HC Deb 16 March 1988 vol 129 cc1086-7
2. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the most recent annual tonnage of imported waste disposed of in United Kingdom land sites.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

The latest estimate of waste imports for landfill is 174,000 tonnes during 1987–88, of which 44,000 tonnes were treated before disposal.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Is my hon. Friend aware that such imported material contains a good deal of hazardous waste? Does he agree that the regulations governing the disposal of hazardous chemicals are a good deal less stringent than those governing the disposal of nuclear waste? Will his Department give more thought to the safe disposal of hazardous chemicals, and at least as much thought as the Government give to the safe disposal of nuclear waste?

Mr. Moynihan

We ensure that all waste is properly controlled in transit and disposed of without risk to public health. We are looking to introduce a statutory code of practice to place greater responsibilities on the producers of waste to ensure its safe disposal. We are also looking at several other measures that I announced in the House two months ago on this important issue.

Mr. Barry Jones

May we urgently have a set of stringent regulations to govern the matter? Last year my constituency received a large tonnage of contaminated soil from Holland. My constituents were upset and worried and, to some degree, quite frightened that material that the Dutch had rejected was about to be placed near their homes. Does the Minister realise that people make a profit from receiving contaminated soil from abroad and dumping it in constituencies such as mine? We need an urgent review and strict regulations.

Mr. Moynihan

We have strict regulations. One of the reasons why waste imports have increased— albeit they represent a small percentage of total waste inports; only 0.5 per cent.—is that we have a long history of waste control. Treatment and disposal operators are required to achieve the highest standards. The Government intend to ensure that that continues to be the case.

Mr. Sayeed

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the statutory code will include the proper fencing of sites? He will be aware that children have gone to sites, dug into the area, and come across highly contaminated materials.

Mr. Moynihan

I confirm that the statutory code of practice will place greater responsibilities on producers of waste to ensure its safe disposal.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Is the Minister aware that the Government do not have a good record on the safe disposal of toxic waste? There is great concern about the fact that 500,000 tonnes of toxic waste are being imported into this country, and the tonnage is ever growing and increasing. In answer to parliamentary question after question the Minister has refused, or been unable, to say where imported waste goes and how it is disposed of. He does not know, or he will not tell us. Is it not unsatisfactory? Is it not wrong for the Government to cover up their balance of payments deficit by importing toxic waste to be disposed of in this country?

Mr. Moynihan

I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I share his concern about the potential growth in imports where there is no wider technical or environmental benefit to be gained by treatment or disposal of waste in this country. Therefore, the Government are considering ways in which imported waste may be more closely controlled.

Sir Hugh Rossi

The Environment Select Committee is concerned about the problem and intends to conduct a rigorous inquiry into the matter soon after Easter. No doubt my hon. Friend will have to answer us in some detail about the form of statutory declarations and other measures proposed by the Government.

Mr. Moynihan

We look forward to the outcome of the review. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will carefully consider all the detailed representations made through that report.