HC Deb 25 January 1989 vol 145 cc1010-2
2. Mrs. Clwyd

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations his Department has received on the waste disposal law amendments follow-up consultation paper.

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

We received 20 representations by the end of the consultation period, from local authorities and from the waste industry.

Mrs. Clywd

Why have the Government allowed a massive increase in imported hazardous waste, from 5,000 tonnes in 1984 to an estimated 80,000 tonnes in 1987? If the Government are serious about protecting the environment, why do they allow this country to be used by other countries as a massive rubbish dump? Why do they not ban the import of hazardous waste?

Mrs. Bottomley

Why do Labour Members always resort to such hypocrisy? What kind of befriending of the environment is it to ban imported toxic waste when we have facilities and technology to deal with difficult and dangerous waste? Imports have risen, but they represent a modest 5 per cent. of the special wastes that we treat. We must ensure that that treatment is carried out effectively and safely.

Mr. Key

I thank my hon. Friend and the Government for the care that they have taken in waste disposal consultations over the past two years. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is now a growing chorus to the effect that existing penalties are inadequate to cope with infringements, both of planning regulations and of waste disposal regulations? Does she further agree that any proposals for criminalisation ought to include consideration of compensation relating to the value of the projects and developments in question?

Mrs. Bottomley

It is important that waste disposal regulations are properly enforced and regulated. Recently there was a case in my hon. Friend's constituency, which he raised and which caused a great outcry. When we introduce a duty of care on waste producers we shall ensure that it is possible to take action against those who irresponsibly dump their waste in inappropriate places.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is it not true that the Government have given in to the waste disposal industry, recognising that if they take away business the industry may lose profits? The people who suffer are those living in the areas where waste is dumped. Why do not the Government tell the countries that are exporting their waste here to keep their own filth? We do not want it in Britain.

Mrs. Bottomley

Only a modest amount—5 per cent.—of waste is imported. We have announced plans to ensure that only waste to be specially treated or incinerated will be imported. We are ensuring the highest standards of control over waste disposal. Waste is an inevitable product of modern life. It will not go away, so we must deal with it properly and responsibly.

Mr. Squire

Is my hon. Friend aware that those who have studied the issues will broadly welcome the Government's approach, and in particular the current Green Paper? Provided that legislation is in place to prevent the import of domestic refuse, with all the implications that that would have, the Government's line is broadly correct.

Mrs. Bottomley

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. A good deal of thought and care has gone into the proposals and we hope to legislate at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Minister confirm the implication of the statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment yesterday, in which he announced that competitive tendering procedures would be introduced into the waste disposal activities of local authorities and other organizations—something that the right hon. Gentleman flatly rejected, as being dangerous to the environment, when the Local Government Bill was going through its stages in the last Parliament?

Is not the key to safe and successful disposal of toxins and hazardous waste the adequate funding of waste disposal authorities—many of which are local authorities whose budgets are being cut by the Government—and a change in policy to end the imports of toxic waste which are encouraged by the Government, at great danger to the environment, to mask our balance of payments deficit in manufactured goods? Once again the Minister is supporting policies for the poisoning of our environment.

Mrs. Bottomley

What matters is that waste disposal is regulated and monitored properly and that the powers are properly enforced. We believe that there are strong arguments in favour of separating regulatory and operational functions. We believe that introducing the possibility of charging for licensing would help those in charge to do their job. We believe in trying to separate the gamekeeper and the poacher. Opposition Members seem to think that we can control only what we own, but that is not the Government's belief.

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