HC Deb 23 February 1989 vol 147 cc1246-69

10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

I beg to move: That this House takes note of European Community Documents No. 5142/88 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of the Environment on 20th February 1989 on air pollution from municipal waste incineration plants; and calls upon the Government to support the introduction of appropriately stringent controls on air pollution from such plants.

The motion concerns two pieces of draft European Community environmental protection legislation—the two draft directives on the control of atmospheric pollution from new and existing incinerators burning municipal waste. Negotiations have so far centred on the first directive, on new plant, on which the presidency hopes to be able to reach agreement at the next Environment Council, on 2 March. There is a possibility that the second draft directive, on existing plant, could in its turn be agreed at the June or November Council. Tonight's debate allows hon. Members to consider the legal and political implications of these two draft directives. Parliamentary scrutiny procedures have now been concluded in the other place and a report is expected next month. Tonight's motion leads the way to formal agreement to these directives when negotiations with other member states are concluded.

Hon. Members will want to know at the outset that the deposited document cited in the motion has been significantly modified in relation to the new plant directive during the course of negotiations. The draft directive for existing plant is expected to be amended in line with these changes when it, in its turn, comes up for detailed discussion.

I would like now to set out the main features of the new plant directive and then to explain how the text has changed from the initial draft set out in the deposited document and then go on to outline remaining issues to be decided before agreement can be reached.

The new plant directive, as a daughter directive of the air pollution framework directive, would require all new incinerators to use the best available technology not entailing excessive cost to minimise air pollution. It would require them to meet prescribed emission limits and combustion conditions, and to comply with proposed requirements as to their equipment and operation. Emission limits are proposed for dust, heavy metals and acid gases. Less stringent emission standards would apply to incinerators with a nominal capacity of less than 3 tonnes of waste per hour. Continuous measurement of dust, hydrochloric acid, carbon monoxide and oxygen is proposed for plants of over 1 tonne an hour, and periodic measurement in the case of all other controlled substances.

Until cost-effective dioxin measurement techniques have been developed, the directive requires surrogate or indicative measures to ensure the prevention of dioxin formation, prescribed combustion conditions requiring a temperature of at least 850 deg C and a minimum residence time of two seconds. Member states would be able to authorise exemptions to permit innovative combustion or gas treatment technologies, provided that higher levels of polychlorinated dibenzopara-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans would not result. Plants would be required to have auxiliary burners to prevent the temperature of the combustion gases falling below 850 deg C and for use during start-up and shut-down operations.

Emergency measures to ensure compliance would have to be taken in the event of limit values being exceeded. Plants which continued to fail to comply after remedial action had been taken would be closed down. In the event of breakdowns or stoppages of purification devices, plants could be authorised to continue operation in breach of the limit values—although still subject to a temporarily relaxed limit in the case of dust emissions—for no more than eight hours' continuous operation and no more than 96 hours' cumulatively over a year. During such periods, all other operating requirements would have to be observed. The directive permits a further derogation by the competent authorities for the smallest plants, of less than 1 tonne per hour, where further special conditions apply, provided that the Commission is firstly consulted about such proposals and then informed of them. The dust limits with which such plants must comply are then relaxed.

The draft directive on existing plants lays down a timetable under which existing plants would have to meet interim standards for dust emissions within five years and full new plant standards within 10 years.

Hon. Members may find it helpful if I set out the main changes that have been made from the original text of the directive relating to new plants. First, the scope of the directive has been reduced to clarify the intention that industrial waste should be caught only if it is similar in composition to domestic refuse. The directive specifically excludes a number of other waste streams such as chemical, clinical and sewage sludge, which are expected to form the basis of further directives in due course. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) will be pleased to know that plants burning specified "refined waste derived fuel" may now be excluded by the competent authorities from the provisions of the directive if compliance would entail excessive costs or be inappropriate technically, provided they comply with the requirements of the air pollution framework directive and do not burn other waste materials.

Secondly, the size categories have been changed from two sizes above or below five tonnes to three sizes—that is up to one tonne per hour, between one and three tonnes per hour, and over three tonnes. The derogation for small plants in tourist areas has been replaced by slacker emission limits, for dust and hydrochloric acid only, for all plants under 1 tonne an hour, with a further exemption possible subject only to an even slacker dust limit where the competent authority thinks it necessary. The last exemption is still under discussion.

Thirdly, in line with United Kingdom practice, all discharges must be through a stack of adequate height, and there must be control over the whole process.

Fourthly, monitoring conditions have been changed. Following our pressure, the generous averaging periods have been significantly tightened. Instead of a daily limit, the largest plants must meet an hourly carbon monoxide limit. That of course, indicates the effectiveness of the combustion.

Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash)

In the modification to which my hon. Friend is referring, has any further consideration been given to higher temperature combustion as a solution to dioxins? Many experts believe that that is not a solution and is not necessarily the right way for the Community directive to proceed.

Mrs. Bottomley

Consideration has been given to dioxins. The proposal is that combusion should take place at 850 deg C for at least two seconds, but it is still subject to further discussion and refinement. The monitoring conditions have been changed. Following our pressure, the generous averaging periods have been significantly tightened. Instead of a daily limit, the largest plants must meet their hourly limit.

The other substances to be continuously monitored have to comply on a rolling weekly rather than monthy basis and keep within a 30 per cent. tolerance each day. It has now been agreed that it is only cost-effective to require the smallest plant to monitor most emissions periodically. The United Kingdom, however, believes that all plants should continuously monitor carbon dioxide.

Fifthly, and again in response to United Kingdom pressure, the maximum permitted breakdown periods for the purification devices have been significantly reduced, although, in our view, not yet sufficiently.

Sixthly, there is no longer a requirement for a mandatory environmental impact assessment. The Commission has accepted that it is too early to extend that directive, which lists municipal incinerators as a category of industry for which an assessment may rather than must be required. But, of course, local authorities will be able to require an environmental impact assessment for a major new municipal waste incinerator should it believe that it would be helpful when determining the planning application.

There remain, however, a few points at issue. Recently., there has been increased pressure to reduce the dust limit: for the largest plants—that is those over 3 tonnes an hour—from 50 to 30 mg per cubic metre. We consider that excessively costly, since it would restrict the choice of abatement technology by forcing all incinerators to use bag filters; the 50 mg per cubic metre limit would also allow electrostatic precipitators, which is the more normal technology in the United Kingdom. We see no reason to go below the 50 mg limit, which was agreed for large combustion plant.

This is not, of course, to imply complacency. We are indeed actively encouraging the development of new technology which would allow more restrictive emission standards to be achieved at an acceptable cost. Only last week I announced the award of the first grant under the environmental protection technology scheme. It was for research into a new type of polymer-based filter suitable for the control of dust from municipal incinerators. If the research is successful we would aim to promote the adoption of this technology widely through the Community.

The United Kingdom sees some illogicality in the stance of those member states which favour very strict emission limits, but then prefer to monitor over long averaging periods. Although we have been successful in persuading our partners to agree to a certain amount of strengthening here, we do not believe that the directive is yet tight enough. Good carbon monoxide control is essential for effective combustion control, so we consider that all plant, regardless of size, should be subject to hourly rather than daily averaging. We are still pressing our European colleagues on this point.

The Department of the Environment, in the light of those directives generally, and the implications for those involved has set up an informal working group, including representatives from local authority associations and other interested professional organisations to consider the draft directives. It is particularly concerned to try to evaluate the implications of the existing plant directive, and so has conducted a simple survey of the views of those local authorities which are currently operating municipal waste incinerators.

Most of the incinerators currently operating in the United Kingdom were built in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Some have been the subject of significant complaint that the emissions cause nuisance, and recently there has been concern about possible emissions of dioxins to which my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) referred. The number of United Kingdom plants in operation has fallen steadily over the past 10 years so that now there are only 35. One of them is under 10 years old, 21 are between 10–15 years old and 13 are 15–20 years old.

Most United Kingdom plants fall within the upper size range proposed in the draft directive for existing plants, having a nominal capacity of six tonnes per hour or more. Only three have a capacity of between 1 and 6 tonnes per hour, and we are not aware of any below this limit.

Most United Kingdom incinerators are therefore over 10 years old and, without modifications, would be expected to reach the end of their useful working lives over the next few years. From the information that we have gathered in the survey, it appears that almost 50 per cent. of existing United Kingdom municipal waste incinerators are likely to close by the mid 1990s. In only a small number of cases was the prospect of the draft directives stated to be a prime reason for their impending closure.

Of those incinerators likely to remain in operation, all would require some modification or the retrofitting of equipment to meet the draft directive's interim standards and, ultimately, the full standards for new plant. The most commonly quoted needs would be for the fitting of auxiliary burners, the provision of additional monitoring and recording equipment and the addition of new or improved abatement equipment such as electrostatic precipitators or gas scrubbers. Unless the directive as finally agreed provides flexibility in the requirements for temperature and residence time for existing plant there may be a need for even more extensive adaptations.

Many operators have pointed out that a significant increase in costs will be inevitable in implementing the draft directives. However, with the possible exception of the tighter dust limit that some member states are seeking, it is clear that the provisions of the directives are broadly in line with those that will result anyway from the higher standards that Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution will be requiring for domestic environmental reasons.

We estimate that the cost of building a new plant to meet the directive standards would be between £35 million and £40 million, including heat recovery, which we expect most of them will wish to include. As for existing plant, the informal working group further estimated that it would cost around £300,000 to convert each unit to the expected interim standards of the existing directive, and on average a further £1, 200,000 to upgrade each unit to the full standards of the new directive. Most of our incinerators consist of between two and four units.

Although, as I have explained, we do not believe that they go far enough yet in certain particulars, the Government broadly welcome the efforts by the Community to tighten up standards for waste incineration, and I commend the motion to the House.

10. 15 pm

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I have listened with great interest to the Minister because waste management and the control of pollution are high on the Opposition's agenda. We welcome any proposals, and these in particular, which will prevent or reduce air pollution.

We welcome what the Minister has had to say about research under the environmental protection technology scheme and about the informal working group which has been set up with local authority representatives, as well as her comments on dioxins and the urgent need for research on the many problems that we know exist. They are all matters that we would like to see strengthened and incorporated in the final proposals.

Having said that, it is important to say that the United Kingdom's waste disposal policy is inadequate. Despite their stated commitment to the environment, the Government have failed in the past 10 years to clean up the waste disposal industry. The waste and recycling industry is not properly geared up and we need real policy and real action. Welcome as the proposals are for existing and new municipal incineration plants, they cannot be isolated and treated separately from an integrated approach.

I urge the Minister to take that into account both in the Government's policy making and in discussions in the EEC. How does the hon. Lady intend to link action on municipal incineration plants with action on landfill sites, stricter enforcement and monitoring of all waste disposal and the provision of capital and revenue money to finance the investment that is urgently needed throughout the industry, particularly that provided by the public sector?

Let us be clear that Britain has no overall waste management strategy. At present, waste disposal is managed on the basis of the cheapest possible option. There needs to be a stringent regime of licensing and monitoring of waste disposal and recycling to ensure high standards of operation. Proper investment in incineration would make it preferable to landfill as a means of waste disposal both in terms of environmental protection and energy recovery—a point that I was pleased to hear the Minister make.

It is clear that incineration should be allowed only where the most advanced technology is used to ensure that the incinerator is environmentally safe and does not emit any harmful gases or substances into the atmosphere. Without assurances from the Minister about money, we could end up with existing plants closing down, no new investment for new plants and a complete dependence on landfill sites where costs at present are kept artificially low because of the lack of investment in their infrastructure.

The Government have presided over a deterioration in waste management, largely due to financial constraints imposed on local authorities. I read with great interest the report of yesterday's debate in the House on rate capping. We should be aware that if the Government reduce local authority expenditure, local authorities will find it difficult to find the necessary resources to carry out some of the proposals in the EEC directive.

How are local authorities to finance the improvements which both Opposition and Governments Members agree are important? Investments financed by loans already have to be sanctioned by the DOE, so there will be difficulties there. Certainly, changes in the whole aspect of local authority finance after 1990 will result in pressure to finance capital expenditure out of revenue, but councils will also he squeezed by the poll tax on the revenue side. New plants, which would have a capital cost of £15 million to £20 million, could not be built under present Government controls over local authority spending. What proposals are there to ensure that public money is available to finance these new plants, which will be more essential as the costs of landfill sites and transportation of rubbish to these sites rise?

Estimates vary as to the likely impact of the EC directive, but even by the most generous, as the Minister explained earlier, only 10 to 14 of the 38 incinerators still operating in the United Kingdom would remain in service once the directive on existing plants was adopted as it stands.

I agree that there would need to be an average of £2 million or thereabouts spent per incinerator to upgrade them to the new standards set by the Minister, with knock-on investments on extending plant life being necessary to justify installing the new control equipment. Operating costs would also rise and throughputs in some plants would have to be reduced to comply with the minimum residence times proposed.

We believe that this is all vital expenditure. Will the Minister give an assurance that this money will be given the same kind of priority by the Government as that which they are now giving to financing the public relations aspect of the sell-off of the water and electricity industries?

This alarming picture of the amount of investment that is needed in waste incineration plants is a direct result of Government failure to recognise the importance of waste management. Designed in the late 1960s, the majority of incinerators are 10 to 15 years old and of a very basic design, which, as the Minister explained, does not provide for a modernising capability. If a plant is to be economic it needs to recover energy and we certainly believe that the waste recycling aspects of this kind of activity are most important. To fit an old plant with pollution abatement devices, auxiliary burners and waste heat recovery systems would mean completely rebuilding, at present-day costs of £20 million to £40 million plus. In fact, a minimum throughput of a quarter of a million tonnes per annum at £12–14 per tonne would need a plant of £30 million.

The Greater London council, in its wisdom, was prepared to budget for the long-term needs of Londoners in respect of municipal waste incinerators, but will this Government, when it comes to it, prevent equally caring councils from doing likewise? Will there be a commitment by the Government that local authorities will be able to have the means to invest in this kind of expenditure?

Sheffield is an example of an authority which runs its own incinerator in the middle of the city and runs district heating from this. Sheffield would wish to comply with the EC regulation and is constantly pressing for capital allocation from the DOE. If there is no specific allocation for the changes, I believe that the city would be in extreme difficulties in meeting the proposed incineration changes. The mechanism is there to retrofit the incinerators, so will the Minister undertake that there will be sufficient allocation of grants to local authorities and waste disposal authorities, and will local authorities be allowed to carry the debt charges if that is indeed the only way of financing the most important changes needed?

If local authorities will not meet these costs, is it the intention of the Government to make the private sector meet the costs through higher charges to the consumer? In Newcastle, in Tyne and Wear, the private sector was approached because the local authority could not meet the costs. The plant at Newcastle was not considered economical, but it has a throughput of 350,000 tonnes per annum while most other plants are smaller at around 100,000 tonnes.

The issue of public health lies at the heart of this discussion. It is not necessarily the case that "Where there's muck there's brass." We are talking about a cost which is as much about the cost to our health as it is about pure economics. It is vital that the Government should explain their policies about municipal waste incinerators in the context of recent consultation documents. We have received many of these from the Department of the Environment and it is important that we link this discussion with the need for an entirely integrated approach to waste management.

The Government's Green Paper on the role and functions of waste disposal authorities intends to put at arm's length the local authority-owned companies which will deal with waste disposal. The direct implication of the paper is that the arm's length companies will have to raise money from the private sector. The private sector may be willing to ensure the continued full productive life of plants, but based on the assumption of waste continuing to go to a plant for the foreseeable future. With incineration costs at £12 a tonne and landfill disposal costs at only £2.25 a tonne, that is open to question.

In my area in Staffordshire, the Stoke-on-Trent incinerator is the principal long-term waste disposal facility for the north of the county. The waste disposal authorities will understandably be reluctant to allocate capital now when they could face losing facilities in competitive tendering. The preliminary estimate to adapt the Stoke plant for the five-year interim period is £2 million out of a total department budget of £4 million revenue and just £1 million capital. A plant with a 15-year life ahead of it might be closed down, with grave implications for landfill and unregulated tipping in the area. Tomorrow we shall be debating the problems resulting from unregulated tipping in the inner cities.

What account has the Minister taken of the implications of the directive for landfill waste disposal? There is great concern about the neglect of landfill sites and severe question marks over that method of disposal. Costs are rising. The greater the demand for landfill, the greater is the need for regulation. Methane gas must be reckoned with. The 80 million tonnes of rubbish dumped in British landfill sites each year produces build-ups of methane gas. In my constituency today two houses had to be evacuated because of a build-up of methane gas. Fortunately the borough council in Newcastle-under-Lyme was able to deal with the problem effectively. However, such incidents highlight the need to consider the long-term effects of the build-up of methane gas.

More than half the landfill sites are located within 270 yards of housing or industrial developments. Although landfill will continue, it is not necessarily a cheaper or a less environmentally costly alternative to incineration. As landfill standards are raised and are properly enforced, the differential with incineration is lessened by comparable rigorous enforcement.

In their official memorandum the Government state: The implications for landfill disposal of stricter standards for waste incineration will have to be considered. Such vague references to landfill waste disposal reveal the Government's lack of understanding about the need for a co-ordinated waste management strategy. Tighter controls and regulation inspection should be implemented right away. I do not see why we have had to wait 10 years or more for the integrated "Green" Bill about which we have heard so much.

The Oppostion believe that waste management strategy should be based on waste avoidance, waste minimisation, reclamation and recycling. A recent report from Leeds recorded that 70 per cent. of domestic waste consists of packaging and newsprint. It also stated that 15 million drink cans, 35 million food cans, 14 million glass containers, and 5, 500 tonnes of newsprint are discarded every day.

The technology is available to recover cans from waste at municipal incinerator plants. Greater Manchester waste disposal authority saves £1,000 a week on disposal costs by removing tin plate cans by magnetic extraction from part of the incineration process. The magnets, which remove ferrous materials from the ashes, cost £8,000 in 1987.

I have been surprised to discover from replies to parliamentary questions that the Government do not have centrally full details of recycling activities of that type. Due to poor planning and problems, often of investment, magnets such as those used in Manchester are in disrepair. Under the Government's policies, municipal incinerators are unable to make a significant contribution to recycling.

A further benefit that can be derived from incineration as an option for waste disposal is that of refuse-derived fuels, and I listened with interest to the Minister's comments on that subject. The Government said in their memorandum: the proposals might also catch the use of refuse-derived fuels, for which the Government does not consider the same standards as appropriate, and might indeed rule out further development of these fuels. Britain's refuse-derived fuel industry was set back in September when Birmingham city council was unable to make a refuse-derived fuel plant at Castle Bromwich pay its way. A major factor there was that, while the Department of Energy was encouraging such programmes, the Department of the Environment declined to issue an exemption certificate under the Clean Air Act for the fuel pellets. Birmingham is covered by a smoke control order which prohibits the burning of smoke-generating fuel. Clearly, this lack of co-ordination between the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment demonstrates that there is no overall Government policy on waste disposal and recycling. I hope that when the informal working groups are set up there will be discussion with the local authorities on achieving an integrated and comprehensive programme for recycling and incineration.

If waste is to be incinerated or put to landfill under stringent controls and conditions, as it should be, we must consider the monitoring proposals in the EC directive. In this connection, the Government must give assurances that an adequately staffed professional inspectorate will be available to undertake those duties.

In accordance with the Green Paper, authorities must hand the incinerator to an arm's length company and finance must be found for the resulting regulatory enforcement of air quality emission standards, to be under the inspection and control of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. We have heard much about the low morale within HMIP. Present restructuring activities do not seem to be successful and I gather that there are still recruitment problems.

The Government's aim appears to be to replace the system of regulating air pollution by the best practical means with a system based on emission limits and self-regulation. This may cut administrative costs, but it will have the effect of destroying the effectiveness of air pollution control in the United Kingdom. So much for the Government's declared commitment to the environment.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

Is the hon. Lady putting the onus totally on the state, or does she consider that the local authority should have responsibility? If elected local authorities are to be responsible, they should take initiatives in this area and, from the examples she has given, they have the capacity to do so. Or does she think the whole responsibility should return to the state? She is not giving a clear message from the Opposition.

Ms. Walley

The Opposition are clearly saying that we believe that there should be locally determined policies to deal with municipal waste, refuse collection and disposal. If, because of the poll tax and rate capping, local authorities lack the necessary finance to do that, they will be unable to find the investment needed to meet the fine objectives set out in the proposals we are discussing. This is the same as the argument we have been conducting on the privatisation of water. Of course we want the necessary pollution controls on bathing and drinking water and refuse and waste disposal, but the money must be found. If local authorities want to find the money to implement these provisions—as the GLC certainly did—they should not be prevented from doing so by financial restrictions placed on locally, democratically elected councillors by Government.

We need publicly owned, democratically controlled local and regional waste disposal authorities, with efficient and adequately resourced licensing, controlling and monitoring of these activities. Incineration is a viable means of reduction; and proper regulation of, and investment in, the entire process is long overdue. So is the need for Government initiatives to deal with pollution from clinical and commercial waste. There has been no substantial investment on the scale needed during the past 10 years. We shall pay dearly in money and health for that lack of commitment to the basic infrastructure of public services.

As the last phase of municipal incinerator building took place in the mid-1970s, the units are all coming up for re-boilering and updating. The Government must tell us how they intend to finance that programme.

Environmentally sensitive incineration is to be welcomed, but regulations should be extended to incinerators that are not municipal plants, and to other forms of waste disposal. Pollution control needs to be part of a comprehensive waste policy linked to recycling, energy efficiency and conservation. The initiative in waste disposal has been lost by the Government. If the United Kingdom is to incinerate more on its present terms, we shall have to increase imports of technology, because of our poor record—although I welcome what the Minister said about research into this area.

The directive should provide the basis of a comprehensive, properly financed waste management strategy. As long as the Government continue to respond to the threat to the environment through the laws of market forces alone, the problems will not go away. Environmental protection has a price. We need to introduce environmental values now in the interests of long-term pollution control.

10. 38 pm

Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash)

It would be discourteous not to acknowledge the formidable contribution from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), who has obviously done her homework. Although I agreed with much of her speech, I emphatically reject her unjustified criticisms of the Government.

I declare an interest as a consultant to Associated Heat Services plc, an energy management company which operates plants that convert waste into electricity and hot water for district heating. During my long years of special interest in energy efficiency, I have had the chance to inspect incineration plants with the best technology in this country and in Europe. The best plants are those which convert waste into electricity and hot water instead of just burning it. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of them in this country.

Incineration has a bad name in this country, mainly because we use outdated technology. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, most of our incineration plants—only 35 of them are in operation—are old, and their design specifications make it difficult, if not impossible, to meet today's pollution standards, let alone the new ones proposed.

In recent years, we have built only two or three modern plants which have the latest technology and which run commercially because they sell electricity and/or hot water.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend was able to inform us earlier that modifications have been proposed to the original directive. It certainly needed amendment. I whole-heartedly support the efforts of my hon. Friend and her officials to achieve sensible amendments.

I am still concerned that we may miss a great opportunity to catch up with the rest of Europe by converting more of our waste into useful energy. The United Kingdom incinerates only 10 per cent. of its industrial and municipal waste. In Europe, the figure is 25 per cent. Some countries in the Community, such as Denmark, Germany and France, convert up to 40 per cent. of their municipal waste into electricity and hot water.

The potential in this country is enormous. The waste that we use for landfill is equivalent to about 30 million tonnes of coal a year. Some of the landfill is used for methane production. Hopefully more will be, but it is unacceptable that we should be virtually bottom of the European league in converting municipal refuse into energy, particularly when the economics of modern technology makes it cost-effective.

We have three major incineration plants which convert waste into energy. Edmonton burns about 10 per cent. of London's refuse and produces electricity from it. There are proposals to modernise and to expand that plant through private enterprise consortia which will make money out of it. It will also save ratepayers' money because it will be less expensive than transporting the refuse to be dumped in holes in other parts of the country.

In Nottingham, municipal waste is converted into hot water for district heating and also produces electricity. There is a similar scheme in Sheffield which it is proposed to expand. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), who apologises for not being available for the debate, and I had a briefing from Sheffield officials earlier this week. Sheffield has problems because it is expanding its district heating schemes. My hon. Friend is aware of the problems, and I hope that they will be considered.

Meanwhile, new projects are going ahead and are proposed. There is to be a major expansion in south London, involving a private consortium. Using the latest technology, the plant will burn refuse and convert it into electricity and, hopefully, hot water for district heating. The fuel that we are talking about—municipal and industrial waste—is a renewable energy resource. It is a non-fossil fuel. It adds to the diversity of energy resources in the same way as nuclear power, and it should not be neglected.

Landfill is becoming scarcer and more costly because, rightly, we have to tighten up on the environmental pollution and damage which much landfill is creating. Therefore, the arguments in favour of using waste more efficiently to produce energy by incineration are powerful and should be noted more vigorously not just by the Department of the Environment but by the Department of Energy. There are more than 500 incineration plants in the Community as a whole, and a high proportion of them convert waste into either electricity or hot water for district heating—but that is done on only a limited scale in Britain.

In recent years, technology has moved ahead. Some of that technology comes from the United States and from Europe, which is well ahead of the game—but our country also has much of the best that is available. Unfortunately, we are not using it as we should. We ought seriously to consider greater use of pollution-free waste to add to our energy supplies and improve energy efficiency.

There are available now pre-screening processes that can extract from waste non-combustible, environmentally damaging materials such as metal. There is also refuse-derived fuel in pelleted or floc form that is easier to burn, has a higher calorific value, and produces less pollution. The EEC directive, which I welcome, will stimulate investment—in this country as well—in up-to-date technology.

It would be no bad thing if many of our out-of-date incineration plants closed. It is about time they did and that investment was made in new technology, so that the old plants, which merely waste energy, can be replaced by modern technology that makes use of the energy generated by waste material.

I suggest one or two ways ahead, as constructively as I can. We must make the public more aware of the case that I am trying to argue, not only on environmental grounds but because waste incineration as a means of producing energy is cost-effective. We must also make local authorities more aware of the technology that exists, to get away from the bad name that waste incineration has because of the old techniques, whose use remains too widespread. We must make waste disposal authorities aware that there are cheaper options than landfill and basic incineration. Use of the latest technology can make more money, by converting waste into electricity and hot water.

During the crucial five-to-10 year transitional period that my hon. Friend mentioned, the Government should give greater encouragement by allowing local authorities to invest as partners in private enterprise consortia. That will require some relaxation of loan sanctions. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said, some local authorities are happy to enter into partnerships with private consortia but cannot contribute financially because of the existing restrictive loan sanctions regime. Where schemes can be cost-effective and are capable of producing cheaper electricity and heating than other methods, it is a nonsense to hold up investment for bureaucratic reasons.

The Department of Energy could do more to promote waste incineration as a form of renewable energy, particularly in view of the need to diversify sources of energy supply and to provide competition for cheaper electricity and heating. Waste energy production can make a major contribution in that respect; I hope that my hon. Friend will pass that message to the Department.

Unless a more positive strategy is developed, we shall miss the opportunity that the directive thrusts upon us. We will miss the opportunity of exploiting the new technology—other coutries are exploiting it much faster—to produce energy and to reduce wasteful and environmentally undesirable landfill. But, even worse, there is a danger, if we do not develop a positive strategy, that, instead of increasing the percentage of waste that we incinerate and convert into energy—that is the way to catch up with the rest of Europe—we might actually see a reduction. The reason is that many of the existing incineration plants will have to close if they are not suitable for refurbishment, and the new investment that ought to be going into their replacement will not go ahead. As a result, we will drop even further down the league table of European countries that use their waste effectively, efficiently and without causing pollution.

I welcome this EEC directive. My hon. Friend has reassured us that it is being sensibly modified and applied, but there is still a great deal to be done. I hope that she will take note that there is great potential that we should not lose sight of.

10. 51 pm

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

First of all, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must apologise to you and to the Minister for not having been in the House at the beginning of this debate. I did set out to be here in good time, but unfortunately somebody turned off the electricity in the tube. Perhaps the hon. Lady will put a word in with her husband about it. If I raise issues that she has dealt with already, I apologise.

The debate is welcome, and the issues that the EEC directive raises are important. When I read the briefing material, it concerned me, although it did not surprise me, that the Commission had specifically identified the United Kingdom as excluded from the five countries with detailed plans for the disposal of waste—particularly by incineration. The Minister has said that the Government have every intention of responding to the directive. I hope that, in doing so, they will not be restrained by the Commission; I hope they will feel that this is an issue they can take up themselves with a view to moving forward and starting to formulate a more detailed and coherent objective.

I want to pick up some points that were made by the hon. Member for Stoke on Trent, North (Ms. Walley) and to add my own comments. Municipal authorities will always have an important role to play in the safe and efficient disposal of rubbish. I certainly do not object in principle to the private sector's being involved. I am quite sure that in a whole variety of ways it needs to be involved. Apart from anything else, it has to dispose of its own rubbish. However, I think that there is a slight concern that companies that get involved in waste disposal as an enterprise in itself for profit may occasionally be motivated to attract more profitable business.

For example, when the Karin B was cruising round the North Sea the Minister said that if we had had the best facilities we should have been very glad to take its cargo and dispose of it. In a pure free-market economic sense, and possibly even in an environmental sense, there might be some plausible merit in that argument, but I do not think that it is politically or publicly acceptable. The Government should simply acknowledge that fact.

The public feel that, certainly until such time as we have the whole issue of waste management fully under control, we should not be taking waste from other sources. I think the Minister will find that, if things do not change rapidly over the next five years, more incidents of that kind will simply create greater and greater public resentment, and she will find her job becoming somewhat unacceptable. That is obviously a matter for her to judge, but I Feel that she should accept what I am saying.

The hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) has said that we in the United Kingdom are fairly low in the pecking order of countries that burn their waste. The amount burnt in the United Kingdom is 10 per cent., compared with 31 per cent. in Germany, 32 per cent. in the Netherlands, and 37 per cent. in France. So we have very considerable room for improvement. On the whole, provided that it can be done efficiently and safely and with minimal pollution, and that the appropriate action is taken to ensure the right standards, incineration is preferable to landfill, for many of the reasons that the hon. Member for Erewash gave. I do not think that he will be surprised to know that I endorse his commitment to perhaps replacing existing plants, not only to ensure that they are more efficient but to link them with electricity generation and possible district heating schemes.

I know that the hon. Gentleman suffered from what might, from his point of view, have been embarrassing publicity because of his declared interest. I would say that he is at least one Member who—even if he is making money out of it—has a consistent and long-held interest, and is respected on both sides of the House for the depth of his commitment and for his particular expertise. In some ways he has been rather more unfairly attacked on that score than other hon. Members on other occasions. This is, in my view, a legitimate area of concern. I know of local authorities that would like to expand district heating associated with the disposal of rubbish in their area, and I hope that the Government will give a positive lead to encouraging such a move.

That raises a point already touched on by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North: the ability of local authorities to provide the finance to upgrade or improve their provision. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory), who has now left, intervened to suggest that there was no clear message. I thought that there was a fairly clear message: if local authorities are to become involved—both sides of the House seemed to acknowledge that they should, and should continue to be involved—they need some indication that they will be able to fund any investment that they propose to make, particularly if they are being constrained by either European Commission directives or directives imposed by the United Kingdom Government.

Authorities have, I think, become considerably resentful of finding themselves required by laws, whether European Community or United Kingdom Government laws, to take actions that cost money on either the capital or the current account, and then being accused by the Government of overspending and profligacy and faced with what is in many cases unfair criticism. The Government must be prepared to play the game, and—particularly if they want to follow through their own claimed commitment to give environmental issues a high priority—to recognise that such issues should be properly accounted for when local authorities are framing their capital and current spending budgets.

One or two cases have been highlighted of significant pollution and possibly even illness related to existing plants. The briefing material for the debate suggests that the country is in a fairly poor state in this regard. I am glad to say that a plant that caused considerable concern in Scotland, the Rechem plant at Bonnybridge, has closed, although it was closed not because of environmental or public concern but for economic reasons.

That plant had become a cause celebre illustrating the problems of living near a not fully controlled plant that was disposing of toxic waste. There was an upsurge of twinning in the area among both cattle and humans, as well as illnesses and irritations and the suggestion of a significant incidence of abortion among cattle. That seemed statistically to be directly attributable to the plant, and appears to have stopped since it closed. Such problems cause genuine public anxiety, and demonstrate the need for increasingly raised standards.

I notice also that there is considerable concern about the quality of disposal and incineration by hospitals. I have a list of the "dirty dozen" hospitals that fall well below standard: Canterbury, Greenwich, Camden, Norwich, Cardiff, Welwyn, Sheffield, Dundee, Hemel Hempstead, Kettering, Bradford and Gateshead. I do not know whether the Government acknowledge those examples as problems; if they do, do they feel that something should be done about them? What will the Minister's Department do—or does she consider it a matter for the Department of Health?

Another interesting aspect of—in my view—the lack of a co-ordinated environmental approach, and the reason why I think a different ministerial structure may be necessary, is that a series of questions that I tabled recently asking each Government Department what it was doing to advance its concerns and involvement in environmental matters were all referred to the Department of the Environment, which rather defeated the purpose of my questions. It is, of course, fairly standard ministerial practice to pass the buck, but the Government must do a little better than that when such questions are tabled.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North also mentioned—correctly, within this debate—recycling. Recycling and air pollution are connected issues. In my view, where there are no other sources, rubbish should be burned, rather than used for infill, and should be burned in an efficient and non-polluting way, preferably with useful by-products, but we must raise our performance on recycling.

I want to quote a specific example, which is of great concern to my own area and to people employed in my own constituency. Together with the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran), I was recently lobbied by Davidson's paper company in Aberdeen. The company is very concerned about the shortage of waste paper, which is its prime raw material and which can crucially affect its business. The Government, through the Scottish Development Agency, may be sponsoring a new development—which is not confirmed yet—that will use recycled waste paper as its raw material. Given that the Davidson's plant is funamentally dependent on waste paper, the consequence will be to mop up all Britain's surplus of current recycled waste paper. That will create a shortage that will force up the price of waste paper, unless action is taken, and could threaten the existence of the Davidson's plant in Aberdeen.

Davidson's employs 650 people directly and is now trading at full capacity and extremely profitably, manufacturing lining papers for plasterboard as its prime product. I am sure that the Minister can appreciate that there is a serious cause for concern and that it would be a blow if such a plant closed. According to the management of Davidson's, Britain's record of recycling waste paper is almost the worst in the European Community—only Ireland's record is worse—so we should be doing more. Our performance in this respect is 29 per cent., whereas in Sweden, which is a major competitor in paper, the figure is 70 per cent. The Minister will recognise that there is considerable room for closing the gap. That would be economically beneficial, as well as environmentally and ecologically sound.

Having just returned from the European Commission and having heard comments from Members of all parties, I believe that these take note debates on European Commission directives are an unsatisfactory way for the development of policy to proceed. I believe that the House should have more input in the production of such directives. We have late-night, poorly attended debates simply to take note of a directive, in which the House has had no input, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis—in fact it is a take-it basis, because we are not allowed to leave it in practical terms under the treaty, rather than under the powers of the House.

These issues need to be brought up properly and I hope that the Minister will fight for more time in the House to give hon. Members an opportunity to debate directives before they are finalised. There are hon. Members who have useful contributions to make and, although the Minister may be proud that she has amended the directive, it would be helpful if hon. Members of all parties had some input in the process. That might even strengthen the Minister's hand as well.

Having said that, I am glad that we have a debate, although it is unfortunate that it is in circumstances in which important issues are swept under the carpet. We shall have to return to them. However, I hope that our comments have been of some help.

11. 4 pm

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

This debate takes note. The truth is that we should all take note of the fact that when we speak of energy efficiency, savings or waste, the House is empty, whatever the hour. It is important, when we discuss directives such as this, that we make some attempt at input, albeit after the paper is written. Each hon. Member who has spoken so far has found me nodding in agreement, but—alas—we are, as always, too few to make this the stimulating debate it should be.

The word "waste" is, in itself, the wrong word to use. The opposite of waste can be "saving", just as it can be all sorts of things. But the one thing about waste in the world of energy is that it is truly wasteful. It is truly wasteful to take stuff and churn it up a chimney and destroy it, even if it is cleaned en route. There is so much that could be saved. Ask anyone who has worked on the bins when an undergraduate. It is amazing how much there is to be picked up among what the rest of us throw away. We live in a rich society. We are more wasteful than would have been imaginable a century or so back. We are rich beyond the dreams of those in the Third world, yet we waste and waste.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) promotes the sensible cause of combined heat and power. If we must incinerate, for goodness' sake let us use the heat for something useful. Many years ago in the county of Devon, we built a refuse incinerator to burn waste. We could and should have used it to heat the adjacent factory sites which cost too much to heat but the heat went up the chimney and all the factories used fossil fuel, oil or gas. They used none of the waste, which still rises to the sky.

I am sorry to use the word "waste" so often, but it is worth mentioning it because the great problem with the directive is that it will achieve precisely what it sets out to avoid. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) about the market, although we disagree on how the market should work. Most of the refuse incineration plants that I know, if not elderly, have had some jolly hard wear and over a five-year period the money will be used but it will not be used logically. It would be far better to be generous and use the new, clean forms of incineration rather than saying, "Here is a loan sanction. Here are a few hundred thousand pounds to bring up to date the technology of the last decade and even further back." The money could be used, but what would happen?

I suspect that the outcome will be simple and straightforward. It will not be worth while—market forces again—to incinerate waste, so it will literally be driven underground. There will be more landfill sites. Again, I mention the humble totter, or the student who picks up the odd thing from a dustbin. Anyone who has seen the countryside around our great towns knows how wasteful we are—how we dump bedspreads, mattresses and anything else that we can get rid of because it might cost us too much to dispose of it in any other way. I fear that this directive, which is excellent in principle—it tells us to be more careful and to be cleaner—will simply drive people to find cheaper and more awful forms of disposal. The vessel that plied the seas trying to find somewhere to dump the rubbish of the world, was only one example. It was the one that was noticed. I wonder how many are not noticed. I give a word of strange and almost sorrowful warning.

The directive refers to domestic rubbish. In the large village of Yelland, quite near Barnstaple, our excellent South West water authority has obtained permission to burn the bits and pieces left over from the sewage works. The residents are up in arms because the chimney is 30ft tall, but it is a good sensible authority and it has obtained planning permission. Such schemes will not be covered by the directive, which clearly excludes municipal waste. Article 1 tells us that we are talking exclusively of waste which by its composition, can be considered to be equivalent to domestic waste to the exclusion of chemical, toxic and special waste and sewage sludge.

I must be honest: these are far more horrible things than any domestic waste, even though our plastic bins, bottles and cartons may be a mess and a nuisance. The directive will make it impossible ever to build an economic incineration plant in the future. We shall need such plants, but we shall not get them because, as someone once said, "You can't buck the market." Within the advisory papers, it is mentioned that the directive may catch those refuse-derived fuels. There are, for example, the fuel pellets—an incredibly sensible way of using waste—which are compacted and burnt. If by accident those fuels are caught in the directive, there is something very wrong with the drafting, which we, of course, cannot amend.

Three years ago, I suppose, the world was full of energy-efficient breakfasts. The intention was that we would save a fortune by energy efficiency, but the sad problem for breakfast time—and, I am sure, for the energy-efficient bacon and eggs—was that we came towards the witching hour and we began to talk about how to dispose by burning.

We are a truly wasteful economy. Incineration is not a logical answer unless everything else has been redeemed, reused and recycled. Waste is wasteful unless we do something sensible and useful with the waste products.

11. 10 pm

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I shall be as brief as possible so as to give other hon. Members the opportunity to speak because those present are interested in this problem. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) and the Minister on their contributions. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, to this debate because she is a member of the National Society for Clean Air, as I have been for many years, so we have a particular interest in pollution.

I welcome the directive from the EEC on what we should be doing about pollution, but I disagree with some of the points that have been made and especially with the hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) when he said that we should have more landfill and less incineration.

Mr. Rost

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Haynes

No, I will not give way. To save time, I will clarify the position. The hon. Gentleman was obviously saying that if we have incineration we must do it properly and efficiently and not waste the heat produced. I believe, however, that we should do away with landfill altogether.

Mr. Rost

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Haynes

No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has made his contribution.

Mr. Rost


Mr. Haynes

No, I am sorry—it would not be lair to other hon. Members.

I disagree entirely with landfill because I have had years of experience on local authorities with responsibility for collecting refuse and dumping it. We have had experience of landfill in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Crooked contractors have been using the same areas as the local authority and dumping toxic waste. That practice is not confined to Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire—it is nation-wide. Apart from possible toxicity, what is dumped is also filth. Often the dumps are near domestic properties, which is not pleasant for residents and there are usually complaints. I visited my local authority to look at the list of residents who had complained about nuisances such as rats all over the place. That is not good for health, it is not good for pollution control and the sooner we do away with landfill disposal of waste the better off we shall be.

I agree with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Erewash about incineration. We need to improve our system of incineration. It needs to be used efficiently. We need all the new equipment available to enable us to deal with it efficiently and at the same time to contribute towards the heating of domestic properties and to help industry as well. In so doing, we would also be helping the economy.

One of the problems that I fear is that the Government will slowly but surely destroy local authorities. If the Conservatives continue in office after the next General Election, which God forbid, they will destroy the local authorities. They are taking away the services one by one. The local authorities will have nothing to do and their responsibilities will be shoved into the hands of the private sector. Then we shall have problems with incineration.

One matter which concerns me but which has not been mentioned so far is the massive reduction in the number of Her Majesty's inspectors in all Departments, especially in relation to energy. There has also been a massive reduction in the number of inspectors of mines and quarries. If we are not careful, it will happen again—we need Her Majesty's inspectors to keep everybody on their toes, in the interests of people who need the service.

In north Derbyshire, property was blown to smithereens because of the combustion of methane. Luckily, nobody was killed. That type of thing can happen with landfill. That is why I am against it.

The Minister does a lot of travelling in the course of her job, and she is interested in it. The Minister for Roads and Traffic, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), probably travels in a different direction in his job relating to roads, road safety, and so on. Obviously, they do not get together very often, but they must do sometimes, if only when they get to bed. When they have a little discussion at bedtime, I hope that they will discuss motor vehicle pollution. I am concerned about lorries, buses and deregulation. There are some real spivs on the roads. We must do something about the problem. I hope that the Minister will have a word with the hon. Gentleman about it one of these nights when they go to bed.

11. 15 pm

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

My hon. Friend the Minister and I have taken a little bit of stick from the parliamentary sketch writers in the past few days. Although her loss was certainly my gain, I am certain that I speak for everybody who was on the delegation from the Isle of Wight who went to see my hon. Friend. Such was the charming way in which she received us and listened to our problems about waste-derived fuel, that, on that occasion, her gain was the Isle of Wight's loss.

I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) participating in the debate. It is the first occasion on which she has led a debate for the Opposition. I took part with her in the first World Service debate about the Tory green initiative.

I want to throw not a pebble but a pellet into the pool. I have been something of a financial agnostic in terms of waste-derived fuel. I have no argument with anything that has been said tonight about incineration, but I have serious doubts about the economy of first pelletising rubbish before it is burned.

Although I can appreciate the desire to find some use for the contents of our rubbish bins, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) mentioned, there is considerable concern about the problem of dioxins. I direct the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to the Department of Energy's energy technology support unit, which views refuse-derived fuel primarily as an energy source rather than a method of waste disposal. It has written to the Department of the Environment and said that there should be a temporary exemption from the conditions of this EEC directive on emissions from combustion of waste to allow appropriate control measures to be assessed.

It has stated that refuse-derived fuel will be burned in industrial scale combusters, designed or modified for its properties, and set up to minimise emissions to levels equivalent to those generated by combustion of oil, gas or coal when conforming with existing pollution control requirements of member states for those fuels.

We have had to take considerable advice from the Warren Springs laboratory, and we have had to install some tall chimneys to allow waste-derived fuel pellets to be consumed in boilers, because of the problem of dioxins. It is extraordinary that we have an environmental initiative for the conversion of the contents of our rubbish bins to pellets for combustion purposes, but, at the same time, we are saying that we need some relaxation of emission controls to allow those pellets to be burned.

Surely that is an extraordinary state of affairs. Because of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from power stations, we are spending £170 million cleaning up the emissions from 12 of our major coal-fired power stations, but, to start on this method of converting rubbish, we are considering relaxing emission controls. That is contrary to our policy of cleaning up the environment. We ought to address that matter seriously before adopting the EC directive.

11. 20 pm

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

This has been a constructive, useful and wide-ranging debate. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if I return to the subject of the draft directive before spreading more widely.

In her remarks, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), whom I too welcome to her position, suggested that the Government had not taken many steps on pollution, especially air pollution. But we are bringing forward a coherent and integrated series of measures to deal with waste. With regard to air pollution, many plans were in hand well before the draft directive was produced.

For some time we have been aware of the need to strengthen controls on incineration. We had already proposed domestic changes before the directives appeared. In December 1986, in the first major review of air pollution control policy for 30 years, we produced a consultation paper that proposed that municipal waste incinerators should be included with new processes to be brought under the control of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. This would involve their becoming subject to a system of prior authorisation and being required to use the best practical means to prevent or render harmless any noxious or offensive emissions.

The responses to this 1986 consultation paper generally welcome the proposal and are very much in line with these measures. We aim to lay regulations before the House shortly to implement the change. The requirements of the new plant directive are generally in line with those standards that Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution would have imposed on new plants in any case, through its well-established system of national consultation with industry on the best practical means of minimising air pollution from each category of scheduled plant.

Ms. Walley

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on this point about air pollution.

In the light of her remarks about air pollution measures, is the Minister concerned about the letter that I have here from the National Society for Clean Air, which suggests that the reorganisation inside Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution might well lead to a further reduction in morale, and resignations? Can the Minister assure me that those concerned in Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution with air pollution will continue at the same strength?

Mrs. Bottomley

Indeed I can, most robustly. The pollution inspectorate has been mentioned often during the debate. I want to make two things clear. First, when we are dealing with pollution that goes into the air, into the land or the water, it is essential to have an integrated approach. The purpose of the proposals planned for our green Bill is that we should have legislative backing for an integrated system of pollution control.

Secondly, there have recently been a further 13 appointments to the pollution inspectorate, many of which are to deal with wastes. I am convinced that I can reassure the hon. Lady robustly on those fronts.

There has been some discussion about the relative merits of landfill and incineration as means of waste disposal. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash and many others have referred to that. Properly controlled and conducted, landfill is a safe and dependable means of disposal for most of our domestic waste, about 88 per cent. of which is disposed of in that manner. Some 10 per cent. of domestic waste is incinerated, but, as I have explained, all the municipal plants were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s and now need updating or replacing.

We expect to see landfill continue as the main disposal method, but we want improved operating standards, which means a concentration on larger sites and the disappearance of the small bad-neighbour sites. Unit costs for landfill are bound to rise, but that is a price that local authorities must be prepared to pay in the interests of the environment.

In some regions where there appears to be a prospective shortfall of landfill sites towards the end of the century, there are already suggestions that a new wave of municipal incinerators may come on stream, as well as those which will be required to replace plants in some areas as the new standards have to be met.

There is no doubt—I appreciate the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash who is particularly knowledgeable and experienced in this area—that the new plants will need to be planned on a large scale and developed to highly sophisticated standards to be economically and technically viable, which will require co-operation and planning between local authorities. There are many interesting and important prospects there for co-operation with the private sector.

One feature of the new plant is bound to he the inclusion of suitable methods of recovery of heat or the generation of power. At present that is a feature of only five of our municipal incinerators. In the rest of Europe 80 per cent. of domestic refuse incinerators have some form of heat recovery. We need to catch up on such possibilities for turning our refuse to good use when the opportunity arises, and I know that that will be greatly welcomed.

Many hon. Members have had a rather sterile debate about whether waste disposal should be undertaken by the private or the public sector. It is essential that, wherever waste is disposed of, and whichever sector is responsible, it must be regulated properly and the regulations must be properly enforced. Often, after a particular incident, proper steps are not taken and enforced.

The Government's proposed new legislation for waste generally proposes the establishment of waste regulation authorities to take over from the waste disposal authorities. We are not removing that duty from local authorities. Those who suggest that the Government want to see the end of local government should take heart from the fact that, as a result our consultation on which was the most appropriate authority to deal with waste regulation, we have decided that the local authority is the right and proper one.

It is essential that the site dealing with the waste, whether it is an incinerator, a landfill site or anything else, should be properly regulated. There is no question of turning a blind eye on the private sector any more than on the public sector. That is what the public expect, and that is what the Government will make sure they receive.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) spoke about hospital incinerators, on which some hon. Members have questioned our intentions. They are, along with other specified waste schemes, specifically excluded from the remit of the directive, but we expect further proposals on that from Brussels. As part of the changes that we are making for domestic reasons, we intend to bring large clinical waste incinerators, those capable of burning more than 1 tonne of waste an hour, under HMIP control immediately. We further propose to strengthen control on all smaller clinical waste incinerators. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to paper recycling. His remarks will be noted by many. We are particularly interested in paper recycling and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), is currently organising a series of initiatives to draw attention to the increased prospects of that business and to develop it further.

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) made a series of remarks with not all of which I agree, although I hope that he will take confidence from the increased staffing at HMIP. With regard to his questions about emissions of motor vehicles, this is one of the few subjects about which I speak from time to time to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport. Indeed, I hope he will feel some hope that the campaign for unleaded petrol is now taking off and meeting with a great measure of success.

These two draft directives extend the useful work achieved by the Community through the air pollution framework directive in encouraging harmonisation of environmental controls on key sectors of industry. They offer significant benefits to the environment of Britain and to the Community and I have pleasure in commending them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Documents No. 5142/88 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of the Environment on 20th February 1989 on air pollution from municipal waste incineration plants; and calls upon the Government to support the introduction of appropriately stringent controls on air pollution from such plants.

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