§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Digby rose to move, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations 1980 [S.I. 1980 No. 1709] laid before the House on 17th November 1980 be annulled.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion seeks to annul these regulations which are due to come into operation on 16th March. That date is significant since the regulations arc intended to discharge the obligations of the United Kingdom under the EEC directive on toxic and dangerous waste of 20th March 1978 and I believe that the Government are determined to bring in the new regulations before the third anniversary of that directive.
§ My reasons for taking this rather unusual step arise from the grave disquiet expressed by those whose duty it is to administer these new regulations and also, I believe, by industry itself. Since the subject is excessively technical, I hope the House will bear with me if I take some little time to explain the history of the matter. One of the hazards of living in an increasingly technological age is the disposal of waste products from industry. Many of these are extremely dangerous and furthermore, as science expands, its capacity to produce and its range of waste products grows and becomes startlingly more complex.
§ In the early '70s, following intense public concern over the haphazard dumping of toxic waste, legislation was enacted—the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972. It is true to say that this legislation was rushed on to the statute book. However, although legislation made in haste is frequently bad, in fact the system of controlling poisonous waste introduced by that Act has proved both workable and effective. The present system of control in accordance with that Act applies to any quantity or concentration of waste that may constitute a serious hazard to life, health or the environment. Waste disposal authorities can decide for themselves whether any waste constitutes such a hazard. In practice a general understanding has been built up with industry as to which wastes are likely to be involved. The Act is implemented by a system of notification, first, to the waste disposal authority in whose area the waste arises; secondly, to the waste disposal and water authorities in the area in which it is proposed to dispose of it and, thirdly, to the person who actually is to dispose of the waste. Notification is made in advance of the proposals to move the waste.
§ These new regulations make important changes. The most important of these relate to a new definition of the waste products that are to be controlled and the replacement of notifications with a "cradle to the grave" consignment note. The wastes identified by the present Act, that is to say those considered to be a hazard to life, to health or to the environment, will be replaced by three limited categories of special waste. These are, first, a list of 31 substances which have to be shown to be a danger to life or highly inflammable; 307 secondly, any medicines available only on prescription; and, thirdly, certain radioactive wastes. It is estimated that the effect of these definitions will be to reduce the number of notifiable substances by as much as two-thirds.
§ The other significant change I have referred to is the replacement of the notification system by the consignment note which follows the waste all through its stages, from production to final disposal. The way it will operate means that regional water authorities, for instance, will no longer receive notification. Also the home waste disposal authority in whose area the waste is produced will not have the advance notice of the intended movement of the waste covered by the note, although they are responsible for the completion of the consignment note process.
§ Why then have the Government made these regulations? They will no doubt say that a system of licensing waste disposal sites which has been in existence for three years is adequate to deal with all but the most dangerous classes of waste product. They will point to the consequential reduction in administrative and bureaucratic procedures, because fewer wastes will require notification. They will no doubt pray in aid the EEC directive as authority for what they are doing. No doubt these are all laudable aims but we arc dealing with very dangerous matters over which the public has a right to expect the most stringent controls.
§ I am a member of the Association of County Councils, which represents the 39 shire counties which are waste disposal authorities, and they are appalled by what is proposed. That is why they have taken the most unusual step of asking me to table this Motion. The ACC is not alone in this matter. The submission which some of your Lordships may have seen was jointly prepared by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the GLC, as well as the ACC. In Wales, district councils are waste disposal authorities, and I understand that they share our concern. The fact that all the local authority associations are able to achieve a unanimity of view on this matter may suggest the seriousness with which they view this change in the regulations.
I have reason to believe that it is not only local government that is concerned. I have seen a report of the conference held on this subject last October when Dr. Hicklish of the Ford Motor Company was quoted as having said:
There will be appalling practical difficulties in establishing whether a waste falls within the regulations under the new procedure".
At least one commercial company active in this field has written to the ACC indicating its support for the action we are taking.
§ What are the matters which give rise to these doubts? First, there will be considerable numbers of waste products which will not be subject to the notification procedure under the new system which were under the old, and I will be giving some examples later. Broadly, these are the substances which are not hazardous to life, but which could be environmentally very damaging, for example, to water supplies. Secondly, the 31 substances listed in the regulations have also to be shown to be dangerous to life. That phrase is defined by reference to the threat to the life of a 20 308 kilogramme child of five cubic centimetres of the substance. If someone has conducted toxicity experiments on 20 kilogramme children I hope they will get in touch with the local authorities, because I certainly have not heard of any experiments, and we do not know how else we are to obtain the information. Even disregarding young children, toxicological evidence of the effect of a wide variety of new and changing waste products on any mammals is not readily available.
§ Thirdly, as if that were not enough, it is the local authorities themselves who are expected to prove that any given substance falls within these definitions. The possibility is, therefore, that a particular substance might slip through the net through lack of information. The alternative is that the local authority is put to considerable difficulty and expense in conducting toxicity testing for which, as I am sure your Lordships realise, neither the funds nor the expertise are readily available. Unfortunately, someone disposed of some South American 'flu germs on me about a week ago, which is why I find it rather difficult to pronounce with a dry mouth some of the more difficult words.
§ Fourthly, the change in emphasis from the administrative control of waste to field control at licensed sites may be laudable in theory, but it is misconceived in practice. Waste disposal authorities themselves will have to deploy more highly qualified staffs at sites to conduct monitoring than they have to at the moment. The impact on certain areas could well be considerable. Technical staff qualified to recognise harmful waste will have to be maintained at each tip, which will be more expensive than centralised staff. Taking London as an example, the majority of the wastes now notifiable are routed outside London to sites such as those at Pitsea in Essex. Even supposing there were sufficient qualified staff to do the necessary inspections and analysis, the implications for public expenditure arc obvious.
§ Fifthly, the "cradle to the grave" consignment note has faults. This lies in the omission of the regional water authorities as a recipient, presumably because the water supplies arc no longer considered sufficiently important. I would have thought they are one of the most important people to be informed. And the lack of obligation for prior notification to the "home" local authority in advance of the despatch of toxic waste into the area of another authority is very serious. The "home" authority will have invaluable local knowledge of the nature of the waste, which needs to be passed on to the receiving authority in certain cases to avoid environmental hazard.
§ Sixthly, the haste with which the Government have put forward this proposal in order to comply with the EEC directive is. I am told by those who know about these things, in fact unnecessary. The directive would have been complied with simply by introducing the new consignment note procedure into the existing system, without the accompanying wholesale changes, and that system is working well.
§ Finally, a sub-committee of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology is currently conducting an inquiry into the disposal of hazardous and toxic wastes. It is a comprehensive and far-reaching exercise. We are hoping to give evidence to it. I believe it is premature for the Government to make 309 such substantial changes to the control of such wastes in advance of the sub-committee reaching their conclusions.
§ What, then, do I ask the Government to do? I would hope that it is still possible for them to concede that the regulations have been misconceived. If they are concerned about their European obligations, there is still time for them to bring forward new regulations, dealing only with the new consignment note procedure. I would hope the noble Lord would give serious consideration to that possibility. The local authority associations, however, are reasonable bodies, and they remain willing to attempt to implement the new system if only the Government would bring forward some amending regulations, to take effect on the same day in March, which could make the regulations workable. I do not propose to subject your Lordships to the tedium of listing all the matters that would be covered by these regulations, but they have been submitted to the department, and those of your Lordships who have received the copy of the local authority associations' brief will know what they are. Suffice it to say that they would mitigate the worst features of these regulations.
§ Before I sit down I would like to tell your Lordships one or two particular horror stories of things that are likely to happen if these regulations go through. First, some stuff called "bog ore", a waste from old gas works, will totally sterilise the ground on which it is deposited, preventing anything from growing. Further, rain on this will produce an acid leachate which, if it runs into streams, will kill all stream life; and under the regulations this would not require notification. Secondly, the interreaction of substances. A relatively dilute acid combined with a sulphide, neither of which would be considered toxic, can rapidly produce hydrogen sulphide gas which is extremely toxic. Your Lordships may remember that such a combination caused the death of a tanker driver at a tip in Essex, even in the open air.
§ Thirdly, there is no provision in the regulations for dealing with the same mercury wastes which caused minamata disease in Japan. Sludges from the chloralkali industry contain mercury which can on being deposited be changed by bacteria into the more toxic and exceedingly dangerous methyl mercury. These wastes are not defined as toxic by the regulations. I can speak with some feeling on the subject of mercury wastes, as an ancestor of mine, who was a founder member of the Royal Society and so should have known better, was determined to maintain the beauty of his wife. He invented a face cream for her. Unfortunately, it contained mercury and killed her. Even the fact that Van Dyck was at hand to paint her on her death bed did not console the distraught husband. Toxic waste is dangerous, and I implore the Government to think again before headlines of disaster appear in the press. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations 1980 [S.I. 1980 No. 1709] laid before the House on 17th November 1980 be annulled.—(Lord Digby.)
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I think that this is possibly 310 the first time, or one of the very few times, when I find myself not only ad idem, but almost word for word ad idem, with the noble Lord, Lord Digby, who has so clearly explained the history and consequences of these resolutions if they go through. Normally, it would be a great occasion to welcome the implementation of some of the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act because I, as a Minister, was very impatient that we were not able to do that; and as succeeding Governments have come along it has always been held up for such reasons as lack of resources and lack of time. However, for the provisions to come through in this way now is certainly something which it is not only impossible to welcome but something which one views with the greatest alarm.
Cutting down bureaucracy and diminishing the number of pieces of paper floating around is also something upon which we can all agree, but certainly not at the price we are being asked to pay in the regulations that we are considering this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Digby, was absolutely right when he referred not only to the unaniminity of the local authority organisations, but also of the other people who are showing, and will increasingly show, very great concern about this matter. I would go as far as to say that although today there has been a considerable amount of important business in your Lordships' House, I consider that this is the most important matter that we have discussed today, and the fact that the House is rather slim in attendance is irrelevant to the material. When other noble Lords learn what this is all about, I think that they will feel as shocked as many noble Lords who are here this evening.
The word is also spreading among Members of Parliament. The environmental groups are getting very exercised about the matter. Academics and responsible waste disposal contractors feel very strongly about it, as do many manufacturing industries of which the noble Lord, Lord Digby, gave an example. I am sure that that feeling goes right through the waste disposal industry. I find it rather a mystery that none of us "cottoned on" to this a little sooner and before the 40 days almost elapse, but I assure the noble Earl and the Government that there will be one hell of a row about this, because once it is publicised and people realise what it is all about there will be a backlash which I think will surprise the Government unless they take the advice of those of us who are prepared to give them good advice tonight as to how they should proceed.
We have seen concern throughout the country about nuclear radiation, and toxicity—and even without 'flu germs I find that a difficult word to pronounce—is of equal or even greater concern. It is absolutely correct that increased technology means more processes producing more waste that is dangerous to people, animals, or the environment—or all three. I feel very sad that this emanated from my old department I cannot think what happened to many of the officials with whom I worked very happily; some sort of aberration must have occurred. It seems curious and quite irresponsible that at this time, when technology is on the increase, when new processes are coming along and industry is being encouraged to promote them, they should then take a step back as regards protection 311 for the individual and for the environment. That is exactly what is happening as regards this matter.
As the noble Lord said, the EEC directive is covered as far as consignment notes are concerned. But the definition of "toxicity", which we now have in these regulations, is not only different from that in the 1972 Act, but quite different from the EEC directive, which makes this an even more retrograde change. The EEC directive says that the essential objective of all provisions relating to the disposal of toxic or dangerous waste must be the protection of human health and safeguarding the environment against harmful effects. But what do these regulations do? They denotify approximately two-thirds of hazardous waste.
Under the 1972 Act everything was hazardous unless on the excluded list. Obviously, I accept that a balance is needed between the protection of health and the environment and the needs of industry. There is a case probably for a sharper definition of "toxic waste". The removal of the requirement to inform the water authorities would also save 50 per cent. of the paperwork, because the knowledge of that would come through other means anyway, so it would no longer be necessary.
But there certainly is no case for the "Pica" child concept. In fact, if the concept that five cubic centimetres would cause death or serious damage to a 20 kilogram child were not so serious, it would be absolutely hilarious. It belongs to "Beyond the Fringe" or something like that. Like the noble Lord, Lord Digby, I should like to know whether experiments have been carried out in order to give this scientific validity to which we are entitled. What research has been carried out? Further, what would be the courts' interpretation if any case were brought? How would the local authorities prosecute with any hope of success? What about the costs of prosecution when we have this very vague and open-ended definition?
Then, of course, there are the administrative difficulties. Even if all other things were equal—which they certainly are not—the administrative difficulties could defeat, I was going to say the "well meaning" intention. However, it is really extremely misguided. I shall give the benefit of the doubt, and say that if it is well-meaning, it is cock-eyed to such an extent that it is so highly dangerous that the effects cannot be described as well-meaning at all.
The information that local authorities have of waste disposal in their area is certainly not as good as has obviously been assumed. They have never had a chance to get it going, and that is known perfectly well in the department as well as by the local authorities.
Now, with the tremendously heavy cut in resources on all local authorities, the prospects are even more gloomy. The compulsion as regards the date of completion of the survey and the production of the waste disposal plan disappeared in the Local Government Act 1980. So, at a time of constraint and restriction, these regulations are brought in. They depend on expertise, on monitoring and on very high-calibre people. The whole system hinges on documentary control. Without unique reference numbers on consignment notices it will be extremely difficult, probably impossible, to monitor the whole process.
312 There is no requirement on a firm disposing of its waste to notify its own waste disposal authority if the waste is going outside the area. At the moment, they have to do so, but that requirement will disappear under these regulations. Notification is absolutely essential, since it is the home local authority which has the knowledge of the industrial processes in its own area. An example springs to mind in the London area, when a London firm notified that it was going to dispose of glue residues in a land-filled site in Cheshire. Since they have to notify the home authority, London immediately recognised the environmental hazard as the glue was a liquid solvent. It tipped Cheshire off. Otherwise the glue would have been put into a land-filled site in a very sensitive area. There is nothing to take the place of this important communication in what is altogether a very toxic subject. I query whether there is sufficient highly-calibred expertise available. I do not believe that it is there. Even if it is there, how on earth can anyone afford such people today? What a day to bring about this sort of regulation! It is almost beyond belief.
Finally—as the noble Lord, Lord Digby, put it—this action is absolutely devastatingly and, I would say, disgracefully premature, because the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology is looking into the whole subject of the organisation and method of hazardous waste disposal. The committee is still receiving evidence; it has not even had a chance to consider the evidence. What is the point, at public expense, with the work and time of Members of that committee being taken up, of it sitting and working, when a decision like this is taken before it has even had a chance to make its recommendations or to come to its conclusions?
I join with the noble Lord, Lord Digby, in his hope that the Minister will not just say in a very polite and charming way that he will note what noble Lords have said and report back to his right honourable friend, but that—because he must have had some inkling of what he would be faced with this evening—following the recommendations of the House of Lords Select Committee, with further proper consultation on this paper as it is now, the Government will then bring in amending legislation on Part I and Schedule 1 of these regulations. As regards the rest, the document can stand. But it would be an absolute catastrophe if this part, which is so important to our health and to our environment, remained in its present form. I hope that when the noble Earl replies, he will be able to assure us along those lines.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Lord Greenwood of Rossendale
My Lords, I entirely agree with what my noble friend has said, and I am particularly grateful to her for the very constructive way in which she has expressed her point of view. But I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Digby, for the signal favour that he has done the House by drawing our attention to these regulations tonight. Perhaps many of his colleagues in this noble House might have got off the mark more quickly than they did, and I must plead guilty to that. But the fact that he was there and anxious to take up the cudgels is, I think, greatly to his credit and something which puts the House in his debt.
313 I am increasingly worried about the reckless disregard of safety measures in this country. I think that it is absolutely crazy to import nuclear waste into the United Kingdom. It is even crazier to take it around the country on the railways. An accident could do untold harm—the sort of harm that it is almost impossible for us to envisage. Now, when people are getting really alarmed about the impact of nuclear waste and other waste upon the community, the Government are encouraging the local authorities to take the problem less seriously than they have been taught to do since the 1972 Act. That must be wrong. I think that my noble friend Lady Birk is so right in what she has said. If I could put the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Digby, in a rather different way, it cannot be right that two-thirds of the waste which is now regarded, under the 1972 Act, as environmentally significant will be non-notifiable if the regulations become the law. It really is a most unsatisfactory regulation.
This morning I had the pleasure of spending some time with Mr. Geoffrey Waterer, the chairman of the ACC's Consumer Services Committee. He expanded at some length on the kind of horrors to which the noble Lord, Lord Digby, drew our attention. Mr. Waterer has been the chairman of Essex County Council which covers one of the areas most seriously affected by toxic wastes; the Lancashire county council, which is seriously affected, too, has also been in touch with me, as have many of the metropolitan authorities. When one thinks of the problem that waste constitutes, in counties such as Essex and Lancashire, and probably large parts of South Wales, one is horrified that the Government are taking this rather casual approach to the problem.
I do not want to speak at length, because many noble Lords want to take part in this brief debate. However, I believe that the definition is utterly unsatisfactory. I think that it is grossly at variance with the views of my noble friend Lady White, who I hope will take part in the debate, and who, with the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, has made the most tremendous contribution to the study of the impact of waste on the environment in Great Britain. However, I hope that my noble friend will express herself on that tonight.
I simply say that I believe that the definition of "toxicity" is completely unsatisfactory, and I hope that the Government will accede to the suggestion from my noble friend Lady Birk that there should be amending legislation. If they do say that, there would be no harm in these regulations going through, but it is a most inept and badly calculated piece of legislation.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I should like, briefly, to intervene in this evening's debate purely as a member of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology, which—as the noble Lord, Lord Digby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said—set up a sub-committee only last November to consider the whole area of hazardous toxic waste disposals. I have no doubt that the chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, would have wished to take part in this evening's debate, but he is unavoidably detained at meetings in Manchester. When he discussed this matter with me last week we agreed the 314 line that might be taken this evening, so that anything I say is said with his agreement.
My noble friend Lord Digby has drawn attention—as, indeed, have the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale—to the fears expressed not only by the waste disposal authorities but also by the county councils and others to these regulations. As I said, the sub-committee was convened only last November. It is currently taking evidence on these and many other matters.
I fear to tell your Lordships that the committee's deliberations are likely to take somewhat longer than was first anticipated. It may very well be some months —perhaps many months—rather than weeks before that committee is able to report. As my noble friend said, this is because this is a dangerous matter. It is not a matter that can be most easily considered. I should not like to mislead your Lordships this evening by attempting to answer one side or the other. I think that that might very well be misleading. Indeed, any impression that I personally may have gained in the few weeks that this committee has sat has not been endorsed by my noble colleagues, and it would be far better if I stay purely and simply on that one side.
The committee has given consideration to the regulations since they have been tabled. It took note of my noble friend's prayer. We would assure your Lordships that anything that is said tonight will be given very careful consideration, as will all the evidence that will undoubtedly come forward as a result of the publicity and the prominence given to this matter this evening. If I do not give any indication as to which way the committee may or may not move in this particular matter, I would ask my noble friend Lord Avon on the Front Bench for an assurance that, whatever may happen later this evening, this committee's deliberations and subsequent report will be equally well considered by the Government at whatever time it may come out.
The matter under discussion this evening is perhaps not quite as narrow as my noble friend illustrated. It is right to consider the whole question of a national policy for hazardous waste disposal. I think it is equally right that I should draw your Lordships' attention to the wideness of the investigation that the committee is currently carrying out. It will hopefully report before the end of this year, although it will certainly be many months hence; and it is hoped that the report will be helpful in determining any action that the Government may wish to take in so far as a national policy is concerned.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness White)
My Lords, I am indeed grateful, as indeed are all other Members of the House, to the noble Lord, Lord Digby, for having raised this matter. I sympathise with him over the influenza germ, I also having suffered a little while past from that affliction. But I must with all due gratitude to him, say that I feel that the local authority associations between them could have taken steps to see that those of us in this House who are interested in this matter but who are not in the privileged position of the members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology received their papers before this morning.
315 I was in Wales over the weekend. There was a notice on the Order Paper only last Thursday, as I understand it, that the noble Lord proposed to raise this matter, and frankly I have been too much preoccupied today with other matters to which I had to attend to be able to give adequate attention to this subject. Therefore, with the greatest possible personal gratitude to the noble Lord, I feel that the local authority associations have rather let down some of us who are closely interested in this matter.
I have received the notes from the Association of County Councils who, as they remind us on their letter heading, represent a population of some 30 million, in which they say:In their present form the Association of County Councils believes that the regulations would be unworkable, inadequate, and virtually unenforceable, but up to now the Environment Department has refused to introduce amendments considered essential by the Association".That is a strong expression of opinion from one of the major local authority associations in this country, and entirely justifies the noble Lord, Lord Digby, in raising this matter tonight.
I should perhaps say that in the few hours that I have had, interspersed with other business, to master this subject and refresh my memory of my previous interest in it, I found that this particular statutory instrument was singularly unloved anywhere but in the Department of the Environment, so it seems. None of the local authority associations I have been able to contact today has anything good to say of it. It seems to me that the Government should be very careful as to the response they give tonight in the face of this virtually unanimous condemnation of the statutory instrument as presented to us by Her Majesty's Government.
I should perhaps explain that I am a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and have been for some years. I am also chairman of the European Economic Community Select Committee of your Lordships' House, and also chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Environment, which reported on the draft directive as long ago as 1976. There has been plenty of time for this matter to be thoroughly considered, and for the consultations—which have been rather hurried, as I understand it, in the last few months —to have taken place much sooner than they appear to have done.
My other interest in this matter is particularly because I am much concerned with the administrative pattern in Wales. In the Principality the disposal authorities for waste, including toxic waste, are the district councils, not the counties. We have 37 districts in Wales. I shall come to the Welsh aspect of this matter in a moment or two. Whether the English counties are able to cope or not seems extremely doubtful. A fortiori, the Welsh districts are very unlikely to be able to cope, and have said so publicly and also through the Welsh Office to the Department of the Environment.
Perhaps it is indicative of the way in which the Department of the Environment does not even now appreciate the difference between the English pattern of administration and the Welsh that they did not even make certain that copies of the proposed statutory 316 instrument were sent at all to the district councils in Wales. They sent a copy by grace to what is called the Council of the Principality, which is the Association of District Councils in Wales, and the environmental health officers concerned also, I think through their own headquarters, received a copy. Both bodies have expressed their deep concern at the difficulties which they foresee should this statutory instrument, these regulations, be accepted tonight and should there be no undertaking that there would be further amending legislation before they come into effect next March.
May I take my European Economic Community interest first? I should be grateful if the noble Earl would clarify the situation as to the true relationship of these regulations with the directive of the Community of 1978, to which my noble friend Lady Birk referred. It is also referred to in the Association of County Councils' notes, particularly on the matter of definition. I hope that the noble Earl will be in a position to elaborate a little on this, and to make it clear whether there is any discrepancy or not between these regulations and that draft directive and, if so, in what direction it lies. My recollection is that the draft directive went much wider, as my noble friend Lady Birk suggested, than the three categories of special waste which are designated in the statutory instrument which is before us.
In particular, of course, as my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale also indicated, in the draft directive, according to my recollection—and I simply have not had time to check with the text of the final directive—one of the major concerns was protection of the environment and also human health, which is different of course from human life. You can have damage to health which is not necessarily fatal. But the regulations in front of us seem to be very much narrower, and I just wondered what changes have taken place since we took evidence in 1977 from the Department on the directive, which was at that time still in draft. The spokesman for the department said:The primary purpose should be to protect the environment".That seems somehow to have got lost in the wash. Perhaps the noble Earl can explain exactly what has happened.
Another matter which concerned us in the report on the draft directive which we made to your Lordships' House was that of adding substances to or subtracting substances from the list in the EEC context, which must presumably affect the list included in these regulations. It was proposed at that time that it should be done by the Commission through a technical progress committee working on a simple majority. For various reasons that was considered to be unsatisfactory and perhaps the Minister could enlighten us as to what has happened on that.
I feel I can best serve the interests of this debate by considering the Welsh situation because it illustrates sharply some of the difficulties which appear likely to arise in implementing these draft regulations. I do so, as I say, partly because the administrative pattern in Wales is different. A district council does not employ a toxicologist and is unlikely so to do. The suggested change in the balance of administration, which means work on site, will be extremely difficult to carry out with the kind of resources that are available to the disposal authorities in the Principality. I am well 317 aware of course that there are some district councils in the more rural parts of Wales which are not troubled by the problem of special wastes, but we have about a score of district councils in Wales which have this problem and I am informed that eight of them receive wastes from other authorities, and that adds to the complications of the matter.
The Welsh districts came together to consider the Section 17 regulations and, as I trust the noble Earl has been informed, came to a formal condemnation of them in terms too long for me to quote tonight, but they began by saying that the regulations as proposed,will not enable waste disposal authorities in Wales to control hazardous wastes in a safe, effective or economic manner".They were very much concerned about the toxicological factors and considered that the proposals in the regulations,are impractical and extremely difficult to operate".They pointed out that in any case there was a serious lack of reliable data relating to human toxicological factors and that evidence from animal pathology was not always relevant. They foresaw great difficulty in getting the kind of evidence which would stand up in court, if actions were brought, and pointed out that they simply did not have the staff to cope with the situations that could arise. Incidentally, they complained about the complexity of the language employed in this particular statutory instrument, and perhaps that will have to be interpreted for them. They were very much concerned also with the fact that water authorities in Wales would no longer have automatic notification, and that brings me to the other point of particular concern in the Principality.
A good many of your Lordships who are not Welsh are no doubt aware that you nevertheless drink Welsh water; we have, after all, a geographical and geological situation in which we are particularly liable to water contamination if anything goes wrong. As one of the environmental officers who I telephoned this afternoon said, "The people in Whitehall think the earth is flat. We in Wales have the kind of topography which encourages leach ate in all directions", and this, too, greatly concerns the Welsh district councils: they believe that the particular problems of water supply and the potential leachate of some of these dangerous substances have not been adequately taken into account in the proposals made in these regulations.
We have very few sites, particularly in South Wales, suitable for the tipping of ordinary domestic refuse, let alone of the two-thirds of the toxic substances which are being removed from the list, and, as I say, the environmental health officers—certainly those with whom I have been able to talk this afternoon—are considerably apprehensive about not knowing which of what we might call the discarded list substances are to be tipped in particular places, if sites can be found at all for them, and what the synergistic effects of more than one substance on the same tip may prove to be, and what records will be kept of these other substances. Site licensing by itself is not enough. They seem to be absolutely firm on that. They refer of course to the laudable practice of using subsequently land which has had waste tipped on it for building, sports fields and other purposes, but they are considerably appre- 318 hensive about what may happen if they lack knowledge of what precisely has been tipped.
At present a number of special wastes are not disposed of directly in Welsh authority areas at all; we transport a large proportion of the most toxic to sites in England and even Scotland. We have one international firm which deals with highly toxic substances, the Rechaem Company near Pontypool, and the apprehension among some local authorities is that even that facility might be taken from us if it is no longer necessary for industrial firms to use its services for what one might call—perhaps this is not a very happy phrase—the bread and butter work, for substances on the discarded list, if they no longer have to be treated by that firm. Indeed, it may find it is no longer economic for it to deal with the substances remaining on the list. It is under-employed at the moment, and of course I cannot vouch for its position and perhaps it would be improper to base one's argument on one firm. Nevertheless, there is real apprehension in the minds of the Welsh authorities.
I repeat, they are particularly concerned about the relationship with the Welsh Water Authority and, to a lesser degree, with Severn-Trent, which has a wide catchment area in the Principality though not much of it is industrial. They rely very strongly indeed on the services of the scientific staff of the water authority and they are concerned lest there should be a hiatus between deposits of wastes and the possible precautions which might be taken, particularly against leachate, if the water authority were brought in at an earlier stage and not only when something has gone wrong.
I am sure that the councils of the Principality, the district councils in Wales, are fully in accord with the comments of the Association of County Councils. They do not feel that Annexes A and B and the circular issued by the Department of the Environment do anything significant to relieve the anxiety which is widespread.
I hope that I have said enough in this short debate to indicate that had some of us received part of this material a little earlier, there might have been a much stronger attendance in the House this evening, and the noble Earl should not reckon that because we are relatively few in number here the matter is not the subject of very considerable concern which has to be taken really seriously.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I shall perhaps surprise the noble Baroness, Lady White, by saying that I support the regulations. I am advised in what I have to say by the Confederation of British Industry, which represents a large interest of industrialists throughout the country. As I understand it, the proposals for the regulations, based as they are on the directive which is referred to in the explanatory note of the regulations, have been under consideration in long and involved discussions with all the interested parties for three years—embodying the time when the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was at the Department of the Environment. Therefore matters were obviously being discussed quite well in the early stages, if, from her point of view, they were not in the latter stages.
The point is that there has been much discussion, and to suggest that the regulations have been insuffici- 319 ently studied and have been abruptly thrust upon an unwilling nation, which I feel is the sense of what has been said by many of the speakers on the Benches opposite, is really a bit of a nonsense—
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I shall be very brief, but I should like to intervene since he mentioned me and what had happened at the department. Is the noble Lord aware that in 1979 a consultation paper was put out by the department? That was after the present Government came into office. Nevertheless conclusions reached differed considerably from what are contained in the regulations this evening. It is true that there was an inclusive list, but it certainly did not give the definition that is contained in these regulations; nor was there any reference to danger to the health of a 4½-year-old child. So there has been a very considerable change.
§ Lord Mottistone
Perhaps, my Lords, the noble Baroness would go along with the thought that that means that there has been a lot of discussion. People have actually developed their thinking. They have not relied on what was current thinking in 1979. I would not really know, but that is a possible explanation.
However, unlike some noble Lords, I should like to speak very briefly about this subject, since I feel that most of what needs to be said will probably be said by my noble friend on the Front Bench. To sum up, the CBI supports the principal features of the regulations, and it would oppose any further delay in their implementation. It supports the emphasis which the Department of the Environment places on the interpretation of the regulations, using a circular of advice and technical memoranda. The CBI does not regard the regulations as perfect, and it suggests that in such a complex field it is highly unlikely that any such regulations ever will be perfect. But certainly industry wants, and is prepared to come to terms with, and operate, the new system. The CBI sees no merit whatsoever in delaying yet further the introduction of the regulations.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I rise to speak with at least a little experience of this matter. For four years I was a representative of your Lordships' House in the European Parliament and I was a member of the environmental committee. This directive was constantly before us for the first two years that I was a member of the committee. I want to reiterate what the noble Baroness, Lady White, said—that our main concern when discussing the EEC directive was that we should take great note of water pollution and health risks generally. It was constantly said around the committee table, by representatives from all member countries, that the polluter must pay. That is a well-known saying, but looking at the legislation in the form of the regulations one sees what is perhaps a turning back of the clock, with a relaxation of the dictum that the polluter must pay.
I want to support what my noble friend Lady Birk said in her intervention. It was in August 1979 that the Department of the Environment brought forth its 320 draft regulations, which received widespread criticism from many quarters. The criticism was mainly from environmentalists and the local authority associations, and latterly from the organisation to which the noble Lord was referring when my noble friend Lady Birk interrupted him. However, it was not until September 1980 that the department issued definitive regulations; but there had been no intermediate consultative document sent to the objectors in the meantime. I find that fact particularly worrying, bearing in mind that the original idea behind deciding on sites where waste could be disposed of was to overcome the great dangers in the country arising from what we called "cowboy" dumping, by which people get rid of anything, anywhere, without regard to the consequences. Those people got rid of the waste. They were paid a price by whoever had produced it, without regard to environment and health. The Government took that situation in hand and brought forward legislation to cover it.
It is particularly worrying to find that one day 70 per cent. of disposable toxic waste is undesirable, whereas the next day the figure is much smaller, down perhaps to 6 per cent. The general public regard it as particularly worrying that the Government feel that this relaxation regarding hazardous waste is necessary.
Perhaps I may quickly give your Lordships an example of what we came across in the Warrington new town development corporation, of which I am a member. The prime site for development in Warrington new town was the Risley Ordnance factory. It was a very large factory, built during the war years, in concrete bunkers underground, for the production of heavy forms of artillery used in connection with submarines and suchlike. The bunkers have been got rid of during the last two years, and test bores at the site have shown that there had been leaks, arising from the factory disposing of material just on top of the soil outside the bunkers. Over the years due to corrosion and liberation of the material, the leakage had penetrated as far as a water table. No doubt during the war years many things were done that would not be done now. But that example shows that it can take many years for the dangers of hazardous wastes to build up. It has cost Warrington new town development corporation a considerable amount of money to get rid of that hazard.
There seems to be a difficulty in the regulations when it comes to defining the waste as being special. I wonder whether it is right to have an exemption, regardless of whether the material is disposed of by a waste disposal authority, discharged into a pipeline, or dumped on a factory site, because if you are giving exemptions to perhaps one category of people, you will ultimately find that they become loopholes in the Act. As an example, I think that if one reads the press today it will be found that even though we on this side of the House spent long hours on the Housing Bill there is a serious loophole in the Act to do with housing associations.
I do not want to keep noble Lords here very much longer, but in conclusion I should like to say that after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Digby, I find it very difficult to come to terms with the Government on what they call "special", and how one can test it. I think Lord Digby gave a good example of the difficulties 321 in putting that to the test, and this was also borne out by my noble friend Lady Birk. Unless we can get rows and rows of little children of so many kilogrammes in weight, or whatever, we are not going to be able to put the tests into operation. Therefore, I see in the regulations a deliberate relaxation by the Government of what I would call good safety standards, and my final words are that I find the regulations retrogressive.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Denington
My Lords, at this late hour I do not seek to detain the House for long, but I, too, should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Digby, for bringing this matter to our attention. It is a very important matter and I agree so strongly with my noble friend Lady White that it is regrettable that the Association of County Councils did not draw these regulations to our attention in November last year, when surely they could have done so. I think our method of disposing of hazardous waste is terribly primitive and exceedingly wasteful. All we do is look for holes in the ground and then let the waste be dumped there, without any effort at all at the reclamation of quite valuable products in the waste which were not of use to the firm which produced it and which would be costly to recover. Because of the economic controls under which we live this waste is therefore just dumped; but I suppose that in the times in which we live this is not the moment to try to do something about it, so we go on with our primitive practices.
The present regulations, as everybody has been saying, are primarily, as I read them, to control the movement of these hazardous wastes; but, as we have heard from previous speakers, the local authorities who in fact control and license the disposal are, for a whole variety of reasons, finding them still completely unsatisfactory. As we have heard, meetings have been going on for several years, but I am informed that still there are these outstanding matters and that the authorities and the Government have not yet managed to resolve their differences. It seems to me quite wrong that this order should come before us now, when perhaps a few more months could have resolved the difficulties and we would not have had to have the regulations now and then further amending regulations in a few months' time—although I hope the Government will see fit to bring them forward for I am sure they will be necessary. It is a very untidy and unsatisfactory way to deal with matters: either these differences should have been dealt with earlier and the regulations should have come to us at this date complete to meet the deadline of the EEC, or else we should have postponed them and come to them a little later. It is not a very satisfactory way to go on, in my view.
The county councils have expressed, and are still expressing, their concern about the regulations. They say they are inadequate, and say that more consideration must be given to certain grey areas (as they term them) if public health and safety and the environment are to be properly protected. Surely every Member of this House, those present and those not present, would wish to do everything possible to protect public health and to protect the environment. One cannot go too far in being careful. I have in my hand a letter dated 10th November—these regulations were I think laid in another place on 17th November. It is quite a long 322 letter from the Association of County Councils, setting out to an official in the DOE their concerns about the regulations, and raising a whole number of points that they say have been talked about before but they are still not satisfied about; and there is still misunderstanding between the two sets of officials who are carrying out the discussions.
I could quote this letter at length, but it is late and, as I say, I do not want to detain the House too long. However, there is a paragraph which causes me considerable concern, and if your Lordships will allow me I will read it:Although it is appreciated that an attempt has been made in the technical annexes to clarify the position, it must be emphasised that the theoretical foundation of the calculations remains highly unsatisfactory. We are sorry to have to say that all the earlier reservations expressed still remain. Firstly, the reliability of human toxicity data is extremely poor. The information given in NIOSH's registry of toxic effects of chemical substances' is very sparse and details for other mammals are not as full as would be required for the definition of special waste. The extrapolation from figures for a rat or rabbit to a 20 kilogramme child is impossible and, therefore, the resulting value used in calculation is meaningless. Another variable is waste density…which depends on the compaction figure for the waste. This again will affect the calculation of the limiting concentration of a component in a waste. There may be a temptation for perplexed industrialists to dilute their wastes in order to render them non-special and therefore outside the notification procedure, thus increasing the liquid loading on disposal systems and increasing the production of leachate. Little thought has been given to the inevitable effects of the deposit of incompatible wastes which will not be classified as special wastes";and so they go on. I find it most disconcerting that these regulations should come through at the very time when the Association of County Councils are writing in these terms. It is a long letter, and is very detailed; but they come forward with these points and apparently no notice is taken of them.
I am not a technical person and, as did other Members of this House, I received this information from the county councils with the knowledge that this matter was to be debated here this evening. I received it only on Saturday, and I was therefore not able to make any proper inquiries for my own enlightenment until this morning. But this morning I rang up the GLC officers whose job it is to deal with these particular problems, and I am glad to say that they were able to come over and talk to me about them. They are exceedingly concerned. I said to them, "What are the grey areas that you refer to? What sort of things are they that will be dumped on any dump and you will not have any knowledge of, or will not be able to control; or in respect of which, if the regulations stand as they are proposed, you say you will have to have very special and highly-trained officers present all the time—a most expensive business and not a saving at all?"
What are we talking about? They give me these kind of instances. They say, first, lithium batteries, those little batteries used in radio communication. At present, they have to be notified; but they will not be "special" under Section 17; and when water is applied to them, there is a fire risk. If they go on an ordinary dump and there is water there, or some effluent with a lot of water in it is deposited there, there is a fire risk. A fire risk on any dump is a health hazard to the people who live near it and is quite serious. They talk of sodium street lamps. These are normally 323 smashed and then mixed with water to make them harmless; but if there is no control over them they can be dumped and not rendered harmless and, again, you get a fire risk.
Then, of oil and water mixtures, they say that in small quantities they are not dangerous; but there are producers of 1,500 gallons a month with a 15 per cent. oil content. At present, they would have to be notified. Under these regulations, they would not have to be notified. They would cause pollution of the ground through seepage. Then, organo-metals, which, I am told, are chemically-mixed metals. In London, they say, there is a firm producing 18 tons a quarter of containers which themselves are contaminated. There is apparently little knowledge at the moment about the toxicity of these things, but they are believed to be highly dangerous. At present, they can be dealt with under the regulations; but they would just go with ordinary waste under the proposed regulations. They say the proposed regulations, in a lot of ways, are not as good as the existing regulations. They are only better so far as transport arrangements are concerned. It is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
They give me a further list of other substances, ending up with metallic mercury which could discharge into water and form methol mercury and be very dangerous. The fire risk is a real one because if methane gas were produced on dumps, and some substances were to set fire to the dump, there could be explosions and there would be a hazard to life. It is a very serious matter; I am sure we are all certain of that. I understand that the local authority officers consider that, unless amendments are made, the existing regulations are really preferable to the regulations being put in front of us this evening. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give us some comfort when he replies on this perplexing and worrying subject.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations. They bring about important changes in the controls over disposal of hazardous wastes. We are taking a step forward and not a step backwards. There have been extensive and protracted consultations with public and private sectors which have preceded the laying of these regulations and any criticism over consultation being made in haste is unfounded. Although these bodies have not always agreed with each other or with the department, there has been considerable uniformity of view in terms of general principles and objectives. I have before me (as have most noble Lords) the papers from the A.C.C. and I have the essential matters to be resolved. They have listed nine such matters. If I could break them down quickly and say that four of those the Government are either doing or will be shortly done, three of them the Government do not agree with and—I think the Government are entitled to disagree with one or two of their points. Of the other two points outstanding, one at the moment is a matter of interpretation and the other a matter of law. So, out of the nine, we are dealing with four.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I could tell you at the end; but if I read them all now it would take a long time.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, No. 2 is being done. No. 4 is being done, as already promised. No. 9 will be done quickly and No. 5 is being done already. I should like to sympathise with the noble Baroness, Lady White, over the short period of notification she had in this matter. I could say I was in the same boat and have spent the weekend up to my eyes in waste. She also made the comment that there were very few people present tonight. I think that the speeches have all been so formidable that what we lose in numbers we gain in knowledge. Having said this about the Association of County Councils, I think I ought to say that they have been hardly fair in their comments as there has been considerable give and take between divers bodies.
The noble Lord, Lord Digby, mentioned unanimity. We have already heard that the CBI is on the other side of this particular fence. I have had a letter from one of the leading waste disposal industrial firms which is frankly very "anti" the Association of County Councils. We must give the Government some credit for steering a course here between both sides which we think is a wise one. I have seen a letter also from Suffolk County Council, which approves of this regulation and has written to the press saying so.
However, to get on to the major topic, I shall endeavour, first, to explain the background of the regulations as we see them and describe their effect. It is a complex subject and I think it is proper to put the proposals in their proper perspective from the Government's point of view. As the House will be aware, before 1972 the protection of the environment and the population from the dangers of hazardous waste disposal was left to the various controls exercised under planning, public health and alkali Acts.
Noble Lords will recall the discovery some years ago of dangerous wastes found dumped in such a way as to pose a serious threat. That led to the introduction of the Bill which became the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972. This was specifically intended to curb abuse without disrupting responsible waste disposal practice. It made the deposit of poisonous, noxious or polluting waste on land in a way which would be liable to cause danger to people or animals or pollute a water supply an offence, and required that local and river authorities be notified about the type of quantity of certain wastes arising in their area. This relatively straightforward control had much to commend it when regulatory authorities and the waste producers themselves had little knowledge either of the composition of some of their wastes or the effects of their disposal. But, welcome though it was, this legislation was never intended as more than a stop-gap measure and has now been with us much longer than was originally anticipated.
With the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act, the Government and Parliament were responding to cases which demonstrated the deficiencies in the then-existing controls. In pollution control, the real need is to anticipate problems and to practise prevention; 325 and not to be forced into taking measures in the face of an emergency. In the same year, therefore the Local Government Act 1972 laid the foundations of preventive control with the creation of waste disposal authorities. Then, in 1974, Part I of the Control of Pollution Act set out to deal comprehensively with the problems of waste disposal on land. In 1976, the waste disposal licensing provisions of the Act were implemented. Since that time, it has been an offence to process, treat or dispose of controlled waste—that is, domestic commercial or industrial waste—other than at a site specifically licensed for the purpose and in accordance with the conditions of that licence.
I should like to take up one point that the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, made. I think that this is a situation where we are still learning. I have just told you the history showing moves in 1972, 1974 and 1976. It should not surprise us that there is something happening now and I think that there will be some more things happening in the not too distant future. This is a continuing process.
Waste disposal authorities are responsible for issuing licences for private sites with a specific view to minimising risks of water pollution or danger to public health, and for ensuring that their own sites are operated to the same high standards. The licensing system is now established as the primary control at the point of disposal of all controlled wastes, including toxic and hazardous wastes from chemical and industrial processes. Many volumes of detailed technical advice in the form of waste management papers have been published by the department and provide guidance on site licensing and management and equally underline the department's keen interest in this subject.
This is the background against which the new controls are being introduced. The licensing system provides for the supervised, secure disposal of all controlled wastes, and the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act defines particular wastes which must not be disposed of without prior notification to the relevant authorities. This is what is to be narrowed. The two measures at the moment overlap; also, there is a significant gap which the new controls will remedy: I shall come to that point in a minute.
The amount of paper generated by the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act notification system has disadvantages. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Digby, talked about water. The National Water Council would like to see water authorities relieved of the burden of dealing with this paper because it believes that co-operation between water and waste disposal authorities in the licensing, planning and monitoring process provides them with a proper means of protecting water supplies. There are also reports from time to time in the technical press which indicate that the waste disposal authorities themselves do not have the resources to deal with what, in some cases, are scores of thousands of notifications each year.
Part I of the Control of Pollution Act has been implemented in stages since 1974. The next stage after the implementation of the site licensing system was the preparation of the regulations under Section 17, which noble Lords have been debating this evening. The Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972 is to be repealed by a separate order. The site licensing 326 provisions will remain as the control over the actual disposal of controlled waste. The new regulations under Section 17 will form the legislative control of the movement of special waste to its point of disposal and thus fill the gap which at present exists in terms of a positive procedure over movement of the more hazardous wastes—and I use the expression "from cradle to grave". This I suggest is of prime importance and really urgent, and I recommend your Lordships to agree to it.
Section 17 of the 1974 Act places a duty on the Secretaries of State to make provision by regulations for the disposal of those controlled wastes which are particularly difficult or dangerous to dispose of. Such wastes are referred to in Section 17 and in the regulations as "special wastes". So, in place of the old definition of "notifiable" waste which comprised a large number of controlled wastes, the regulations will provide a definition of special waste which will cover a narrow range of the most difficult and dangerous controlled wastes. By altering that definition, controls merely over the notification of up to two-thirds of the former notifiable wastes will be relaxed, but tighter controls will be provided over the carriage and notification of special wastes than currently exist. I must make it clear, however, that controls over their disposal at licensed sites are not being relaxed and the duty on waste disposal authorities to monitor the operation of those sites remains unchanged. We have estimated that local authorities and the waste disposal industry will be relieved of up to two-thirds of the paperwork required under the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act system. They will therefore be able to shift the emphasis of their controls from operating the notification procedure to closer supervision and control in the field.
To those who argue that the relaxation of notification procedures will bring about an increase in environmental hazards, I say this is just not so. Part I of the 1974 Act secures the proper and safe disposal of all controlled wastes at a suitable site licensed for that purpose. Neither the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act nor Section 17 regulations can do that; the latter are concerned with the transport of waste to its point of disposal—thereafter, the manner of its disposal is the subject of licensing controls. They complement the provisions of Part I of the Act, and are not a replacement or an alternative.
I should like to come now to the provisions of the new regulations, because I think that we have rather tended not to accept that there are quite a lot of new things here. The new regulations make the following provisions, and I think that your Lordships will find that they are more stringent. Regarding transmission, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale mentioned international trade in waste, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, talked about waste in the Principality, both in the context of movement. Section 17 does tighten this up. The following provisions arc in the new regulations. They require waste producers to inform waste disposal authorities of their intention to dispose of consignments of special waste. They provide for a consignment note system which allows confirmation that any particular consignment of special waste has been disposed of at a site licensed to receive it or run by a local authority. 327 They require a register to be kept. They require a permanent record of the location of disposal. That is something new. They provide a power for the Secretaries of State to direct that special waste shall be received at a particular site or plant. That is essentially an emergency provision. Finally, they provide that radioactive waste—which also has the characteristics of special waste—shall be subject to the forms of control appropriate to each.
My department will again be providing detailed guidance on the application of these regulations in the form of a circular with two technical annexes and a substantial waste management paper. This will explain in great detail how the status of waste can be clearly determined using the criteria of the regulations.
I should like now to turn to some of the points raised during the course of the debate. First, I must apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady White. Apparently, I have used the wrong numbers on the paragraphs. I referred to (4) and I think it probably should be (iii) (b). If I may write and clarify that, I shall be grateful.
The noble Lord, Lord Digby, produced for us some technical examples and I am informed that all the examples that he quoted are covered by the respective disposal by site licence conditions which will be in such terms so as to prevent the events that he is predicting.
A number of noble Lords made comments on the five cubic centimetres of waste to a hypothetical 20 kilogramme child. That yardstick is based on the belief that existing controls over the movement of certain waste materials are inadequate, so it is a step forward, a step in the right direction. Why do we use this? A standard body weight of 20 kilogrammes, equivalent to a four to five year old child, is prescribed simply to enable the conversion of published toxicity data normally expressed in terms of a weight of toxic substance per unit body weight to an actual weight of substance. So this is something which when we produce our explanatory papers is meant to simplify things and not to complicate matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, mentioned glue waste in Cheshire, and the problem which we identified there may well have been partly due to the nature of the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act itself. Producers often use descriptions and sometimes these hide the problems. On the other hand, the consignment note procedure in the new regulations will require more detailed descriptions, and will enable the receiving local authority to identify the waste correctly—
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I wonder whether I may intervene. I was using that only as an example of the main point. The home authority, the local authority whence it comes, is not under an obligation here to be informed. That is the problem. It is not a question of whether these happen to be certain solvents. The point is that the local authority whence the waste comes understands the industrial processes in its area. That is the worry that many of us have.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making that point. But we seem to be getting away from the fact that the step forward 328 is to put better controls over the 25 per cent., without relaxing the other ones.
May I now come on to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady White? She asked about the amendments to the list of substances in the operation of the regulations. This does apply to the regulations. There will be means of amending the list of substances. The noble Baroness, Lady White, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, talked about the directive. The European directive leaves the detailed application of the requirements largely to individual nations and the primary route for protection of the environment in the United Kingdom lies in the site licensing provisions. This is to be supplemented by the new regulations which, again, are in accordance with the directive. These regulations are such that they will cover most, if not all, of the wastes which are likely to cause an environmental impact, in addition to the wastes which have been most hazardous to persons.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, spoke about Wales. District councils in Wales have responsibility for the current arrangements, their sites are controlled by the licensing provisions and they will continue to be so protected. There are, as she said, relatively few disposal sites and the management and supervisory problems are consequently less. All the information and advice from the Department of the Environment in the circular and the waste management paper will, of course, be made available to them.
By bringing these regulations into force, we shall comply with an outstanding requirement of the European directive. When we talk about timing, we are meant to have this in being by March, so there is, obviously, a cause for that. But, as I said earlier, there was no haste involved in the discussions. We shall enhance the system of control over waste disposal in Part I of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 by increasing control over the most serious risks, and we shall release resources which are presently deployed on less necessary work.
During the lengthy discussions and consultations which took place on these proposals, no alternative system was proposed which would not have had serious disadvantages when compared with the one contained in these regulations. All would have suffered from the difficulties either of imprecise, all-enveloping controls, or of detailed and complex rules requiring masses of documentation.
These regulations are a logical and practical step forward, and I suggest that those who favour blanket controls, and think it better to be safe than sorry, have misunderstood them. The many responsible members of regulatory authorities, industry and departments have striven over a long period to produce these. I do not believe that this is the time for us to forgo the benefits and the vast amount of information gained over eight years' experience under the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act and four years of licensing. Quite clearly, wastes will not suddenly change their characteristics or points of origin when the new regulations are implemented.
I do not believe that a better system will appear if we wait a little longer and consult further. We need to take a positive step forward, and the Government recognise that it will not be the last we will take along this road. My noble friend Lord Lucas has told us 329 of the work of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson. In fact, my noble friend Lord Digby also referred to it, as did other noble Lords. This committee is inquiring into the whole subject. Recommendations from its report will be considered in the context of these regulations, and my department looks forward to the recommendations of Lord Gregson's committee in this important area. I have said that this is not the last measure that we will be taking and, without anticipating what the committee will say, I am sure that it will make a very important contribution to future progress. I assure all noble Lords that proceeding with these regulations will in no way alter the consideration of that report.
The circumstances surrounding the introduction of the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act demonstrated that it is intolerable to wait for disturbing incidents or abuses before developing answers to such questions. What we have here is an improvement on the present arrangements, and the Government do not think we can afford to put it off any longer. Waste disposal authorities have asked for a greater measure of prenotification, specifically for the waste disposal authority where the special waste arises.
There is another view that there would need to be no pre-notification at all as site licensing covers the position. These regulations strike a balance and provide for pre-notification for the authority where the waste is going, and notification on dispatch with details of the carrier and his vehicle for the area from which the waste has come. Whatever the system, proper co-operation and liaison between the producers, disposal authorities and disposal operators is vital. The only way to decide this question is to monitor the operation of the regulations to see whether experience suggests that change in either direction is necessary. I do not think that anybody opposes the proposal to invoke tighter controls over special waste.
The disposal of special waste, we all agree, is an important matter. But we must be clear about where we are going, and why. I am pleased to hear that already arrangements are being made to hold a number of informal seminars to discuss practical arrangements for implementing the regulations. I by no means dismiss all the arguments against the approach that we have chosen. The Government undertake that the regulations will be kept under review, in order to see whether any alterations appear appropriate in the light of experience in their working. I hope that, to a degree, that will satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and others who asked for an undertaking from the Government. I also hope that, in the context of all I have said, my noble friend Lord Digby will agree to withdraw his prayer. The regulations make a number of new provisions, not least the cradle to grave rules. It is the Government's carefully considered advice that now is the time to go forward on these lines. I commend these regulations to the House.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Digby
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for that very long reply, which was given in some detail. I would sum up what he has said by saying that the Government are relying on site licensing and assure us that better controls on 25 per cent. are being produced, without relaxing the rest. This is 330 certainly not the way we read the relaxation of the rest. I must admit to being rather disappointed with that part of the reply.
I should like particularly to thank those noble Lords opposite who have supported me, and to apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for the fact that she did not have more warning. I am afraid that none of us did. These negotiations have been going on behind the scenes with the department for a long time, and it was rather as a last resort that we decided that we must try to move a prayer in this House. I know that further moves are being made in another place. I think that this debate will have produced a lot of interesting reading, a lot of opinion forming reading, for the country and I hope that it will be given good publicity. However, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.