HL Deb 13 November 1974 vol 354 cc808-61

4.20 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, returning to the war on waste, I should first like to offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, on an excellent maiden speech. I was not quite clear why the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, took such exception to what was done. The noble Lord, Lord Darling, told us in his first sentence that it was a maiden speech so none of us need have been under any misapprehension and, if I may say so, it was just the sort of maiden speech that your Lordships like. It was quite non-controversial and extremely well-informed and well-expressed. I am quite sure that we shall often hear the noble Lord on future occasions, and probably when he gets on to controversial subjects we shall enjoy his speeches even more.

This is a suitable occasion to discuss the question of the war on waste, and our thanks are due to the noble Lord for having tabled this Motion; and, indeed, to the two Secretaries of State for having prepared this discussion paper. Of course it is not a complete policy document: it is in a green cover, which we all know means that it is for discussion. At this stage, when we face serious economic problems in this country, I think we would all agree that the elimination of waste could make an important contribution to the improvement in our economic position.

But, my Lords, should we not perhaps be a little ashamed that during the many years of seeming prosperity—I say "seeming prosperity", because I think that sometimes the prosperity was not quite as great as it appeared; and of course we know that prosperity has not been fairly divided in this country—we felt, somehow, that we could afford waste. How dare we at any time say that we can afford waste when there are millions of people living in want in the world? So I believe that the Government's campaign against waste has a moral as well as an economic and environmental basis, and I hope and believe that it will have wide support in Parliament and in the country.

The mechanics which are outlined in the Green Paper are naturally not entirely clear. I instinctively shudder when yet another body is set up—another advisory council—but having shuddered on this occasion I settled down to agreeing that for this purpose it is right to have a body outside any Government Department, examining in depth the many different ways in which the war on waste can be carried on. At one time during the noble Lord's opening speech, I thought he was suggesting that this advisory council had an executive function. But he cleared up that point a little later on, and the executive function rests with the Secretaries of State.

I am not too worried about the terms of reference to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred. In my experience, if bodies are properly set up with the right people on them they do not take a great deal of notice of their terms of reference; they go and do, or advise, what they think necessary: I hope that the body that it appointed for this purpose will do just that. I agree also with the Green Paper and with the noble Lord, Lord Darling, that local authorities will have an important role to play. But we must remember that each new role costs the ratepayers more money; and, in passing, I think one can emphasise again the need to speed up the investigation into the fundamental reform of local government finance.

There is one point in regard to the role of the local authorities which was mentioned by the noble Lord which I should like to inquire about, perhaps through the noble Baroness who is to reply to this debate. The noble Lord reminded us that the local authorities are required—I think by Statute—to undertake the reception of a certain amount of industrial waste. I wonder whether in this new set-up, at whatever stage it is necessary to introduce legislation, it could be left to industry to be basically responsible for its own wastes. I know that this is a difficult subject and that many industries have extremely difficult problems. But it seems to me that if there is waste in industry—and I shall return to this subject in a few minutes—it is much better for industry to try to deal with it. I agree, of course, with the Green Paper in the suggestion that direct Government aid is needed for research, and this is very welcome.

It is clearly explained in the Green Paper that the problems of reclamation are two-fold—the industrial and the domestic. Industry is already doing a lot and I suggest that active managements know the simple fact that waste is wasteful. But I believe that there is occasionally the feeling that if adequate profit is being made the search for more efficient processes is not worth the trouble and expense; because we must remember that research involves expense which sometimes brings no result. So I hope that the new advisory council will recommend all industries to examine carefully the processes which they are carrying on, to see whether at least some waste can be eliminated.

I had a very interesting experience of this when I shared the responsibility for trying to keep the tidal Thames cleaner. We had tremendous trouble with the paperworks, because the effluent from them was, to put it mildly, pretty damaging to the river.

After a great deal of patient discussion and a certain number of veiled threats, some of the paper companies got down to the problem and they discovered that they could not only extract a lot of the offensive material from their effluent, but could use it again to their advantage. I believe that if many industries were to tackle the problem in that light they might find other similar advantages coming to them. This is an example of the secondary effects which we may hope will result from recent anti-pollution legislation. In passing, I might say that that example occurred before the recent legislation was on the Statute Book.

There is a very special problem in regard to mining and quarrying wastes. They form a special category which have a profound impact on the environment. Inevitably, in the process of mining and quarrying some material that is useless for the purpose of a particular enterprise is won. But it costs human effort and money to build up those huge, unsightly slag heaps and if some use can be found for the material some money then comes back to the enterprise and those who have laboured to build up the slag heaps may not feel quite so despondent.

Those of your Lordships who know the West Country will be familiar with the great heaps outside the china clay workings. Perhaps they are not so unsightly as some slag heaps in the North and in the Midlands; at a distance they look rather attractive. But there they were, great heaps of unusable material, until somebody found that by compacting they could be made into suitable building material, and all over the South-West houses are now built with blocks made from this material. I think the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, probably had that in mind when he referred to the work that is being done on other forms of waste material to see how far they could be used for building.

If I may now turn to domestic waste, as the Green Paper says waste paper is the obvious candidate to be confidently recommended for separate collection. I was surprised to find that it constituted from 30 to 40 per cent. of all domestic waste, but that emphasises how important it is to take every advantage to collect waste paper separately. As we know, some local authorities already organise separate collections, but the difficulties outlined in the Green Paper, and mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, have intervened where price considerations have from time to time made it undesirable, or uneconomic to accept waste paper in this way. I fully agree with the noble Lord that some balancing machinery ought to be invented, so that a continuous demand can be maintained.

Of course, we know that there are many local organisations—bodies such as the Women's Institute—apart from the local authorities, which collect waste-paper and thereby make a modest income which I hope is free of income tax and will remain so. These bodies are valuable for the activities which they carry out in the community, and for the donations which they make to charity. The Green Paper refers to some practical difficulties in the collection of waste paper; for instance, the expense to a local authority. I wonder whether in certain areas this collection could be assisted in some way. Here is a suggestion for the new Advisory Council to consider when it comes into being, of some new type of collecting vehicle which could have separate compartments for waste paper and other refuse. As regards the difficulty of providing waste bins in blocks of flats where there is not much room, surely it would be possible to have, in addition to the normal waste bin for each flat, a communal waste bin for paper.

Many years ago—in fact, this is going back to before the war—I was told of a process developed in Southern Italy, which can best be described as a sort of maxi-composting system for dealing with domestic waste. The waste is put into sealed cylinders, raised to a high temperature, and after a certain number of days it comes out as if from a compost heap; a quite sterile substance suitable for use as a fertiliser. I believe I am right in saying that this system was tried in London, and perhaps elsewhere. In London there was a plant at Wood Lane in Hammersmith, but I think I am right in saying that it was for the Royal Borough of Kensington. The plant ran into a number of difficulties, largely connected with the difficult problem of sorting. There were certain—not many—commodities such as tins which had to be kept out of the mix. Unfortunately, this involved sorting by hand, an unpleasant task, and today an almost impossibly expensive operation. Would it not be worthwhile looking at this again? I inquired of an Italian friend of mine yesterday whether he knew anything about it, and he thought it was still going on in Southern Italy.

My Lords, this Green Paper has been concerned almost exclusively with reclamation. The sub-title of the Green Paper is, A Policy for Reclamation. If noble Lords will look at the introduction, it says: The Government believe that there should be a new national effort to conserve and reclaim scarce resources—". To my mind, conservation is far more important and has far greater potential than reclamation. The old adage, "Prevention is better than cure" describes what I mean. When we think of conservation, our minds naturally think first of energy. Do we take the conservation of energy seriously? I do not know how many of your Lordships have recently visited the United States, but there is a country whose energy position is definitely superior to ours, since they have a considerable indigenous production. Yet in every hotel room you find a leaflet asking you to turn out the lights. There are all sorts of notices left about, calling the attention of the population all the time to the fact that there is an energy crisis. In this country it seems to me that we have failed to do that.

It is true that yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer increased VAT on petrol, no doubt with a view to persuading people to plan their journeys more economically. That is all to the good. But I still feel that we have not really faced the fact in this country that there is a tremendous amount to be saved if we really take seriously the energy shortage. The biggest item of all is the insulation of our houses; the preservation of heat within them. Apart from voluntary effort, this requires an alteration in the housing regulations. I express the hope that the Government may think fit to introduce some amendment to that effect in the near future.

While on the subject of energy, I must say something about coal—our great indigenous source of energy. I hope that this will not cause offence, but I wish to say that if for any reason—and I shall not discuss the reasons—we cannot bring into use the maximum possible amount of our principal natural resource, we shall as surely be wasting it at this critical time as if we are throwing it away. That is a slight overstatement, because the coal will still remain in the ground, but now is when we want it. Coal is not a resource until it is at the power station.

There is another source of energy which I thought I might mention; that is, food. Those of your Lordships who listened to the speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, will remember the picture they painted of the desperate food situation in the world as a whole. Do we eat too much? A given quantity of food is needed to provide the energy which keeps us "on the go". I am not at all a medical person, but I would hazard a guess, that if we eat more than that amount the effect is not more energy but less; one feels lethargic. I know that this sounds a rather gimmicky sort of statement, but it was suggested that those people in another place should have no meat on the menu one day a week. That would be only a gesture, but would that gesture lead us eventually to realise that one of the things we waste in this country—I am not referring to the people on the very bottom of the economic scale, but to most of the population above the medium income scale—is a good deal of food? Would it not do some good as well if it could be brought home to people—that this is waste; a waste of things we import, or grow ourselves, whichever way we look at the matter?

I have gone a little beyond the Green Paper, because that was devoted only to reclamation. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be able to tell us that a further Green Paper will come on the subject of the saving of our resources, of economy in our resources. If so, I think it would be welcome to all of us. In conclusion, may I express my apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, and to the noble Baroness for the fact that I am unable to stay to the end of the debate, as I have a commitment in connection with the present meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly in which I have the honour to be one of your Lordships' representatives.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, like others, I must express my congratulations and gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, for enabling us to debate this potentially very profitable topic this afternoon. We are grateful to the Government for their Green Paper, giving us an outline of their thoughts. In respect of this subject, I must declare my usual interest in the industrial research associations. Hence, my intervention will have to be confined mainly to the technological aspects. I should like to dilate upon the subject of motivation of the public to carry out the sorting of domestic refuse voluntarily, which action would be uneconomic were this labour to be paid for. However, I am sure that there will be other speakers in this debate who arc far better qualified than I to speak on this particular subject.

When considering this subject of altering our present wasteful habits, perhaps it would be profitable to inquire first how these habits evolved. This leads one to consider the situation prior to that pertaining at present and, without necessarily attempting to put the clock back, to see whether some retracing of the path which we have followed is feasible, desirable or even possible. I do not wish to delay your Lordships with tedious detail of such a survey, but I think one outstanding point does emerge, and that is that the present situation has arisen from purely economic reasons. The further one delves back into history the more one is aware how the balance of values between materials and man's time has become completely reversed. Materials used to be in short supply. They were carefully husbanded, because they were difficult to win from the earth or otherwise obtain or cultivate. Some years ago when I was a practising craft metal worker, I was forcefully struck when casting wrought iron gates which my company was then manufacturing how the material to labour costs were of the order of 10 to 90 per cent., while from old company records of a century before I could see that the position then was almost entirely reversed, with labour costs of 20 per cent. against material of 80 per cent.

The increasing cost of labour compared with materials led to demands on technology to win materials more easily and in larger quantities, but all too often with an increased energy input. Increasing quantities of materials desired greater production, leading to the necessity for greater sales, and thus continuing the industrial revolutionary spiral, until we arrived at the situation, not so very many months ago, when man's time, as a result of his natural wish to increase his standard of living, was the most expensive component of almost any product; and as a result any and every attempt was made to minimise this component at the inevitable expense of materials and energy. Hence arose the situation where it is cheaper in some instances to make a new bottle than to wash and re-use an existing one.

Similarly, in the packaging and retail fields it was more economic in labour to stock pre-packaged goods rather than to dispense small quantities for individual customers from bulk. It also assists stock control—for example, the exclusive use of sealed miniature bottles of spirits in many establishments, and I believe in the airlines. Similarly, in the packaging field to-day, many of our products are far more sophisticated and delicate than those of yesteryear, and expensive and complicated packaging is used to ensure the product's safe arrival, because this is far cheaper to the manufacturer than the cost of man's time in individual repairs to returned damaged units.

As it is not only impractical, impossible, but also socially undesirable to attempt to reverse this balance between labour and materials by reducing the labour costs, the Green Paper is to be applauded for its view that the course must be to stop our extravagances with materials and energy before nature, presently mostly in the persons of the organisation of oil-producing and exporting countries, make these resources so scarce and prohibitively expensive that the balance will naturally reverse again. and the Western nations may be faced with the possibility of being industrialised nations with nothing from which to produce.

It goes against the grain with many of us to throw away a perfectly good article. but here again we are pressurised into doing so in order to obtain the later and more advanced model. Although some products are shoddy and do not last, many become obsolete due entirely to technological and marketing advances since the date of their manufacture. In that technology was responsible for this comparative cheapness of resources and premature obsolescence, so, therefore, I suggest to your Lordships, it must be to technology that we must look to redress the position.

There are two quite different aspects of the more efficient use of our materials, the most obvious one being the collection and re-use of waste. But—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon—far more important is the reduction of waste in the first place. Waste reduction from a cost benefit point of view is far more valuable than waste recovery, as it leads to the saving and more effective use of material rather than its re-creation later. The Green Paper gives a very good and detailed survey of what is already being achieved and where advances could be made, and to comment on each would be to trespass severely on your Lordships' time. But apart from the sorting of domestic refuse and scrap market stability, in the main it is conceded that advances must come from research and development within industry. If, as the Green Paper says, Government intend to assist in the development of reclamation activity, let them also address themselves to the encouragement of waste reduction as being even more important. And, in that the whole situation arose from reasons of cost effectiveness of labour versus materials, it is surely best to initiate work which will show the similar economic attractiveness of waste reduction and reclamation.

Governments are all too keen to behave like third rate Victorian nannies, and immediately think of the punitive measures of regulation and legislation (paragraph 4, page 29), and they forget that the cost of enforcing regulation is often more than the cost of rendering the desired result economically more attractive in its own right. With this in mind, let us hope that Government will take an enlightened view and encourage rather than penalise industry. Some of the work to be done no doubt may be of a type appropriate to Government laboratories but by far the greater proportion can and must be done in industry itself.

Although it may be thought, with the publishing of the Green Paper, that Government are taking the initiative, industry with their research associations have been very well ahead, and not for the first time. In this context perhaps it would be appropriate for me to give again a brief survey of current work being conducted in this field at some of the relevant laboratories. Here, with great respect, I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, in his estimate of only 50 scientists being involved, unless he is counting only those who are working in the Industrial Research Associations. As is hinted at in the Green Paper, the Glass Industries RA, in conjunction with the Glass Manufacturers Federation and the glass container manufacturers in the United Kingdom, is investigating the present utilisation of cullet, and the Research Association is looking at methods of monitoring the quality of the waste glass with a view to drawing up a specification for its economic re-use.

The non-ferrous industry is given good coverage in the Green Paper, and in the table on page 18 one can see that it has a good record of reclamation. From this table it is interesting to note that the higher recovery rates are in the most valuable materials: obviously those where the cost of the material makes it worth while to expend money on the labour to recover them. It is estimated that the non-ferrous metals industries recover over 50 per cent. of the metal, and that this is recycled. The industries' research centre, the British Non-Ferrous Metals Technical Centre, is working on furnace developments and on new methods of refining scrap which will increase the efficiency of the recovery process, and will increase still further the yield of re-usable material. At Wira they completed some years ago the well-known Pudsey experiment. It does not sound very wonderful, but it was an experiment which showed how it was perfectly possible to recycle domestic and industrial sewage and use it in wool and other textile processing. Furthermore, they are working there on projects to ensure that the type of fibre blend in recovered textiles is suitable for use in modern techniques such as open end spinning. Oddly perhaps, in coal carbonisation for coke the Research Association are working on the re-use of purified liquor effluents.

In the Leather Research Association they are working on the recovery and re-use of processed chemicals not only for the value of the chrome tanning agents recovered but also from the pollution point of view. They also work on the reduction of waste by measurement and control of the various processes. The Rubber and Plastics Research Association has a paragraph to itself in the Green Paper, and they have many confidential projects in hand for the industry. The polymer industry is wide awake to business opportunities for the re-using and reprocessing of recovered material. Here they find that work on specific opportunities is far more fruitful than on broad general projects. This again reinforces the point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford.

At the Shirley Institute they work on projects concerned with washing processes of textiles leading to the more economical use of water and energy, as well as recovering waste. Here, as a small example, the waste from spinning processes has been shown to be recoverable for use in condenser fabrics, and the waste from the manufacture of condenser fabrics can be used for mattress fillings. I am not sure whether there is any waste from mattress fillings, but I am sure that if there were the Shirley Institute would find another use for it.

The Furniture Industries Research Association is concerned that their industry has a large number of timber off-cuts. At present this is usually pulverised and used as fuel due to the sorting difficulties, but here again work is in hand so that this at present possibly unsatisfactory use will be stopped and a more useful solution found. Other industrial research associations in the textile field are working on similar projects to those I have mentioned. In food, to take a different field, glue and gelatine manufacture is, in any case, a recycling of what is sometimes considered waste food products such as bones and hides. Here again they are working on improved efficiency processes for the conversion using enzymes instead of chemical conversion, leading to savings in fuel usage and processing time.

On page 22, paragraph 31, of the Green Paper, we see much made of the re-use of vending cups. It does not say so, but the main re-use of those cups is in the manufacture of heels for shoes. This was a project very largely sponsored and carried out by the Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association. There are many other examples which I could give to your Lordships. I hope that this short list, brief though it is, will encourage Government to encourage industry by increased support of such potentially valuable work, which is not a flash in the pan, or a present day band-wagon effort, but an investment which will lead to steady and regular benefit to the nation for many decades to come. Of course there are no votes in industrial research, and public expenditure in this field is always relegated much lower down the scale than the "Robin Hood" aspirations of many politicians. However socially desirable such activities may be, and they are undeniable in that each is more worthy than the last, a moment's reflection will convince one that Robin Hoods, no matter how worthy, are themselves unproductive and economically a dead loss. On the other hand, an intelligent Robin Hood, appreciating that he is simply a socially worthy parasite, will take steps to ensure the health of his host and the continuance of a supply of prosperous "Sheriffs of Nottingham" in order that he himself may remain in business.

In our present economic difficulties an intelligent appreciation and motivation is called for, and I have written to those noble Lords representing the relevant Departments in your Lordships' House assuring them that the research associations are both ready and willing to do all they can, and await the invitation to discussions promised in paragraph 2 on page 29. In addition, the research associations are instigating talks on cooperative work in this field with their EEC counterparts at the next meeting in December in Copenhagen of the Federation of European Industrial Co-operative Research Organisations, of which I have the honour to be the Secretary. The research associations are holding out a challenge to Government to match their activities in this obviously valuable field; can Government measure up to this challenge and support this work in the national interest?

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those already proffered to my noble friend Lord Darling of Hillsborough on his maiden speech. If I may say so, in the few years that I have been in your Lordships' House there have been one or two occasions when perhaps the advent of a former colleague from another place has filled me with slightly muted rapture, but so far as the noble Lord is concerned may I say that I am delighted to have him among us. I am sure other Members of your Lordships' House will appreciate that we have a new colleague who will be of the greatest assistance to us. I have never heard him speak other than good sense and always well-informed good sense. I am very happy that he has chosen, even if slightly irregularly for his maiden speech, to introduce to your Lordships this paper War on Waste because it is a subject which, in your Lordships' House, can produce persons like the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, who has just spoken, who have great knowledge to contribute to the debate.

I do not pretend to have any specialised knowledge in this matter, but during the discussions on the Control of Pollution Bill we had occasion to mention several of the subjects which are included in the White Paper, not least that of waste paper. That is one of the most important, but also relatively one of the simplest operations, which is why I would not want to spend further time on it. During those discusions I had once or twice to mention—as I often do—the state of affairs in the Principality of Wales. My noble friend Lord Darling of Hillsborough referred to the important role of the local authorities. He will appreciate that in England it is the county authorities which are the disposal authorities; not so in Wales. In Wales—I believe mistakenly—it is the district councils who are both the collection and disposal authorities. Unless a good deal of co-operation and statesmanship is shown, I am apprehensive that in Wales we may not perhaps be as succesful as we should be in dealing with this matter of waste reclamation, because the authorities concerned may be too small to operate effectively.

I was happy to receive a letter only this morning from someone who is knowledgeable in these matters about one of our industrial counties, the Mid Glamorgan County Council, which have set up a Waste and Pollution Working Party under the inspiration of the county but bringing in all the districts within it. This seems to me to be satisfactory. I hope very much that other counties in the Principality will be able to have similar diplomatic success in bringing together the districts in order to work out sensible disposal schemes. If this is not done, I fear that within the Principality we shall have little reclamation. What we shall have is a policy of "dump or burn." It is so much easier to dump waste or to burn it than to sort and re-use it. Yet that is not what the Government are concerned about. We are concerned about re-use and recycling so far as it is practical or reasonably economic. But I was distressed to hear that the policy of some district councils, so far at least, is to accept that the answer to their waste disposal problems is to establish large incinerators. Apart from the fact that this can cause localised pollution, it is in many instances not the most satisfactory way of dealing with refuse. If one could be assured that where incineration seemed to be the only answer that the heat so generated was itself then adequately used, one would be less worried about simply burning rubbish.

But as our earlier discussions on the Control of Pollution Bill made us realise, we have not yet solved the problem of using the waste heat from incineration of rubbish. I believe there is a great deal of further research needed on this and possibly dissemination of knowledge from those very few experiments which have been carried out by local authorities to other local authorities who may be considering what ought to be done.

I am well aware that the Green Paper itself is not much concerned with conservation of energy and that another advisory body has been set up to deal with that subject. Nevertheless, those of us who are interested in these matters feel, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned, that conservation of energy really is one of the most important of all our current problems. I would draw the attention of my noble friend Lady Birk to this problem so that she may communicate with her Ministerial colleagues.

There is an interesting Report on Energy and the Environment which is to be discussed in London to-morrow, produced by a Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. This refers to thermal pollution and to the waste of energy, particularly in relation to the generation of electricity. It points out that if power were generated in smaller units the rejected heat could be conveniently used for district heating, industrial processing and the processing of organic waste, which brings us back to our Green Paper. But it is not the job of the Central Electricity Generating Board to concern itself about the possible side uses of its waste heat. This is the matter to which I should like to draw the attention of my noble friend.

One cannot blame the nationalised industry—which is regulated by Statute in what it can do—if it does not undertake supernumerary duties outside its immediate statutory obligations. If one examines the terms of reference of the CEGB one will see that these are—and I summarise them: To develop and maintain an efficient co-ordinated and economical system of electricity supply and to take into account any effect which their proposals would have on the natural beauty of the countryside and on flora, fauna, features, buildings and objects of special interest. Admirable so far as it goes. But there is no obligation here to consider the effect of its operations on other possible interests. Therefore, without going into the various technicalities of it, I feel that it would be highly desirable, if the Government are in earnest about this matter of the conservation and the economical use of our physical resources, that they should look again at the terms of reference under which the CEGB works and ask the Generating Board to consider a much more positive attitude towards the use of waste heat.

I am informed that in most processes of electricity generation only about 40 per cent. goes into electricity. The rest is waste which either evaporates or goes into air or water by other means. I hope that we could look in a much more comprehensive way at resource management. We could then consider the desirability of a body like the CEGB dealing with this subject far more intelligently than it is under any obligation at present to do.

I know that there are some minor experiments such as the white fish experi- ment at Hunterston—the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will know something about that—and I am told that there is some enterprise at, I think, Hinckley Point, in rearing prawns. I believe that if we could have greater research one could find ways of using this heat, not least in the treatment of organic waste which at the moment we use very unintelligently indeed. So, my Lords, I would be grateful if my noble friend would consider this point and would press her friends in the Department of Energy on it.

I was very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, brought us near to reality in this matter, because in the Green Paper there is some danger of over-simplifying the problem. I was much concerned to find on page 31, for example, that the Government apparently intend to run a major publicity campaign. I think this could do far more harm than good unless they have thought out very carefully precisely what it is that they are to ask the public to do. A number of us, I think, have received from the glass industry an extremely interesting account of a very recent experiment in the City of York in which, under the most favourable conditions possible, with the entire co-operation of the local authority and of a local glass manufacturing enterprise, they endeavoured to see what would happen if the public was asked over a period of time to collect waste glass bottles, and so forth. They found it was utterly uneconomic even though, as I say, they had the fullest possible co-operation from the public and private authorities, they had a glass factory on the spot so that their transport arrangements were minimised and they had concentrated publicity.

I think a great deal more thought and imagination will have to be given to dealing separately with these various commodities. They are not similar; they all need different ways of management to be applied to them. It would have the worst possible effect if we had general exhortation and people, with a wave of enthusiasm, started to try to do what they thought was right as good citizens, only to find that they were utterly frustrated because either the arrangements had not been thought out properly or because after a short period they were told, "We are very sorry; you have tried hard, but really this is not economic and we shall have to stop". I think they would then be so much disappointed and so frustrated that this whole movement could be thwarted.

Therefore I should be happy to learn from my noble friend what the Government's second thoughts have been since some very injudicious statements were made (to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, also drew attention) in the Green Paper. I think we should also like to know just when we are to have the announcement—perhaps we can have it tonight; I hope very much my noble friend will be in a position to tell us—about the advisory body on waste treatment which it was decided to set up as long ago as last May. We are perfectly aware that there has been a General Election in the meantime, but that is now some weeks past, and if the Government are really in earnest about this campaign then the least they could have done by now, I should have supposed, would be to tell us who was to be given the duty of advising upon it.

My Lords, there are so many remarks that one would like to make about this subject—one could go into detail on various commodities—but I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time. However, I would also very strongly appeal for more attention to be given to design. I entirely agree with the point put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, that there are often good reasons for a design which appears to be prodigal of resources and unnecessarily extravagant; but I am quite certain that there are other occasions when more intelligent design at the very outset would either make the process less wasteful in itself or, if one were to design with reclamation and recycling in mind from the very beginning, would produce much more satisfactory results at the end.

On this, of course, we depend partly on industry itself, and the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, was quite right to specify the various industries which are taking a lead in this matter. But we are also dependent upon the Government laboratories and upon the universities, and I am happy to think that University College Cardiff is among those which take a lead. I bow in the direction of the Lord Chancellor, and he will understand why. There we have had for quite some time now a centre of research into the recycling and reclamation of both industrial and domestic waste. A good deal is done on contract for industry, but other research will clearly need Government subvention through one channel or another. I hope also that in her speech my noble friend will be able to say something about the support that the Government propose to give to research in this field. We look forward very much to her speech, and she can be assured that there are many of us in your Lordships' House who await it with the keenest attention.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her these questions. Is it a fact that the Central Electricity Generating Board is bound by its Statutes to generate electricity as cheaply as possible? If this is the case it absolutely precludes the use of waste heat for, for example, district heating because that can be done only at the expense of reducing the efficiency of generating electricity, although overall it is a very good use of energy and vastly more efficient if one takes the broader picture. If that is so. does she not feel that the Statutes need altering urgently?


My Lords, I am delighted the noble Viscount has put it so much more clearly and emphatically than I was able to put it myself. He has taken my point entirely.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, on the excellent way in which he introduced the debate on this Green Paper. In particular, I liked his way of drawing attention to the need for research, even if he understated the amount which is already going on. Also, another point he made which I thought was extremely valuable was in pointing out that many of these ways of reclamation need extremely expensive plant, and there has to be some sort of reasonable expectation of continued use of that plant if companies, or even the nation, are going to invest money in building it. I welcome, too, this Green Paper, which, even though rather too general, covers well the technical and administrative problems in the reclamation of waste. It shows the breadth of the subject. If there are any shortcomings in it, I feel they lie in the human problems of putting into effect measures which are beneficial to the country as a whole. This is another aspect of one of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady White: that it is no use having wildly general compaigns for conserving and reclaiming waste if there are not proper means to deal with it and, again, if such campaigns are far too general in that they do not tell people what they need to do individually.

The waste which goes on all around us is appalling. It is not only a waste of the nation's resources: there is also the littering of the countryside. As a householder, I am struck particularly by the amount of glass which appears to be wasted—bottles and the like. The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to some work which has been done at York, of which I am not aware; and I see from the paper to-day that the Working Party set up by the wine and spirit industry have reported against setting up a national recovery and re-use system for their bottles. I must say I am sorry about this, because one, at any rate, of the national wine and spirit chains takes back standard size wine bottles although they do not advertise the fact. Coca Cola bottles and many beer bottles can be returned, but it seems to me that a good many glass bottles could be retained and used again if only on a selective basis. So far as industry is concerned, I should have thought that almost all companies recycle their process waste or sell it to a dealer if it can be used again. Anti-pollution pressures have increased this activity and normally it is administratively simple. Advances in reclamation lie more in research as to what materials can be useful and how they can be reclaimed. Indeed there are many cases in past history of industrial waste products turning out to be valuable by-products, sometimes even more valuable than the original product. However, there are cases where waste material can be used for useful purposes but are not because they are inconvenient for administrative purposes. One cannot help feeling that much of the demand for gravel in the Home Counties is due to the great convenience of having a nearby gravel pit rather than obtaining waste products from a distance, with differing sources and possibly varying quail- ties. I feel that pressure needs to be applied to get over difficulties which may be purely administrative.

There is another side of industrial use which leads to much waste in all materials other than process supplies and process waste. Many years ago, as a young man in my early twenties, I was given the job in a large factory in the North-East of finding out and taking action in relation to all forms of reclaim-able and re-usable waste materials in the factory. I had several other people to help me. There was a big construction programme going on at the time and there were already procedures for collecting and selling or re-using the main types of ferrous and non-ferrous scrap and other easily recoverable materials. In our investigation we discovered many examples of preventable waste. I do not want to bore noble Lords with them but there were some pretty curious ones among them. We found, for instance, that there was considerable disappearance of large wooden cable drums, which even in those days were priced at £10 to £12 each, and it was found that these were being used as a convenient way of starting braziers which on any construction site at that time at any rate were fairly common. Another item which I remember was the considerable loss of oxygen and acetylene cylinders. It was found that these were being covered by digging machinery when throwing up the soil into another position. Nobody appeared to be taking any notice of this! They did not realise the value of these things. When this fact was pointed out in a sensible and proper manner action was taken accordingly. I cannot help feeling that much of this kind of thing is going on now. There is much that industry can do to avoid unnecessary waste. It has always been part of good housekeeping in the factory which has a good effect all round, both moral and physical, and leads to the reduction of accidents.


My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to intervene for a moment? I meant to mention a little item of good housekeeping that affects some of us. I have just handed in to the Post Office three-quarters of a pound of rubber bands which I have received in the last three months. I would suggest that the Post Office might do a little good housekeeping.


My Lords, I have no doubt that we all receive a large number of rubber bands. Another item which occurs to me is the large number of wire clothes hangers which one gets from the dry cleaners. I understand that they welcome those back again. On the home front I believe that there is just as much to be done, perhaps even more. I am glad to see emphasis placed on the part to be played by local authorities. Too many of them, even now, do not collect even waste paper separately. They could also more effectively advertise where householders can deposit metal and other scrap. I find quite extraordinary the extent to which metal scrap seems to be dumped around the countryside, whereas if a local authority could give instructions to people to take it to a particular place where it could be properly handled and sold, surely not only should we improve the amenities of the countryside but also recover useful scrap. If waste is to be segregated by the householder he must have containers in which to put it. This involves space, which in a block of flats may be a difficulty; but this does not mean that it should not be operated where space permits. Paper is an obvious case, but far too few local authorities are collecting even paper at present. Most householders, if asked, would be very willing to segregate their waste. The problem needs careful examination area by area, and administrative problems, difficult as they may appear even to people used to working in a particular way, should not be allowed to bar progress.

At the beginning of my speech I mentioned the human problems involved. Most of us in this country are very untidy by nature; many of us are resistant to administrative change. It is difficult enough to get people in one's own household to put refuse in the right containers even if they are labelled properly. Those of us who were in the Services during the war know how difficult it was to get people to keep the disposal of waste materials tidy, even though one had army discipline behind them. Much propaganda will be required, and people must not only be asked or told what they are to do but they must be given the reasons. I expect there is much useful experience available from what happened in the last war. If so, let us make use of it. In the infantry battalion in which I served in this country many of the amenities received by the men of the battalion were paid for by the segregation and sale of swill for pigs. I do not know whether pigs do not eat swill now or whether it is regarded as too expensive to collect, but it seems to me there must be an increase in the price of normal food for pigs which would make it economic to collect swill. There must be an enormous amount of unused food going to waste which might quite well be used as foodstuffs for animals of various kinds. It will all need a well planned, carefully thought out campaign directed to specific things, coupled with what the Green Paper proposes. I believe that a great reduction of waste is possible.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an interesting little discussion—it is not truly a debate—and I think all of us are grateful to my noble friend Lord Darling of Hillsborough for having introduced it in this Chamber. I was particularly interested in the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Shannon. Obviously from his experience he had something of great worth to say to us and consequently in passing I think it is only right that we should pay tribute to some of the valuable suggestions he made.

In looking at the Green Paper I want to recall the excellent little speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, when he made the suggestion that it might be valuable as an incentive for the Government to exempt the collection of waste from income tax if it brings funds to organisations such as scouts, boys brigades, nurses, housewives—every kind of organisation. Chapter 1, paragraph 4, of the Green Paper states: The Government's aim is to bring about this integration. They are examining urgently how far market forces provide sufficient encouragement for reclamation and whether new financial incentives or disincentives are needed. There is here, as a result of the suggestion of the noble Viscount, a possibility that my noble friend Lady Birk might take up when she gives us her inimitable reply. I shall repeat the suggestion because my noble friend happened to be whispering to a colleague. The noble Viscount suggested that exemption from income tax might be a worthy objective where certain bodies are collecting waste.

My Lords, I was a little worried that the noble Lord. Lord Sandford, seemed a little niggling about the Green Paper. He said that there should be this and asked what was to happen to that but of course—and I shall show how fair I am—all Governments have been working like this. I have a wonderful Report produced under the Tory Government prepared on the occasion of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in 1972. It said: A detailed and practical interest in the quality of life we lead in our islands is central to the philosophy of this Government… We are conscious that alongside a desire for rising standards of living, there has grown up a worry that we might be destroying with one hand what we are creating with the other … that we might find we had only achieved rising material standards at the cost of producing a country about which, in terms of amenity, we were no longer enthusiastic. That quotation comes from the right honourable Edward Heath, MBE, MP., whom I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has heard many a time. This was an excellent Report and at the end there is a summary of between fifty to seventy pamphlets, booklets and documents dealing with the problem of the environment and of waste. In fact, we have been discussing waste for a generation and never have we got down to the "nitty-gritty" of making the collection of waste work.

I do not want to quote masses of facts and figures. Noble Lords would be bored and they know them all. Nevertheless, we only have, as this document says, one world to pollute. Both Parties have their Manifestos. This is our Manifesto and on page 19 we say that we put on the Statute Book control of pollution Acts, as all Governments have, and that the Labour Government want to reverse the trend and set up a Waste Management Advisory Council. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was asking for too much detail at this stage, but I shall forgive him this time as it was clear that the weather or something had got him down a little. Accordingly, I shall add about five more minutes of my own ideas.

My Lords, having made reference to the constructive points raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, I wish something could be done about the Acts which are already on the Statute Book. In another place, we had a Litter Act. If some noble Lords would come with me one glorious autumn morning when the leaves are golden and still dwindling on the trees in the Manifold Valley, in Dovedale or around the Peak District, I would endeavour to escape broken-down cars, mattresses and old bedding for which nobody seems to take responsibility or to try to find out who dumped them there. Go up towards the M.l, you will find cars dumped at the side of the A.41 on the way. Nobody can tell me that enough interest is taken by local authorities or others in finding the culprits. If we are short of manpower, there ought to be some kind of recruitment of wardens. We are pretty quick to recruit wardens to ensure that cars do not stay too long in our streets or that they use meters. Perhaps there is a case at the edges of great cities and on the fringe of country areas for establishing wardens who have no other job except to scout around and point out where evil dumps are set up.

I was glad to notice that a number of noble Lords, including some who come from Welsh farming and mining areas and who are interested in both fanning and mining, have drawn attention to the work that has been done to clear away the spoil tips in the mining areas. I do not want to claim all the honour for the Labour Government; intelligent Governments of any political colour know that the quality of life in these areas is gradually being altered by the afforestation schemes and the green grass that is now growing in some of these areas. This is particularly true in 'the Potteries and Stoke-on-Trent, where parkland has been created where huge coalmine tips existed previously.

My Lords, there are some questions which we dodge. I probably ought to tread like Agag, but I shall rush in where angels fear to tread. When we are talking about the quality of life, what is the reason for today's shortages? As much as anything, the reason is the population explosion and speculation. The world is impoverished in its social factors, in its human factors and in its quality of living. Social behaviour is poor, the acquisitive society is not a success. The CBI is asking for £3 million to £4 million to be poured into private enterprise and it fails to acknowledge the axiom of modern production that we are socialising the losses and privatising the profits. We are now being told that one cannot run industry today without huge investment from the Government. That is what we are being asked for. I do not want to enter into this matter: I am hoping that we shall discuss multi-nationals in society and in relation to investment one day in this House, because this is one of the vital factors in the problem of lack of investment at home which is leading to some of the untidiness and lack of quality in our living. I do not know the answers to this problem and I should be a pompous fool if I pretended to. We lack a coherent doctrine to lead us through the difficult, shrinking world in which we live. For instance, nobody yet—whether or not Marxists—has disproved one of the central critiques of Marx that (and one need not be a Communist to recognise the philosophy) the acquisitive system of society, of capitalism, has within it the seeds of its own destruction. Was Marx right or wrong? Is the system working today? We have been told that it can only work pragmatically.

There is no such thing as free competition because we have set up a Common Market to regulate the amount of sugar one can obtain, to regulate the meat flow, to regulate the goods that come in. We have GATT and other trade agreements to limit the flow of goods to various parts of the world. There is no such thing as free competition in the world. The old-fashioned, excellent capitalist system of the early 19th century did a marvellous thing for mankind. It showed him how to produce but it has not taught him how to distribute. It left spoils and wastage that we, in this generation and in the next, will have to clear up in our industrial towns. Nobody has yet managed to find an answer to that. And in this feckless scramble for consumption we are bamboozled by a spree of ostentatious packaging, glossy plastic gadgetry and similar materials which spill over our hedgerows and roadsides on to the fields and kill the cows when they eat the plastic. Yet nobody seems to do much about it.

Here we have packaging neatly put down as the first point to be looked at. It is stated: The questions to be considered will include these key issues: how can packaging and containers best be designed to minimise waste. God knows!, my Lords. Talking of packaging, I was in a café the other day and a huge plastic tomato was on the table, suffering from elephantiasis. I caught hold of this ugly damned thing and out of it squirted about two jars of tomato sauce all over the table in front of me and on to my guest sitting opposite. That is an example of our ugly, plastic, gadget-loving society—a lump of indestructibility that is ugly.

We are losing the beauty of the 18th century and some of the 19th century artistry. Man is the only animal who violates his home and hearth. Perhaps the Government could ask industry to come to some gentlemen's agreement to stop competing with each other in the matter of packaging. There is the example of any of my noble friends on either side of your Lordships' House or myself trying to open a packet of tablets when we are perhaps suffering from a headache—of course, noble Lords never get a hangover, and God help them if they do, with some of the packaging that we have to-day, because it would be to-morrow before they got at the tablets! This is a crazy world that we live in, and if there is anybody looking over the ramparts of Heaven, or shovelling coal in the other place because of a shortage of oil, and who is looking at us now, he must be wondering what is going on. It is time we put the brake on this silly, unnecessary folly of man. So the world crisis intensifies, and "growthmanship" and the violent growth of population are partly the cause of our wastemakers' society.

The only thing that is dynamic in the car industry is the dynamic inbuilt obsolescence of the car. You buy a car and it is built to be obsolete in two or three years. I think this is evil. It is a destruction of man's raw materials and precious non-ferrous and other metals. Nobody can contradict this. It is said, "If you do not do this there will be unemployment and men out of work, so you have to build cars to last for only two or three years". There is something wrong with this. We are seeking new motives for production, and in this age when we worship consumerism of that type we encourage waste. Our Budget seems to encourage HP terms because of the problem of unemployment. But our destiny is in our own hands. The answer is simple, but very difficult to carry out. It is that all of us in our own lives should try to do something about this wastage. It is very elementary, so elementary that nobody will believe it, and I hope that my right honourable friend will use the schools of Britain to encourage the collection and sorting of waste. I sincerely hope that the Department of Education and Science will make it possible for our youngsters to help to put right what we have done in the past.

Technocratic man is an ugly animal. He is losing the old cement of courtesy; he is becoming surly and irritable, and now we are building fiats and living like insects in them. These high-rise fiats create more waste than anything else. Anybody who studies biology knows that animals or insects get annoyed and nasty with each other when they are put in crowded conditions. Those who, like myself, have been associated with biology and the production of drugs in laboratories know what happens to animals and insects when they are kept in overcrowded conditions; and part of man's waste-making society to-day is caused by overcrowding. This is destroying the joy of life.

In The Road to Survival, by Hoyt, which was written 20 years or more ago, he said: The material standard of living is pasted together with printed paper money which we go on printing in this fools' paradise of ' You've never had it so good'. This is very true. It is time we remembered the lesson of his book. I am surprised to find that I have spoken for seventeen minutes, and I am sorry if I have bored your Lordships. However, I will finish by quoting this extract: Every grain of wheat and rye, every sugar beet, every egg and piece of veal, every spoonful of olive oil and glass of wine depends on an irreducible minimum of earth to produce it. The earth is not made of rubber: it cannot be stretched. The human race, and every nation, is limited in the number of acres it possesses, and as the number of human beings increases the relative amount of productive earth decreases by the amount of increase of population in that ratio. This is the problem, irrespective of religious differences, that some day we shall have to face, because in the waste-makers' society this is one of the basic problems—the pressure of mighty populations on a limited earth.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Darling, on his most interesting speech to-day and also thank him for raising this topic at this particular moment. I rise to-day only because I had the pleasure of supporting 'the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, on her Motion concerning the commercial re-use of waste in, I believe, March, 1970, which was a little over four years ago. I said then, and I repeat now, that we are living in a "throw away" society. People throw things away when they are bored with them—not because they are worn out or broken. Surely in this economic crisis it would be a good idea if everybody started again to be thrifty rather than concentrating all the time on "keeping up with the Joneses". This throwing away happens in town and country: and in 1970, in the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, I made a special point of talking about glass and polythene bags, both of which have been mentioned already to-day. I should like to repeat that if polythene bags are picked up in the grass by animals and eaten, the bags get round their guts and strangulate them. while if they eat pieces of glass, they suffer from haemorrhage.

Many of us spoke last time about waste paper, which local authorities will not keep separate. There was also mention of the need for much greater composting of suitable waste. I believe I was "shot down" on all those ideas on grounds of cost. Now, looking at the Green Paper from the householder's point of view, I was interested to see in Chapter 1, paragraph 6, that the public, after sorting out rubbish, can return some of these things to reclamation centres for re-use. But I am afraid that the additional tax on petrol will discourage householders from doing this themselves and they will say, "This is the job of the local authority".

Going on to Chapter 2, paragraphs 14 and 15, here I must take up the cudgels with the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough. The Green Paper says that householders are to blame for segregation of household waste not working.

But I think householders get discouraged when they separate their waste and see it going into these mechanical "munchers", or whatever they are called, where everything gets munched up together. Therefore they say, "What is the use of it?" I am certain if they are told the reason why, and if there is good public relations about this, householders would cooperate very willingly, if only the local authorities would use the right vehicles to cater for the different types of waste. Now the situation is probably more difficult because there are two councils, in 1970 there was only one. Who is going to throw the buck at whom? Whose responsibility is it to have the right type of vehicle and sort out the different types of waste? I do not know whether the noble Baroness will be able to help us on that point. Paragraph 18 of Chapter 2 talks of the difficulties of recycling. All this was pointed out in 1970. When the noble Baroness replies could she say whether any progress has been made?

There are industrial research organisations looking into the design of packaging which the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, told us about. Thanks to him, I had the opportunity of visiting one of these organisations. It was fascinating. They were experimenting, among other things, with polythene jars and cases. They were endeavouring to ensure that the type of accident which happened to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, would not happen again, and they did this by dropping a container from different heights to see what it would withstand with different weights in it. If a crack appeared on one side of the container they knew that something had to be done, and they went on experimenting until they got it right. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, spoke to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, he might see for himself this process.

Although I accept that good and sometimes elaborate packaging is necessary in the interests of what is contained inside, I suggest that perhaps elaborate packaging is only necessary for export, because if goods look more attractive with extra wrappings then perhaps this sells them more easily. But I suggest it may be unnecessary for goods sold in this country, because this elaborate packaging only adds to the waste which, again, has to be collected. For years voluntary organisations have been collecting waste paper and have been getting money for it. I have been collecting waste paper for a long time for a Surrey school where money is being raised for a swimming pool. There is no difficulty about getting rid of the paper or paying for it, and I hope that the Government will look into this again. The noble Earl, Lord Courtown, mentioned glass and bottles and the report in to-day's papers about the spirit industry. I find that report very disappointing; but perhaps some of the research going on can put that matter right. It is strange that nobody is interested in glass because there is not enough glass to make milk bottles. Milk is now having to be put into horrible polythene containers.

I cannot end without referring once again to organic wastes because last time I spoke on this matter I referred to composting. I believe we should do more about this, because if composting were used more widely to-day it would help to rub out a little of the cost of fertilisers. In 1970 there were in the United Kingdom 9 composting plants—3 in Edinburgh, 5 in Leicestershire and the first one of all in Leatherhead. I wonder whether the noble Baroness knows if there are any more now. I understand the problem then was that they were not efficient enough for the material to be used for agricultural purposes because it was not free of certain unsuitable matter. I think this difficulty was solved in Holland a number of years ago, and I wonder whether we can learn something from them. It is only in a time of crisis that sufficient thought is given to research into difficult problems; I hope that the curse of inflation will spur the Government to get something more done.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I want to refer to three items in this Green Paper. But before doing so, and before the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, leaves his place, may I suggest that if he is still suffering from that hangover that he mentioned earlier at 5.40 p.m.—and it is possibly accounted for by the tie that he is wearing—I would not count it in the least discourteous if the noble Lord went away and took such remedy as is available!

On page 8 the Green Paper states: It is right that local authorities should take the lead in mobilising the efforts of their communities to make the most of reclamation opportunities". That is quite right. Your Lordships will probably know that a number of local authorities have recently purchased lorries with pulverising machinery inside them. However much the housewife separates her refuse, in goes everything to the back of the lorry—waste paper, bottles, orange peel, banana skins and tins. In a few moments the whole amount is pulverised into a mess. This is not only labour-saving but it also means that the rubbish can be deposited much more compactly on the ground which the local authority uses than it could be if the rubbish was separated. The ground for dumping rubbish is difficult to obtain. Therefore I am all for the "do-it-yourself" business.

This leads me to page 10 of the Paper where it mentions waste paper. I know that this has been mentioned before—I think the noble Baroness mentioned it and I am sure my noble friend Lord Courtown did. Waste paper can be very profitable to anybody who wishes to support a charitable organisation. Many of your Lordships do so, and there are many more people outside your Lordships' House who do so. I can give one small instance of my own little village of 300 souls—and that is counting the babes in arms—where we have a church whose restoration has to be paid for. By collecting waste paper from the village we obtain between £75 and £100 a year. I suggest that the individual does more of this rather than leaving it for his county council to do so, and in doing so the individual can support some worthy object.

Lastly—and again reference has been made to this—I come to glass. Your Lordships cannot but be aware that in recent years there has been an enormous increase in non-returnable bottles. Those of your Lordships who know me very well will realise that I do not refer to bottles which contain alcoholic liquor; I am talking about the bottles that contain tonic water, ginger ale, bitter lemon and such harmless substances. This is where I want to put a question to the noble Baroness. It would be churlish of me to suggest there is anything the noble Baroness does not know, but if she cannot give me the answer to-night perhaps she would drop me a line later on. What I cannot make out is why bottles with screw tops are not returnable. I was a paper-maker, not a glass-maker, but they look to me exactly the same glass as that of the old bottles which were opened with a bottle opener—and one probably grazed one's thumb in doing it. Why are those bottles not returnable and why cannot one get one's threepence back on them? It seems to me pure and simple waste. If the noble Baroness could at some time give me an answer I should be most grateful.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, on his very capable maiden speech. I must confess to some early confusion about his existence and I wondered how to reconcile it with that of another Lord Darling I used to know, and I think I do still, and Lord Alexander of Hillsborough who used to enliven this House. But I see that the noble Lord is not either of those two persons. I noticed that one of his remarks was what might be called "of a provocative nature" in almost any circumstances I can think of except this debate. He referred to "fatuous complacency" existing here, there and everywhere. When one uses this term on one side of the House almost invariably a noble Lord on the other side, fancying that the cap was intended to fit him, rises to say that fatuous complacency does not describe him or his Party at all. This point is evidence that this subject is highly suitable for even a maiden speaker to undertake, because nobody is against anything that has been said, and hardly could be.

I came to this House as a general consumer to join in this debate for one reason and one only. On page 15 of the Paper I notice it is said: Extending the life of a product and designing to permit repair can also help to reduce waste and conserve resources. Then, at the bottom of that paragraph: … there is a lot that could be done to make certain products last longer. I have always been at war with what I consider to be a deadly leprosy of production; namely, planned obsolescence. It is quite obvious that other noble Lords who have spoken, and spoken better than I could, are equally convinced that this is so. First, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, suggested that it was more important—and I thoroughly agree. I would say that prevention is to cure as ten is to one. This Green Paper, excellent though it is, devoted three lines to production that lasts longer and 1,500 lines to reclamation. Perhaps that was its purpose. But as I read paragraph 7 on page 15 it seems to throw out an idea, half take it away again, and then refer to it as something that may be considered at any old time. I join with other noble Lords in asking the Minister whether it is not the policy of the Government to oppose this obnoxious theme of planned obsolescence, which goes right through our metallic works, engines in particular.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who selected the motor as an outstanding and glaring example. It is indeed. In my family we carry out our own repairs. I try to run machines for ten years. It is difficult to run an average small motor car for ten years. I have other machines which last a tremendous time—an Aga cooker for instance. We had one for 25 years; others have them longer. My best machine pumps water to our house every day, all day and all night, and has hardly ever stopped. Incidentally, it uses no fuel and no lubricant and was installed in 1912. I can still obtain replacements for it from the admirable makers, Blakes of Accrington. That is the kind of service that should be aimed at. Surely some Queen's award should go to the maker of a machine that is still operating although it started in the time of her great grandfather. That is the kind of thing we should aim at, rather than at products that last no time at all and for which, after a few years, spares are not available.

I am thinking of other examples. My son has just returned from tramping the earth with a rucksack. He noticed in Montevideo British Leyland buses manufactured in 1930. They keep going because that is a Latin country, and a Latin country is never defeated in making spares. He went on in his travels to Darjeeling and there saw a steam engine drawing its trucks up a mountain side, belching sparks and smoke in the good old-fashioned way. It was a Krupp manufacture of 1911. I do not want to labour this matter because almost every speaker has laid greater or less stress upon it, but I associate myself with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, in what they said on this subject.

I have two other observations which arise from what others have said. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, spoke of food. I put a different point of view. Food shortages are not the phenomena that have troubled us in the West in my lifetime, but food surpluses. We are always having a mountain of something. We have had a beef mountain and a butter mountain, and in the 1930s there were cotton mountains and fish mountains, cocoa mountains, bean mountains and this, that and the other. It is a surplus of food and raw materials which has bothered us, not a shortage. I do not think on the aggregate there is a shortage, or a foreseeable shortage. But what worries me, and what I would hope might come to the consideration of nations at a higher level, is how to cope with the surpluses without destroying them. Is there no means at all of making a freeze bank in which these surpluses can be put—as my wife and I say when we discuss these things, like Joseph advising a Pharaoh in Egypt how to prepare for seven lean years by husbanding the resources of seven years of surplus? Is there no means whatever whereby these things can be stored in some way, if not for our own consumption, at least for the millions who are undernourished—75 million (shall we say?) in Bangladesh—and there are similar situations all over the place. The difficulty is one of distribution, and I refer to the matter because the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, raised it.

There is one last item I should like to mention because it touches something I have felt about and intended to say, and is a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. It is that it is almost a waste of the human spirit to live in a high rise flat. I will end by telling your Lordships a story. I used to run the junior section of a working boys' club in Bermondsey. One day I was rash enough to say to one of the boys, who was about 12, "Are you looking forward to this slum clearance programme and the putting up of fine new flats?" He looked at me and said, "If you mean the house I live in, with a front door and a back door, and a mud patch at the back, and a hen that sometimes lays an egg, and slates that come off the roof but we have a tin bath that catches the drips, I prefer to be where I am. I wouldn't like to live in any of those fiats that I have ever been in." He said, "Captain Millbanks, we don't call these slums. We much prefer them." I had not intended to be insulting but that, I think, is a point.

As a farmer concerned with food production I do not know what to say because, as you put up bungalows, cottages, and terrace houses instead of flats you occupy land where food could be produced. I do not know what the answer is, but I think that priority should go to the spirit of man. If these high dwellings are a waste of the spirit of man then they, like some of the conveyor belt operations, should be brought to an end by the co-operation of the nations at a higher level, because without concerted action we are defeated by competition.

My Lords, I have contributed a scrappy speech but it is often my task to come at the end of a debate when everybody has said everything that I wanted to say. However, I hope I have done my bit by underlining the excellent tilings that others have said.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, the House will indeed be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, for bringing, in his maiden speech, this important Green Paper before your Lordships at an early stage in this Parliament. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, on her new appointment and responsibilities at the Department of the Environment.

My Lords, I owe my participation in this debate to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, because it was her suggestion that I should join her in doing some original research into this subject during the winter of 1969. Also I took part with her in the debate referred to by several earlier speakers in March, 1970. Your Lordships will recollect that this was prior to Stockholm. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, waved Stockholm at us and we fully appreciate that the discussions there have a very important bearing upon the thinking of the present Government in this White Paper. But, my Lords, the particular subjects to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention are ones that are not specifically mentioned. Certainly one is not specifically mentioned in this White Paper, and that is water.

In our debate in March, 1970, some of us, including myself, laid special emphasis on the need for the recycling of water and its very close relationship to the reclamation of waste land, or the use of land for reservoirs. I should like wholeheartedly to support my noble friend Lord Sandford in what he said about the Green Paper as a whole. He drew our attention to various paragraphs, but in this context I should like to draw your Lordships' attention once again to land reclamation, a subject with which the present Government are well acquainted, in Chapter 3, paragraph 24. There is a very close connection between the two and I should like to urge the noble Baroness, if I may-do so politely, once again to look at the problem of our water resources. I personally believe that a very great deal of land is being wasted. It is going under water as reservoirs—either planned, or in the course of construction, or to be planned in the next half century. It is a source of great anxiety to large numbers of amenity societies throughout the United Kingdom that such reservoirs should be planned. And, my Lords, there is a remedy.

I have had experience, as many others of your Lordships have had, in taking part in Select Committees on specific reservoir projects, and what has struck me on many occasions, either as a result of reading the papers of other bodies or being concerned with a specific project myself in the case of Calderdale, is the fact that so far as Government policy is concerned industry may use as much water as it likes. It is an ad lib policy. I drew your Lordships' attention to this in our debate in 1970. So far as I can see, there is not one word in this White Paper which refers to our second natural resource of water and relates it to our first natural resource of land. Certainly it does not occur in Chapter 3 to which I have already referred.

My Lords, if I may develop this theme a little further and venture into certain territory (I do not expect the noble Baroness to reply to these points, but I should like her to bear them in mind in the course of her discussions with the Department) there is a very important matter which is closely connected with our water resources. It is the desalination programme. In his previous office, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, had a specific interest in this programme, and it is my personal regret to-day that he has not been able to take part in this debate and mention this subject, because when he was at the Department he took a special interest in the pilot project in East Anglia. The desalination programme is a long and sad story because, unfortunately, due to expert advice, the wrong process was chosen. It was uneconomic. Unfortunately, the desalination programme now enjoys a very low category of priority, whereas, had the other process been chosen, it might well be providing another arm to a very valuable natural resource. What was intended at one time was that the generation of atomic power should be closely linked and closely associated with the desalination programme. Instead of this, so far as I know at the present moment, there is no direct link.

My Lords, I should like to venture a little further into the sea and mention once more a second natural resource which is not specifically mentioned. I do not make a complaint or a point about this, because in the chapter referring to a schedule of resources it says specifically that it is not exhaustive. I accept that entirely. Seaweed is a natural resource which surrounds our island, and once again I draw your Lordships' attention to its presence as a free natural resource which is available as a useful fertiliser. I referred to this last week in your Lordships' House in the debate on agriculture. I am wondering whether we can take this a stage further and mention in this connection the Marine Biological Institute at Plymouth which has a very great deal of specific and highly specialised knowledge on the role of seaweed in sea life. Your Lordships will be aware with dismay that the Soviet proposals for expanding their fishing fleet and employing what is commonly termed the Hoover technique of fishing out large areas of the Atlantic and other parts of the seas and oceans of the world, includes the deprivation of this natural resource. To the Marine Biological Institute we can look, surely, to examine the case for the further possibility of the seaweed which surrounds our coasts as a useful natural resource.

My Lords, once again there is no specific mention of the reclaiming of land from the sea. As one of those who participated on several occasions in debates on the third London airport, I feel that this is an omission which could, perhaps, be remedied. One of the more exciting elements in that programme was the reclaiming of a large area of the East coast from the North Sea. Your Lordships will also be aware that there are areas where, due to tides and currents surrounding these islands, there is a degree of coastal erosion taking place which is not being specifically safeguarded by either a reclamation programme or a programme of revetting our seashore. Curiously enough, it was in the last century that a great interest was shown in Parliament on this matter, and at a time when a large number of the lighthouses were constructed great interest was shown in connection with our penal programme. I am wondering whether, once again, there may be a link between these two and that as part of the Home Office programme the Prison Service might investigate the possibility of reclamation of the coastline. This is a long shot, but I put these ideas forward because we are attempting to examine the war on waste and surely our first consideration should be the wastage of the coast of our islands.

I was much encouraged, as I am sure were many of your Lordships, in the closing sentences of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, referring to the evils of technocratic man. I felt it was a cry from the heart when he referred to population pressure on a limited earth. We have much to learn from other countries, especially from Holland whose knowledge of the North Sea and the reclamation of land from the maw of the sea is of special value to us. I am just wondering whether in the European programme there may be a possibility of joining hands in cooperating in ventures which would be of mutual benefit to those countries.

I do not wish to speak for long on this subject towards the end of a long debate, and I have not given specific notice to the noble Baroness for which I apologise, so naturally I do not expect her to reply to the points I am making. But I return to what my noble friend Lord Sandford said in his opening remarks. This Green Paper has been put together hastily. That such haste has been combined with a fragmentary examination of the subject is a pity, because the debate which the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, instituted in March, 1970, attempted to cover a much wider field of the subject as a whole.

At that time we felt there was a real possibility that the reclamation of waste paper would be looked upon as a matter of urgency, and it was in this connection that the noble Baroness and I traced a journey of waste paper from your Lordships' House and another place to its recycling further down the Thames. For that reason I was most interested to listen to the speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in connection with the problems arising from waste and the ullage from paper mills. I say that because when the noble Baroness and I visited the Thames Board Mills we discovered that at that time—and this may be true to-day—a large quantity of paper from Europe, particularly from Holland, was being imported, for which we paid valuable foreign exchange. In order to meet the requirements of the Board Mills we were using valuable currency which could quite easily have been saved by a re-use of our own waste paper in this country.

I should here say—and I think it is only fair to say it—that the City of Westminster has a special responsibility for Parliament and this it carries out to the full. It is something that we can be proud of that paper from this House, of which we generate enormous quantities, eventually becomes containers and other useful objects. Perhaps there is a message here!

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness and the House will forgive me for not putting my name down on the list, but I did not think that I should be able to be present. However, I should like to leave with the noble Baroness one or two thoughts to which she obviously cannot reply at such short notice. The main thought that I wish to put over is this. One can have as much reclamation as one is prepared to pay for. For example, power stations operate at about 30 per cent. efficiency. If you use district heating this figure can rise to 70 per cent., but the costs are obviously higher. Equally, you can have reclamation of paper if you are prepared to give grants. I appreciate that this is a question not for the Department of the Environment but for the Department of Trade and Industry, and, that therefore the noble Baroness will not be able to reply, but again it is something for which one pays.

I should like to suggest that we could get a very high reclamation of paper, especially of computer paper, which is shredded and therefore makes a vast bulk and is destroyed. But it could be re-compacted by baling in the same way as various other forms of waste paper, and then sold relatively cheaply. I suggest that the Department of Trade and Industry should look at the question of giving grants for companies installing baling equipment. The same applies in the case of other items, although the position is somewhat more complicated; for example, the recovery of toxic matter, whether it be metals or other material. On a straight basis of recovery they are not economic, but if a grant were given for the installation of the appropriate equipment they might be economic. I hope that the House will forgive me for this late intervention, but I should like to leave that thought with the noble Baroness.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, for initiating this debate and I also congratulate him on a rare double. In his opening speech he gave such clear proof of his past and present credentials in the field of recycling and reclamation of materials, that I certainly cannot hope to match his undoubted knowledge of the reclamation industry, nor, may I hastily add, that of almost everybody else who has spoken. We have had an extremely expert discussion, even if it has not been an actual debate. As this is my first real baptism of fire as a Government spokesman on environmental matters—and I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, for their kind remarks—it would not be an exaggeration for me to say that I really feel up to the neck in waste at the moment! In my verbal output I will try to take as my text, "Waste not, want not". But I fear that so many important points have been raised by noble Lords that I must ask your Lordships to bear with me while I try, however inadequately, to deal with as many of them as I can. Those with which I am unable to deal, either due to lack of time or lack of knowledge, I will reply to in writing.

Yesterday's Budget must surely have concentrated our thinking most wondrously. When my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke about waste he was making a specific point about energy and also expressing an attitude of mind, and I thought it extremely interesting that on the front page of one of the editions of the Evening Standard last night the paragraph regarding energy was headlined, "War on waste". Therefore, I think his arguments and the debate together could not come at a more pertinent time.

The Green Paper is intended to give an indication of the Government's thinking on the issue of reclamation. The document was published as a Green Paper as a practical basis to demonstrate the value which the Government place on a dialogue with interested organisations, experts and ordinary individuals. It is true that we are having this debate at an early stage in the life of the Green Paper, which means that although the main Government Departments concerned have drawn it to the attention of many of the trade and professional associations and local authorities, few have had time to comment. Therefore, unfortunately, I cannot today give some of the reactions which would have been extremely interesting. However, there is great merit in having it at this early stage, because this debate, taking place in a consultative body of such very high quality as this—your Lordships' House—must make an extremely important contribution to the national debate. Possibly it has helped to move it forward to an earlier stage, to help clarify many of the issues and to act as encouragement to many others to study other things, because the views expressed here will trigger off a great many views from people who either agree or disagree. Therefore, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, who followed him, not unnaturally, along the same path, that the document has done its job very well. If they had both stood up and said, "Yes, we agree with every word in it; there is nothing more to say about it", this Green Paper would not have been a discussion document. So I feel that we have support from those two noble Lords, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who took the major part in that partnership. There were a great many ideas and comments of great interest. And it cannot be true, as my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek said, that his contribution was due to his indisposition to-day. His contribution was provocative and interesting, and extremely valuable, because he brought out a great number of points which needed to be brought out.

My Lords, all the issues which have come out in to-day's debate have extended over a wide sphere. Although I have strong feelings on high-rise flats and the waste of the spirit of the community, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not comment on these as they fall outside the Green Paper. My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek did not disappoint me, because he managed to bring in the Common Market as well, but I shall not comment on that.

One of the questions that we do not need to ask is, "Why do we need a reclamation policy?" I was personally delighted that there was such a consensus of opinion agreeing with my own thinking, that the sheer appearance of parts of our environment is a certain recipe for making eyes sore. The pollution that is man-made is something with which we should refuse to live. The health hazards of unrecovered waste are far-reaching and quite unacceptable. In fact, the whole moral, social and aesthetic reasons for protecting our country from the ravages of waste make the ecological case as important as the economic one in treating the war on waste as a high priority. On any basis one wants to take, we simply cannot afford to ignore this fact. We cannot afford to let our children grow up accustomed to a polluted, ugly, grotesquely wasteful society. We cannot afford to multilate our countryside for more raw materials while we are gradually suffocated by an endless flow of waste, neither used nor properly disposed of.

My Lords, here I would take note of the point made by my noble friend Lady White on the difference between the collection and the disposal of waste in Wales and in this country, and the effect that that will have in practical terms. It struck me as ironic, also, that the Press, who, to their credit, have used reams of paper to emphasise this tremendous problem in both newspapers and magazines, find that much of it will eventually add to the piles of paper which are literally wasted.

I find it not surprising that women figure prominently among those who have written to the Government urging the development of a national policy on the reclamation and recycling of waste. Many of the points put forward on behalf of housewives were made most eloquently by my noble friend Lady White, and also by the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster. The National Federation of Women's Institutes, the National Association of Women's Clubs, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is Secretary, the WRVS and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs in Great Britain and Northern Ireland have all passed resolutions at their annual conferences this year urging Government action in this sphere. The National Council of Women recently published a report, Recycling for Survival.

As a housewife, I understand this concern. It is not just a social or an economic matter which we can look at and appreciate, and want to do something about. It is a matter which becomes extremely personal. I am fortunate enough to have a waste disposal unit in my sink. The only trouble is that it will not "munch up" all the things I want to put into it. so it tends to go wrong. Still, my Lords, this is one of the ways in which part of the domestic waste can be dealt with. I am delighted to know that some council flats and houses are having these units installed.

We must remind ourselves of what I like to call "conceptual friction", the friction which works between the recognition of the finite limits to some of our natural resources—and there are limits—the need to conserve (mentioned by several noble Lords) and the expendable luxuries in this throw-away society. As the Prime Minister said on Monday, it lies within our power to save hundreds of millions of pounds on the nation's import bill, and to contribute to the environment in doing so. Without going into further detail, I think that covers to some extent the point made, quite rightly, by my noble friend Lord Darling of Hillsborough.

However, the Green Paper is an attempt to clarify all these issues in relation to the handling of waste. Its aims can be generally described as descriptive, analytical, prescriptive and the mobilisation effort. We have described what is already being done, and in sufficient detail to show how much reclamation already takes place. Noble Lords who have spoken are so much at home with the Green Paper that I will not go over it again in any detail. The total turnover of the reclamation industry already amounts to several hundred million pounds. In our analysis, we have identified urgent reasons for further effort, and areas for activity. The Green Paper goes on to prescribe suggestions for future policies and explains the machinery established at central Government level to give assistance and guidance. This centres inevitably on the proposed Waste Management Advisory Council.

Although, because it has not yet been finalised, I am afraid that I am unable to give the names of the members of the Council which my noble friend Lady White and other noble Lords asked me to give. I can say that this matter is under discussion almost at this moment. It is hoped that the first meeting will take place before the end of the year. The Council will consist of leading representatives of industry, local authorities, the academic world and conservation interests. A great many of the points raised to-day will be part of the constant working brief of the Council. There have already been attempts to mobilise further effort by locally structured schemes. We want to see that effort maintained. It is effort—


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness before she leaves the question of the Waste Management Advisory Council, I asked her a question on the Council and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, also indicated an interest in it. If avoidance and reduction of waste is the first and the most important step, does this fall within the terms of reference of the Council, or does it not?


Yes, my Lords, as I understand it, it certainly does. The terms of reference of the Council as set out in the Green Paper are very wide. I am very glad that the noble Lord interrupted me at that point, because I forgot to mention that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and I think also by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, regarding financial incentives is covered in the remit of the Council. It is concerned with administrative and economic affairs as well. So it really should be the body which takes initiatives and acts as a watchdog. It has an extremely wide and open brief which I think is the kind of brief it should have. However, if the effort at local level is to have any success it must involve local industry, local government and local will, which means local people both individually and collectively working in a voluntary capacity. This is something to which I should like to return.

First, I should emphasise that the Green Paper acknowledges industry's already considerable efforts and achievements in the reclamation field. These involve primary producers and processers, who take great pains to conserve raw materials. I happen to know, as possibly do other noble Lords, that both the Thames Board Mills and Maybank will man baling press machinery while local authority staff are being trained, and the Thames Board Mills has a team which goes to local authorities to set up the operation. This is really just the beginning of what might be a greater partnership between industry and local authority, which would help local authority with the very severe financial strictures which are upon it at the present time.

The secondary industries, such as scrap merchants and chemical recovery firms, naturally make as good a job as they can as their livelihoods depend upon reclamation and recycling. Three recent Reports of Working Parties on glass, plastic, metal packaging and containers, set up by the relevant industries, have been invaluable as basic studies and all credit to those industries concerned. Although I by no means have the answer to everything which the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, was kind enough to say—I think I will have to write to him about the glass bottle problem, which fills me with complete amazement and is a question that I keep on asking—I will mention briefly something which has been raised in different ways by very many noble Lords. It fits into this very large problem of techniques which involve either mechanical stress or strain and applies to the bottles to which he referred. It is unfortunate that many of the techniques required, the transport and the sheer cost of reclaiming these materials, is greater than the cost of disposing of them, or of leaving them just as they are in a heap or as litter. This is one of the very great problems which will require all the ingenuity of industry—to which I think the noble Ear, Lord Courtown, referred, as also did the noble Earl, Lord Shannon—and require also tremendously close partnership between everybody involved.

I ought to mention here industry's initiative in putting forward a proposal for a Waste Exchange Market, which we welcome in the Green Paper. Action has followed on this matter, and the Department of Industry is funding the concept of a United Kingdom Waste Materials Exchange, which is a better title for it because it is not really a market. This will be experimental for two years at a cost of £70.000 and will be free to participants. This is a very positive example of the Government giving not only a lead but finance to a worthwhile project.

So far so good, my Lords. But industry still needs further to explore the degree to which reclaimed raw materials can be used within existing processes, and this could mean changing the nature of its manufacturing processes—I think I am right in saying that the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, spoke about this—to make more use of waste products; the development of increasingly sophisticated recovery techniques and, also, the modification of product design to make reclamation viable. On this matter I so agree with my noble friend Lady White that all these things have to be started at source if we are to obtain any real results, so that we design the kind of thing which can either go on being used or if it has to be replaced can be recycled with the greatest ease. This is imperative.

It is also imperative that industry recognises—and it is beginning to do so in certain areas, without a doubt—the need to co-operate with the relevant local authority. There is really no doubt that the greatest potential for extending reclamation of materials for re-use lies with waste collection by local authorities. This does not mean that they should, or that they can, rush blindly into collection schemes. There is no point in trying to evade or overlook the question of finance, the question of priorities, the tremendous degree to which local authorities are stretched in their expenditure. Since the Budget yesterday brought a cut in public expenditure, which I am afraid was quite inevitable, the problem will be even greater.

I would say to all noble Lords who have criticised the Green Paper as being either rather waffling or not precise enough that it is easy to be precise when one can allocate large funds to a service but it is very much more difficult when one is trying to co-ordinate various ideas to try to encourage and persuade industry, individuals, local authorities, voluntary bodies, to work together. We cannot afford as a living society to let waste continue. We are really saying—let me be quite honest—that reclamation has to be done by people on ingenuity and on a financial shoestring for the time being so far as Government and local authority funds are concerned.

There are, of course, areas of activity in which local government can make short-term achievements without great expense. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, will appreciate that when he considers his remarks on local authorities in this context. Also when it comes to the question of salvaging, to which he also referred, local authorities have developed their refuse services as a service of public health for the nation; although in harsher times more salvaging was undertaken, we must consider whether the wasteful habits of to-day can be reversed. I agree with him about that point. I urge the recognition that collection and disposal must have a priority in terms of public health, but that, nevertheless, the standards of reclamation and disposal must be raised. There is this very important public health element which often raises costs and slows down the activity.

When we come to the question of our voluntary efforts, society has always benefited from voluntary help, and I hope to see this continue in almost every field possible. I think that we have to-day more voluntary help than we ever had available, and particularly among the young; we also have far greater resources of voluntary manpower and womanpower. But I agree with all those noble Lords who have said that we cannot really expect householders to be asked to separate their refuse and then when the collection van comes round, if it does (and it does not always), see it all flung in together and jumbled up. There is nothing more irritating. As a busy housewife, there is nothing more time wasting—and here this is a waste of time as well as everything else—than to see this happen. I can promise personally to make sure that certainly my male colleagues are prodded about this constantly.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, who was asking the question about voluntary auxiliaries helping local authorities. First of all, not only is it right, but we cannot afford anything else. On the other hand, it is also true to say that the voluntary organisations—once having said that they are not always treated as well as they should be in this field—must also prove their own reliability, otherwise the whole thing falls down. If you get a spurt of interest and then everybody loses heart the rubbish piles up and nothing happens to it at all. That, together with the co-operation needed from individuals, trade unions, and from almost any group of people one can mention, illustrates the critical interdependence of working groups in the community, and the crucial importance of realistic analysis which weighs up the various viable alternatives.

The role of central Government must be to provide a deeper understanding of reclamation opportunities, and also to encourage all those concerned to organise themselves and make the most use of reclamation, and to develop appropriate policies to promote the right methods. This will, in due course, be channelled through the proposed Waste Management Advisory Council, which is under Ministerial chairmanship.

Central Government has already taken some further initiatives. There has been constant and effective liaison between Departments, which has been appreciated by your Lordships, in looking at the particular issues involved. The Government are expanding their own programme of research and development—and I think this was a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon—particularly with the sponsorship of the waste recovery service at Warren Springs laboratory. I am sure the noble Earl knows about this, but I should be happy to write to any other noble Lord, as I do not think I can take the time to go into the detail of this extremely interesting pioneer effort.

The agents for action are available and the climate is right for a war on waste. What we have to look at is the wasteful nature, as has been pointed out, of some of our own activities and habits. There are of course great advantages in our present technological developments. Although many of us try to escape to a greater sort of simplicity of life, I do not see it as a practical possibility to be able to turn the clock technologically back. There are people who are living in communes and family groups who are trying to effect a do-it-yourself society, but this is quite impossible on any large scale. Nevertheless, there are things, if we take them seriously enough, that we could learn to do without. We can also do more for ourselves, where we keep the basic utensils, like making our own jams.

Many of your Lordships have pointed out, and I agree, that the Green Paper does not emphasise perhaps sufficiently the possibilities of improving production standards and changing product design and packaging. It is not that they have been overlooked, but they are to be considered in due course by the Waste Management Advisory Council. We do not want to throw out the article with the packaging, because many goods need its protection, and much of the packaging in which goods are contained has been the result of recycling. Nevertheless, I should have liked to see in some areas what I would call two tiers of goods. For instance, in regard to cosmetics, if I buy something for myself, it takes me a good deal of time to get into the packaging in order to get the article out.

Here there is an awful waste of paper, cardboard, plastic. I do not usually want to pay the extra price which, to some extent, this operation must involve. However, if I wish to give such things as presents, then I am prepared to pay a little more for the pretty packaging that becomes part of the gift. An early priority of the Waste Management Advisory Council—and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, will be pleased about this—will be the establishment of a study group on packaging and containers. As I have made clear, this will be a study close to my own heart.

Finally, it is imperative that each one of us makes a positive contribution to this war on waste. There are different ways in which we can do it: by co-operating in any local schemes, by being economical in the use of our materials and packaging, and by not consigning returnable containers to the dustbin. In spite of all the comments about those products that are not taken back for reclamation, it is really quite horrendous that a survey in 1972 on litter commissioned by the Glass Manufacturers Federation—I think that the noble Viscount will be interested in this—showed that in 53 locations of all the glass containers left as litter, 27.5 per cent. were milk bottles. In another survey of which I have heard, it was discovered that a significant percentage of discarded bottles were in fact those on which deposits had been paid. Therefore, there really is a great deal that even the individual who is concerned only with his own particular purse can do.

With my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek, I am a great believer in education wherever you can use it, both for the young and for adults. In this area I personally believe that where local education authorities take an interest in waste it is not only immensely helpful but is laying a firm foundation for the future. This is why I was very pleased to learn of a recent environmental education project at a school in Buxton which was organised by the local regional office of the Keep Britain Tidy group in conjunction with industry and others. In this project, the students of a school, together with parents, friends and neighbours, collected non-returnable clear glass containers over a four-week period to go to a co-operative glass works at Worksop. Over 42,000 containers were collected, and the campaign also unearthed a further 4,000 drip feed bottles from a Manchester hospital. This shows what can be done when there is a will.

It is also encouraging that reclamation and recycling are included in various examination syllabuses, such as the GCE in general studies. This is certainly one way of changing the social habits of future generations. From my past duties as chairman of the Health Education Council, I am also a great believer, if you can do it in the right way, of attempting to educate adults as well. I do not think that any of us are beyond that. We must accept that we will not implement a policy of reclamation overnight. We must accept that there will always be some waste, but what we have to avoid is wasteful waste, and ugly waste.

We will not change the habits of the nation at a stroke; we will not change the production capacity of the paper industry to absorb all the waste paper we could collect and to re-use at a stroke, and even if we built a mountain of empty glass containers we certainly could not order the economic re-use of the mountain of glass at a stroke. But we can try to do the various things which I and other noble Lords have mentioned. We can try to educate and persuade by the clever use of publicity. Here I entirely agree with my noble friend Lady White that it is extremely important how you use publicity, where you use it and for what purpose. I can assure her that, certainly to the best of my ability, I will stress the necessity of precision at every juncture. Otherwise a further pile of waste paper material will be filling waste paper baskets all over the country.

We have to avoid the wasteful consumption of petrol by cars. At the moment, it looks as though the increase in price will do a particularly good job in that respect, but there are also some steps that we can take to eliminate waste through some personal saving in expend-diture. It is amazing how unaware many of us are that we make things more expensive for ourselves by our own personal choices. A change in attitudes is a long-term process, but it can flow at the beginning only from a discussion of the problems. The debate to-day has certainly started that discussion in your Lordships' House and in Parliament. Let the debate continue until the stage of action is reached.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, as she mentioned the matter of Warren Spring, would she concede that the best results are likely to emanate from industry, and that this is where the support should be given and not necessarily to Government laboratories? I tried to stress this point. If she would concede that this is where the best results will lie it will probably stop this experiment being called "God's or the Government's gift to Warren Spring".


My Lords, what I was trying, apparently unsuccessfully, to argue was the whole concept of partnership. Of course we depend on industry for this and one hopes industry will take an even greater lead. To refer to the Warren Spring experiment is not to take a crack at industry. It is merely giving an example of what can be done and what further should be done. I agree that the bigger the lead and the more industry does the more pleased the Government will be.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank those noble Lords who have commented so favourably—I do not know whether I have deserved it—on my introducing this debate. I have listened carefully to all but one of the speeches. They have ben very interesting. I may frighten noble Lords by saying that they prompt me to make another speech of about three-quarters of an hour in length, but I am going to practice self-denial because there will be further opportunities to examine the subject.

I thoroughly agree with some of the speeches which have been made; I profoundly disagree with some of the observations, including the last one made by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon. I am not altogether in agreement with some of the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. I should certainly like an opportunity of replying to the Opposition Front Bench speakers, but I will not pursue that now. I will practice self-denial and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.