HL Deb 15 July 1977 vol 385 cc1107-10

11.18 a.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have taken steps to help local authorities to organise paper collections in order to reduce United Kingdom expenditure on imports of foreign pulp.


My Lords, we have circulated advice to local authorities on the collection of waste paper. The need for further measures is being examined by the Waste Management Advisory Council. It is, however, primarily for the paper industry to work out satisfactory arrangements with local authorities, as they do with other collectors.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which is slightly encouraging. I should like to ask her two questions. First, has it been thought at all possible to contact the Women's Institute and the WRVS about helping in this matter? I was a member of the latter body during the War and know what good work it did. Secondly, could not airports with abandoned aircraft hangars be loaned to local authorities for storage. One of the problems in this matter is the question of storage when there is a surplus.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, we have recently produced Guide to the Voluntary Waste Collection, which would cover the point of advice which is given both to Women's Institutes and other organisations. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, because in this field the work of the voluntary organisations is often more effective as they can be very much more flexible than local authorities which must have regard to expense and collections. So far as storing the paper is concerned, the Government have considered this carefully. One of the problems is the cost of financing this scheme because there are the downturns and the upturns—it all changes so rapidly—and there would be a real danger that the stocks would not have been cleared between one downturn and another, and the last thing we want is to add to our other mountains by having a paper mountain.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in recent years quite a number of local authorities have withdrawn facilities for the separate collection of household waste paper? Might I ask whether or not this has been influenced by the fact that the price of waste paper has substantially fallen over recent years?

Baroness BIRK

Yes, my Lords, I am sure that this is so. The local authorities often find it quite uneconomic to do this. But there are joint schemes which are now being developed to which we attach great importance. One is at Croydon where the merchants provide the extra equipment needed and the local authority has only to meet the cost of the extra labour. There is a future in this sort of arrangement.


My Lords, having regard to what was done during the War in this very important matter, can any general figures be provided so that we might look at the financial situation, which of course is so important at the present time?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, if I can find any figures that are relevant, perhaps I could write and send them to the noble Baroness.


My Lords, while I have no connection with the Women's Institute, may I ask my noble friend this question: Is it not a fact that some local authorities are completely uninterested or too idle to undertake waste paper collection? Secondly, is it not a fact that many authorities which have entered into contracts with the mills have found at certain times that the mills are over-stocked with waste paper, so that the mills have had to say to the local authority, "Please do not send us any more"? Is it not a fact also that the mills do not like the idea of carrying so much capital locked up in fields and sheds full of waste paper? Is not the real remedy for this for capital to be made available so that this surplus to requirements of waste paper can be stored in the mills without any additional cost to the firms?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, to the first three questions my noble friend asked I think the answer is, in different degrees, Yes. On his last point, about making capital available, one comes back to the same point that I made to the noble Baroness: there is a limit to the amount of stockpiling one can do. I would again emphasise that the Government have spent £23 million on helping to produce the machinery for using waste paper and turning it into a better quality paper pulp. This really is one of the solutions.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness say whether the Government have in fact considered the suggestion advanced by my noble friend Lady Emmet, that we should use disused hangars on disused airfields as a stopgap in looking after the problem of storage? If they have not considered it so far, would they be prepared to do so in the future?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I thought that I answered that point by saying that it was not just a question of finding the places to store but the building up of such an enormous amount of paper which was not then going to be used. I think I referred to a paper mountain. All these things have been looked at. The matter is not only one of growing concern, but one that is being considered all the time.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that this is a problem best dealt with at source by not unnecessarily distributing printed material in vast quantities around the country, most of which goes into the waste-paper basket without even being opened?

Baroness BIRK

Yes, my Lords, would agree.