HC Deb 24 January 1990 vol 165 cc884-5
10. Mr. Livsey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will ban the importation of all polychlorinated biphenyls.

Mr. Chris Patten

I have no plans to ban the importation of all polychlorinated biphenyl waste. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible when we have facilities for safe disposal and effective notification and monitoring controls. But the Environmental Protection Bill contains powers to restrict, and if necessary to ban, imports of waste—including PCB waste—where there are risks of pollution or harm to human health.

Mr. Livsey

Given that the Government are moving towards banning transfrontier shipments of hazardous waste, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a strong case for tabling an amendment to the Environmental Protection Bill to prevent toxic waste and PCBs coming to Britain from developed countries?

Mr. Patten

We have argued within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Community that, by and large, developed countries—the OECD members—should deal with their own toxic waste. We must limit the amount of movement of toxic waste between countries. I do not think that it would be right to press for a ban. If I did that, I would be a Secretary of State whose decisions had led to illegal dumping at sea and on African beaches.

Mr. Colvin

Does my right hon. Friend agree that environmental pollution does not recognise national frontiers? We would like industrial waste, especially toxic waste, disposed of in the country of origin. Nevertheless, because Britain has at its disposal plant that is capable of handling such waste safely, we have a moral duty to the rest of the world to accept it, and that is totally in keeping with our lead on green matters internationally.

Mr. Patten

We have first-class technology, as my hon. Friend says, for dealing with toxic waste. The House probably recognises that the overwhelming majority of waste that we deal with is produced in this country; only about 5 per cent. of it comes from abroad. That is a far smaller proportion than in many other countries.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Secretary of State condemn the practice of Rechem International—the chemical company that imports PCBs—of issuing writs like confetti against anyone who criticises it, thus stifling any possibility of public debate? Fourteen writs have been issued. I must admit a vested interest; I am one of the 14 people being sued. Will not the Minister accept that what he has said is wrong? There are plans for increasing the amount of imports. Will he confirm that between October 1988 and August 1989, 6,700 tonnes of toxic waste came into the country, that Rechem is increasing its capacity for incinerating toxic waste and PCBs from 82,000 tonnes to 150,000 tonnes and that the Government are allowing one shipload of toxic waste and PCBs a week into the country? The Government are ministering purposely over the trade in poison to mask the balance of payments deficit in manufactured goods.

Mr. Patten

Even by the hon. Gentleman's standards that is average nonsense. I do not want to come between the hon. Gentleman and his solicitors or anybody else's solicitors. The figures that I gave earlier are correct. Only about 5 per cent. of the waste that is dealt with in this country comes from abroad. We have pressed internationally to limit as much as possible the movement of toxic waste. We will continue to press home that initiative.