HL Deb 16 May 1977 vol 383 cc457-60

2.52 p.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 it is necessary to import 100,000 tons of waste paper, in view of the amount available for collection were local authorities to co-operate with householders.


My Lords, last year imports, net of exports, amounted to about 50,000 tonnes, that is 2½ per cent. only of the paper and board industry's annual usage of waste paper. This trade helps to meet shortages of particular types of waste paper. Steps are being taken to increase waste paper collection. These include efforts by the waste paper merchants and local authorities to develop joint arrangements to improve their collections. Voluntary organisations can also play a useful part. The Waste Management Advisory Council will shortly be launching a national campaign to encourage and advise them on the collection of waste materials.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, which has a little encouragement in the last sentence, is he aware that to buy waste paper when we can provide it ourselves is surely wasting a lot of money, which we can ill afford to do with our present balance of payments difficulties, and that the housewife would be only too willing to co-operate with the local authorities if a really big move was made in that direction? I know from experience during the war, when for seven years I, with my organisation, helped to collect waste paper. I am sure the noble Lord will agree that it is tragic that we should spend money unnecessarily.


My Lords, the Government are well aware of this possible saving, and with that in view they launched last year a £23 million scheme to help the paper industry to increase its recycling capacity, which will enable the industry to absorb a greater collection of waste paper. Quite clearly, the Waste Management Advisory Council's campaign is now timed to tie up with the increased capacity for the recycling of waste.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he realises that there is a vast amount of waste paper in professional offices and in other places which has to be shredded before it can leave those premises, and will he exercise his influence to see to it that some provision is made for the collection of that kind of paper? There must be a vast amount of it throughout the country.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the point he has made and I will see that it is drawn to the attention of the Waste Management Advisory Council.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether newspaper is useful waste paper? Many of us have a great deal of this and we often wonder what to do with it. Would that be useful, and would the authorities collect it for us?


My Lords, speaking away from my brief, it is useful because of research done in this country on the de-inking of paper of that type.


My Lords, did the noble Lord say that in order to save money the Government had spent £23 million? If so, what was it spent on?


My Lords, it was spent on recycling plant. That is not a bicycle; it is plant which will take waste paper and turn it into usable paper.


My Lords, is that machinery then to be used to recycle the 100,000 tons of imported waste paper?


My Lords, one of the mysteries of this art is the fact that not all waste paper is the same. There is high quality and low quality waste paper, and there is an international trade in it. We imported 100,000 tons of waste paper but exported 55,000 tons last year, and I am glad to inform the noble Lord that previous to that we had an export surplus in the waste paper trade.


My Lords, will my noble friend give an assurance that when the Committee reports the Government will take action? This is a hardy annual; it is continually cropping up. Local authorities are pressed to take some action, but very little action is taken and the tremendous wastage that is taking place is a disgrace because of the heavy expenditure involved. Will my noble friend ensure that there will be some result from this expenditure of £23 million; that the plant will be put into action, and we shall be saved the inconvenience of the adverse economic situation?


My Lords, while welcoming the statement made by the noble Lord of the intention to conduct a national campaign for the collection of waste paper, may I ask him whether he would think it appropriate that in connection with the present scheme of substituting a number of hours of community service in place of imprisonment, help in the collection of waste material could result in the commuting of prison sentences? It was recently explained to me that one small troop of boy scouts collected waste paper and had been receiving £40 a month for it. Picture that situation, my Lords, over the whole country.


My Lords, that is a most interesting idea, which I will draw to the attention of my right honourable friend.


My Lords, when my noble friend draws attention to the suggestion made by the noble Lord. Lord Barnby, will he also bear in mind that it could be very dangerous indeed to use ex-convicts and serving convicts to go around visiting houses and collecting waste paper?—because in so doing they would merely be "casing the joint".


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that 40 years ago there was a very large trade from this country in baled newspapers to the oriental bazaars, where copies of the News of the World were used to wrap up sweetmeats and grain, and so on, in small quantities? Does that trade still exist, and is the 50,000 tons that he mentioned part of that trade?


My Lords, that is a highly technical question, which I am afraid I cannot answer.