HC Deb 31 March 1998 vol 309 cc1022-3
5. Helen Jackson

What assessment he has made of the impact of landfill proposals announced in the Budget on his environmental objectives. [35444]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

The recent review of the landfill tax indicated that it is already having some impact on behaviour but that the rate needs to be higher to ensure a significant increase in waste recycling, recovery, and minimisation. I therefore welcome the Chancellor's decision to increase the standard rate of the tax.

Helen Jackson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the whole point of a tax on landfill should be not so much fiscal as environmental? There is some concern that the tax is falling heavily on local authorities, as the major waste disposal agents. What is he doing to ensure that the revenues generated from the tax are planned in a co-ordinated way, so as to bring genuine benefit to environmental projects that create jobs in the regions? When is he likely to undertake an overall review of landfill practice to ensure that it is meeting our environmental objectives?

Mr. Meacher

I agree that the purpose of the tax is primarily environmental rather than revenue raising. The environmental bodies scheme achieves that purpose to a degree, and about £68 million has been passed to enrolled environmental schemes under ENTRUST for use in environmentally sensitive projects, especially recycling. Customs and Excise is undertaking a review of the scheme and the Government want more of the money to go towards helping local authorities to increase recycling facilities.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall meeting representatives of British Salt, from Middlewich in my constituency, and of ICI, who came to lobby him about their case concerning the payment of landfill tax? Does he agree that the pumping of brine, the extraction of salt and the returning of the material to underground cavities has no adverse environmental impact whatever? Will he ensure that in future those who carry out such activities will not have to pay the tax?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Lady came with a delegation to see me about the matter. It is a difficult issue because we must be exactly sure of the definition of environmental impact, which is disputed between the Environment Agency and the businesses concerned. I am anxious that there should be a fair conclusion to that long-standing dispute and I undertake to write to the hon. Lady.

Mr. David Taylor

I welcome the Minister's answer on landfill tax. The twin and equally ugly sister of landfill is opencast. Does he agree that that should be brought within the scope of environmental taxes so that the real costs incurred by nearby communities are brought into the public domain?

Mr. Meacher

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that major environmental impacts are caused by opencast, which is being examined under the energy review.