HC Deb 19 June 1992 vol 209 cc1153-207 9.34 am
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes the Government's recent initiatives in the field of recycling, particularly the introduction of local government recycling plans; urges that further pressure be brought to bear on packagers and retailers to reduce unnecessary packaging and waste; and believes that further initiatives are required to encourage the use of reusable and returnable bottles and containers.

Unusually, this is also my maiden speech—unusually, but not without precedent. On 5 February 1960, a similar precedent was set by the then new hon. Member for Finchley—subsequently the Prime Minister, recently ennobled and sent to the other place—when she made her maiden speech on a motion concerning the admission of the press to local authority meetings. Although that was the start of a very illustrious career and of remarkable service to the country, I must tell the House that I do not expect that my career will necessarily follow hers just because I follow her precedent in this.

I do, however, follow in the footsteps of another illustrious and recently ennobled Member of Parliament, Nigel Lawson. He was the first Member of Parliament for Blaby, and his distinguished record of service to the country brought the name of Blaby to the attention of the nation. In paying tribute to him and in congratulating him on his elevation to the other place, I know that the people of Blaby would agree that he has also brought honour and distinction to the constituency. His is a very hard act to follow, but I shall try to heed his advice, including that given to me publicly at a dinner earlier this year in the House. He warned me that I should avoid the snares of over-generous hospitality and the pitfalls of over-regular use of the Dining Rooms. He told me that, when he entered the House, his figure was the same shape as mine. Although trying to follow that advice, I already feel the pressures on my waistband.

Blaby constituency is a prosperous area of south Leicestershire. It is a varied area of small towns and villages, and it is an attractive part of the county. The people whom I have the privilege to represent are industrious and friendly, and they vote with great good sense. The constituency is made up of the whole of Blaby district council and a part of Harborough district council. Both councils have great attributes and Blaby district council especially is a model of an efficient local authority, showing financial responsibility and excellent organisation.

Both councils have sensible and advanced recycling programmes and are on schedule for having statutory recycling plans in place by August. Blaby has 22 bottle banks and Harborough has 10. Harborough has six can collection sites and Blaby has three. Recycling collection points exist for textiles, oil, furniture and paper.

I know that my constituents and, I believe, the majority of people in the country are deeply concerned about our environment and share the sentiments expressed in the motion. According to Eurobarometer, recently quoted by the European Commission, 85 per cent. of Europeans consider the future of the environment to be an immediate and urgent problem which cannot be put off for future generations. In the light of such widespread popular concern, I draw the attention of the House to the issue of recycling.

I briefly remind the House of the major problems that are faced in dealing with the vast amount of packaging and waste—more than 100 million tonnes in total—which is produced each year in Britain. First, finite resources are used to produce packaging and containers which are not recycled, which are used once, which fill our dustbins and which are finally put in a hole in the ground. Secondly, the excessive use of energy in the production of packaging increases our production of greenhouse gases. Thirdly, 97 per cent. of waste presently goes into holes in the ground as landfill. Finally, there is the very real problem of litter. Packaging waste is inevitably a major contributor to litter, and packaging and containers are some of the most visible items of litter. Indeed, as I walked here today, I saw empty soft drink cans lying at the foot of the Jewel tower in Abingdon gardens. That is a sad comment on our society and possibly on our attitude to recycling.

The Government have a target that 50 per cent. of recyclable household waste should be recycled by the end of the decade and that local authorities must produce recycling plans by August. Those are excellent plans which all concerned with our environment welcome. At this point, I want to pay tribute to the very positive contribution of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the Earth summit at Rio. I was particularly pleased to hear his statement on Monday and especially to hear of the three new British initiatives.

The partnership in global technology mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—sharing our information with the developing countries—will, I trust, include recycling information and technology. In eastern Europe, because countries under communism could not afford excessive packaging, reusable and refillable containers and bottles are still in use. I understand that the arrival of western civilisation and economic prosperity may see the end of those ancient schemes. That may not be to the benefit of those countries in the long term. There is also no reason why developing countries should suffer from excessive and wasteful packaging, because they may be in a particularly good position to set up totally new environmentally friendly packaging schemes.

The Government's environmental strategy on excessive packaging the United Kingdom is also well stated especially in "This Common Inheritance", the White Paper presented in September 1990. It states: The Government is encouraging industry to reduce unnecessary packaging of consumer goods. It also states that the Government are discussing targets and measures for reduction with industry and retailers. Those policies are very much going in the right direction and I welcome them. However, I hope that the Government will feel that they can go even further.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to the draft directive of the Council of European Communities on packaging and packaging waste. That sensible document is currently under consideration and I hope that the Government will be able to support it. In particular, it calls for an integrated policy of waste management covering packaging and packaging waste.

Turning from policy to the current problems about the general issue of recycling, I want to draw the attention of the House to landfill. The EC draft directive to which I have referred, when discussing targets, states in article 4: Landfilling shall be relied upon only as a last resort.

That contrasts with a statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning 10 days ago. When referring to the draft planning policy guidance note on planning and pollution control, he said: Demand for land-based facilities for waste management is growing rapidly. While we would all agree with him that landfill will continue to have a part to play, many people believe that the true cost of landfill is not being reflected. I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside the following comment and second recommendation made last October by the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment to the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Trade and Industry: The price of landfill should be increased significantly to levels obtaining elsewhere in the EC. I note that, in response, the Government agreed that the price of landfill is an important factor in the economics of recycling. A study in that area was to be concluded by May 1992. We await that study with interest. I commend to the Government the views of the European Commission and the advisory committee.

The next specific question relates to the disposal of sewage sludge. That has a certain urgency, given the ban on dumping at sea which will come into effect in 1998. Present and future policy, according to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning 10 days ago, seems to lean towards landfill and incineration, neither of which is a satisfactory long-term solution.

I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister the process of recycling sewage sludge to produce envirosoil. That product can be used as a fertiliser, top soil or as a cover for landfill. It is odour free and has been approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. However, because of the danger of concentrations of heavy metals in sewage sludge, which can then leach into the water and soil, the process is not approved in this country. A standard leachate test should be developed with a particular application for envirosoil and its possible uses.

As the House will know, aluminium cans are one of the most valuable and easy waste products to recycle. There is a large new can recycling plant in Warrington. In a written reply a month ago to this very day, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside stated that 11 per cent. of cans were recycled in 1991. That figure is more than double the 1990 figure and it is encouraging. However, that still means that 89 per cent. of cans were not recycled. That is a valuable product which has been wasted, buried in holes in the ground or is still littering our countryside.

The target of 50 per cent. of cans to be recycled by 1995 set by industry is too low. It should be possible to recycle almost all cans. My hon. Friend the Minister saw the can collection process at Milton Keynes last month. Is he aware that the large new plant in Warrington is still importing aluminium cans to recycle, apparently from America, with all the transport and environmental costs that that implies?

The bottle banks across the country are welcomed by all hon. Members. However, they produce a large surplus of green glass, as anyone who drinks wine and uses bottle banks will know. I understand that the Department of Trade and Industry is carrying out research into other uses for green glass. The Government should encourage industry to use more green glass in packaging. Consumers may initially resist that, but consumer choice is very largely influenced by retailers and advertisers who can explain the benefits of more green bottles. Such bottles could perhaps be used as milk bottles as green glass could protect the product from direct sunlight on the doorstep.

While welcoming the Government's initiatives in general on recycling, my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that there is more yet to be done and I am aware that much more is in the pipeline. I want to consider the issue of reducing unnecessary waste and packaging. In that respect, I will quote the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who also believes that there is more to be done. In January, he said: In our White Paper on the Environment we said that we were encouraging industry to reduce unnecessary packaging of consumer goods. I do not think anyone could accuse us of being hasty in imposing 'solutions' on industry. But I have to say that the response from industry has been disappointing. No one who has ever bought neatly wrapped vegetables in a supermarket and watched them being placed in another plastic bag can doubt that there is overpackaging. Anyone who returns from a supermarket and fills dustbins with packaging will be aware how much surrounds our food and other items. It is not for the convenience of the consumer that vegetables and fruit, often perfectly well packaged in their skins by the Almighty, end up double wrapped in supermarkets; it is for the convenience of retailers.

The House will agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, with the comments in "This Common Inheritance", with the EC draft directive, with the housewives and house-husbands of Britain and with the Department of Environment recycling paper, which states: It is clearly better to avoid or minimise waste in the first place. I am sure that the House would want my hon. Friend the Minister to take action to reduce excessive packaging.

My final topic is that of reusable and returnable containers. That point was also covered by the Department of Environment paper on recycling which states: It is clearly better to re-use a product where possible. That is also the advice given by the Department to all citizens in a little pamphlet entitled "Green Rights and Responsibilities—A Citizens Guide to the Environment", printed, I believe, this year and, I am delighted to see, on recycled paper. The pamphlet states: What you can do—you can reduce the waste you produce by re-using things—rather than throwing them away. We are all in this House, I fear, old enough to recall that almost all drinks bottles used to be returnable, often with a deposit and a penny back on the bottle. Beer and mineral water in Denmark may be sold only in glass packages. They achieve a return rate of 99 per cent. and have an average life of 33 trips per glass container. Furthermore, there is a charge levied on new bottles to encourage companies to refill used bottles. Many hon. Members wish to follow Denmark on other matters, but I say only that we should follow Denmark on reusable containers.

In Germany, the new packaging ordinance will lead to much greater use of reusable containers. We in this country currently return 95 per cent. of milk bottles, which are of course without deposit. A recent study in the Department of the Environment found that a deposit of 5p would achieve a return rate of 95 per cent. across all materials and beverage types. With or without deposits, we should be moving toward far greater use of returnable reusable containers. Alas, the opposite is the case.

As we know from personal experience, the throw-away, one-trip container is now the norm. From 1977 to 1987, the percentage of fizzy drinks sold in returnable bottles fell from 60 per cent. to 19 per cent. For beer the percentage fell from 60 per cent. to 23 per cent. No mineral water at all in the United Kingdom comes in returnable bottles, and mineral water, as the House knows, is now a very popular drink. Even the milk bottle—a great success story—is under threat and usage is falling. It appears that supermarkets are using milk in cartons as a loss leader, thereby reducing the use of returnable bottles and also threatening doorstep deliveries.

Commercial interests—perfectly understandable commercial interests—have taken us away from reusable containers. Pleading consumer choice, the convenience of retailers, particularly supermarkets, has been paramount. Last year a survey found that 84 per cent. of shoppers would return bottles to supermarkets if they could, especially if there were the incentive of a deposit. The response of supermarkets to that survey was largely negative or even hostile. In 1981, the study of returnable bottles by the Waste Management Advisory Council stated: The stocking policy of supermarkets favours non-returnables. The marketing director of a supermarket chain put very succinctly what I believe is the logical future facing us. He said: The way forward muct be multi-trip and refillable bottles—that is very much part of Gateway's future. For it is not just nostalgia, me or consumers who want reusable containers. Article 13 of the draft European Commission directive states: The Commission shall promote … European standards relating in particular to dimensions and shapes of packaging … in order to facilitate its re-use. It specifically mentions multi-trips. That is a step towards refillable systems and it threatens the continued use of one-trip containers. That is the logical way forward. I urge the Government to support that EC measure and to take steps to persuade British industry to move in that direction.

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to paragraph 14.17 of the 1990 White Paper on the environment, entitled "Our Common Inheritance", which states: The Government will encourage improvements in packaging design which will … promote … re-use. While the Government intends to proceed by voluntary means, it will if necessary consider the introduction of regulatory measures, such as deposit schemes. That is a sensible policy which I wholeheartedly support.

I hope that the House will support the motion and will agree that the Government's measures are an excellent move in the right direction and that yet further progress on recycling can be achieved.

9.53 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I enjoyed listening to his maiden speech as it was extremely well informed. I agree with everything that he said, except in his praise for the Government. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech. I think that he was slightly misled by his predecessor, who claimed that he was a thin figure when he came to the House. I must admit that I remember him sniping from the Opposition Benches between 1974 and 1979, and he was already a fairly square figure. Some hon. Members will remember him more for his effective sniping than for his ministerial roles.

I am glad that I did not wait to make my maiden speech until I won the ballot for private motions, having entered, not every time, but fairly consistently since 1974 and never coming first. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's pleasure in winning, I suppose, not quite at his first attempt but so early in his career. I congratulate him on choosing the subject of recycling. I hope that many Conservative Members will speak on the subject. The sad thing for me is that, since I came to the House in 1974, I have heard many good speeches on recycling, but very little action has occurred. I fear that the hon. Gentleman may have to recycle his speech before he gets some action by the Government. Their record is not good on making progress on this important subject.

I fear that the Government's belief in capitalism and the monetary system is part of the problem; we cannot expect companies whose main aim is to make a profit to be concerned about protecting the environment in the long term. Just as I appreciate the way in which coal mine owners in the previous century sold their coal to pay for the cost of producing it, but took no account of the cost of clearing slagheaps, cleaning towns, or the damage to health that they caused, so I fear that too many of today's manufacturers take no account of the environmental impact of their products and the cost of clearing up the mess. We must have a means of imposing regulations on manufacturers. That must be done through the democratic process in which we discuss the merits of certain regulations or, if the Government prefer, a tax policy that ensures that the polluter and the misuser of resources pay. I fear that in the Government's White Paper and their exhortation for action there is no clear programme which will force manufacturers to take account of the environmental impact of their products.

I agree with the hon. Member for Blaby that the first culprit is the packaging industry. Ever since I came to the House, I have received glossy brochures telling me that companies are doing their best to reduce packaging and to make it more environmentally friendly. That is rubbish. The packaging industry has not made one jot of effort to be more environmentally friendly.

I give the House an example of the way in which we waste resources. Yesterday, I slipped into a shop and purchased a shirt. The shirt was beautifully wrapped. I opted for a cheap one, otherwise I could have had a shirt in a cardboard box. The manufacturer had wrapped the shirt in polythene. One has a job ripping off the polythene. Inside the polythene is cardboard, pins and paper clips. People say, "Shirts have always come like that." Of course they have always come like that.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Not in that colour, they haven't.

Mr. Bennett

As my hon. Friend says, they may not have come in that colour.

Women's blouses are sold on coathangers. Blouses and shirts are basically the same types of garment. Women's blouses have traditionally come with virtually no wrapping around them, yet men's shirts are over-packed. Three quarters of the packaging ends up in the dustbin. There is a good chance that a couple of pins will prick the person who is trying to get the shirt out of the packaging. If not all pins are removed, there are further problems. Manufacturers continue to wrap shirts in that way and produce much rubbish—plastic, paper and pins which are not easy to recycle. It is absolutely amazing that shirt manufacturers cannot find a way of selling shirts without that great waste of packaging and resources.

But there are small ways in which resources are wasted. A few years ago London Underground announced great plans to introduce new automatic ticket machines. There was much criticism of those machines. Some people described them as rottweilers. One of the interesting things about them was that they doubled the size of the ticket. I cannot understand why that was necessary. Again, it caused the misuse of a great deal of extra paper or cardboard.

The House of Commons is not entirely without blame in the matter of wasted paper. When one wanders round the building one notices all the material that comes in from outside, such as unsolicited advertising material. It seems that when public relations firms and PR departments of companies have leaflets left over they wonder where to send them. Instead of sending them directly to be recycled they post them to Members of Parliament.

We are all guilty. We all go to the Vote Office and pick out a copy of Hansard, flick through for our own speech or a question to which we want to refer, tear it out and throw the rest in the bin. The ridiculous thing is that the Hansard writers now put speeches into a computer so that it can go to the printers. But can we obtain a print-out of the parts of Hansard that we want? Of course, we cannot. It is still easier to waste the paper.

The hon. Member for Blaby referred to the problem of supermarkets. A tremendous number of packages are wrapped. The manufacturers tell us that packages must be superwrapped and super-superwrapped to prevent tampering on the shelves. That really means that they cannot look after the shelves so they prefer to wrap things many times to stop tampering. I suspect that overwrapped packages contribute to a large number of accidents in households. Increasingly, people find it difficult to pierce the wrapping. I have come across several examples of elderly people with arthritic hands who find it difficult to pierce wrapping. They attack the wrapping with a sharp knife or other implement and end up cutting themselves.

I should much prefer to see pressure put on the supermarkets to make greater use of many-trip bottles, as the hon. Member for Blaby suggested. I teased the Minister slightly at Question Time on Wednesday about what washing-up liquid he used. I am not sure whether he has worked out which washing up liquid he uses at home. A product called Ecover makes great claims to be environmentally friendly. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether the Minister just said that it does not work but I think that it does a good job.

Interestingly, the last claim on the back of the Ecover bottle is that the bottle is recyclable. It can be turned into fence posts and carrier bags. I am not certain that we are all that short of fence posts in Britain and I cannot see any sense in which we are short of carrier bags. I should have thought that it would be far better for a product which claims to be environmentally friendly to encourage people to reuse the plastic container. It should be easy for people to go back to the supermarket and simply have it reloaded with washing-up liquid. That should be simpler than taking it to a recycling bank where plastic material is collected. As the hon. Member for Blaby said, a considerable amount of energy is used in turning plastic collected at a bank into some other plastic product.

The Prime Minister has told us that he intends to ensure that all the bottles from No. 10 Downing Street go to bottle banks. It would be far better if he ensured that No. 10 purchased only bottles that were returnable and reusable. Tht would be better than sending bottles back to be smashed up. A great deal more energy is used to recycle bottles than it takes to reuse them.

So I am on common ground with the hon. Member for Blaby. I should like to see far more bottles make many trips. British manufacturers keep telling us that that is impossible, but it happens in many countries in Europe. I remember making a speech early in my career in the House a little along the lines of the hon. Gentleman's speech today. I was invited by a manufacturer to see a machine that would take back bottles and refund the money in the supermarket. People could simply put the bottle on the machine, wait for it to go through and receive the refund. He never managed to have those machines placed in British supermarkets but they are fairly commonplace in Europe. I firmly argue that we need to use many-trip bottles, with a deposit if necessary, rather than returning so many bottles to bottle banks to be smashed up and reused. Even more bottles are simply left lying about.

We must also examine products to ensure that they can be repaired rather than thrown away. I understand that the Department of the Environment is working hard in Europe on eco-labels or green labels. I understand that the Department has a responsibility for washing machines. One of the problems with washing machines is what happens to them at the end of their life cycle. I make a plea to the Minister to ensure that the life cycle of the washing machine is as long as possible. Washing machines should be designed to use the minimum heat and water to do an efficient job. They should use the detergent or washing powder that is most environmentally friendly. But will the Minister also ensure that washing machines can be conveniently repaired on a regular basis and that they are fitted with parts that can be replaced rather than, as happens so often with consumer products, having to be thrown away after a relatively short life?

One of the saddest things is that while the Minister goes along with the idea of local authorities recycling by separating out materials, there will be a problem with the guaranteed price for those materials. During my time in the House I have noticed that it becomes fashionable to collect waste paper or bottles, everyone starts doing it and the price of waste paper or glass drops. Certainly, many voluntary groups find that they cannot raise enough funds by collecting the material so they stop doing it. The whole thing falls into disrepute.

The only way that I can see of tackling the problem is for the Government to set a price below which the price of collected waste cannot fall. If it is reasonable to set a floor price for agricultural products, the Government could create a floor price for such a serious matter as recycled products. I understand the Minister's reluctance. He has just come from a Department that had to deal with butter mountains. I am not sure that a mountain of cans or waste paper would be any easier to deal with. However, if recycling is to be a success over a long period, the Government cannot let the bottom fall out of the market each time that a scheme is put in place so that the viability of the scheme collapses.

I was interested in the comments that the hon. Member for Blaby made about compost. It is a great tragedy that so much of our peatland is being destroyed. If we had an effective composting system a great deal of that peat could be preserved and we could also avoid much of the landfill that currently takes places.

I am aware that the Government encourage local authorities to encourage consumers and householders to separate materials at home for collection. There are schemes in Sheffield and elsewhere under which people are asked to put cans, bottles and paper in separate containers and either return them to collection banks or leave them to be collected by the authority.

A scheme was introduced in Greater Manchester in which the local authority collected all the waste in one waste cart and separated it later. Greater Manchester waste disposal authority had an experimental plant at Radcliffe which demonstrated that the authority could separate for recycling almost all the products from the household dustbin. Unfortunately, the Government were never prepared to give the authority the money to develop the experimental plant to one which could operate on a large scale. I have received brochures from people trying to set up such a plant elsewhere in Britain, but no one seems to have managed to operate post-collection separation effectively.

Much as I appreciate schemes in which the householder sorts refuse, they can only sort about 30 per cent. A post-collection system would be far more effective, but some Government investment is required to encourage the setting up of a plant to do the sorting. The Government must guarantee prices so that a substantial plant may be set up in the knowledge that one can get a reasonable price for the plastic, paper or compost which is separated from household refuse.

When the Minister for the Environment and Countryside replies to the debate, I shall be interested to hear what he has to say about whether there should be pre or post-collection sorting. Whichever system is chosen a guaranteed price is important if we are to create long-term stability for recycling.

My plea to the Minister is along the lines of that of the hon. Member for Blaby—to be tough with the packaging industry and to insist on minimum packaging to eliminate the creation of unnecessary waste; to ensure a guaranteed market for recycled materials; and to take some initiatives and consider whether pre or post-collection sorting is more effective and if post-collection sorting is decided upon, to provide investment to build the necessary plants. We plead with the Government not to be side-tracked into thinking that it is environmentally friendly to find ways to burn refuse. I understand the arguments for producing power from waste, but that is a waste of resources. We do not need dramatic new sources of energy. We need to conserve and to use far less energy.

The Government must intervene; they cannot leave it to market forces. They must decide whether to ensure that the polluter and the waster of resources pay, through a tax system or possibly through regulation.

I welcome the opportunity for debate and will listen with interest to the Minister. I shall also be interested to find out how many Conservative Members follow the debate and whether this is merely an example of one Conservative Member coming up with the right ideas or whether the idea of recycling has now spread to the Conservative Benches.

10.12 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I suppose that it ought to be a question of de mortuis nil nisi bonum—one should not speak ill of parliamentary colleagues departed. However, truth to tell, I was not an admirer of the style or content of Nigel Lawson and I sat through far too many Finance Bills with him to be other than candid about the matter. I would say this of few political opponents, but he was a politician who did great harm to this country for 20 years. There has been a great improvement in the representation of the Blaby constituency. In all those years, I never heard Nigel Lawson make such a constructive speech as that made by the new hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I listened to him with great interest and attention, and I hope that what he had to say will be taken seriously by the Government. I also thought that his remarks were well structured and I congratulate him on his maiden speech.

The hon. Member for Blaby referred to Rio. Although there is a debate on Rio next Thursday, one question follows from the hon. Member's remarks: the Minister for the Environment and Countryside had the good fortune to be at Rio and I suspect that he may be in a position to answer it. I preface my question by saying that I support the Darwin initiative. As the Minister knows, I have intimate contacts with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. My question for the Minister is one that my colleagues on the biological sciences advisory committee of the university of Edinburgh will ask me at our next meeting on 3 July. The question is, what new resources will be available as a result of what happened in Rio? Statements of intent should not be discounted, but I hope that the Minister will deal with the subject of money and resources which will now be available and which were not available before the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister answering the debate went to Rio. Will new scientific contacts be available? What is new? I sincerely hope for a constructive answer.

I deplore what the Danish voters have rightly or wrongly done in their referendum, but I must repeat the question asked by the hon. Member for Blaby. Denmark has been innovative in recycling. It is said that each bottle in Denmark has 33 trips. Therefore, have we anything to learn from the Danes and is the Department doing anything to find out how they are conducting their recycling operations and the costs? I understand that that operation is more expensive than it has been made out to be, but it is worth studying and I hope that the question of the hon. Member for Blaby will be answered.

The Dalai Lama made a moving speech on 16 September 1990 in Vermont and has since repeated the sentiments, not least when he was a guest of the House of Commons. He said: Mother planet is showing us the red warning light. She is telling us to take care of our house, the planet. If I were giving a sermon this morning, that would be the text. Everything has to be seen against the background of care of the planet. It is one of the most telling commentaries on the nature of our voracious oil consumption that humanity is burning as much fossil fuel every 12 months as it took a million years to produce. We are facing an environmental abyss and we have to do something about environmental overloading.

I agree with the hon. Member for Blaby that possibly the best thing to do is to minimise waste in the first place. Any idea that the alarm bells are false and need not be heeded is make-believe. We must consider recycling against the background of overall strategy.

Will the Minister tell the House what is being done to encourage manufacturers to design for recycling at the beginning of product manufacture and planning? The death of a product should be considered at its birth. I will not inflict the whole speech on the House, but I should like to recall what I said on 28 March 1973 on my 10-minute Re-cycling of Components of Used Motor Vehicles Bill. I asked: That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require manufacturers of motor vehicles to design such vehicles, after 31st December 1975, so that their components can be easily re-cycled, so saving the raw material for further use. I went on to say: In view of the fact that there are 40 speakers in the debate on Northern Ireland I will bring in what will be a Two-Minute Rule Bill. We were about to have a major Irish debate and it would not have been tactful to have spoken longer than was necessary to expand on the subject. I said: This Bill is first of all about finite resources—that is, that if at the design stage, the eventual death of the vehicle were taken into account much more metal and other material could be recaptured from used cars than would otherwise be the case on current designs. The crucial thing is that thought should be given at the design stage and that the eventual death of the vehicles should be taken into account. I will spare the House all the technical details, and will just say that Donald Jensen, the Directors of Emission of Ford, Michigan, Chrysler and Leyland have all made the point that the recapturing of material would be much easier and of higher quality if it were thought about at the design stage, and metals made more easily separable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) will speak about polyethylenes. It is easily understood that mixtures of polyethylene and copper make it far harder to repossess the quality of copper that is desirable for industry. I then said: The second point is that this Bill would give every economic incentive to people who were willing to take their cars to a metal recapturing unit. In a sense, it would serve also to do something about all those dumps of disused vehicles that litter the whole of Western Europe. That remains the case. I understand from recent inquiries that not much effort is made to provide an economic incentive to recycle the waste in those unsightly dumps which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said, litter our countryside. I then pointed out: It may well be said that this is all very well but why on earth should legislation, why should a Bill, be necessary? For one rather self-evident reason, really, that no single company is going to go ahead and take on the extra costs of doing this at an early stage of the design, if other manufacturing bodies are not going to do the same thing, because then that company would be at a competitive disadvantage."—[Official Report, 28 March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 1316-17.]

That is at the heart of much of today's debate. If that is true of motor vehicles, it is true of many other products. Given competition, it is extremely difficult to persuade individual companies to take the first step that puts them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis their competitors. It is not easy to get round that, but if we do not do so, we shall not ensure the work at the design stage that is absolutely crucial to fruitful recycling. It is a case of the chicken and the egg.

I ask the Government to reflect on that. I am not so unreasonable as to ask for a considered opinion today, but I should like a letter after the Minister has been able to talk to his professional advisers, not only in the Department of the Environment—one of the troubles is that this matter straddles a number of Departments—but in the Department of Trade and Industry and, indeed, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

An additional problem is that success may not be possible on a one-country basis for precisely the same reasons. If one country proceeds while its competitors do not, it takes no imagination to know what would happen to its commerce as a result of its being prepared to undertake a proper, enlightened recycling policy.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

There is good news in the pipeline. The European Community Commission is considering a draft directive to deal with the problem of vehicle waste management. In France, Peugeot-Talbot has a £3 million project under way in Lyons and in Britain, ironically, but perhaps as a lesson for our own industry, the German producer BMW is setting up a vehicle dismantling plant. As my hon. Friend said, the news would be even better if the Government were actively involved.

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend has experience of the European Parliament and is an extremely constructive, well-informed Member of this House. I am particularly glad of that intervention because a recycling policy must be on a European or, indeed, international basis.

I draw to the attention of the House the letter sent to many hon. Members from Sir Michael Atiyah, president of the Royal Society, and co-signed by Dr. Frank Press of the United States National Academy of Sciences. There considered view on international action is as follows: There is an urgent need to address economic activity, population growth, and environmental protection as interrelated issues. The forthcoming UN conference on Environment and Development, to be held in Brazil, should consider human activities and population growth, in both the developing and developed worlds, as crucial components affecting the sustainability of human society. Effective family planning, combined with continued economic and social development in the LDCs, will help stabilize fertility rates at lower levels and reduce stresses to the global environment. At the same time, greater attention in the developed countries to conservation, recycling, substitution and efficient use of energy, and a concerted program to start mitigating further buildup of greenhouse gases will help to ease the threat to the global environment. It is the "concerted effort" that is so crucial. When the Minister replies I hope that he will tell us what the Government's thoughts are on concerted recycling efforts in both developed and developing countries. His Department will have taken into account the United Nations Development Programme report. Page 5 states: In Africa, UNDP is funding nearly 200 waste management projects costing almost $150 million. They range from solid waste management and waste water treatment to garbage disposal and recycling of wastes. For example, in Niamey, Niger, a pilot project is under way to construct 42 latrines for four schools to improve health and sanitation. I should be grateful if the Minister would say something about reaction to UNDP report.

The question of envirosoil and the recycling of soil has been considered, but not elaborated upon. More than a tenth of the world's soils have lost a substantial amount of their natural fertility in the past 45 years; that fact is the first result of the 15-year global assessment on soil degradation funded by the United Nations Environment Programme. Some of the worst losses are in Europe where 17 per cent. of the soils have been seriously damaged by human activity, including mechanised farming and the fall-out from acid rain.

The findings published, for the first time, in the latest volume on world resources produced by the World Resources Institute were described by its editor, Alan Hammond, as far more shocking than the loss of the rain forests". That is a controversial view. I have had two Adjournment debates on the subject of rain forests and neither I nor the hon. Member for Gravehsam (Mr. Arnold) can be accused of not being concerned about the rain forests. Nevertheless, it is an educated and informed opinion and it is based on the assessments made by more than 250 specialists working for the United Nations around the world.

Other high incidences of soil losses occur in central America and Mexico where 24 per cent. of soils are seriously degraded, often following deforestation and, in Africa, with 14 per cent. much of it caused by wind erosion from over-grazed pastures in arid areas such as the Sahel and much of southern Africa.

Only 8 per cent. of the soil in south America has so far been degraded. The hon. Member for Gravesham takes a great interest in Brazil and it was my pleasure to support him as chairman of the British-Brazil group and of the British-Latin America group. He understands very well the problems in those areas and he will agree that soil degradation in South America is becoming, year by year, a more urgent problem.

The World Resources Institute described its findings as an early warning that we are losing potential agricultural productivity that may be critical in providing food and other essential needs for a burgeoning global population. Without soil degradation, gains in agricultural output achieved through improved technology would have been even higher.

The report defines seriously degraded soils as those which either cannot be restored to their former productivity or can be restored only with major construction efforts such as drainage projects or soil conservation terraces and banks that are beyond the ability of individual farmers.

The report also reveals that two thirds of the degraded soils are in Africa and Asia, where most of the poor live and where Governments have little money for extensive soil conservation programmes. Often degraded land is simply abandoned. The figures are inevitably controversial. A third of the total degradation is put down to over-grazing in arid lands, but there is continuing disagreement over how to measure land degradation in such areas and how much can be put down to the impact of humans and animals and how much to changes in climate. Deforestation and poor farming practices are each responsible for about 30 per cent. of soil degradation worldwide.

The report adds that such human activities leave soils exposed to water and wind erosion. They may cause chemical deterioration through loss of nutrients or the accumulation of salts and acids and physical deterioration through compaction by heavy machinery and water-logging. In Europe, an estimated 20 million hectares of soils have been seriously damaged by industrial activity, mostly by air pollution, such as acid rain and the fall-out of heavy metals. Towns in the upper Silesian industrial belt of Poland have the highest levels of lead and cadmium reported anywhere in the world, reaching 19,000 parts per million around Katowice.

I have not been to Poland, but I went with the all-party heritage group to Czechoslovakia. On the Polish border, in Bohemia, one can understand exactly how serious the situation has become.

It is difficult to do anything quickly about acid rain and even more difficult to do anything quickly about erosion. Therefore, we have to consider what can be done to produce envirosoils, and that means recycling much of human industrial activity. Do the Government appreciate the urgency and importance of recycling in relation to the production of—I will not say compost—soil?

I have not decided suddenly to raise this matter in the House. It is a bit irresponsible to raise a subject in such detail without having done anything about it first. In early May I raised this matter with Earl Howe, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He courteously replied to me on 4 June—as a help to the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, the reference is 55332—and stated: We view with concern the findings of the UNEP report and the implications for world resources. Officials are closely involved with collaborative international action on soil protection. This includes a Council of Europe initiative which has retained the original UNEP consultants to reassess the information in more detail as the basis for a European Handbook on Soil Protection and an OECD group which is currently examining several international aspects of soil protection. How seriously do the Government take those groups? Earl Howe also stated: Soil protection problems vary considerably within countries and we therefore believe that responsibility for action should lie principally with national Governments. Do the Government believe that international action should be taken about soil protection? It seems from the MAFF reply that responsibility will be left with national Governments. The letter also states: In the UK the need for soil protection is taken into account in relevant policy decisions. Examples include the control of waste disposal, including sewage sludge application to agricultural land and increasing controls on atmospheric emissions of heavy metals and acidifying materials. Other schemes such as those for Environmentally Sensitive Areas, although aimed more generally at the protection of the countryside also have a beneficial impact; a particular case in point being the South Downs ESA. The Government is committed to publishing a Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Soil which will give practical advice to farmers on how to minimise soil degradation. In addition, this Department will be spending £1.6 million on an extensive R & D programme for 1992–93 on various aspects of soil protection. I have asked for an interview with Earl Howe to consider this subject in more detail. However, I should be grateful for any general statement in the House now on the Government's attitude, because the issue straddles MAFF and the Department of the Environment.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Has my hon. Friend given thought to the latest threat to soil quality resulting from the burning of orimulsion without the appropriate flue gas desulphurisation and other measures to prevent heavy metals from getting through, in addition to acid rain getting on to the soil? Has he received any comments on that in correspondence that he may have had with Government Departments and Her Majesty's inspectors?

Mr. Dalyell

For 26 years I have been a weekly columnist for New Scientist. I have received a particularly well-informed letter about desulphurisation, the gist of which says that if Governments or organisations are prepared to pay for desulphurisation—the same applies to dealing with heavy metals, particularly the problem of cadmium—steps can be taken, but it is a question of money and resources. It is make-believe to think that the problem can be tackled on the cheap. It requires a great deal of money and some may agree that it is money well spent. So I turn my hon. Friend's well-informed question to the Minister and ask what the Department thinks about it.

Mr. Bennett

I understand that the desulphurisation process is not all that difficult but that it involves in many cases the use of limestone, and we must consider how rapidly the limestone uplands of this country are disappearing. Rather than creating a problem involving desulphurisation, it would be better to get to the root of the problem and that involves cutting down the nation's energy requirements. Much energy is being wasted. If we began from that end of the problem, we could do more for the environment by keeping down energy consumption.

Mr. Dalyell

I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend's comments. In relation to limestone, he will recall that he and I took part in the Committee stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1981, during which there was discussion about the future of the limestone pavements in part of the northern area of Lancashire and Cheshire near Morecambe.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

In Cumberland.

Mr. Dalyell

The former Government Chief Whip will forgive me. It is, of course, in Cumbria, and the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, knows well the problems of the limestone pavements and of other limestone areas in this country. I can only say amen to what my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said on the subject. While it may not be strictly in order in this debate, a statement on the limestone position in Britain would be well received.

I am nearing the end of mny remarks, but I must say semi finally—

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

My hon. Friend sounds as though he is about to comment on a football match.

Mr. Dalyell

I wish to refer to what is called toxic colonialism and to ask what we can do about it. A global convention intended to regulate international trade in hazardous waste came into force last month. The treaty is likely to be weakened further if European Community Environment Ministers decide to exploit loopholes in the convention so as to allow unregulated shipments of waste.

The Basle convention was drawn up to stop the third world becoming a dumping ground for the west's industries, but only 22 of the 105 countries involved signed the final agreement at the founding conference. Those countries that have not ratified it include some of the world's largest waste exporters, including the United States, Canada and all the EC nations except France.

European Ministers are eager to agree a draft regulation that would enshrine the terms of the convention in Community law before the start of the summit. Has that happened? What is the attitude of the British Government to what in shorthand must be called toxic colonialism? The convention lays down procedures for transporting hazardous waste from one country to another and charges both the exporting and importing country with making sure that the waste is disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.

Another key component of the treaty is that the receiving country must have agreed to take in the waste before it is shipped. That is meant to prevent the recurrence of incidents such as the fiasco in 1988 when the cargo ship Karin B loaded with toxic waste was forced to sail from port to port seeking permission to unload. African countries, which are prime dumping sites, and environmental groups wanted the Basle convention to ban outright the shipping of hazardous waste. Instead, the convention makes it legitimate.

Critics now argue that what constitutes environmentally sound disposal is poorly defined in that what is allowed in one country can be banned in others. Nor does the convention have teeth. Enforcement is left to individual countries. Despite those criticisms, many environmentalists believe that the treaty is vastly preferable to measures adopted by the rich nations of the OECD.

In March, under pressure from the recycling industry, the organisation agreed measures that created a green list of hazardous substances that would be exempt from the convention's regulations when transported between OECD countries. What did the recycling industry tell the Government about that? European Ministers are considering including a green list in Community regulations. The substances on the green list are supposedly recyclable. They include noxious materials such as lead, cadmium and thalium wastes. I understand that the recycling industry argues that the materials in which it trades are not wastes and should be excluded from the convention.

John Clubb, of the British Scrap Federation, also argues that the treaty would he damaging to business and says that writing to a Government Department giving 30 days' notice of export would kill the trade. We cannot dismiss the concerns of the trade. I have some regard for the trade because it does a job which must be done. There is no point in simply attacking firms that do dirty jobs.

I should like to know what pressure the industry put on, whether that pressure was legitimate, and what has been the Government's response. The essential criterion in deciding which substances should be allowed on the green list is non-dispersability. That is the argument of the earth resources centre at the university of Exeter put by Paul Johnston. If the waste is in big enough chunks and will not dissolve or break up, it can be transported. That definition, says Johnston, must be regarded as highly subjective, with little scientific foundation.

Many residues from recycling processes are hazardous. For example, burning plastic-coated copper wire, which is on the green list, releases highly toxic dioxins. That is an attempt to remove the end stage of industrial process to other countries while appearing to promote recycling. It is sneaky and fundamentally dishonest.

I have spoken to friends from Nigeria and they have argued that, in the past, they have had to accept substances that they did not want to accept in order to obtain currency because they were short of money. The problem is repeated in an endless number of developing countries. It is downright immoral, because reprocessing and recycling should be done by countries that are technically most competent to do it.

Although the view has landed me in all sorts of political difficulties, I believe that the same applies to nuclear waste. Britain should accept all the most uncomfortable wastes from other people because we are the most technically competent people on the face of the planet to deal with them. It is a question not of money but of considering the planet as a whole.

The Sunday Times asked me to review Sonny Ramphal's book, "Our Country the Planet". I was greatly influenced by the theme that the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth took up in suggesting that we could get together with developing countries to look after the planet. We are one planet and if those residues exist, someone somewhere must cope with them. It is wrong to send them to Burkina Faso or to people who are unable to cope with them when we, at a price, can cope with the challenge and have the scientific competence to do so. I speak for no one but myself, but in public and in private I feel very strongly about that. We have the technical capability to do that whereas developing countries have not. We therefore have a moral obligation to humankind to cope, even if it creates a public outrage. In coping, it is a question not of being NIMBY but of thinking about where it can be done acceptably. The condition of all that is technical competence.

Many residues from recycling processes are hazardous. If European Environment Ministers throw out the green list, the Community regulation still threatens the Basle convention. Another proposal that will be considered by Ministers allows bilateral agreements between the Community and any country that would ignore all the safeguards of the convention. Both those contentious proposals exploit loopholes in the wording of the convention. They certainly do not honour its spirit. That is the Greenpeace view.

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Maclean)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Dalyell

I, too, might shake my head, but Greenpeace must be answered on that.

As is my wont, I did not suddenly raise this subject in the House without having gone to the Department first. On 11 May, I raised those points with Lord Strathclyde, Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and former Minister at the Scottish Office. His reply was: We make a distinction between waste for disposal and waste for reuse or recovery. Our policy is that all developed countries should become self-sufficient in disposing of their own waste. The United Kingdom has the facilities to be able to dispose of all waste arising in this country. We are prepared to allow developing countries which do not have suitable disposal facilities to continue to have access to United Kingdom facilities. This ensures that waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner. So far, so good, but the letter is carefully worded. It says: We are prepared to allow developing countries … to continue to have access to United Kingdom facilities. If that is allowed now, do developing countries have any guarantee that it will be allowed for ever, or do we tell them that, because of public opinion in this country, in so many years' time they must cope with their own waste? That is a crucial policy commitment.

Lord Strathclyde goes on to say: We are pressing for rapid progress on an EC Regulation on the Supervision and Control of Shipments of Waste within, into and out of the European Community. The Regulation is intended to implement the UNEP Basel Convention which has introduced a framework of global controls on hazardous waste movements. Under the current draft of the Regulation no exports or final disposal would be allowed from the Community, except to EFTA countries. Is there to be a change on that? What is the Government's attitude to the draft regulation? Lord Stratchclyde continues: In the case of waste destined for recovery, there are good economic and environmental arguments for allowing such movements to continue subject to appropriate controls. Recovery of wastes results in savings in terms of consumption of energy and natural resources. Such materials can also play a major role in the industries of developing countries. That is a helpful statement, but what are the Government doing about helping to solve the problem of materials that can also play a major role in industries of developing countries? Lord Strathclyde said: Negotiations are in progress on the issue of exempting from control under the Regulation the movement of certain basically non-hazardous wastes destined for recovery—the OECD "Green List" wastes. We consider that controlling such wastes outside OECD, while allowing them to move freely within OECD, would represent discriminatory practices in breach of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The current draft of the Regulation allows for exports outside OECD of hazardous recoverables with the consent of the receiving country and subject to controls in bilateral agreements designed to ensure that the environment is protected. Imports of hazardous recoverables would also be subject to control. What has the Department of the Environment done about that?

Lord Strathclyde's final paragraph reads: As far as nuclear waste is concerned, the position is that no radioactive waste is imported into the United Kingdom. Spent nuclear fuel is not regarded as waste but as a resource which can be reprocessed. Since 1976, British Nuclear Fuels Limited's contracts have contained options for the return to the countries of origin of wastes which arise here from the processing of spent nuclear fuel. We intend that these options will be exercised and the wastes returned. Under what conditions should waste be returned?

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend is on to a significant point. I understand from the reports of the agreement reached between Presidents Bush and Yeltsin on the dismantling and destruction of long-range nuclear weapons that that will produce some 100 tonnes of plutonium. We were worried that a few grammes of the stuff in the Gulf might be enough to cause a catastrophe if in the wrong hands. What on earth are we to do? How does the world get rid of 100 tonnes of plutonium? It has been suggested that it could be put in a rocket and aimed at the sun. Does my hon. Friend, with his scientific background, consider that to be an appropriate method of disposal?

Mr. Dalyell

I have raised with the Ministry of Defence defence against asteroids and I am rather interested in space at present, but I would not presume to comment off the top of my head on the viability of rockets. However, my hon. Friend raises a serious issue. What is happening in relation both to civil nuclear power stations in the Soviet Union and to Soviet weapons is possibly more worrying than any concerns that we might have had about nuclear disarmament in the 1960s.

May I answer my hon. Friend's question in two parts. First, I am very close to Scottish Nuclear. I praise James Hann, Ian Preston and their colleagues for having established a twinning arrangement with the Soviet nuclear power station at Smolensk and for having sent some of their best experts, with experience of Hunterston, Torness and elsewhere, to Kozloduy, the Bulgarian nuclear power station which is possibly the most at risk because the Bulgarian Government refuse to close it: one can understand why. The provision of power to boil kettles in Sofia is dependent upon it. The position, therefore, is not easy for the Bulgarian Government. None the less, it is a matter of great concern that, as these power stations age, safety becomes paramount. The last thing that the nuclear industry in Britain, the United States or anywhere else wants is yet another Chernobyl. The constructive answer to my hon. Friend is that Scottish Nuclear and others should be encouraged in the good job that they are already doing in keeping in touch and sending their experts to eastern Europe.

Secondly, weapons deterioration is exceedingly alarming. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, many of those who were charged with the maintenance of these weapons are spending more time on trying to keep home and family together than on doing their job. If I may be personal, some six months ago I had as my guest one of the professors of physics at the university of Moscow. My daughter asked him a fairly artless question about the time that he spent doing his work in the university. His reply was, "Look, my dear. I spend more time queueing for bread and meat than I do on nuclear physics." One can imagine—

Mr. Tony Banks

Yes, I can indeed. A number of hon. Members have called on western European Governments and the Government of the United States to make sure that the estimated 100,000 or so nuclear scientists and technicians within the old Soviet Union area are guaranteed their income by the Governments of the west. That seems to me a sensible investment of money. It would ensure that the technicians are there and that any dismantling of nuclear weapons is carried out in the best scientific way. If they have to spend their time queueing for bread and sausages, they are unlikely to be looking after nuclear weapons.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. We seem to be straying a long way away from recycling. I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will return to the subject of the motion on the Order Paper, recycling.

Mr. Dalyell

Yes, with the thought that the Ukraine is now the third biggest nuclear power in the world and Kazakhstan the fourth. I mean not to insult the Kazakhs, but I wonder who in Kazakhstan is technically competent to carry out maintenance. And when one thinks about Kirgiziya and Tadzhikistan, the mind begins to boggle. Unless something is done, following the visit of Professor Stewart, the Government's chief scientific adviser, and others to the Soviet Union, I dread to think of the kind of accidents that could occur from deteriorating trigger mechanisms, and in particular the problems associated with beryllium.

The House has been very patient with me, but may I refer to one more issue. Recently the Minister visited Brazil. After talking to people in the Brazilian embassy and to Brazilian industrialists, I understand that there is one city in the world that is working remarkably well on the basis of the environment and recycling; I suspect that the hon. Member for Gravesham knows it. I refer to Curitibha. The fact is that Jaime Lermer, the long-standing and re-elected mayor of Curitibha, which lies between Sao Paulo and the Argentine border in the south and which has a fairly good climate for it, has produced a city that is based on the ideas that we have been talking about this morning. Everything is done on a strict, regimented recycling basis.

It is easy, perhaps, to impose that on a relatively new city and it is also possible to have too many regulations, but since New Zealand and Australia are looking at it, my question is whether we have anything to learn from the kind of ideas that have been produced in this remarkable experiment. I am told by a number of people that this is an extremely interesting set of ideas. Just as south America can learn from us in many matters, so I think that we may be able to learn something from it. I interpret the attitude of the hon. Member for Gravesham as indicating assent to this proposition, so I suppose that I am asking the Minister: how about going back to Brazil? I am sure that he would enjoy it.

11.6 am

Ms. Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on his excellent speech and on having given us the opportunity to talk about recycling. The Minister is aware that we recycle less waste than any other European country, apart from Ireland and Greece. Although local authorities, community groups and the population as a whole are enthusiastic about recycling, the Government do not seem to be quite so enthusiastic. Among European Community countries, only Italy recycles less paper and cardboard than the United Kingdom. Britain recycles less glass than every other EC country, except Ireland and Greece. We recycle only 21 per cent. of consumption, compared with the 66 per cent. of consumption recycled by the Netherlands.

Britain is below Holland, Belgium and France in terms of steel recycling. We have a similar dismal record on the recycling of textiles, oils, plastics and batteries.

We landfill 90 per cent. of our waste and incinerate another 8 per cent. Both methods pose tremendous problems for the environment. With landfill, water run-off pollutes rivers and streams that are already polluted. There is also the problem of methane gas. That does not help the greenhouse effect. Many explosions throughout the country are due to methane gas.

The other major problem with landfill is that by the end of the century the present landfill sites will no longer be available; they will all have been filled. We have not thought about providing any real alternatives. We shall have nowhere to put that waste by the end of the century.

I welcome the Secretary of State for the Environment's target. It was not a pledge; I should have preferred it to be a pledge. However, he has set the target of recycling 50 per cent. of domestic waste by the turn of the century. It seems unlikely, however, that that target will be achieved. If local authorities throughout the country are not achieving that target now, it is unlikely, unless more money is provided, that they will be able to achieve it in the long term.

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Lady's knowledge is probably far greater than mine, but I thought that the target was 25 per cent. by the year 2000, not 50 per cent. The Minister can no doubt intervene if I am wrong.

Ms. Lynne

I understand that the target is 50 per cent., but the Minister can correct me if I am wrong.

Mr. Maclean

If I am right, both hon. Members are right, as the target is 50 per cent. of all household waste suitable for recycling. Therefore, we could end up with a target of 25 per cent. of all waste. I stand by waiting for a correction in case I am wrong.

Ms. Lynne

I am grateful for that intervention.

School children collect waste paper for recycling. Many people collect bottles and tin cans for recycling. However, recently it has been found that the waste collected, particularly paper, is not recycled but put into landfill sites. That cannot exactly encourage people who want to protect the environment to collect paper, tin cans or bottles for recycling.

We have all been round the supermarket and picked up packaged goods, only to find when we arrive home and eventually unravel the packaging that the item in the middle is half the size of the packaging. That not only misleads the consumer, but leads to a great deal of waste. In Holland, the top recycling nation in Europe, industries have been persuaded to cut packaging by 10 per cent. by the turn of the century. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will ask our industries to meet that target. I should also like the Minister to address the issue of compulsory packaging. Often, when we go into shops, we are not allowed to leave, even though we have paid for the goods, without putting our purchases in a carrier bag. Shoppers who go into Virgin Records have to put their purchases into a bag provided by the store, even if they have a perfectly good bag. I know that that policy is an attempt to prevent shoplifting, but I think that someone like Richard Branson should be able to come up with an excellent idea to resolve the problem.

I make a plea for increasing the number of reusable bottles as that is one way to cut down recycling. There should be far more Government and local authority initiatives. If local authorities are to continue with their initiatives, they must have the necessary finance. Adur council, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, has kerbside collections throughout the district, which cut down on the number of cars travelling to the recycling plants. I recommend that policy to any local authority. Adur council has a tremendous record on recycling. All local authorities, whatever their complexion—Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat—will face financial problems when attempting to meet recycling targets unless they receive funds from Government.

Friends of the Earth conducted a survey of all local councils not long ago. They approached councils of different complexions and received several responses. One council stated: Recycling will be more effective if central government creates the right climate through legislation and investment/incentives. Another local council replied: It would appear that the Government strategy is to rely on local authorities carrying out the work, resulting in poll tax payers bearing the costs in order to protect the environment. The third local council replied: Kerbside collections are not commercially viable until money up-front from central Government is provided. It is absolutely necessary for the Government to take account of those financial problems as otherwise local authorities will be unable to meet their commitments.

My local authority, Rochdale, recently changed control. The Labour party lost control and the council is now run by Liberal Democrats and Conservatives working together. The council has proposed some good initiatives, but without the finance to pay for the initiatives, they will fail. In the long term, recycling initiatives such as kerbside collections could be self-funded, but the initial capital outlay is tremendous. Without the initial outlay, we shall be unable to go ahead with the kerbside collections. In fact, in the long term that policy could not only be self-funded, but make a slight profit. Therefore, it is cost-effective to give money to local authorities to set up such schemes.

Most of my constituents feel that recycling is a good investment. I am sorry to say that I do not think that the Government have that sort of commitment. One person closely associated with the Government is the head of the materials recovery division at the Government's Warren Spring research laboratory, John Barton. In April of last year he said that £200 million a year needed to be spent to meet the Government's recycling targets. The Government currently provide barely a quarter of that, and expect local councils to find the rest. Mr. Barton also said: The cash costs … are likely to inhibit widespread adoption of high recovery schemes if local authorities are expected to shoulder the full burden alone. That is a civil servant's way of diplomatically stating that the Government's lack of policy on recycling is, literally, a load of rubbish.

The Government are only willing to pay lip service to the need for cash for recycling. They talk big about the benefits of recycling, but end up merely recycling their own rhetoric.

11.18 am
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and share the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the wisdom of the electorate of Blaby in not recycling the previous Member of Parliament in new and more expensive packaging.

I shall concentrate on the issues pertinent to the subject of polyethylene recycling, which is important to the nation as a whole and, in particular, to my constituency, which contains a large Shell complex. I shall correct the Department of the Environment officials on their liberal use of geographical terminology in Environment questions earlier this week. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), it was stated that the Shell plant had moved to Runcorn, which is in the next-but-one constituency of Halton. The constituency of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad)—falls in between. I am sure that the Department of the Environment will recognise that geography is important in an area north of Watford where there is a high potential risk.

I draw the attention of the House to a valuable paper entitled "Polyethylene—The 1990s and Beyond", presented by Mr. J. A. Collins, chairman and chief executive of Shell UK. It was presented at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre on 19 and 20 May this year. It is an especially important and thoughtful paper, and I congratulate Shell on its contributions to the subject. Shell is sometimes criticised—for example, during Environment questions earlier this week—and I have been party to that criticism, for those of its activities that affect the environment, but sometimes it takes positive action.

The paper deals with polyethylene waste and states that it has as much to do with the problems of presentation as with the realities. I am sure that hon. Members will understand that to a certain extent, because we are all becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of polyethylene waste left lying around outside the local McDonald's or fish-and-chip shop in our constituencies.

The paper argues that society cannot turn back the clock and that there are a number of respects in which polyethylene waste is extremely important. The hon. Member for Blaby mentioned food packaging. Certainly, some supermarket companies misuse or abuse packaging, especially polyethylene packaging. However, there are occasions when it is necessary to use such materials—for example, to keep foods fresh and hygienic. There is an increasing use of polyethylenes in rural areas to protect crops from pests and the cold. In some farming communities such materials are used wisely, but in others they are abused and left to deteriorate most unpleasantly on the edge of farmland.

Polyethylenes have become a vital part of society—for example, in medicine, in the motor vehicle industry and for household appliances—but an enormous amount could realistically be recycled if we put our minds to it. The paper states: Only 7 per cent. of … domestic waste is made up of plastics". If one looks around our streets, towns and waste disposal tips, it appears that the volume is much greater.

We face an enormous problem, which has a bearing on oil production. The large volume of waste leads to the assumption that there is a misuse of manufactured oil. I concur with Mr. Collins that the manufacture of polyethylene uses up only about 1 per cent. of the total oil production, and only 4 per cent. is used for plastics generally, and 7 per cent. for all petrochemicals. The rest is … burned—mostly for transport, heating or power. Even then, the energy … of plastics is not lost". We have the means to reuse plastics but the challenge is to maintain the eco-balance at the same time. It is possible to meet the challenge and to reuse plastics more positively.

An alternative is landfill, which means losing the product for ever. I am sure that all hon. Members have experienced the difficulty in their constituencies of people rightly and understandably not wanting landfill sites in their own backyard. If the Minister disagrees with me, I shall be happy for the Gowy landfill site in my constituency to be moved to his, but I am sure that he agrees that we all face the same problem. Many materials are unnecessarily lost for ever in landfill sites.

Another option with plastics involves energy recovery and is of questionable advantage because plastics are notoriously difficult to burn. Again, many of us have experienced the problem of waste incineration. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned the difficulties of disposal and of energy recovery from waste materials. Much can be done to improve the technologies involved. Experiments have begun to prove that economically viable recovery is possible, but that is still very much at the experimental stage.

That leads us to the question whether polyethylenes can be recycled. The first challenge is economics, which the hon. Member for Blaby mentioned: he talked about the role of retailers in that part of the equation. The matter is much more complex than that. Mr. Collins's paper states: The cyclical nature of the petrochemical industry results in huge swings in prices of oil, which could render the economics of recycling plastics, and polyethylene in particular, not viable in certain parts of the cycle. That is the challenge facing the Government. It is not reasonable to expect local authorities and companies engaged in recycling to shoulder permanently the responsibility that should rightly fall on the Government.

There is also a problem of quality. Recycled plastics and especially polyethylenes, the organic chemistry of which is beyond my rather rusty chemical knowledge, are an enormous problem. We must face fairly and squarely the issues of research and development which are a challenge to the Government. Last week I sat through our very well-informed debate on science and technology and was proud to participate in it. There was consensus among hon. Members of all parties about the need for greater commitment to support British research and development. Against that background, plastics, and their recycling, are especially important.

For a number of years, the companies involved in the manufacture of polyethylene have sought more imaginative uses for plastics. But when, for cyclical reasons, economics make recycling an unattractive proposition, it is clear that the companies will need direct support and encouragement from Government and local authorities.

There is a problem of the marketplace. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow referred to his activities almost 20 years ago in the House on the question of the recycling of vehicle components. It is only over the past few months that companies such as BMW have tried to use recyclability as a marketing tool. A number of companies operating within our shores, especially the Vauxhall plant owned by General Motors in my constituency, are taking great strides in considering the possibility of the greater use of plastics which would make cars lighter and cut energy consumption during the life cycle of a car. There are some positive developments. However, because of the question of the quality of recycled plastics, the possibility of having, for example, an old bumper recycled into a new bumper for the next model of car raises interesting technical problems and presents a serious challenge to the industry.

Is it right that we should simply allow the marketplace to dictate that something that is environmentally sensible and of benefit to the whole nation should be left to the vehicle manufacturers and the polyethylene manufacturers? Should the Government take a lead role in the encouragement and pursuance of the necessary research and development to bring about such changes? The House will agree that there is a positive role for the Government in this matter.

It is up to us as Members of Parliament to take the lead. We could follow the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow about the way in which we conduct ourselves here. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish made interesting comments about the way in which Hansard is produced. Perhaps we could be more efficient in the use of paper, which would be a positive help. We should give the lead to the nation and the Government should give direct support to the nation.

Comments were made earlier about the importation of toxic waste which, as the Minister knows, is a matter dear to my heart. I was pleased by a letter I received from the Secretary of State for the Environment a few days ago which has at least given a breathing space—I hope that hon. Members will excuse the pun—to my constituents who are concerned about the burning in my constituency of polycholorinated biphenyls or PCBs imported from Australia.

We have a long way to go. We can make positive steps, but the House must give the lead. If we do not, it will not be possible for the major manufacturing companies to contribute fully to the necessary changes. It is a matter that we cannot leave to the free market.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby on raising the matter on the Floor of the House. I agree with the final words of his motion: further initiatives are required to encourage the use of reusable and returnable bottles and containers.

I extend that remark to the comments made about polyethylenes. It is an important area and a challenge to us all which extends well beyond the question of containers. We must consider motor vehicles and everything around us, including white goods. If the Government are prepared to pick up that challenge positively, to intervene in the marketplace and to ensure that the necessary support is given to research and development to encourage companies to work in a positive way, I am sure that they will receive support from the Opposition.

11.34 am
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Maclean)

Ministers sometimes find themselves in privileged positions. I am not referring to the remarks by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) who said that he hoped that I would soon have a chance to go back to Rio. Although I was privileged to take part in the discussions on the Earth summit, after 12 days in a temperature of 100 deg. and inside a building all the time—I did not get a tan—I found it rather nice to come back to the delights of Penrith and The Border, and the Lake district, which have a lot to offer.

The privilege to which I refer is that a couple of weeks ago, I took part in an Adjournment debate. I had the privilege to reply to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), who made his maiden speech in that debate. I am fortunate today in having the chance to make a few remarks and in having had the chance to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) making an outstanding maiden speech. I congratulate him on that.

Many of us had great affection for the hon. Gentleman's predecessor. Without fear of contradiction, I can say that all Conservative Members had great respect for Nigel Lawson's abilities in his various governmental jobs. I know that my hon. Friend will make an excellent successor to Lord Lawson. He is a smaller version of Lord Lawson, but an infinitely potent version. I look forward to hearing more contributions from him in the House.

I give my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby one caution. On looking through "Vacher's", I saw that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) lists eating cream cakes as one of her hobbies. She described her disappointment that, having taken off all the wrapping, she was left with a tiny cake at the bottom. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby lists as his hobbies, mountaineering, walking and other energetic country sports. I hope that the two sets of hobbies do not cross. If they do, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby will end up looking like Lord Lawson.

I am rather concerned by some of the comments by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). For two days in succession, he has challenged me on issues on which I am slightly sticky. Two days ago, he asked me which washing-up liquid I used and today he asked me whether, when I went to buy a lady's blouse, I noticed a difference between how a blouse was packaged and how a shirt was packaged. Again, I checked in "Vacher's" and I found that the hon. Gentleman is married with three children. I assume, therefore, that he knows, as most sensible married northerners know, that decisions on what washing-up liquid to use are best left by males in the household to others to decide. Although I always have the last word, it is usually "Yes, dear", and I happily obey orders. I offer that advice to the hon. Gentleman as being best for a happy marriage.

Mr. Tony Banks

That is a terribly sexist remark. The Minister has great environmental responsibilities. Surely there is some discussion in the household with his partner about environmentally friendly products. It is not a question of allowing his partner to do the shopping. Surely there is some discussion about the brands of merchandise coming into the family home. I am not interested in whether the Minister cross-dresses or whether he likes ladies blouses. However, he should show some concern about products in the home.

Mr. Maclean

I show greater concern for noise pollution and for the general peace and quite of the Eden valley which would not be as peaceful as it is at the moment if I were to attempt to take the big decisions about which products are bought for the home. I content myself with dealing with the minor issues such as the Earth summit and saving the planet. I would not dream of trespassing on the issues for which my wife is largely responsible.

Mr. Bennett

I accept that the Minister does not like getting involved with buying blouses and that he may get his wife to buy his shirts for him. However, I challenge him to unpack at the Dispatch Box the shirt that I am holding because that would demonstrate the amount of waste paper involved. Or does the Minister get his wife to unpack his shirts for him as well?

Mr. Maclean


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the Minister can discuss how his wife recycles the packaging, because the motion is about recycling.

Mr. Maclean

I shall have to decline the challenge by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, particularly at the Dispatch Box.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish raised an interesting point about Hansard which I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Hon. Members sometimes wish, and not necessarily for vain reasons, to have a look through Hansard to read what was said. Even if we want to look only at one parliamentary answer or one brilliant intervention from a sedentary position—something with which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may be familiar—one nevertheless acquires the whole Hansard. Very seldom is Hansard recycled and handed on to other hon. Members. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the suggestion that it might be possible to provide shorter extracts from Hansard to satisfy most purposes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby raised some very important points. He referred to the use of sewage sludge and what in the United States is called envirosoil. A lot can be done on composting. Much can be done in converting sewage sludge and other materials into usable soils and we should like to do all that we can to encourage that.

As the Government have banned straw burning, it may be possible for industry with surplus straw to come together with those producing surplus sewage sludge. It may therefore be theoretically possible to produce a rather good material which, in the old days out in the country, we used to call manure. No doubt there is a modern scientific term for that wonderful new material. However, I do not want to give the impression that everything can be composted. For the foreseeable future, a large amount may still have to be incinerated or put into landfill sites.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby also referred to excessive packaging, a point which was also referred to by several Opposition Members. My hon. Friend urged us to push on with the EC draft directive on packaging waste. As my hon. Friend featured the point largely in his speech, it is worth while for me to give the United Kingdom position on the waste directive.

The text is still an outline proposal for a draft directive and we do not yet have a formal position on it. However, we welcome the intention to harmonise measures taken by member states and to reduce the impact of packaging waste on the environment. The Government will observe the following principles in their discussions on the proposed directive. First, the principle of harmonisation is essential to prevent proposals such as the German packaging decree from imposing anti-competitive requirements and raising possible barriers to trade. We want harmonisation.

Secondly, the waste hierarchy set down in the recently revised waste framework directive, which gives equal value to materials and energy recovery, should be adhered to. The draft generally achieves that, but it is still not entirely clear in respect of energy recovery.

Thirdly, member states should be able to choose their own balance between the various minimisation measures for waste avoidance, the reuse of materials and energy recovery to suit their own environmental and economic circumstances.

Fourthly, the Government have no objection in principle to the use of economic instruments such as packaging levy. However, in that context, that gives rise to questions about the EC's role in fiscal policy. That will need very careful consideration.

Fifthly, there should be no excessive statistical demands and burdens on Governments or industry. I hope that my statement of the principles that we will follow is of use to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby and to other hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby also spoke with some considerable passion about reusable containers and returnables. The hon. Members for Rochdale and for Denton and Reddish also referred to that. Where possible, reusable containers have an important role to play. We are considering the costs involved and a study has been undertaken. At this stage, I can only say that we must not get completely hooked on the idea that everything can be reusable or in returnable containers. There could be greater environmental costs in some circumstances. For example, although it is right to defend the doorstep delivery, because many people quite rightly want it to continue, there is a tremendous energy cost involved in cleaning and sterilising bottles in the dairy industry.

As we have higher standards and the public expect less contamination and as our legal liability increases all the time, so food companies and fizzy drinks companies will be under an obligation to ensure that their containers are as clean and sterile as possible. That could involve a very high cost. There is also the cost of carting bottles around different suppliers to return each individual's bottles.

Although I can see scope for a further increase in reusable containers, we should not get hooked on the idea that that is the only good thing. In some cases, recycling could be environmentally better than returnables.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The Minister has raised a very interesting point about the possible dangers of reusing containers for food and milk. Can the Minister tell us what information the Department of the Environment or any other Department has about the number of cases of food poisoning which have arisen through the use of unsatisfactorily cleansed reusable containers?

Mr. Maclean

No, I cannot largely because containers are not reusable. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what would happen if everyone used reusables. [Interruption.] We must not get hooked on the idea or carried away with it. I am not pooh-poohing it. I am simply urging a little caution in that it might not be the panacea that all hon. Members seem to believe that it is. However, it is certainly worth exploring further.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean

No, I want to consider the points made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. Dalyell

Before the Minister does that, will he answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and repeated by me? Are the Government considering seriously what the Danes are doing? If it is true that a bottle can be used 33 times, surely we should consider that because that is a remarkable statistic. Are the Government considering the Danish experience?

Mr. Maclean

We have commissioned a study into reusables, but we do not have its conclusions yet. I cannot therefore advise the hon. Gentleman. However, of course we are interested in all studies on reusables and recycling. There are many lessons to be learned from around the world, and other countries have lessons to learn from our experience as well.

Mr. Tony Banks

We do not have to keep on reinventing the wheel. I am somewhat older than the Minister. I can remember that in my entrepreneurial days before I saw the light and joined the Labour party, I used to get quite a lot of additional money from taking the lemonade bottles and the beer bottles back to the off-licence because there was quite an income to be earned. We used to reuse an awful lot more of our vessels for liquids, in particular, than we do now. Why do we not look at what we did in the past? Very few bottles these days come with a deposit to enable youngsters or aspiring young entrepreneurs like myself to go and earn a few coppers.

Mr. Maclean

It is interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman's confession that the Labour party is now anti-entreprenurial. The hon. Gentleman is a superb example. No one is trying to reinvent the wheel—perhaps some scientists are; it is a dangerous thing to suggest. Of course there are studies which we shall consider, and there are lessons to be learned from past behaviour.

The volume of drinks these days is far in excess of what it was 20 or 30 years ago. Supermarket shelves are absolutely packed—mile after mile of bottles. I am merely asking the House to consider whether, if all those bottles, from the individual portions to the three-litre plastic bottles of Coke, lemonade or water, were made of glass and were returnable, there would actually be an energy saving. Would there be little kids on bikes, pedalling around with those bottles? How much energy would we burn in collecting them, returning them to the right distributors, cleaning them and refilling them? That might be cheaper and there might he environmental benefits, but let us not assume automatically that all returnables are cheaper than plastic bottles which go for recycling, destruction and reuse.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow made a characteristically detailed and fascinating speech. In Rio, we spent much time in the working groups discussing soil degradation. It perhaps was not called soil degradation—but when we talked about trying to obtain a convention on forests and on deserts, the purpose was to prevent soil degradation. The hon. Gentleman knows that we have a statement of principles on the world's forests and we shall also work further on desertification. In both matters, consideration will be given to preventing further soil degradation and soil loss. I am not sure where composting comes into the equation, but measures will certainly be considered which retain cover on soils to prevent them from being eroded or washed away.

Mr. Dalyell

The remarkable edition of the Observer gives the figure. Land covered with trees and other plants absorbs 20 times more rain water than bare earth. The Observer researched that as a general statistic, and it is very important. I should like to say amen to what the Minister said.

Mr. Maclean

I do not know whether the figure is right, but I presume that it is. Certainly, the more progress that we can make on getting the principles on forestry into a binding convention over the next few years, the more pleased the British Government will be, but we have a good starting point. Like everything at Rio, we have started an unstoppable process rolling. Some of the sceptics and cynics said that they were disappointed before we even went to Rio. There are always some who will say that we did not achieve enough, but they fail to realise that we have started the process. Just like the Montreal protocols, which were tightened up, so the whole Rio process, I envisage, will be tightened up as well.

On design for recycling, the hon. Gentleman has a very good point. Groups have already been established in respect of used cars and electronic equipment to ensure that producers take account of their responsibility for their products' ultimate fate, including designing for recycling.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment met representatives of the car industry recently and invited them to respond by next month with proposals to increase recycling. About 75 per cent. of the material in cars is now recycled. The United Kingdom Government are also taking part in discussions at European level to address those issues.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow also asked about new money for Rio. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke at the Earth summit in Rio on 12 June, he called for a replenishment of the GEF—the global environment facility—of about $2 billion to $3 billion, primarily to help developing countries to implement the conventions. Britain's share, of course, will depend on the final size of the replenishment and the arrangements for sharing the burden among donors, but it will be up to £100 million, and that is new money from this country and it is separate, of course, from the aid programme.

We now have in place in this country the most comprehensive framework ever for recycling. The Government's basic policy was set out in the environment White Paper, "This Common Inheritance", in 1990. We said we wanted to encourage the minimisation of waste; promote the recycling of as much waste as possible—including the recovery of materials and energy; tighten controls over waste disposal standards.

It is important to recognise that recycling is only one option and it might not always be the right one. Where we can eliminate waste altogether, that is clearly preferable. Some materials could be recycled only at exorbitant cost in terms of both money and energy use, so burning waste to recover energy will sometimes be the best choice. Landfill continues to be a valid environmental option.

We must always aim to make those decisions on good economic and environmental grounds. We should be careful not to view recycling as an end in itself, although, of course it is very important, and that is what I shall concentrate on.

To take the White Paper policy forward, we set a target of recycling, through materials recovery and composting, half of the recyclable portion of household waste by the year 2000. That is about 25 per cent. of all household waste. The Government recognises that reaching that challenging target, considering the starting point we are at, cannot be the responsibility of just a few people. Central Government, local authorities, industry, voluntary organisations and the general public all have a role to play, because recycling is not just the collection but the processing of materials. This is why my Department and the Department of Trade and Industry share responsibility for recycling policy. Together, we have been working hard to promote recycling in all those sectors.

Local authorities are responsible for collecting and disposing of household waste, so it is only natural that a great many have taken an interest in recycling and that some are in the vanguard of the large-scale recycling of domestic waste in this country. My Department and the Department of Trade and Industry are helping to fund pilots of various recycling schemes which will provide valuable information about their effectiveness and the costs involved. I visited Milton Keynes on 18 May and I saw evidence of the progress made by that authority. There is now separate collection of recyclables throughout the borough, and about 150 tonnes are collected weekly.

However, despite the lead given by some local authorities and the interest shown by many, the situation is still rather patchy throughout the United Kingdom. One enthusiastic council may be surrounded by others which are not doing nearly as much. That can only make things more difficult, both for the council and for the merchants with whom it deals. Perhaps an authority's waste department might be responsible for materials recycling while the parks department is interested in composting, but sometimes there is very little interaction between the two. It is partly for these reasons that section 49 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 places a duty on all waste collection authorities to draw up a recycling plan. This will mean that from now on recycling will occupy its proper place in authorities' waste strategies. All authorities will need to take a comprehensive look at the options and opportunities that recycling offers. We have encouraged councils to discuss their plans with their neighbours. They must draw them up by 1 August this year.

Mr. Tony Banks

That initiative is well known and welcome. However, it is all very well to pass the problem on to the local authorities. Perhaps the Minister can correct me, but no recycling scheme of which I am aware makes a profit. The Adur scheme in West Sussex is perhaps the best, but it does not make money. None of the schemes can make money. Does the Minister know of one local authority recycling scheme which makes money? What resources will he make available to the local authorities?

Mr. Maclean

I shall come to that in a moment. We provide financial help through supplementary credit approvals, but, of course, disposal of waste costs money at present. If anyone can dispose of waste and make a profit from doing so, I should like to see it. Of course, recycling schemes cost money.

Mr. Tony Banks

They cost more money.

Mr. Maclean

Yes. They can cost more money than sticking waste in a hole in the ground. However, the Government are considering the funding of such schemes through our supplementary credit approvals. I have just allocated several million pounds for those purposes. As the hon. Gentleman says, all recycling schemes need to be funded. Ideally, schemes should be financially self supporting, but the Government recognise that that will not always be so—at least not in the early stages before schemes are up and running and collect sufficient quantities and before there are sufficient takers of the stuff to make recycling worth while.

We have been running our programme of supplementary credit approvals for recycling since 1991–92. They allow authorities to borrow more to finance the capital costs of setting up schemes—and have the added advantage of feeding through into the level of the council's standard spending assessment.

These SCAs have proved to be very popular; in both years of the programme so far we have been about 100 per cent. over-subscribed. In 1991–92, £12 million was allocated to 96 authorities and in 1992–93 we have just allocated £15 million to 126 authorities. In all, more than 400 recycling schemes have benefited, ranging from large-scale materials recovery facilities to household composting and chlorofluorocarbon recovery schemes.

The Government have also introduced measures that will make the arithmetic more favourable for recycling schemes once they are up and running. These are the recycling credits, introduced in section 52 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990—an example of using economic instruments to help the environment. I think that the House will welcome that.

Recycling credits are a simple concept and work as follows: when materials are taken out of the waste stream to be recycled, a disposal authority has less waste to dispose of and should make savings in its disposal costs. The credits pass on the savings to whoever is responsible for reclaiming those materials, whether it is another local authority or, perhaps, a charity.

The size of credits will vary around the country with the level of disposal costs, but in this, their first year, we reckon that they will range between £4 and £20 a tonne. They should therefore make a valuable contribution to the economic viability of recycling.

Ms. Lynne

The scheme that the Minister describes is excellent. However, there is still no commitment on the capital outlay made by local authorities. When will the Minister pledge money for capital outlay? He spoke about the various schemes, borrowing facilities and other worthy schemes. However, unless local authorities are given help with capital outlay they will not meet their recycling targets.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Lady is unduly pessimistic. The supplementary credit approvals that we have granted will allow local authorities to set up the recycling schemes which are best suited to their needs. We monitor the position carefully. Pilot schemes are up and running and are being monitored. I believe that they will turn out to be successful. If there are lessons to be learnt, we shall, of course, learn them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby spoke strongly in favour of the greater use of reusable and refillable packaging. Last year the Government commissioned a report into deposit and refund systems which showed that high recovery rates would be possible, but which also made it clear that such systems would involve significant costs. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will examine carefully the conclusions of both that study and the economic instruments study so that we can assess properly whether further action is necessary to encourage recycling and, if so, what that action should be.

My hon. Friend also mentioned landfill. We are investigating whether the costs of waste disposal take into account all the environmental consequences of landfill. If they do not, disposal costs are artificially low and recycling schemes are being placed at a disadvantage. I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the matter and drawing it to my attention.

No amount of work on recycling would be complete without taking into account the role of industry. Scrap merchants were using the rallying cry, "Where there's muck there's brass" long before the rest of us were giving much thought to recycling. Industry's participation is still essential; with people everywhere enthusiastically embracing recycling, it is only because industry has developed the technology to use recycled material that we can put the consumers' wishes into practice.

That is not to say that there is no more to be done. All companies, whether or not they are part of the recycling industry, have a part to play. All companies should consider whether their goods are recyclable or could be made more easily so. They should explore the scope for using more recycled products as raw materials on the production line. This is essential if there are to be growing markets for the materials that people take to the bottle bank or put out for separate collection. It also makes good commercial sense as environmental issues increasingly influence what people buy.

The Government have pressed various sectors of industry to take up their full responsibilities. We are also grateful for the active work of the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment on a number of issues, such as glass and paper.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall push on. I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Dalyell

This will be my last point. What would be the Government's reaction to an industry which had been approached by a third-world country to recycle hazardous waste but found that it would be difficult economically, even though the industry was sufficiently technically advanced to do it? It is the problem of toxic colonialism. What help would such industry receive from the British Government to receive materials which developing countries found difficult to recycle? Would it receive any help? Do the Government have a responsibility in that crucial matter?

Mr. Maclean

Like other European Community Governments, the United Kingdom Government wish to sign the Basle convention. We want it to be ratified. There is no question of its being diluted. It is regrettable that we did not reach agreement at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 26 May, at which the French expressed concern about self-sufficiency. We are also anxious about self-sufficiency, but we felt that a form of words could be found that would satisfy us.

The position is exactly the same as that set out in a letter from Lord Strathclyde to the hon. Member for Linlithgow. The Government take the view that developed countries, especially in Europe, should be self sufficient and should not take in each other's waste for final disposal. That should not be necessary. However, it is appropriate for developed countries to take in waste from developing countries, with all the appropriate safeguards on movement and documentation, if developing countries do not have the technological expertise for recycling, recovery and disposal. I hope that that is satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dalyell

Would a firm be helped in carrying out that policy? That is the crux of the issue. Would Rechem or any other recycling company expect any help from the British Government to take on recycling that was uneconomic?

Mr. Bennett


Mr. Dalyell

I fear that the answer is no.

Mr. Maclean

We have no grant system to pay companies to take in someone else's waste. I have no recollection of any demands of that nature. Industry wants certainty about the international rules. We want the Basle convention to be ratified and signed so that all countries know their obligations. Industry will then be able to deal successfully with toxic and dangerous wastes. Provided that the international rules are fully agreed. I hope that we shall be able to do that in the European Community as soon as possible.

I want to conclude, because other hon. Members are keen to speak in this and the next debate. We have been discussing with the packaging industry ways of eliminating unnecessary packaging and reducing the amount of packaging that is thrown away. We have made it clear that if the industry does not produce substantive proposals, we are prepared to take action. As a response, the British Retail Consortium recently issued guidance on retail packaging to its members and their suppliers. I also understand that the packaging industry will be announcing next week an initiative to deal with complaints about over-packaging.

In addition, following discussions with the Government, the Newspaper Publishers' Association has set itself the target of increasing the proportion of recycled fibre in newsprint to at least 40 per cent. by the year 2000, compared with 26.8 per cent. in 1990. Some of us would urge them to start with the quantity produced in the Sunday papers.

However, the Government's strategy involves carrots as well. We propose to offer, subject to EC and parliamentary approval, £20 million to paper manufacturers SCA, throughout the DTI's scheme of assistance for exceptional projects. That would contribute to the capital costs of a large new recycled newsprint mill at Aylesford in Kent. The mill would provide a market for 350,000 tonnes of old newspapers and magazines a year.

Grants totalling £3.5 million have also been made to industry under ETIS—environmental innovation scheme—DEMOS—demonstration of environmental management options scheme—and Euroenviron operated by my Department and the DTI. They are funding research and the demonstration of various innovations in, for example, plastic and rubber recycling and ways of overcoming the market imbalance in the United Kingdom between glass cullet recovered—more than 50 per cent. of it green—and production, which is 70 per cent. clear.

I was interested in the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby that we should encourage industry to make better use of green glass. In our discussions with industry—especially the food industry—we shall mention that, to find out whether more imaginative use can be made of green glass or whether less can be used in the first place.

The work of local authorities and industry would not be as effective if it were not for the enthusiasm of ordinary people in the country. It is their enthusiasm that fires the activities of many voluntary groups, whether or not their organisations are overtly environmental. The Government recognise the value of employing their zeal, which is why during the past two years we have given £0.25 million to recycling groups through the environmental grant fund.

Nevertheless, with the growth of comprehensive local authority collection schemes, this is the right time for voluntary bodies to be assessing their role. In some cases the traditional role of collecting recyclables may no longer be the most effective use of energy. Perhaps those energies could be channelled into fund raising for recycling equipment or the Adopt-a-Bank schemes which some authorities are operating. My Department will be discussing these issues with voluntary organisations during the next few months.

I am sure that we all want to see a sustained growth in recycling in this country, but to achieve it, we must all play our part; we cannot sit back while other people do it all. We should all be aware of what opportunities for recycling there are where we live and work, and make use of them. Similarly, recycling depends on having a market for the materials in the first place; we can all help by buying recycled goods where possible. For example, recycled writing paper is available in the House and I would urge all right hon. and hon. Members to use it.

Certainly my Department is taking its responsibilities seriously—230 tonnes of waste paper have been collected since the Department started its recycling scheme in October 1990. There are also can banks and bottle banks in the Department's buildings and we are hoping to introduce a plastics recycling scheme soon.

Apart from this example, the Government have, as I have said, built a comprehensive framework for recycling in this country and are continuing to work hard to increase recycling. I am confident that in eight years' time, in the year 2000, we will have successfully reached our target of recycling 25 per cent. of household waste, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby again on an excellent maiden speech and on choosing this important subject as his topic.

12.14 pm
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

I join the Minister in congratulating and thanking the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) for giving us the opportunity early in this Parliament to discuss recycling. As the Minister and many other hon. Members have commented, the Government have set themselves some demanding targets and it was appropriate for the hon. Member for Blaby to highlight the need for further Government action to ensure that the targets are met. I found his speech elegant, concise and well informed. I seek to differ with him on only one matter, and that is his false optimism in confidently expecting the Government to do everything required to meet the demands of their recycling targets before the end of the century.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) rightly said that despite the excellent target that the Government have set themselves, their record is not good. Less than 3 per cent. of all domestic waste is recycled, and unless the Government go into overdrive they are not likely to achieve their targets. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) said, they are merely targets and are not a pledge. It would have been nice if the Minister had said that they were now more than targets and that the Government pledged to reach them by the end of the century.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish stressed the way in which the packaging industry is still light years behind reductions in packaging which are feasible—I was going to say that it was in the stone age, but that would be inappropriate. He also said that the Government must intervene in the market if recycling is to be effective and he placed a question mark over the long-term role of burning refuse and energy recovery from refuse as a means of recycling household waste. Energy recovery through incineration is part of a first-generation solution, but such generation from household waste will be better achieved through biogas projects such as the major project in Denmark and Adur council's minor scheme, using tiger worms and other options which I shall return to.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made a wide-ranging and well-informed contribution on issues related to recycling. Whatever length of time my hon. Friend speaks, it is always too short for me because his contributions are always so well researched. Every few minutes he introduces something new to the arena and makes the debate even more well informed. His speech today was particularly wide ranging. He fixed on the Rio summit and pointed out that recycling was not simply a matter for Britain and our local authority processes for dealing with waste matter, but was a worldwide problem to which we could make contribution. He further pointed out that we should be concerned not just with household recycling but with saving the earth of the planet.

My hon. friend rightly spent some time on the issue of toxic waste, on which we need to take urgent action. He mentioned the Curitiba initiative in Brazil. It would be well worth exploring further the recycling city there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) rightly, given the important part it plays in his constituency, referred to Shell. It is often criticised for the negative aspects of its activities in terms of the pollution of our environment. He pointed out how it is considering positively all the issues involved in the recycling of plastics and polyethylene in particular. It was encouraging to hear from him of the work that Shell is doing. Indeed, it was encouraging to hear his comment on the way in which General Motors, in its Vauxhall guise in this country, was taking seriously the problems of making cars easily recyclable.

Early in his speech the Minister referred to composting. I was wondering at what point to refer to that issue and as the Minister, having got over one or two problems to do with his domestic arrangements, virtually led on the subject, I shall consider it now. I have been discussing with several people involved in local authority schemes, in particular Milton Keynes, the recycling of those parts of household waste that can well be used for composting. They have pointed out to me that, apart from some regulations on heavy metal content, not much is said about the nature of compostable and composted material. The hon. Member for Blaby referred to the United States experience with envirosoil. He said that, although the United States Environmental Protection Agency had approved the product, the European Community foresaw problems with the heavy metal present in our sewage sludge.

Milton Keynes council warned me of the possibility of human, animal and plant pathogens causing serious problems. I was told that we need urgently to set standards for acceptable composted material and that then there could be an immense step forward in terms of the volume of household waste that could be safely and valuably put to good use as recycled material.

I know, for example, that Wessex Water, with one of its subsidiary companies, has produced a sewage sludge-derived composting material which is undergoing trial tests at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am not sure whether it is MAFF or the Department of the Environment that will eventually declare it as a satisfactory and safe product. I do not know whether the Minister knows anything about that, but it seems that a useful step forward could be taken if those standards were laid down, if we had compost derived from sewage sludge and if household waste that is normally picked up by local authorities were used.

Waste Watch is doing a creditable job trying to raise awareness about the need for recycling and to encourage recycling. It has put together some interesting information on recyclable materials. It points out that paper and cardboard, for example, represent 33 per cent. by weight and 38 per cent. by volume of the contents of the average dustbin. It is reckoned that everyone in Britain consumes about two or three trees' worth of paper products a year. In 1989, the total consumption of paper and board in the United Kingdom was 9.6 million tonnes, of which 6 million tonnes were imported. In that year imported paper and pulp cost us £2,500 million. If the Government would only think twice about it, they would see that, apart from being environmentally acceptable, recycling paper would be very acceptable in terms of diminishing our balance of payments deficit.

Warren Spring laboratory estimates that 6.6 million tonnes of waste paper are disposed of each year into landfill. Of the total, between 2.7 and 3.6 per cent. only is reclaimed.

I am delighted about the £20 million that the Government will put into the paper mill in Kent. I hope that no problems arise in obtaining the necessary approval. Such initiatives are an important way forward for the recycling of all materials.

Anyone who has more than a passing interest in and knowledge of the recycling business, believes that the Government must play a firm and decisive role in developing the recycling market. The Government should not fight shy of that role on the ground that it would interfere with the workings of the free market, which is so beloved by the Adam Smith Institute. The Government have already interfered in one important part of the market with the introduction of fiscal measures relating to leaded and unleaded petrol. Unfortunately, it was not an environmentally conscious desire of motor car users that led to the big expansion in the use of unleaded petrol. It simply happened because the Government decided to interfere in the market to make the use of unleaded petrol a favourable and worthwhile option.

Some plastic materials can also be recycled. About a fifth of consumer waste, by volume, comes from plastics, but only about 7 per cent. by weight. The Department of Trade and Industry recycling advisory unit at the Warren Spring laboratory estimates that up to between 60 and 70 per cent. of all domestic plastic waste could he recovered. However just 5.7 per cent. was reclaimed in 1989, and that from the industrial and commercial sectors.

Post-consumer plastic waste, which is found mainly in packaging materials, is another important area in which improvements could be made. To take a simple example, more than 400 tonnes of plastic and polystyrene vending cups are discarded in shops, offices and factories every week in Britain. As much as 35 per cent. of all plastics are used in packaging. If the plastics were recycled in new products, we could make an 80 per cent. saving in energy.

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend's argument could be driven home if this place set a much better example. It is not a question of getting at the Government; we should set an example. My hon. Friend spoke of plastic cups, but we use vast amounts of them in the Refreshment Department and that should be stopped.

I have noticed some new ingenious devices in the toilets. I thought that they were spying cameras to observe indiscretions in the gents, but they are infra-red machines that switch the lights on and off and make the loos flush only when they are used. They are good, welcome examples. Will my hon. Friend encourage the House authorities to extend the use of such environmentally friendly practices throughout this place so that we can set an example?

Mr. Griffiths

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I wholeheartedly concur with him, but not just for the environmentally sound reasons which prompted his remarks. I absolutely hate drinking from plastic and polystyrene cups. I should like them to be banned altogether.

I was referring to the 80 per cent. energy savings that we could make from recycling plastics. Of course, we must take account of the energy costs of collecting the plastics for recycling. However, I gather that, despite them, no one has ever challenged the fact that the recycling of plastics has a plus side.

Big improvements can also be made in the recycling of cans. We in Britain use about 12 billion tin-plated steel cans each year. It is estimated that, in 1989, 1,050 million steel cans were recycled, less than 10 per cent. of the total. At present, 23 local authorities are recycling cans by magnet separation. There is a 75 per cent. energy saving when steel from scrap is used in the steel-making process. Even taking into account the energy cost of transport, there is a major advantage in the process.

About 2 billion aluminium cans are used in the United Kingdom each year. If they were all recycled, there would be about £13 million worth of product. In 1989, only 60 million aluminium cans, about 3 per cent., were recycled, though by 1990 the figure had improved to 11 per cent. As the hon. Member for Blaby and others pointed out, the industry has a target for recycling 50 per cent., but there is no reason why, with proper collection methods, we could not raise that to close to 100 per cent.

The savings in terms of energy and the value of the aluminium cans returned, not to mention the slowdown in resource depletion, makes that an important option. I hope that the aluminium industry, with encouragement from the Government, will set itself the target of close to 100 per cent. by the end of the century. Perhaps we should not be over-optimistic, and set a target of 95 per cent., the rate being achieved now by some countries.

About 6 billion glass containers are used every year in the United Kingdom. The average household throws out five bottles or jars each week. Each person uses 15 kg of glass a year. Glass makes up about 8 per cent. by weight of domestic refuse.

Bottle banks have existed in Britain for about 13 years. There are more than 5,000 banks, with the target for 1995 of 10,000 bottle banks. Severn and Leeds are two authorities with the most extensive bottle schemes, and they are proving extremely successful. Warren Spring laboratory estimates that 2 million tonnes of bottle were landfilled in 1989. So there is potential for doubling the amount of bottles that can be recycled, remembering that in the recycling process there is a 25 per cent. energy saving.

Some countries in Europe—for example, Holland—have one bottle bank for every 1,200 people. Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and West Germany have all achieved glass recycling levels of more than 50 per cent. The European average is 33 per cent. We in Britain manage about 20 per cent.

There is growing awareness and activity by local authorities in the recycling of textiles, which make up 4 per cent. by weight of post-consumer waste. It is reckoned that £400 million worth of cloth is thrown away each year.

A large proportion of the textiles and fibres that we consume is imported. Once again, increased recycling could help to improve the balance of payments deficit. Textile mills in the United Kingdom use about 1 million tonnes of fibre each year, of which 70 per cent. are man-made, 20 per cent. are wool and 10 per cent. are cotton. Textile consumption is also about 1 million tonnes a year and the recycling rate is about 25 per cent. of the total. Second-hand clothing represents 15 to 20 per cent. of total reclaimed fibre.

Those few examples of materials that can be recycled show the advantages in cutting down the amount that goes into landfill as well as the energy and resource savings and, perhaps most important for the Government, because they need some relief in this sector, possible savings for the balance of payments deficit.

Much still needs to be done. The most recent survey on public attitudes shows that consumers have a positive attitude towards recycling. A recent Mintel survey showed that 94 per cent. of consumers believed in recycling. The Government could exploit that positive aspect to recycling in promoting their recycling initiatives.

Mr. Tony Banks

Two categories of our population seem to be most interested in recycling. The first category is the elderly. They remember the shortages of the war and the fact that they were encouraged to recycle waste. Anyone collecting "on the dust" will confirm that collecting from pensioners and elderly people is almost a pleasure, in so far as that task can be considered a pleasure. The second category is young people. I hope that when my hon. Friend is a Minister in the next Labour Government—a little way off yet—he will encourage schools to extend teaching and education about waste and environmentally friendly practices. Kids will then grow up to be responsible elderly people like those we have today who treat their waste disposal as a matter of considerable concern—even with pride.

Mr. Griffiths

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and particularly for his aspirations for my career. I agree with him entirely about those people who take a most active part, a pleasure and, as he says, even a pride in recycling. My daughter has recently started teaching in Harrow and her school takes an active interest in that subject. Moreover, organisations like Waste Watch are active in trying to promote recycling and a responsible attitude to the environment through various educational and information programmes.

The Mintel survey found that, having got virtually everybody to say that they believed that recycling was a good thing, there was then a great gap between aspiration and performance—rather like the opinion polls in the general election. The survey found that of the 94 per cent. who were in favour of recycling, only 41 per cent. regularly took their bottles, cans or newspapers to a collection point. The survey concluded that the Government's target of recycling 25 per cent. of all household waste by the year 2000 is unlikely to be achieved unless there is a much greater Government effort to promote recycling initiatives.

It is interesting to look at the reasons why those people did not involve themselves in the recycling to which they gave their support. Thirty-seven per cent. said that it was due to a lack of collection points—that if there were a convenient collection point near their home they would use it. Either they did not know of a collection point or those that they knew of were inconvenient, distant, or out of the way. Twenty-five per cent.—I know that this can be a problem, particularly for those who live in high-rise flats and small homes—said that they did not have enough space to store things.

I must admit that my trips to my local paper and bottle recycling banks tend to be infrequent. Consequently, when I go there I take about half a tonne of paper and a bootful of bottles of various descriptions. Therefore, I sympathise with those who say that they do not have enough space to store things. My own recyclable materials use up a considerable amount of storage space before I am able to take them to the banks.

Ten per cent. said that to separate items for collection was too much trouble. That reflects the experience of local authorities which have been involved in kerbside collection schemes. In those areas, about 70 to 80 per cent. of the people use the facilities provided. Finally, 8 per cent. said that they did not have time to get involved. The survey shows that there is a fair wind blowing for the Government if they want to take more initiatives to encourage recycling. Given the considerable number of references in this debate to reusable containers, it is interesting to note that 54 per cent. are in favour of a money-back scheme and that most of them favour a deposit-led system.

Despite the Government's excellent target, their record is, unfortunately, not very good compared with that of other European Community countries. We are close to the bottom of the class when it comes to recycling glass and paper, two of the major items that can be recycled. When I sought information from the Government about the current recycling lists, the Secretary of State for Scotland hazarded an estimated 2 per cent. The Department of the Environment was excessively generous to itself when it said that it was certainly no more than 5 per cent.

The Welsh Office was so afraid of the reality that it declined to give a figure. Much needs to be done if we are to move from the figure that most experts agree to be about 2.5 per cent. to the 25 per cent. Government target for the year 2000.

I was almost dumbfounded to read in Hansard a short while ago a reply from the Department of the Environment to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who asked a question about a report compiled by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Association of Municipal Engineers that was issued midway through last year and was entitled, "Recycling Household Waste: the Way Ahead." The Government's reply was that they regarded the report as a useful contribution. I consider that to be an understatement as that extremely valuable report was drawn up by experts and pointed the way ahead. The report stated that, if the 25 per cent. target was to be met, there was a need for households to separate recyclables, the Government to take more initiatives—particularly to provide further financial support—disposal authorities to change their role and become mainly reclamation authorities, measures to be taken to ensure that industry favoured recycled feedstock, packaging to be minimised and recycled products preferred. With the combination of those factors we would see the end of the throw-away society.

The institution and the association, in a typically humble way, stated that their report should be regarded not as a set of recommendations to form the be-all and end-all of achieving the targets, but as a list of matters for consideration in developing new policies and techniques, and expanded public services. The report was sent to more than 500 local authorities, of which slightly more than half—258—responded. The result of the survey was that the majority of authorities carried out some sort of recycling, but that the amount of material recycled as a percentage of household waste was exceedingly small. For glass, paper and cans, the amount recycled was less than 1 per cent. of all household waste.

The figures for local authorities that recycled specific materials show that 80 per cent. had schemes for recycling and collecting glass, 33 per cent. had schemes for cans, 45 per cent. had schemes for paper, 2 per cent. had schemes for plastic, 37 per cent. had schemes for metals, 29 per cent. had schemes for oils, 2 per cent. had schemes for construction waste and 1 per cent. had schemes for compostables.

Friends of the Earth also conducted a survey to which it received a higher response than did that carried out by the institution and the association. It showed similar, although on the whole slightly better, collection and recycling activities by local authorities. The figures were: glass 89 per cent., cans 48 per cent., paper 55 per cent., plastic 9 per cent., metal 17 per cent., oils 46 per cent., compostables 5 per cent. and for textiles, for which the institution's and association's report gave no figure, 17 per cent. For household goods, it gave a figure of 3 per cent. and 5.5 per cent. for wood.

The target to which everyone refers is that set out by the Government in section 14.23 of "This Common Inheritance". They set the challenging target—that is what they called it—of recycling half of recyclable household waste by the end of the century. That is about 25 per cent. of all household waste. The institution and association said that that would require a supportive marketplace and local initiatives for low-cost schemes and would require industry to finance new productive processes. They said that the Government's willingness to support such measures was fundamental to the development of new initiatives.

The Government are still rather coy and even complacent in their attitude. In a reply to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), the Government said: there is no point in setting up comprehensive recycling schemes if there is no market for the materials collected."—[Official Report, 13 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 126.] That is true, but, as the Government proved with unleaded petrol, they can take initiatives to ensure that there is a market, in this case for the materials collected.

The Government also said that their preferred approach is for industry to come up with recycling initiatives that will stand the test of time in the free market. Of course, they did not wait for industry to come up with initiatives in the petrol market but took the initiatives themselves. I suggest that they should be taking a similar initiative in recycling to ensure that the necessary market is created. The Government have made a start in paper recycling, but there are many potentially recyclable materials which need a steady market.

In considering the achievement of the 25 per cent. target set by the Government, the institution and the association wanted to ensure that, in the long term, local authorities could achieve it without incurring an increase in service costs for the collection and disposal of household waste.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is my hon. Friend able to clear up the mystery of the 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. target? There was an exchange between the Minister and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) about whether the target for the year 2000 is 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. of domestic waste. Does my hon. Friend know which it is? The Minister clearly does not, and I think that my hon. Friend could win a few brownie points if he could cut the Gordian knot, so to speak, and explain to ignorant Back Benchers exactly what the Government's target is.

Mr. Griffiths

The answer is that there is an element of both. The 25 per cent. figure is the target for all household waste. The 50 per cent. creeps in because it is the target for the part of household waste which is regarded as recyclable. I hope that that has explained the matter satisfactorily.

The institution and the association see the target as a means of conserving natural resources, of saving energy in production and transport, or reducing pollution risks and of saving costs from pollution. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Blaby, referred to the landfill problems of leachates and methane gas. The more recycling there is, the less pressure is put on landfill space. It is also argued that, because of energy savings, there can be a reduction in production costs for goods using recyclable material. For local authorities, there can be a reduction in collection and disposal costs compared with present costs.

The association and the institution are wholly confident that, if the Government accepted a number of specific measures, the target of 25 per cent. would be easily realisable. The evidence from schemes in Leeds, Adur, Milton Keynes and Cardiff points to the fact that the only real way to meet the target is to have kerbside collections in which there has been some separation. Some separation is essential, although it is for authorities to decide exactly how much they will demand. The experience of all the authorities is that households have responded enthusiastically to kerbside collection schemes.

Another essential is a market for the sale of all recycled material. That can best be secured by every operator having as his first priority a recycling strategy. Local authorities giving contracts for waste disposal should require the contractors to co-ordinate the activities of recycling as a principal task. Provisions should be written into the contracts about the amount of material that is to be retained and recycled. Eventually, companies should undertake the reprocessing and marketing of recyclable materials almost as if they were commercial commodity brokers.

The most successful authorities have themselves—or sometimes in association with others—medium or long-term contracts for the materials that they collect. The local authority in Milton Keynes has combined with expertise from a private company in America and experts from Shanks and McEwan to establish a new recycling facility that will be at the heart of the authority's programme to ensure that it reaches the Government's target by the year 2000. The authority is confident that it will reach that target.

The steps that the Government have already taken in the paper sector to encourage the development of a market for waste paper are fundamental. As several hon. Members have said, on occasion there has been chaos in the paper market. Local authorities and voluntary organisations have achieved a reasonable price for selling waste paper into the market one day, but on other occasions they have virtually had to pay someone to take the paper away. As the hon. Member for Rochdale explained, on occasion the position is so bad that a large amount of the paper is thrown into landfill and does nothing to improve the psychology of recycling.

Because of the huge returns that are possible in the paper market—the Government forecast that 1 million tonnes of extra capacity is possible, although that may be optimistic—a huge amount of paper will be available for recycling. If the Government were to provide even more help than they are providing now, we could take a significant step forward in that area.

There is the potential to double the amount of coloured glass that is currently recycled. Problems about clear and coloured glass have been referred to. They could be overcome through better colour separation at collection. Greater efforts need to be taken to collect colourless glass. The Government, and particularly the advertising industry and supermarkets, could do more to encourage the public to accept coloured glass. The problem about the amount of glass that is wasted annually is the way in which supermarkets have not been prepared to accept returnables because they clutter up planning and storage space. The problem has nothing to do with the public dramatically and suddenly saying that they do not want drinks delivered in glass containers.

Mr. Robathan

While I approve of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter and delight in his support for my comments, I am sure that he would not mind my saying that he is recycling a few phrases from the debate. While I approve of multi-trip containers, multi-trip comments are a little too much.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. That is for the Chair to judge.

Mr. Griffiths

The issue is so important that the Opposition must place on the record exactly what we believe must be done. I do not believe that the role of the supermarkets has been discussed too much in respect of the move away from refillable containers.

There is huge scope for recycling much more plastic. Two million tonnes of non-food plastic is manufacturered in the United Kingdom. At least half a million tonnes of it could easily be absorbed into the recycling process. There is also huge scope in respect of aluminium and ferrous metals. In the past decade, there has actually been a reduction in the amount of some metals that have been recycled. The Government should examine that aspect.

The association and the institution reckon that it will take about £170 million a year to set up kerbside collection schemes and all the proper facilities for recycling. They offered one or two suggestions about how that might be done. There could be a packaging levy of 25p, which would raise £150 million, and a levy on newsprint. The Government are examining certain fiscal measures. I was surprised by the Minister's comment that they are awaiting reports to see whether anything further needs to be done. They should wait for the reports to see exactly what further action they need to take, because there is no doubt in my mind or in the minds of people who are closely connected with the problems of recycling that further Government action, including fiscal instruments, is needed.

The Friends of the Earth survey concurred with the view that kerbside collection would be essential. It also pointed out that the cost of setting up and running recycling collections is the major problem seen by local authorities. As the hon. Member for Rochdale pointed out, one of the Government's own officials, John Barton, recognised that we will need a form of houshold collection system and further Government support. It was a pity that, on 27 April, when the Minister announced the 25 per cent. increase in recycling investment, he said that he was reluctant to approve new kerbside schemes until he had the final results of the pilot. Given the survey of the institution and the association and all the information that they already have about pilot schemes, it is clear that the kerbside collection method will be the most effective way forward.

Recycling credits are a good idea, but undoubtedly one of the major problems is the low cost of landfill. The average cost in the Friends of the Earth survey is just over £10 a tonne. I do not believe that that reflects the real cost of a properly managed landfill site. It will be interesting that, when the EC directive finally sees the light of day, when measures to deal with leachates and the post-management of a site in terms of methane gas are considered, with the possible civil liability on people managing a site for perhaps 30 or 50 years after, there will be a huge increase in the cost of landfill, which will make recycling immensely more attractive. I hope that during their presidency of the European Community the Government will push that measure forward so that at an early stage we can re-evaluate the cost of landfill and allow recycling to become effective.

I fear to mention the problems of packaging, given the admonition of the hon. Member for Blaby, but it is a vital point. The Minister referred to the problems that could be caused if the countries of the European Community acted separately. As it is, they have different legislation. In Denmark refillable bottles are mandatory for domestic production of beer and carbonated soft drinks. For imports a deposit, return and recycling system must be set up which has an equivalent effect. There is an absolute ban on beverage cans.

Luxembourg has introduced legislation that will provide for mandatory deposits for refillable bottles, taxes on non-refillable bottles and the possibility of limiting or banning the sale of packaging that presents a danger to the environment. France is introducing laws based on the German system, which is the bane of packagers throughout the European Community. That system has been referred to in some detail. I hope that the Government will support a solution based on the German system because, even though well-meaning initiatives have been taken by the Retail Consortium, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment and various other bodies involved in packaging, the only effective action will come when rules and regulations are introduced to govern it.

The Government's study on returnable deposit containers was outlined—I do not know whether it was officially or unofficially—in the "Warmer Bulletin". The report pointed out that compulsory deposit schemes in Denmark, Norway and Switzerland worked well, that product taxes targeting non-reusable containers worked in Finland and Sweden, and that voluntary agreements with industry backed by legislative threats worked in the Netherlands. Overall, the use of deposits was found to be a more than satisfactory way of tackling the problem of throwaway containers.

Following its survey, Friends of the Earth made several recommendations which have been Labour party policy for some years. It concluded that the Government should create markets and stimulate demand for reclaimed materials and that measures should be taken to include setting minimum standards for the content of recycled materials in certain goods. It also recommended obligatory preferential purchase of recycled materials by public bodies and specific sectors of industry.

Friends of the Earth also said that the Government should promote an integrated approach to waste management which should cover raw materials, manufacturing process and the design and use of products, and that priority should be given to the operation and design of processes and products to minimise waste and facilitate the reclamation of materials. Lastly, it recommended that fiscal and other measures should be introduced to encourage industry to increase its commitment to recycling and that tax relief should be provided for the capital costs of recycling plants.

All those recommendations have been Labour policy for some time. Long before charters became fashionable with the Government, we had a recycling charter. The charter says that we should minimise the production of waste products and products that cannot be reused or repaired; we should encourage the manufacture of products that can be reused; we should ensure that, if possible, whatever cannot be reused is recycled; products that cannot be recycled should be used productively; and any residual waste should be disposed of in the safest possible manner. We would use the tax system to provide incentives to achieve those objectives.

Another important objective for the Government during their presidency which would have the full support of the Opposition would be to ensure that the eco-labelling scheme comes into existence. Once established, it should be encouraged through preferential VAT rates, just as the use of unleaded fuel is encouraged through lower excise duty.

Labour local authorities have been pioneering work on recycling. Camden council in London and the councils in Sheffield, Newcastle, Leicester, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Oxford and Milton Keynes are all in the forefront of the battle to ensure that products are recycled, and to achieve the desire of the hon. Member for Blaby for increased recycling, minimisation of waste and the development of returnable bottles and containers. Labour supports all those objectives.

1.21 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I join other hon. Members in thanking the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) for choosing such a riveting and important subject for his first speech in the House. He is obviously blessed with good fortune to be able to win in a ballot—something that many Opposition Members who have been here for years would kill for.

Mr. Robathan

But not at cards.

Mr. Tony Banks

Then I suggest that he take up cards as soon as possible, because it is a considerable achievement to win the ballot shortly after coming to the House, and to use it to make one's maiden speech. I defer to him in that respect. We well remember his predecessor —the glowering presence of Nigel Lawson—especially when he sat on the Back Benches.

Mr. Lawson's translation to the House of Lords is a perfect example of political recycling, though one does not know whether he will receive such a warm welcome from the former Prime Minister, the Lady Thatcher. In the twilight of his career he was being treated more like a piece of hazardous waste than a treasured political item.

To conclude on that subject, I hope that in choosing her title, the Lady Thatcher will go for something in the east end of London, where we know a lot about hazardous waste. Perhaps she should call herself Baroness Barking, because I have always wanted to refer to her as the Lady Barking. I thought that would be a most appropriate title for her.

It is also appropriate that the hon. Member for Blaby has chosen to debate recycling. Perhaps he knows something we do not. I understand that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is making a speech on waste management today. Perhaps the hon. Member is one of many Members of Parliament who apparently advise the Prince of Wales on day-to-day matters.

What surprises me is that so few Tory Members have joined in the debate. I expected to find it difficult to get in today as I thought many of them would wish to speak. Perrhaps they are ashamed of the Government's record. If that is so they are right to be ashamed. The Government have created vast quantities of waste.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

It is not because we are ashamed of the Government's record on this or any other matter, but simply because we are proud of their record on education and would have welcomed an opportunity to debate choice in education, which is the second subject tabled for debate today.

Mr. Banks

Who knows, if the hon. Gentleman is nice to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) we may even reach the second motion. Perhaps we will reach it a bit quicker if the hon. Gentleman does not intervene again.

We are all big people in the House now and we know what we are trying to do. Yes, there will be an opportunity. The hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon), who is sitting nervously on the edge of his seat waiting to make his first speech, can rest assured that he will get that opportunity. I know how he feels. I must tell him that he will continue to feel as nervous as he undoubtedly does now, even when he has made a few more speeches. That is how I feel and how one should always feel. One should never stand up in this place and assume that one can pontificate and everyone will listen with great attention. One should always be humble enough to recognise that there are always many hon. Members who know a damn sight more than oneself about any subject than one cares to talk about. There is not a less appreciative audience than that made up of Members waiting for one to sit down so that they can make their speech. They are not receptive, so I shall not delay the House.

I was talking about the Government's waste production. They should ensure that all these citizens charters are printed on recyclable paper. There was the ridiculous incident of British Rail announcing that a train was running late because of blockages on the line caused by discarded heaps of rail users charters. We must he aware that we produce vast quantities of paper in this place. All of it should be on recyclable paper. That is essential. I know that the Department of the Environment has been looking closely at the matter.

I always said that I would never start a speech with the words, "When I was a lad". I used to hate it when Members started in that way and then banged on about how life was so much better decades previously. I thought that that was so boring. As on many other matters in my time in the House, I have retreated from my previous principled position and I shall start in that way.

The Minister questioned whether returnable bottles and recyclable containers were necessarily the most efficient way of disposing of waste or of producing packaging. When I was a kid I earned quite a packet taking back empty lemonade and beer bottles to the off licence. Indeed, I earned so much that I was called the Bernard Docker of Brixton. I had my own customised pedal car—would you believe it, Mr. Deputy Speaker? It was a Delarge. The House can see from that how much money I was making from returning those Tizer bottles. I remember "Tizer the Appetiser" and, yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so do you. I believe it is still being produced, but in plastic bottles. Tizer, like ginger beer, came with its own attached top, which meant that the whole lot went back to the sweet shop. That is a good example of why we do not necessarily have to look elsewhere in the world for ideas, although it is a good thing to do so; we can look back to what we did previously to see what sort of containers we should bring back into use today. One of the few bottles now to have the flip top or the top still attached can be bought downstairs in the Bar. It contains Grolsch beer. It is far too heavy a brew for me. Certainly, it is far more lethal than Tizer. It is a retrograde step that so few bottles now have such tops.

I am appalled, as we all are, by the amount of material wasted on packaging. We all have our own particular hates in this area. What I hate most are those polystyrene foam pellets—the ones that look rather like prawn crackers and, I am reliably informed, taste better. They are packed round electrical equipment. Even Her Majesty's Stationery Office uses those horrible little pellets when it sends out books. They appal me. Apart from anything else, they are wholly indestructible. Such packaging materials are unacceptable.

Plastic holders for six-packs of cans annoy me. Has anyone seen the damage that they do to sea birds that get their beaks caught up in them? We discard plastics into the sea. One sees ships dumping things at sea and rubbish is blown into the sea. When people go on holiday they take plastic bottles of water that end up in the sea. Turtles think that that plastic trash is jelly fish. Of course, because they eat jelly fish, they eat the plastic and it kills them. It is inconsiderate actions, such as leaving plastic filth on beaches—or on the streets, as many people do in my constituency—that annoy me so intensely. People do not think through the consequences of their actions.

It is essential that we reach a pan-European accord on waste disposal. If one looks at the Mediterranean, which, fortunately, I hope to do on my two-week holiday in August, one can see just how much trash is put into that beautiful sea. Greece has a poor record on waste disposal and recycling. I hope that the Minister will constantly draw that to the attention of the Greek Government so that they look more attentively at waste disposal in their beautiful country. Greece relies on tourism, but tourists are put off when they see the filth that litters the beautiful countryside on islands such as Crete. A pan-European accord is important.

Mr. Miller

My hon. Friend has given a more graphic and eloquent account of the distasteful use, and disposal of plastic than my example of McDonalds. However, I am sure that we are driving at the same point. Does my hon. Friend agree that the plastics industry and the manufacturers of polyethylene need to be encouraged to find more diverse uses for plastics and, in particular, to discover ways of recycling plastics? To achieve those ends, the industry will need direct help and encouragement from the Government to assist it with research and development.

Mr. Banks

I agree with my hon. Friend. However, McDonalds has a better record of clearing up the litter outside its restaurants than many fast-food outlets. However, I am one of those who think one has a more enjoyable dinner if one eats the container rather than the hamburger. But that is a matter of personal preference.

It is possible to make plastic biodegradable, but that requires much investment in research and development and makes packaging more expensive. The Minister must—to use a horrible and vulgar phrase—establish "a level playing field". If all packaging becomes biodegradable, the cost to the consumer will increase. I accept that. However, it means also that the producers all face equal costs. In those circumstances, the industry will be unable to argue, as some Ministers do, "We like to be on the side of the good, but unless everyone joins us, we shall be at a comparative disadvantage in terms of production." I see the monetarist argument in that and even though it excludes any consideration of morality, I understand it in cash-account terms. However, if we establish a level playing field, it will pay all manufacturers to ensure that their plastic packaging is biodegradable. I hope the Minister will push that point.

I wish to consider the situation in the rest of Europe. In the collection of industrial societies that make up Europe, the role of consumers must be taken into account when we consider environmentally sound production methods. That relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller). When people are asked whether they would be prepared to buy environmentally friendly products, most say yes. People are prepared to pay a higher price, if they know that what they are buying is environmentally friendly. However, the producers will have to face the same costs, which reinforces my earlier argument.

It is important for consumers to know more about goods. People want to know how they are produced and whether they are environmentally friendly. When the Minister was asked, in a humorous way, what type of washing-up liquid was used in his home, the question was not designed to embarrass him. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is beyond embarrassment. A Minister who could make as many sexist points as he made could not possibly be embarrassed by such a question.

If I were his wife—thank goodness I am not, and he is probably grateful that I am not—I would want a divorce, especially after reading the Official Report of what he said. I shall make sure that Mrs. Maclean gets a copy of Hansard in case the Minister tries to hide his words from her. Frankly, he should be concerned about the information available on packages. He should be giving advice about whether a washing up liquid or soap powder is environmentally friendly.

Mr. Maclean

I should probably know better than to rise to the bait. On the final point that the hon. Gentleman makes, he may know that on Wednesday, in answering questions on the environment, I told the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) that we intend to have the eco-labelling scheme up and ready as soon as possible. We urge the rest of the EC to be on target. There will then be a whole range of products bearing environmentally friendly labels.

Mr. Banks

I look forward to that time, as, no doubt, does Mrs. Maclean. Then she will know precisely what to buy and that there will be no fear of her flouting Conservative policies. I am sure that she is a jolly good and loyal Tory and would not dream of doing so.

The Minister said that the Government were giving encouragement to other European countries. Some of those countries have already introduced special labels, such as the "Blue Angel" label in Germany, which, I am reliably informed, indicates the green quality of a product.

Warning signs in industry—for example, applying to traffic and transportation—are international and used everywhere. Everyone recognises precisely the articles to which they apply. We should have a similar, internationally recognised eco-labelling system throughout the European Community. Such a move would be welcomed by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Labels that are placed on products should meet certain conditions—first that the raw materials used are environmentally sound and can be recycled; secondly, that the production methods used are sustainable and healthy to the workers who packed and produced the items; thirdly, that the packaging is either returnable, perhaps on the payment of a deposit, or is recyclable; fourthly, that the product and its use does not damage environmental health; fifthly, that the price is fair compared with other products; and sixthly, that the energy consumption in production and use is minimised. I hope that the Minister will insist on those standards when discussing the eco-labelling system.

We need in this country consumer legislation similar to the Right To Know Act in the United States. Although the Americans have produced the majority of the world's waste, they have led the way, in many areas, in recycling and the manufacture of environmentally friendly products.

People in Sweden have for more than 150 years had the right to gain access to information about their neighbourhoods. That has covered information about, for example, the use of natural resources such as air, water and emissions, and has led to the more economic use of such articles in production and to more awareness by consumers when purchasing products.

There is a great willingness in Britain by consumers to play their part. As I said, the people in the population who appear to be most concerned are the elderly and the young, the elderly because they can remember the deprivation of the war and immediate post-war period. Resources were scarce and there was a greater degree of social responsibility towards products, their use and disposal.

Today, the young are greatly concerned because they are realising more and more that they will inherit a polluted world. It is encouraging to visit schools, talk to children in class and see the way in which, as part of the curriculum, teachers are creating lessons that encourage youngsters to be more socially responsible and environmentally conscious. Today's youngsters matter. They will ensure that the world, which our generation and generations before us polluted to such a dangerous extent, will be a safer and cleaner place. We can achieve that, even if belatedly. I was glad about Rio. There have been many criticisms and I had many criticisms to make about Rio, but I pay tribute to the Prime Minster, who was prepared to be the first world leader to go to Rio. It is vital to place environmental issues at the cutting edge of political decision making. I do not begrudge the Prime Minister his photo-opportunities. I would do the same, were I to hold such an elevated position—

Mr. Maclean


Mr. Banks

The Minister says no, but he does not know much anyway. He does not even know which washing-up liquid he uses so how can he know whether I shall be Prime Minister?

It was important to get environmental issues on the agenda because they encourage people to think in an environmentally friendly way.

Mr. Win Griffiths

My hon. Friend referred to washing-up liquid. So that the Minister does not feel that he is being singled out, may I tell him that I do the family shopping and we use down to earth washing-up liquid. It is completely satisfactory, healthy and recyclable in every way.

Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend is a veritable saint. He is the ideal partner and, were his wife to throw him out, he would be welcome to live with me and Mrs. Banks because he would be the perfect house guest. That is another reason why I want him to become Environment Minister in the next Labour Government. He is a paragon of virtue.

I had many more points to make, but the ball game, like many things in politics, changed somewhat and I am conscious of the time. I shall conclude on just a few notes about my local authority, Newham.

I have never been mealy-mouthed about the people that I represent, but some of them are the filthiest people on earth. I assume that those must be the few Tory voters in my constituency—but perhaps they are not. When I go out in Forest Gate every morning I see trash discarded the night before, despite the fact that the local authority has installed bins at regular intervals. People often kick the bins over. It is appalling how anti-social some of the people I represent are, and I am sure that that is the view of many hon. Members when they look at their constituencies. We idealise our constituents, but I am damned if I shall idealise the filthy people who trash up my constituency. We must pursue such people.

Although local authorities have been given various powers to fine litter louts, the Minister knows that they do not work. We must ensure that the fines imposed are swingeing and that local authorities step up their street patrols. It is easy to sit down and devise the steps that need to be taken, but the Government must give assurances about the resources that will be available. Local authorities are regularly kicked in this House, almost exclusively by Conservative Members. Yet local authorities are the units of government that affect the day-to-day lives of the great mass of our population. The Government give them more and more tasks while, at the same time, taking away more and more resources from them. It is fine to tell local authorities that they are the primary units responsible for waste disposal and ask them for their plans for achieving 25 per cent. recyclable domestic waste by the year 2000, but local authorities want to know what help the Government will provide for set-up costs.

The Minister mentioned the recycling credit system. If I can catch his attention while a discussion is going on over the crutch of his hon. Friend with feet on the Table, I wish to ask him to pay heed to the fact that the credit system must be looked at. Many local authorities, including mine, and businesses, say that it is a bureaucratic nightmare. The Minister said that he will monitor the system, but I hope that he will pay careful attention to the various representations that I know he will receive about how the system works. My local authority wants to recycle as much as it possibly can. Last year, 700 tonnes of waste were collected in Newham for recycling. That has to be put in context. My authority collects about 80,000 tonnes of refuse a year, so less than 1 per cent. of Newham's waste is recycled. The rest of it goes to the local waste disposal authorities and the bulk of it is sent to landfill sites in Essex.

There are so many things that we want to do in Newham. I am the first to say that it is not the most beautiful spot on earth. How I envy Tory MPs who get up and talk about the rural delights of their constituencies—the green trees, the parks and so on. Unfortunately, that is not true of inner-city constituencies, particularly constituencies such as mine. However, we are trying hard to create a better environment in Newham and to make it a nicer place in which to live. We want to meet the Government's objective by the year 2000, but to do so we want as much encouragement as possible from the Government. We are prepared to sit down with Ministers and work out schemes.

Adur council in West Sussex has an excellent record. In The Independent today there is a wonderful article about Adur council. It ought to be widely recognised that Adur council is doing its best and that it is the leading local authority in the whole of Europe. I believe that it is controlled by the Liberal Democrats. I do not care who it is controlled by, but that is one local authority doing an excellent job. I want that excellent job to be replicated throughout the local authority structure. However, as Adur council officials will say, "Recycling is not a cheap exercise; the setting-up costs are very expensive." Everyone praises those councils that do it, including the Minister. However, he must always be aware that when we say that we want more resources it is not just a knee-jerk reaction. The Minister knows from his studies that recycling does not come cheap in the short term. In the long term it is invaluable. I ask the Government to look at local authority projects in the long term and to make sure that the necessary funding is there so that when we have a debate such as this in 20 or 30 years' time when one or two of us, though not me, will still be around, they will say that they remember the great day when the Minister announced these various proposals and that it was the speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that started it all off.

1.46 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I know from long experience that I must not try to match the entertainment value of speeches made by my hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), so I shall not attempt to do so. However, like my hon. Friend, I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on his maiden speech and on introducing such an important subject for debate. I have no doubt that, like his predecessor he will have a distinguished career. I hope that he will carry forward the environmental sensitivity that he showed today when it comes to other issues that cause him concern.

I pay tribute, too, to Friends of the Earth, which is active on all environmental issues, including recycling, and has kept up the pressure on the Government on many issues—be they drinking water, transport or nuclear power. I see from its recently published review that the pressure that it put on the Government over recycling led to movement by the Government, particularly over recycling credits, which were not included in the first two drafts of the Environmental Protection Bill. Only after Friends of the Earth had put pressure on the Government were recycling credits included in the Bill. [Interruption.] It may be bureaucratic, and that may cause problems, but at least Friends of the Earth is there, and at local level it has put great pressure on councils to introduce recycling schemes and other recycling initiatives. The role played by Friends of the Earth must therefore be taken seriously, and I congratulate the organisation.

I thought that the Minister's contribution was poor, in the sense that he did not seem to take seriously the need for recycling. Judging by the Minister's speech, the Government have just about caught up with Steptoe and Son on the matter of recycling—not a particularly good endorsement. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West spoke of being older than the Minister, but the Minister's performance reminded me more of Steptoe senior's attitude to recycling.

Even Friends of the Earth states that the United Kingdom Government are lagging behind other Governments on the packaging issue. I heard the Minister say that we had to take account of the economic and environmental effects of recycling, and spluttered when I heard him use the word "we". Only this week, I received an answer to my parliamentary question about plants and incinerators seeming to proliferate on the banks of the Thames at the risk of the health of the local community. The Minister said that the matter was nothing to do with his Department but was a planning issue on which he did not propose to intervene or even to set guidelines. He does not seem to take his responsibility seriously.

Before the general election, on 2 March, I introduced an important Bill dealing with newspaper recycling, which I intend to reintroduce at some stage. My Bill would require newspapers to contain a high level of recycled material: I proposed a minimum of 60 per cent. recycled content in four years. If hon. Members think that that is a high target, I disagree and suggest that they read an article by John Clewley, a senior consultant in an engineering company, published in the magazine Paper Europe:

The article states: The necessary recycling technology has, however, been advanced to such a point that it is now possible to produce high-quality newsprint efficiently from 100 per cent. recycled fibre. My proposed 60 per cent. minimum level does not seem too high in the light of that article, which continues: Not only has the necessary equipment been developed by machinery suppliers but system designers now understand what is needed to produce a good clean de-inked/recycled fibre that will not only run trouble-free on the paper machine but will also produce a quality sheet of newsprint fully suited to its end use. The end product also has advantages as it is as strong as virgin paper, has a smooth finish, does not need heavy calendering and produces a sheet with low hulk and good deadfold characteristics. It has the spin-off benefit of producing more metres per roll, which results in lower yield losses. So there are also technical advantages to using recycled-content newspapers.

The Government have a voluntary agreement with the Newspaper Publishers Association which sets a figure of 40 per cent. recycled content by the year 2000. That 40 per cent. minimum is far too low, the year 2000 is far too late and there is no law to enforce the agreement. According to the last Government figures, for 1990, the average content was a mere 26.8 per cent.—a low figure, which does not compare well with the record of other countries in Europe and the United States. Many states in America have a higher legal minimum than we do in this country.

An article that appeared in the September 1991 edition of Resource Recycling, an American publication, states that efforts are being made in America to reduce landfill problems resulting from newspaper waste. Instead, the recycled matter is being collected. I shall not read it all, but it shows that 22 states have programmes on the stocks, that nine states have mandatory levels of newsprint recycling and that Arizona, California and Connecticut have a target of 50 per cent. by the year 2000. Many states also have stiff penalties of thousands of dollars for those who do not meet the minimum standards. Even the United States, a country not noted for regulation, sees the need for it in this case. The United States is also a very big country which one would have thought had lots of land, but it recognises the problems of landfill, whereas we have only a voluntary agreement which does not go far enough.

Another point in the article in Resource Recycling which is worth mentioning involves telephone directories: The Yellow Pages Publishers Association, which represents more than 90 per cent. of all directory publishers, recently recommended technical guidelines specifying content goals for all telephone directories. The initial goal is 10 per cent. by 1993, and ultimately 40 per cent. by 1998". A great deal of virgin wood is wasted in telephone directories although some recycled content could also be used. I asked the Government about recycled content in telephone directories, but they had not even considered the issue. America and some parts of Europe have a better recycling system than this country.

There are three reasons why recycling is important. The first is ecological: it is far better to recycle than to use virgin wood. We know that intensive forest farming damages the environment and destroys natural habitats all over the world, yet the wood from such farming is often used in the paper industry. It is better to recycle the old paper pulp and wood, and I am sure that that notion finds sympathy with many both inside and outside the House.

Secondly, newspapers and magazines comprise about 10 per cent. of Britain's bulk rubbish. A very high proportion could be reused, but only 15 per cent. is recycled, while the rest is put in landfill sites which are not only environmentally ugly but environmentally damaging, because the material rots and forms methane gas which contributes to the greenhouse effect. That is another reason why we should push for more newspapers and magazines to be recycled. Thirdly, the public want recycling. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West said, pensioners would be only too keen to put out packets of newspapers and magazines to be collected if they knew that they would be reused in the interests of the environment, but in most areas people do not have the opportunity to recycle. There are some schemes in London, but not nearly enough. The main reason for the lack of facilities is that there is no market for recycling. By requiring a statutory recycled fibre content, my Bill would have provided a stable market and encouraged new local collection schemes. In addition, it would have created new jobs in the recycling industry.

Those are three reasons why the Government should consider the Bill that I presented in March, which I shall reintroduce and which set out a mandatory scheme for 60 per cent. recycled content in newspapers.

Other measures are needed. There must be Government help in the transitional period for the mills that still deal with virgin pulp. Help is needed to build new mills that can deal with recycled paper, and should be given in the form of capital tax allowances or direct grants, especially for immediate investment in de-inking and repulping plant. I shall reintroduce my Bill.

I conclude with the comments of Friends of the Earth, to which I paid tribute earlier. Peni Walker, one of the organisation's campaigners, said: The Government's deal with the newspaper publishers sells the environment short. Their voluntary target is pathetically low, and proves that the Government cannot rely on sweet-talking industry into making real environmental commitments. The voluntary approach clearly does not work. If the Government is serious about recycling 25 per cent. of household waste, it must force industry to meet tough recycling targets, of the kind set out in this Bill. I hope that the Government will take that on board.

Mr. Robathan

I know that my hon. Friends want to make important comments on the subject of education. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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