HC Deb 06 March 2003 vol 400 cc944-6
3. Bob Russell (Colchester)

If she will make it her policy to prevent local authorities from transferring waste for incineration to other local authority areas that have waste plans opposed to incineration. [101112]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

To be brief, no. I should add that decisions on the transfer of waste and its incineration are for local authorities to take within the framework provided by national policy as set out in "Waste Strategy 2000" and the guidance on municipal waste management strategies.

Bob Russell

Presumably, the Government feel that incineration is a safe method of getting rid of waste. Does the Minister agree that local councils that wish to have their waste incinerated should have incinerators in their own backyard, not carry the waste 40, 50 or 60 miles to local authorities with proper recycling facilities and collections? Colchester is a visionary council that is threatened with two incinerators. Surely the best way to ensure that no councils incinerate is to say that a council that wishes to do so must have the incinerator locally, not carry the waste 40, 50 or 60 miles.

Mr. Meacher

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been involved in the issue locally and has taken his concerns a considerable way, including to court. The original draft of the Essex waste plan included proposals for incinerators around the county, but after extensive public protests, consultants were appointed to carry out a public consultation, which is being assessed. The whole place of incineration within the plan is now being reconsidered, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased about that. I entirely support the proximity principle to which he referred, but ultimately it is a matter for local authorities to decide.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Will my right hon. Friend be even firmer than he has been today in standing up to the Liberal Democrats, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who take a remarkably negative approach towards incineration? As he will know, I am a long-term campaigner for good environmental solutions for waste, and the fact is that incineration does play a part, especially in relation to energy from waste solutions, in tackling the waste in our towns and cities.

Mr. Meacher

The Government strongly support a waste management hierarchy whereby the prime goal is to reduce the generation of waste in the first place. Then, where waste is generated, to recycle, re-use, recover or compost it and then—and only if none of those options is possible—to consider incineration and, conceivably, landfill. We have to meet very tough landfill directive targets by 2016.

Our goal is the maximisation of recycling. Whether all the waste generated can be recycled is a moot point, but incineration will be chosen only where it is the best practicable environmental option—by that, I mean where it provides most benefits or least damage to the environment at acceptable cost, both in the long term and the short term, and that, very importantly, it will be considered only where it can be demonstrated that it will not crowd out future recycling options.

Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden)

The Minister will know of Wealden district council's success in reducing the need for incineration through its outstanding recycling programme. It is one of the most successful in the country and recycles almost half the household waste that it collects. Does he realise that the animal waste by-products order, to which the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) referred, has put the scheme in jeopardy because it would prevent the inclusion of any meat products in the waste for recycling? That is clearly an unrealistic target. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that that unrealistic policy will not undermine the scheme and mean that we have to go further down the incineration route?

Mr. Meacher

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already answered that question. I am aware that the animal waste by-products order, as it was originally drafted, could be construed as a constraint on composting. It originated in the Government's determination to block all channels that might conceivably resuscitate foot and mouth disease. However, the original drafting went further than intended and could constrain recycling. We therefore hope to table an amendment, which will ensure that there is no chance of causing another outbreak of foot and mouth and protect the genuine and desirable objective of maximising recycling.

Norman Baker (Lewes)

On the proximity principle, does the Minister accept that transporting waste long distances for incineration means that those who generate it have less incentive to minimise it? Perhaps he knows that Brighton and Hove council is adamant both that it will not have an incinerator in its backyard and that my constituency will deal with its waste. Is not that another reason to discourage incineration? Is not it time for an incineration tax to support robustly the waste management hierarchy that the Minister proposes? The money raised could be used for doorstep recycling for every house in the country.

Mr. Meacher

I have already said that the Government do not support any significant expansion of incineration. However, we do not rule out the possibility that it may be necessary in some cases. That cannot be refuted. Only 14 municipal solid waste incinerators exist in this country, and we incinerate 8 per cent. of our waste. Let us consider the green countries, if I may use that description. Denmark incinerates 50 per cent., the Netherlands 41 per cent., and Sweden 35 per cent. We intend to maintain our low level.

I strongly support the proximity principle, and the criteria for gathering waste to feed an incinerator would be considered in any application. The proximity principle is a key point in that.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

The Minister has broad support for his emphasis on recycling. However, does he accept that well-designed, carefully monitored incineration plants that provide heat from waste have a place in our waste disposal strategy? Will he advocate that strongly against vested interests?

Mr. Meacher

The Government have already made it clear that there are two criteria for applications for an incinerator. First, its size must be appropriate: it should be smaller rather than larger. Secondly, it should provide combined heat and power facilities when appropriate. The criteria for judging applications already take account of my hon. Friend's point.

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