist such development. Some local authorities—I shall cite just four: Reigate and Banstead, Wyre Forest, Brentwood and Wolverhampton—have made specific reference in their local development plans to

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the need to protect back gardens. Planning policy statement 3 states the necessity for new buildings to reflect people’s needs for gardens, play spaces and family homes. We are making a much stronger statement about design and the need for open and green spaces than we were able to do before.

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