HC Deb 28 April 1993 vol 223 cc947-9
6. Mr. Roy Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent representations he has received concerning the importation of toxic waste into the United Kingdom.

Mr. Howard

I have had representations from hon. Members, the waste industry, environmental and other organisations and members of the public.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that people in south Wales are asking, "Why should we have this toxic waste dumped on our doorstep?"? Surely, a sophisticated country such as Germany should be able to deal with its own waste. The Minister will be aware that south Wales has suffered enough from pollution, with coal tips galore, the horrors of Aberfan and so on. May I make a plea to the Secretary of State? Will he do whatever he can to prevent the insidious American concern Browning Ferris from establishing a waste disposal plant in Newport?

Mr. Howard

The House will find the hon. Gentleman's comments about coal tips rather odd in the light of the views that have recently been expressed, particularly by Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman was perhaps referring to a shipment of toxic waste from Germany that was recently the subject of comment in the media. He will know that I have made representations to the German Environment Minister asking him to place a ban on the exportation of that shipment to Britain. The shipment has not left Germany and I hope that my representations will have the desired effect, which I hope will be welcomed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I strongly endorse my right hon. and learned Friend's commitment to self-sufficiency for developed countries. Does that not also mean that those developed countries should take a responsible attitude to international trade? For example, how much longer can we tolerate the fact that German legislation is undermining the recycling industry in the United Kingdom by ensuring that dumped material undercuts anything that can be generated in the United Kingdom market?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the consequences of that element of German legislation. I have made representations on that matter as well to the German Environment Minister, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has made representations to the European Commission. The matter needs to be dealt with and my right hon. Friend and I are considering urgently what action we can take.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Secretary of State come clean about the Government's attitude to the international trade in toxic waste? He has made it clear, and I support him, that he feels it appropriate to make representations on occasions to other Governments to prevent the import of toxic waste into Britain. Is he aware that our reputation is severely harmed when he and the Government take no action to prevent the export of toxic waste, particularly to developing countries such as Mexico? It does Britain no good continually to be seen as the dirty exporter of Europe.

Mr. Howard

The most significant step forward in the European Community in recent years is the waste shipment regulation, which was agreed under the United Kingdom presidency in the second half of last year. It resulted from a United Kingdom initiative started by my predecessor, now the Governor of Hong Kong. We have consistently taken the lead in encouraging our partners in Europe to pursue effective policies on the export of toxic waste.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will my right hon. and learned Friend think carefully before rejecting any work that may come to Britain through recycling of toxic waste? Does he agree that there is surely a dichotomy in the Opposition's attitude? We hear lectures all the time from Opposition Members about recycling things. When we perhaps recycle nuclear fuel, the Opposition criticise us for doing so and making billions of pounds and creating hundreds of jobs in the process.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the internal inconsistencies in the attitudes of Labour Members. This is not the only issue on which we see that. My hon. Friend will know that I am awaiting the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution in relation to the THORP—the thermal oxide reprocessing plant—application, and therefore I am sure that he would not expect me to say anything about that matter at this stage.

Mr. Chris Smith

The Secretary of State will be aware that from May of next year it will be possible and legal for the United Kingdom to ban the import of toxic waste from developed countries. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give the House a firm and unequivocal commitment that he will take action to do so? The Minister for the Environment and Countryside has appeared to indicate that he will take such action and, at different times, that he will not, while the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the other place, Lord Strathclyde, has talked simply of reducing toxic waste imports rather than banning them. Will the Secretary of State ban toxic waste imports into this country from developed countries from May of next year?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting the situation. We have every intention of implementing the regulation agreed last year on the due date, May 1994. Indeed, we pressed the Community to fix an earlier date for the implementation of the legislation, but we were unable to persuade our partners in Europe to achieve an earlier date.

The hon. Gentleman will also know that the regulation does not provide for a complete ban, but provides for those countries that cannot economically make provision for their own recycling to be able to export small quantities of waste. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are obliged by that aspect of the legislation as well as by the rest of it.