HL Deb 14 May 1974 vol 351 cc869-82

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee should adjourn at about 7.30 p.m. during pleasure in order to take dinner, and then, if the House so wills, that we should proceed until about 10.30 p.m., when I think that we shall have made substantial progress on the Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Preparation and revision of waste disposal plans]:

BARONESS WHITE moved Amendment No. 2: Page 3, line 29, after ("be") insert (", or are representative of persons who are or are likely to be,")

The noble Baroness said: In the unavoidable absence of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I have been asked to move the Amendment standing in his name, and with which I think one might consider the following Amendment. As I think it is in our general interests that one should be as brief as possible in dealing with all Amendments to this Bill, I do not propose to enter into any discussion of these two Amendments. I think the purpose is self-evident, and I beg to move Amendment No. 2.


If I may be as brief as my noble friend Lady White, I should be very pleased if the Committee will permit me. Amendment No. 2 is acceptable to Her Majesty's Government, but we do not feel disposed to accept Amendment No. 2A. If the Committee wants the matter dealt with I shall be pleased to do so, but in view of the manner in which my noble friend has spoken it may be that what I have said will suffice.


I am grateful for the acceptance of Amendment No. 2. I cannot understand why there should be objection to Amendment No. 2A because it would appear to me that if somebody was engaged in business which included disposal of controlled waste, that should entitle them to be consulted. I cannot understand why my noble friend is unable to accept this.


We are not entirely clear what the purpose of the Amendment is. We understand the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. In the case of the Amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Craigton, Lord Molson, and Lord Henley, if the object is to include among the committees firms who are engaged in a number of activities including waste disposal, it is considered that the words in the clause already cover this category. If, however, the objective is to include all the firms who produce large quantities of waste, it is felt that this would be a very considerable undertaking indeed since it would mean consulting such a wide range of firms.


Now I am considerably clearer. I would hope that the noble Lords whose names are associated with this Amendment will be willing to accept my noble friend's reasoning on this matter. If they do not, of course it will be open to them to put down the Amendment again at a later stage. I have moved Amendment No. 2, but I shall not formally move Amendment No. 2A.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

3.4 p.m.

BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 3: Page 4, line 8, leave out ("such") and insert ("representatives of appropriate industries and such other").

The noble Baroness said: I should like to indicate that we on this side of the House very much support this Bill and do not intend to do anything which will delay it getting through all its stages by Whitsun. As a consequence, we have deliberately refrained from putting down many Amendments, except on those issues that we believe to be of outstanding importance and on which we should like further elucidation. This particular Amendment is, in effect, a probing Amendment on the whole subject of recycling. I am aware that this matter was debated at considerable length at the last Committee stage and I do not wish to take up an unnecessary amount of time going over arguments that have already been made. I should like specific clarification on these particular alterations in the Bill. I am delighted to see that the proposals for recycling have been strengthened, but it seems to me important that in these proposals there should be provision for the closest possible co-operation between the collection and disposal authorities who, of course, will be dealing with the waste, and the industries which can make use of it.

One major difficulty which local authorities now find is that having collected waste and sorted it they cannot be sure of a continuing market for it. They have, in the meantime, invested in new equipment and in training men specially for the work, only to find, perhaps a year or so later, that there is a sudden change in demand. Although this seems perhaps an unlikely circumstance in view of the difficulty with natural resources that we have experienced over the last months, local authorities need an assurance that they can get good advice on this matter before making an investment and risking a financial loss because the circumstances in which there happens to be a shortage of some particular item alters.

There are two other problems which have been put to me. If a local authority decides to use its waste for the purposes of incineration, as is done, for example, at Edmonton and, I believe, in Birmingham and Nottingham most effectively, the waste will obviously be less useful for this purpose if all the combustible materials are removed from it. Therefore, they have to take a decision on the way in which they use their waste because, on the other hand, there is obviously room for considerably greater use of the separate collection of waste paper. I believe that waste paper forms 44 per cent. of the constituents of new paper, that 2 million tons are collected and used annually, and that local authorities contribute about 350,000 tons of this, the balance coming from industry. If this is correct, it is clear that there is considerable scope for an increased use of waste paper from local authorities.

I was very glad when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, moving the Second Reading of this Bill, indicated that the Government intend to establish a Waste Advisory Council. If, as I understand, the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, is to reply to this Amendment, I hope that he will now be able to tell the Committee when this Council will be set up. This is a matter of considerable urgency. Every day we hear of shortages, and every thinking person believes that, if possible, we should make use of the waste which accumulates daily in the country. We should like to know when the Council will be set up, and, secondly, what its membership will be. It is important that it should include representatives from Government Departments—obviously the Department of the Environment, no doubt the Department of Trade (which I imagine will have a great deal of information from industry as to how it can use waste), and the Department of Energy—local authorities, and private industry.

It would be helpful if he could tell the Committee how local authorities can be expected to get information about the Council's work, and whether it will publish, for instance, reports on its activities which may be circulated to those people who wish to receive advice. It would also be helpful to know whether or not it will include among its membership representatives of voluntary bodies, or whether indeed there will be possibilities for them to be able to make use of its advice. I believe that there is a number of charitable organisations which make quite an amount of money by collecting and selling waste paper. Therefore, I believe that this will be a very important body and I should like to know in very much greater detail than we have yet heard what is the Government's thinking on it. I beg to move.


I had intended to rise when the Question, whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill, was put. But for the sake of convenience, and to enable my noble friend to make only one reply, it may be permissible if I speak now without necessarily associating myself with the Amendment moved by the noble Baroness on the Front Bench opposite. I do not want to become a nagger, but on many occasions I have urged upon your Lordships the desirability of salving and recycling as much waste paper as possible. When the Bill was introduced a few months ago by the preceding Government, I used exactly the same arguments that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has used to-day; unfortunately I did not get a very positive response. When my noble friend Lord Shepherd introduced the new and amended Bill this Session, he went a little further in the matter of waste paper than did the preceding Government with the earlier Bill, but from my point of view he did not go far enough.

When the last Bill was under consideration, I suggested that a new clause should be introduced. I do not intend to introduce one, because I recognise the speed at which we have to work, but I suggested that a clause be introduced to the effect that every local authority should be instructed to salve and sell waste paper, unless it were granted a specific exemption by the appropriate Ministry. We need to go further in driving the local authorities to undertake this very important duty. We have the Press and magazines of this country in dire distress at the moment because of the price of newsprint and other papers, and yet an enormous amount of newsprint could be salved and recycled if only the will were there. As the noble Baroness said, about 40 per cent. of existing newsprint on the market is recycled. Newsprint comprises 60 per cent. of the volume of all refuse that is placed in domestic bins, and the two-thirds of the local authorities of this country who do not at present collect wastepaper should be driven in some way to do so.

I know that they have made excuses in the past. They have said from time to time, "Well, the mills have told us that they are already overstocked and they do not want to take any more paper." They have also said, "We have carried out our accountancy and we find this does not pay." But the mills—and I have no interest here to declare, except that of a citizen who is disturbed about the paper situation—have recently offered to the local authorities a definitive contract stating that they will take so much each month during the year. They have also offered to them prices which are an advance upon those which have existed hitherto. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will give us some little hope in this matter, because newspapers and other paper users—the packing industry, for example—are now suffering considerably and the result is that increased prices are having to be passed on in the shops to the housewife and to the person who buys newspapers. As your Lordships know, I could expand upon this subject at great length but I do not want to do so. I sincerely hope that my noble friend will give us a little hope.


May I ask my noble friend a question before he replies? Has he any information about how many local authorities have actually installed shredding machines for waste paper?

3.15 p.m.


First of all, may I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her initial remarks. Clause 2(4) requires disposal authorities to consider reclamation or recycling possibilities in preparing their waste disposal plans, and to consult such other persons about this as seem to them appropriate. As we see it, the effect of this Amendment would be to require them specifically to consult representatives of appropriate industries as well as such other persons as seem to them appropriate. I wondered whether the noble Baroness had some particular industries in mind. In thinking about the Amendment, it seemed to us that if she was thinking about particular industries—that is to say, the various reclamation industries and others engaged in the recycling and reprocessing of waste and scrap of various kinds—then such industries ought certainly to be consulted about any schemes or proposals for reclamation for which a disposal authority were planning. But the clause already provides for this, and it is not clear why such industries should be singled out for special consultation in this way.

For example, it will be equally important for a disposal authority to consult the collection authorities who may need to be involved in schemes of separate collection, or the separation of waste for recovery purposes. They will also need to consult voluntary bodies and others who may be interested in and concerned with reclamation. Certainly, industry has a crucial part to play here, but the Amendment does not seem necessary to enable it to play its part. I understand from the noble Baroness that the Amendment was tabled more for probing purposes than for anything else. But the noble Baroness invited me to deal rather more fully with what the Government have in mind, and, if I may, I should like to include in what I shall say something by way of reply to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Leatherland.

Noble Lords are well aware of the opportunity that lies in recycling and reclamation. But there will also be a widespread awareness of some of the very real problems that are also involved. We cannot hope for overnight changes in this field. There will need to be a great deal of patient exploration and examination for technical and economic possibilities and gradual development of new methods and processes. We ought at the outset to remind ourselves of what a great deal of activity there already is in this field. There are a large number of firms engaged in the recovery and processing of a very wide range of materials for profitable re-use. Many metals are extensively recovered. As my noble friend Lord Leatherland indicated, there is already a substantial waste paper industry, and waste glass and rubber are turned to good use. I spent last Friday at Harlow, discussing with those responsible there what they are doing and intend to do in the field of the reclamation of waste paper and glass.

The point I should like to make here, particularly having regard to what my noble friend said, is that at this stage I do not think this is a matter of directing local authorities to do things. If we are to succeed, we have to enlist the maximum good will and we have to recognise that the problems vary from local authority area to local authority area. We are seeking to encourage recovery and reclamation, and are not therefore immediately seeking to conjure an industry out of the air. It is a question of building wisely on what is already happening, and encouraging new recovery processes where these can be made viable.

The noble Baroness asked me a number of questions arising from what my noble friend Lord Shepherd said on Second Reading. He referred to the possibility of an advisory council to promote and expand studies of a kind to which the noble Baroness referred. This is an idea which the Government have very much in mind, but I cannot say more about it now. We hope that it will be possible to make a fuller announcement shortly. But I can give her the assurance that all the points she has made will be considered closely, and if there is anything about which we can usefully write to her I gladly undertake that we will do so. Off the cuff, I cannot give the details for which my noble friend Lord Royle asked.


I am glad to have the assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, about the exact meaning of the words in the new subsection, and to know that the disposal and collection authorities will be under an obligation to consult industry and to have this information on the record. I quite accept that defining individual industries would not make the matter any clearer. I simply wished to get the principles of consultation quite clear. I agree with the noble Lord that it would be a mistake to direct local authorities to do this, because I appreciate that what is feasible for a large town or a metropolitan area may not be feasible for a country area. Therefore the circumstances vary, and I quite accept that fact.

I hope very much that the Government will be in a position to say something about the Waste Advisory Committee before the Bill has completed its course through both Houses. I feel sure that the subject will be taken up in another place. It is a matter of considerable public interest and the sooner we can have detailed information about it the better. I am, of course, grateful to the noble Lord for his offer to give me information about it, and if I have any further thoughts on the matter I will get in touch with him about it. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


Before the noble Baroness sits down, I can say I am hopeful that an announcement will be made in another place when the details have been settled, and I hope that that will not be too long.


At this moment I believe the procedural position is that the Amendment has not yet been withdrawn.


It has.


That is so? All I want to say, therefore, is that I think my noble friend has gone a little way to indicate that the Government have some sympathy with the idea of salving and re-cycling waste paper, but I do not think he has gone nearly as far as he should. He talked about the need for new methods and processes. There are no very elaborate and new technological methods needed to collect and bale waste paper. He said there is nothing very immediate about it, but there is a terrible shortage of newsprint to-day, not only on the British market but in the whole world, and prices are going up "hand over foot" month by month. He talked about the need for new recovery processes. In so far as metals are concerned, that may be so, but I am not concerned at this moment with metals.

No new recovery processes are necessary for waste paper. In one of the biggest paper manufacturing firms in the country, we have a plant now operating at full speed, which not only pulps the waste paper but de-inks it and makes it available for re-use in almost its new form. Although a fair amount of waste paper is being collected, the mills still want another 200,000 tons a year of a brand of paper which is not collected by commercial waste paper firms—which are doing a good job—and is the kind of paper that can be collected only from the dustbins of ordinary households. I sincerely plead with my noble friend to take this question of paper far more seriously than it is being taken at the moment. It is not only a question of what we may call local authority accounting; it is a question of the national balance of trade. We are importing, at the moment, £300 million-worth of paper and pulp each year and it behoves us to do all we can to reduce that adverse balance of trade. This is one way in which we can do it.


I think my noble friend was hardly fair, because in the general remarks I made, I was dealing with the whole field of recycling and reclamation. But I welcome the opportunity of saying that Her Majesty's Government are fully alive to the need to recover, reclaim and recycle all the waste paper that can possibly be recovered. I want to leave no doubt in anybody's mind that Her Majesty's Government are determined to achieve as much as can possibly be achieved. We are aware that processes exist. I would re-emphasise that if we are to succeed in this area we have to secure maximum co-operation from local authorities, and it is no use closing our eyes to the problems that confront some of those.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


Under subsection (7) of this clause, the Secretary of State has powers of direction in regard to the time by which an authority is to perform any specified duty. Apart from those powers, I welcome the granting to the Secretary of State of enabling powers to set up such bodies or organisations as a United Kingdom waste exchange market. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, reiterated what my noble Leader said on Second Reading, that Her Majesty's Government were favourably considering the setting up of a national advisory body on waste management, and that a Statement to that effect would be made in another place before the Bill reached the Statute Book. That is most encouraging. What I am promoting to-day—and it is something which I mentioned on Second Reading—is the idea of a Government-sponsored waste exchange market to embrace all types of manufacturing industry, with a view to assisting companies to find outlets for waste which has a recovery or re-use potential.

As I mentioned on Second Reading, representatives from ten of this country's major chemical companies formed an ad hoc committee last February to explore means of promoting a scheme to publicise certain waste products at present discarded, so that they may be re-used. The idea is that the waste exchange market would be organised and run by a central body—non-commercially orientated—whose only function would be to collate and publicise contributors' items in a quarterly bulletin, and subsequently to forward the replies received.

Such data storage could be of use to Her Majesty's Government in their assessment of waste arising on a national scale, while on a regional or area scale the availability of the waste exchange market could certainly be a useful tool of the waste disposal authority in formulating its plans. It would also, to some extent, reduce the cost of implementing the plans of these disposal authorities, apart from reducing the cost factor. The existence and success of such a market should assist in removing certain polluting materials from the environment and, in a small way, assist in reducing resource depletion, which is even more necessary now as a result of the energy crisis from which we are suffering.

Before concluding, I should like to express the belief, as did the Committee to which I referred earlier, that the Harwell Hazardous Waste Service would be the ideal vehicle to operate such a service. If your Lordships will bear with me a little longer, I should like to quote a short passage from their Bulletin of October last year. Page 2 says, The industrialist or local authority faced with increasing waste loads and increasingly detailed legislation regarding their disposal has not had adequate information as to the sources available to him in the past … Harwell's monthly Bulletin seeks to fill some of the gaps by its coverage of reports on industrial waste disposal problems, on literature and new processes and equipment, including any other relevant literature. As I see it, there still remains a gap regarding a central registry of available waste materials for recovery, recycling and re-use. It is relevant to add that the Warren Spring Laboratory expressed the belief—and I agree—that a positive activity was required which would be outside the remit of the registry which I seek. If one were to attempt to match waste arisings and potential users, some processing of information might be necessary, too.

In conclusion, I should like to ask the Minister whether he can give any encouragement to-day, and if not whether he would use his best endeavours for some positive action to be taken within the D.O.E. to achieve the end I am seeking, whether it be through Harwell or the D.G.W.E. within the D.O.E.


I must apologise to my noble friend for not giving him notice of the point which I want to raise and if he does not feel able to answer it now I shall quite understand. There is a very important aspect of waste disposal or reclamation—whichever way one likes to look at it—which has not been mentioned and which I think should be touched upon. That aspect is the use of the organic part of waste to make compost to maintain soil fertility. This may or may not be a profitable method of dealing with waste from the point of view of the local authority and the latter's bias undoubtedly will always be to take the courses which will be least expensive to the ratepayers. Nevertheless, this deserves consideration by the Government because there is an important national interest at stake. There is no doubt that a healthy soil requires a supply of humus. It cannot be maintained in the utmost fertility merely by means of artificial fertilisers. It was not so very long ago that a survey made by the Ministry of Agriculture showed that some soils in this country were already becoming depleted of humus.

More than that, it ought also to be remembered that certain elements of soil fertility will tend to become totally exhausted if there is no recycling to bring them back again. I refer particularly to phosphorus, which is already becoming in very short supply and which is, in effect, a monopoly of one or two countries already. The price is beginning to rise extremely rapidly. Phosphorus is something which cannot be created: it must either be extracted from the few phosphorus deposits which exist or it has to be recycled. Recycling may save us a great deal of future trouble, though at the moment it may not appear to be the simplest or the most economical method of disposing of household refuse.

I also want to point out that there is no provision in the Bill, so far as I can see, which will facilitate a proper method of composting, which ought to involve not merely vegetable and other organic refuse which has to be disposed of, but which should also involve the use of sewage sludge. These two substances are in totally different compartments of the Bill and there is no connection at all between them; but it deserves serious consideration to try to establish a method by which co-operation in sewage disposal and waste disposal could be achieved in order to compost at any rate a reasonable proportion of the compostable material which at present is being destroyed.

3.38 p.m.


May I say with regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, about the waste exchange market in the United Kingdom, that the concept is indeed a very reasonable one and that clearly there is considerable interest in it. However, the heart of the matter is the question of whether British industry is capable of establishing it itself and if so whether there is some means by which Central Government can participate in ensuring that every opportunity is taken to publicise details of the scheme, particularly to local authorities. It is important, during a period of restraint in public expenditure, for the Government to be sure that it does not impose burdens upon the taxpayer at large which could profitably be carried by those with a specific interest.

The Department of Industry and the Department of the Environment have been involved in discussions with representatives of I.C.I., the Confederation of British Industry and the Chemical Industries Association about the scheme. A little over a month ago, the proposers of the scheme were asked to submit a detailed appraisal of the scheme in the context of the part that Central Government might play in establishing such a market. We shall examine the arguments closely and will consider whether it is the case that some new organisation is necessary to achieve the scheme's objectives.

I should mention that representations have also been received to the effect, for example, that the existing National Industrial Materials Recovery Association is capable of embracing the work involved; but, again, it has been suggested in that context that in some way or other Government finance should be made available to make the scheme viable. I also understand that the proposers of the scheme believe that the Hazardous Waste Service at Harwell would be an appropriate body to operate the waste exchange market. We shall, as I have said, examine the proposal carefully, and we shall certainly read and study closely what the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, has said this afternoon.

With regard to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch, I should like to draw his attention to the publication issued by the Department of the Environment entitled Refuse Disposal. It was published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office in 1971; and if the noble Lord will look at paragraphs 677 and 678—and I will not weary your Lordships by reading them this afternoon—I think he will appreciate that some consideration has been given to the points he has raised. Nevertheless, we will study closely what he has had to say, and if with advantage I can write to him I gladly undertake to do so.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.


I beg to move that this House do now resume in order to take a Statement. Before we resume the House may I ask the Committee to take into account the fact that we have a large number of Amendments to consider this afternoon. I think it is the wish to the Committee as a whole that we should see this Bill through rapidly, and I hope that we do not have to sit unduly late. The Government have undertaken to consider all matters that noble Lords may have in mind, and I wonder whether matters of a general nature concerning a particular aspect could not perhaps be better dealt with either on Third Reading or by myself or my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy. We are only too willing to see any noble Lord in our offices to deal with such matters. But I wonder whether, in order to expedite our consideration, we could deal with the Bill as a whole. I am entirely in your Lordships' hands, but I feel that that would be the wish of your Lordships' Committee. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.