HL Deb 22 February 1990 vol 516 cc381-3

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

What advice they are giving to local authorities and voluntary groups about waste paper recycling, in view of the present depressed state of the waste paper market.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, our consistent message has been that anyone who is involved in collecting waste paper should keep in close touch with their local waste paper merchant so that they know about the state of the market. The Government share the concern about the present glut of low grade paper, although there are signs that the market is again picking up and we are doing all that we can to encourage this.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am not quite sure what he hopes will result from keeping in touch with the waste paper merchants. The city of Cambridge set up a collection in response to government exhortations. It now finds itself told by its merchants that the value has fallen from £18 to £14, then to £10, £5 and now to nothing. Is the Minister aware of the damage that is caused by setting up the mechanism necessary, both in voluntary groups and local associations, which rely on the co-operation of people collecting the paper, only to find that the demand disappears? Can the Government do nothing to encourage markets?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the situation is in part a victim of its own success. However, I can assure your Lordships that further capacity will come on stream within the next two or three years. That is why, in my Answer to the noble Baroness, I indicated that we saw reasons for believing that there would be a restoration of market prices.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend where a lot of the surplus waste paper from the Palace of Westminster goes, and how much there is of it?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend I can assure your Lordships that all the paper and cardboard from the Palace of Westminster is sent for recycling. How much there is I am afraid I am unable to say.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, does the Minister understand that words and encouragement are not enough? If the local authorities and the major waste disposal authorities have a large part to play, it is essential that the Government recognise that there needs to be government involvement in the market mechanism. Is the noble Lord aware that literally billions of tonnes of paper could be salvaged and reused? That paper is simply being thrown on the waste heap. Is this not another case of the Government encouraging themselves to put their money where their mouth is?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is suggesting that the Government should purchase recycled paper for no use whatsoever. What the Government can do is this. My colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry have a recycling forum where consumers and markets are brought together and encouraged to provide the result which we all wish to see: a great increase in the recycling of waste paper.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is it true that we import large quantities of waste paper for recycling from the United States? Do the Government think that this is a good idea when there is not enough capacity in this country for the collections which are carried out so efficiently by local authorities such as, for example, Westminster?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am pleased to hear an endorsement of Westminster City Council by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I can assure him that one of the difficulties is that there are many different classes and grades of paper which are suited to different uses and the different requirements of the market. I am sorry to say this but it is a rather more complicated issue than simply a case of paper being turned into a simple product.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, when my noble friend says that more capacity will be available, will that capacity generate more waste paper or consume it? Would he agree that a reduction in legislation might go some way towards helping to solve our problems?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I can assure the House that the capacity to which I was referring was of recycling waste paper.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the DoE uses recycled paper for its parliamentary correspondence? Will he encourage other departments to follow that admirable example?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. I can assure your Lordships that the amounts of recycled paper consumed vary from between 50 per cent, to 100 per cent, in that department.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, as to the question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, is it not a fact that the country is awash with unsolicited paper? It comes not only to the Palace of Westminster but through everybody's letterbox every day. Can the Government do something to reduce this enormous pile of paper which eventually becomes unsaleable waste paper?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, would not expect me to interfere in free and lawful communication. However, I am sure that all of your Lordships are aware that later on this year the Green Bill will appear in your Lordships' House. There will be much discussion then on the matter of paper lying about the countryside.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the Government rely upon the business efficiency of the industry and the beneficence of local authorities in subsidising collections. Can the Government consider as a third possibility, that in order to encourage recycling from the collection of paper, they themselves should make grants or give assistance through the rate support grant to local authorities like Cambridge? Those authorities may have spent a considerable amount of capital in order to do the Government's job.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, at the end of the day it will be the demand for paper in the market that will drive on the success of the recycling, which will be initiated by the assistance of the Government in letting the market and the consumer come together.