HL Deb 09 May 1990 vol 518 cc1372-99

3.25 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon rose to call attention to the case for a national environmental waste policy; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have sought to call attention to the need for a national environmental waste policy and for the establishment of a national council for environmental waste policy as the Government have failed to demonstrate a cohesive waste policy and the mechanism to evolve such a policy. Before discussing my proposals, I wish to refer to the discussion which has just taken place across the Floor of the House on the concern of noble Lords over the Environmental Protection Bill. As has just been observed, we have been told at short notice that the Second Reading of the Bill is to take place in this House on Friday, 18th May.

The Commons Committee stage of the Bill had 32 sittings. The Bill has now emerged with 13 new clauses and four new schedules. Members of your Lordships' House will have had little time to consider the Bill as it is now amended. It has been suggested in the national media and not just in your Lordships' House that the choice of the time for the Bill's Second Reading was in part a means of ensuring that Members of this House would have less time to scrutinise the measures contained in it.

We should bear in mind that few members of the public know of the existence of the Bill because the Department of the Environment has done so little to publicise it and because the media have largely ignored it. Therefore I believe that Members of this House should and must have more notice and time to deliberate it fully.

A senior official from the European Commission stated last week to a number of Members of this House and others that, Waste is now the priority environmental issue for the foreseeable future from any point of view".

If that is the case, I think the Minister should regret the timing to which I have referred. I am sure he will give us assurances that such a timing was not intended for those reasons. Further, I hope he might feel led to assure the House that there will be limited repetition, if at all, of this kind of procedure. Last Sunday the Observer newspaper stated: Almost everyone has been waiting for the House of Lords to sort out this mess".

The article was referring to the Bill in question. Yesterday the first European response to the 1987 Brundtland Report began in the form of an international conference in Bergen, Norway, at which 24 nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, are represented. The main item on the agenda will be that all participants should bind themselves to producing for the United Nations a national annual report on environmental progress. I must say that I find difficulty in believing that our Minister, Mr. David Trippier, will be prepared for that if he only includes in his case for the United Kingdom the need to upgrade the publicly unknown Digest of Environmental Protection and Water Statistics as an appropriate response to the likely Bergen initiative.

One hopes that the Government will be more imaginative when attending the 1992 world conference on the environment and development which will take place in Brazil. One hopes that before that conference all government departments will recall the Prime Minister's remarks in her Royal Society address: It is possible that … we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.

I make that point because it is reported that Whitehall will resist some, if not all, of the Bergen conference's final declarations which the Secretary of State for the Environment had hoped to include in the promised environment White Paper. If there is substance in that view, what possible grounds do the Government have for believing that they have the British public's confidence on matters related to the environment? The Government have been given no mandate to experiment with the system of these fair isles.

Seeing no committed environmental policy from the Government and witnessing politico-economic abuses of the land, waters and air of this country, the unelected people of this land have donned the green mantle of common sense. They have drawn up their own mandate. It obliges us all to listen and respond in order that there may be a planet Earth worth living on in 40 year's time.

This groundswell of public concern and action is not indifferent to sustainable development but it must be sure that environmental considerations are an integral part of all economic policies emanating from government, industry and the business community alike. However, as the Council for the Protection of Rural England puts it: Vague rhetoric, exhortation and limited gestures will not do".

In the current issue of CBI News, commenting on the views of some 250 companies, out of a sample of 2,500 companies which had responded to a survey on environmental issues conducted by the CBI/PA Consulting Group, a PA spokesman said: I believe that the Single European Market, after 1992, will exert a much stronger environmental pressure on British industry than appears to be recognised in the results of this survey".

The PA spokesman added: The survey shows that industry is more concerned about minimising the effects of legislation and less about opportunities for actively addressing the environmental issues ahead of legislation and thereby creating competitive advantage.

Another important survey was conducted by Strategy Europe Limited, a company with which I have a connection. It is a government and public affairs group. The survey was carried out at my request. Among the respondents were leading British companies including BP International, Shell UK, British Gas, Sainsbury, Boots and Pilkington, together with waste management companies, local and waste disposal authorities, waste trade associations and environmental research organisations and also universities and polytechnics, other professional bodies and Members of both Houses of Parliament.

The responses to the survey revealed overwhelming support for a national environmental waste policy. There was also massive support for the involvement of manufacturing industry and the public in the development of a policy for waste. The exerperience of many companies and the need to educate many others in reducing and dealing with huge quantities of waste generated in the modern economy were the dominant reasons for consulting and involving industry. Education of the public and the need for their support for the numerous different measures required to deal with waste also demanded that any waste policy was directed at them. Strong support was given by industry as well as others for statutory directions of industry's own policies towards the environment.

One response to the survey's questions came from the chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Mr. John Collier who said that, from long experience in the nuclear industry and of observing the behaviour of other industries, it is essential that a company's duties in the area are dictated by statute. Otherwise, competitors will interpret their responsibilities in the 'least cost' mode".

Curiously, at the time of the survey, it was reported that only one waste management disposal company in the United Kingdom, Shanks and McEwan, had carried out a complete environmental audit. I leave your Lordships to decide for yourselves what that says about the majority of the members of the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors or of that organisation itself.

The survey to which I have just referred set the scene for an important conference which I called on 23rd April. It was held in a committee room here, with Mr. Peter Thompson, deputy chairman of Strategy Europe Limited. Speakers included the Minister for the environment and the countryside, Mr. David Trippier; the director of industry and the environment from Directorate-General XI of the European Commission; Mr. J. W. Huismans from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Mr. Andrew Waite, secretary-general of the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association; and Mr. Michael Cohen, director of the Department of Trade and Industry's business and environment unit. That was a very impressive list of speakers. The guests included many scientists, academics, chief executives of major companies, environmental research organisations and many others with specialist knowledge of waste minimisation, production, management, recycling and usage as well as some Members of your Lordships' House.

I was glad to see that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, was able to attend the conference for part of the time, having in mind his Environment Protection Bill which was debated in this House. Some of us hope that certain measures contained in the noble Earl's Bill may still be considered—although the Bill has been withdrawn—in the autumn White Paper, if not in part considered when the Government's Environmental Protection Bill reaches this House on that fateful Friday next week.

The theme of the conference was the same as the theme of this debate, and out of it the environment Minister agreed to support, in principle, Mr. Thompson's proposal for the establishment of a national council for environmental waste policy, having concurred that the Environmental Protection Bill fell, short of a national plan for waste disposal [and] did not have all the answers".

The new council would evolve an integrated environmental waste policy related to waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and disposal.

That policy would be based on consultations with local authorities, industry and the business community, directly and through trade and employer groups. Trade unions, public and consumer pressure groups and specialists in the waste sector would also be consulted. Other responsibilities of the council would include ensuring that manufacturing companies committed themselves to using raw materials which were conducive to environmental criteria laid down by the council.

Environmental audits leading to acceptable corporate environmental strategies would also be monitored by the council, and where waste producing businesses did not meet an acceptable environmental criterion laid down by the council, a ruling would be posted to shareholders and the investors involved with that company, and the appropriate government departments would be notified. Too few companies at the moment have such strategies, although some have taken the initiative to consult organisations like Industry & Environment Associates which have considerable experience in devising corporate environmental programmes.

The council would have its own corporate investigative arm. The method of investigation would be best compared with the quality systems procedures employed by leading companies such as Shell UK which are checked by independent third parties against the requirements of the British Standard for quality systems, BS 5750. The investigations of a company's environmental audit and corporate environmental strategy by the new council's quality systems-type investigators would be paid for by the company, and that company would be obliged to co-operate by law.

Earlier, I drew attention to the public reaction to the politico-economic exploitation of our environment related to waste issues. Like the United States group Environmental Strategies, I believe that matters would be dramatically improved if the following conditions were fulfilled: first, when industry, government and the public co-operate in addressing environmental issues; secondly, when voluntary disclosure of information relating to the environment is common practice, company by company; and, thirdly, when we have compliance with effective legislation providing for strict liability.

The public would then have peace of mind, knowing that resources were being directed to resolve environmental problems rather than being diverted to litigation and transactional costs as has been the case in the United States. At the moment however, the public sees no ideal world and lacks confidence in the ability of the national and local government to solve environmental problems. That view is endorsed by many experts in the field.

What the public does not know about is "green consumerism" which has begun to influence industry. The world-wide market for environmentally friendly products and technologies is estimated at between £100 billion and £150 billion. There has also been a development of "green" unit trusts, such as the Merlin Ecology Fund, which invest only in companies which show sound financial and environmental performance, according to the Institute of Directors' current issue of The Director magazine.

The CBI points out that it is estimated that business expenditure on environmental improvements could be approaching £4 billion per year. Should the Government take notice of my proposals today, and given the existence of the Environmental Protection Bill, business will be well rewarded and the public's peace of mind assured. After all, the environment Minister, at my conference spoke at length about self-sufficiency and private sector initiative. I beg to move for Papers.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Layton

My Lords, the first thing that I must do in this debate is to declare an interest. I am a director of a small company involved in the research and development of a container for the transport and storage of toxic waste products. I am also a director of an environmental consultancy.

Since the so-called absence of a waste management policy and the reliance on market forces within a framework of monitoring and regulation is in itself a policy, I shall not speak about whether we should have one, but about what type we should have, what direction it should take and, above all, why we must have a positive, fully functional waste management policy in the United Kingdom. Among other things, the degree to which the Government are committed to the solution of pollution problems is reflected in the nature and effectiveness of their environmental policy.

For brevity's sake, I shall take it as read that the worldwide objectives of environmental problem-solving from the public's point of view are, broadly speaking, identical in aim, if not in emphasis or application. Many buzz words and phrases appear frequently in reports and surveys, regulations, legislation, codes of practice, directives and conventions which indicate similar thinking internationally. They include "the duty of care", "the polluter pays", "self-sufficiency" and "long-term sustainable development". All those concepts are highly commendable. They are more than commendable; they are the essential basis of the considerable commitment necessary for all of us to make if we are to correct our errors of the past, to lessen pollution today and to leave a satisfactory legacy for future generations.

How are those objectives to be achieved? I shall take as a guide the current European strategy for waste management. Incidentally, that is explicitly on the face of legislation in Holland, Denmark and West Germany, in which, apart from the regulation of transport and remedial action, there are three other headings. The first is waste minimisation along with the development and application of clean technology. That responsibility lies with industry or, should I say, potential polluters, who must at all times be encouraged not only to look to the means of production used and the ways in which they can alter or eliminate waste products, but to the potential, long-term effects that their products may ultimately have on the environment.

The best publicised examples of polluting products are PCBs and CFCs, which have direct consequences, and fossil fuel used in the generation of power and in motorised transport. A very good example of waste minimisation was shown on the programme "Tomorrow's World". In Northern Ireland a company which has the most advanced sawmill in Europe no longer uses a conventional sawing technique but what appears to be a very large chisel to cut its raw material, thus eliminating sawdust as waste, saving the equivalent in number of trees and increasing the company's profits.

Secondly, there are recycling, residue recovery and the re-use of raw materials. They are not only an essential part of the reduction of waste in general; it must also be stressed that they are a necessary preservation or topping up of ever dwindling resources. Recycled paper means that fewer trees are cut down over a given period of forest development. Preservation is a cornerstone of that concept of sustainable long-term development so succinctly outlined in the report Blueprint for a Green Economy prepared by David Pearce and his team for the Department of the Environment.

At this time government procurement policy in the United States requires that wherever possible purchases must contain at least 50 per cent. of recycled products. That is a very good example of leading from the front with policy making.

Direct landfill and municipal incineration of domestic waste in this country must be classed as two of the most wasteful uses of potential raw materials. All over the United Kingdom schemes have been instigated locally for recycling raw materials for the generation of power and heat for the community. But those schemes are piecemeal and patchy because they involve capital expenditure that some local authorities are ill-equipped to undertake. A national waste policy that not only imposed a statutory duty on such councils but also gave them some kind of financial assistance could well be the inducement needed to turn those schemes into a homogeneous effort throughout the country.

Thirdly, we come to optimisation of final disposal. Final disposal must take place at the point at which waste cannot be recycled, reused or recovered in any way, and when there are no other avenues open—although in the United States there is a process that even makes it possible to turn fly-ash into bricks, which puts some incineration into the previous category of recycling.

The alternatives for final disposal are incineration, chemical treatment, chemical fixation, physical fixation, storage under stable conditions and, lastly landfill, which should only be considered for disposal of waste that has been rendered inert. In this country landfill is used far too freely, to the detriment of both the general public and the development of other means of disposal available. I mean that so long as we are happy chucking things into holes in the ground, we limit the incentive to find more satisfactory methods.

Certainly we do not have unlimited potential for usable landfill sites. In time we shall be forced to make use of those other methods in which sadly we shall have fallen far behind the rest of Europe. We should benefit greatly from the kind of research and development programmes that are carried out at the moment in countries such as West Germany, where they spend 10 times the amount that we do. We shall eventually become importers of technology in fields in which we are capable of being world leaders. The powers that be seem to dislike the options that are available elsewhere. The attitude is that landfill has been okay in the past and will be okay in the future. If things were so great in the past, how come we are worried about the environment at all?

All those parts of the European strategy for waste management are areas that should be targeted by environmental policy and a national waste management policy. The Government set great store by the power of market forces to regulate the waste management business. Unfortunately, in dealing with waste at this embryonic time of our environmental awareness, "market forces" means that not-in-my-backyard or the cheapest alternative nearly always wins the day. Thus arises the overuse of landfill.

The concept of self-sufficiency must be engineered by policy. And what of the principle of BPM (best practicable means) or BATNEEC (best available technique not entailing excessive cost)—the new acronym introduced by the Environmental Protection Bill? Who is to decide what is best? It will be Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, which is overworked, under-resourced both financially and in manpower, and which will have even more jobs to do under the concept of integrated pollution control. That is the main policy thrust of the new Bill. Despite the dedication and expertise, it is unable to come anywhere near fulfilling its appointed tasks now.

A woeful tale was brought to my attention recently. It highlights the problems that can arise with market forces and the introduction of a new technique. A company in this country has a process available for the elimination of paint sludge. Because of its association with suppliers of production lines and paint shops to the motor industry, that has been the company's targeted market. The process is used by General Motors and by Chrysler in the United States. A treatment centre has also been set up in Ohio. The process is under consideration by various European car manufacturers. Moreover, the company offers it on a leasing basis so that no capital outlay is involved.

Paint sludge is a toxic waste which contains solvents and heavy metals, mainly lead, cadmium and chrome. The process reduces the volume by 92 per cent., removing and destroying the solvents and leaving a residue of heavy metals sealed in an inert resin that is used as a base for the manufacture of paint. Paint sludge is currently disposed of to landfill. It is dewatered but still contains solvents and heavy metals. Unfortunately for the motor industry, it means a 1,000 per cent. increase in cost per unit to dispose of the sludge using the process as opposed to using landfill. The figures have persuaded the industry's accountants that the costs are too high.

The cost to landfill is 8p per car. The cost for processing is £1 per car. I find the motor industry's attitude unacceptable. Paint sludge is not only produced by the motor industry. This process could eliminate paint sludge completely from the toxic waste list and place it firmly on the list of material for recycling. That is the kind of anomaly that arises from relying too heavily on the operation of market forces in the waste business. It must be remembered that this is a market where nobody wants the end product.

As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to achieve any kind of self-sufficiency in waste management and disposal on a local, national or international basis if no coherent and consistent policy exists as the overall guiding framework. It is essential that we have a national policy to standardise the methods of disposal. It is essential that that policy should be part of the process of standardisation throughout Europe since with the coming of 1992 the concepts of "local" and "national" will spread to include the whole of the European Community.

Self-sufficiency and the constructive operation of market forces can only operate within a strong regulatory framework based on the highest possible standards supported by satisfactory monitoring and stringent enforcement. I also believe that all stick and no carrot in our national policy would be counter-productive. Standards must be improved, but incentives also must be given to industry and local government to make the necessary capital outlays for clean technology, minimisation, new methods of disposal, recycling and, above all, for continued and extensive research. Whether the Environmental Protection Bill is the right place for the introduction of incentives is open to conjecture. The Budget is probably a better place to introduce the kind of incentives that are necessary.

I should like to take up the proposal made by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, for setting up a national council for environmental waste policy. I must admit that my first reaction was, "Oh dear, not another association. Haven't we enough already?" However, I feel that any association that can set high standards of waste management policy and implement them effectively has a part to play in the overall framework. But I still feel that the spreading of responsibility, when the Government are trying to achieve their policy of integrated pollution control, leads to more complexity and masks the fundamental problem of environmental policy in this country and the fundamental problem of the Environmental Protection Bill.

The Bill has many flaws, not the least of which is clarity. I believe that its greatest failing is that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution will still be totally inadequate to fulfil the responsibilities being vested in it. If HMIP does not obtain the financial resources and manpower necessary no amount of policy will make the slightest difference to the environmental problems that we face in this country. At the moment we are constructing a skeleton with a brain but no muscle with which to operate and no food to sustain it. At this rate we shall continue to be called, however unfairly, the dustbin of Europe.

4.1 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, it is sad and disappointing that the list of speakers is so short. It makes us all the more grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, for giving at least a few of us the opportunity to debate a problem of the greatest importance to everyone in this country and others too.

I confess to having no expertise in the matter. Until I was privileged to sit as a Member of your Lordships' Select Committee considering air pollution from municipal waste incineration plants, I had a very simplistic attitude towards waste of any kind. Waste was something that one put in a dustbin; someone took it away and disposed of it; and one forgot about it. Occasionally—speaking as a farmer—if one was fortunate enough to live near a factory which produced asbestos waste (I speak of a time long before anyone became aware of its dangers) it was a useful item for making up farm roads. That was what waste meant to me. I believe that to most people in this country waste is not a matter to become excited about. It is disposed of by someone in some way or another, and that is that.

However, listening to the evidence put before the committee, I realised what a very big and dangerous problem it is. Dealing with waste of any kind is hazardous. We were told that in the county of Staffordshire the total cost of waste disposal amounts to £4-5 million or 1 per cent. of the total expenditure of the county council. That is a significant amount.

In the county of Somerset, with no very large conurbations and no great industrial complexes, the cost of waste disposal every year is in the neighbourhood of £625,000. I was interested and rather distressed, although not surprised, to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Rayton, said about the average cost of landfill. It runs at over £2.70 per tonne whereas the new site cost is just over £5 per tonne. Again one can see the magnitude of the problem. It is not a matter on which one can turn one's back and say, "It has gone all right so far and will continue to go all right."

What can we do? We cannot go on dumping waste in the sea as some urban districts and those living near sea coasts have been able to do. That is a cheap way of getting rid of waste and forgetting about it.

Incineration is obviously the largest and most effective way of dealing with waste, but again the costs are very substantial. The cost for Sheffield is nearly £10 per tonne. To acquire incinerators equipped with the most up-to-date techniques which are essential in order to prevent dioxane and other harmful gases being spread into the atmosphere can cost £15 million to £20 million. A new incinerating plant on the outskirts of Paris was estimated to have cost that amount. It is far in excess of the funds available to local authorities. Such incinerators deal with large amounts of waste, if not in an entirely satisfactory way, at least in one which minimises the harmful emissions and leaves the residue in a relatively inert and harmless form. It still has to be disposed of in one way or another. But that is a very much easier thing to do because it has been reduced so much in volume.

On the landfill method of disposal, perhaps I may briefly recount to your Lordships a day that I spent visiting sites in Somerset. My overall impression was of the amount of highly developed technology that is necessary even for landfill which one considers a perfectly simple way of dumping waste in a hole in the ground. It is not only a question of collecting the material and transporting it, but of sorting it to a certain extent. Bottle banks are a good example. There is the sorting of CFC gases from refrigerators so that they can be dealt with separately; there is the sorting of metal which, being of some commercial value, may bring some money to the local authority. That is one aspect.

However, there is the further aspect of the choice of site. Consideration has to be given to the permeability of the subsoil so that there is no risk of contaminating water supplies, and to the remoteness of areas from habitation so that the smell—which is inevitable at times—does not disturb people. One has to ensure that birds—above all, crows which pick up the bits and pieces—do not cause damage or annoyance to neighbouring farmers and inhabitants.

In addition, such large areas must be designed and laid out so that there is adequate drainage and no contamination of the water supplies which will eventually be extracted for human use. We must be able to trap the methane gases which are produced and use them for generating electricity which will earn a small revenue. Dealing with environmental waste is increasingly becoming a technological operation, even as regards the simple matter of landfill.

I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Layton, who has a great knowledge of the subject. I also agree with the general thesis put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon; that we need to have a more serious attitude towards the problem of waste disposal. It is a growing problem and it is becoming increasingly serious. There is a potential source of useable material, if not wealth. A great deal more effort should be devoted to the recycling of waste. It should be separated and use should be made of certain items rather than simply dumping and forgetting about them. Far more research should be carried out into incineration. There is already a great deal of knowledge but there is room for more. We must study the toxic gases which are emitted even from the best-constructed incineration plants.

All such measures must be carried out with a real degree of urgency. As was mentioned by both noble Lords who have spoken, there must be adequate inspection to ensure that those who are responsible for the collection and disposal of waste material, whether household or toxic industrial, carry out their jobs properly. They must have due regard to the widest aspects of the environment not merely to the emission of toxic gases. The whole gamut of environmental protection measures must be carried out on an international scale and certainly on a national scale. However, I believe that the responsibility of collecting waste products of any kind should rest with the local authorities which should be given strong guidance and money for research from central funds. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Layton, that there should be a skilled and experienced inspectorate. At the present time it is woefully understaffed and it will remain so if its responsibilities are further increased as I hope they will be.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, on introducing his appeal for a national environmental waste policy so robustly. I also congratulate him on the conference that he called. I apologise to him for not having submitted my name earlier. However, with the rapid approach of the Bill time is short and we are all so busy that sometimes we miss our opportunities. I thank the House for giving me an opportunity now.

Many national organisations already exist; for example, the British Institute of Cleaning Services, the British Institute of Wastes Management, the British Cleaning Council and Tidy Britain of which I have the pleasure to be chairman having succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. All those bodies are concerned with the general disrepair of Britain and the fact that it has suffered great difficulties with untidiness and waste disposal.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has already pointed out that the local authorities are the true experts in the matter. The existing sites which are managed by the local authorities are rigidly controlled and efficiently managed. The British Institute of Wastes Management focuses professional and other attention on the problems caused by infill projects and local authority tips. However, as we in this House approach the new legislation it must be said that, just as there are already existing national councils, there is existing legislation. Part of the problem is that it is flouted by those who create waste and those who fail properly to dispose of it. The carrying of waste across the country for disposal is a source of untidiness, litter and toxic infection. Legislation has long existed to control that but in many cases it is flouted.

In many cases the existing technologies are under-used, as has already been hinted at. In addition, research into the problem is underfunded. We have an understanding of the nature of the problem but we have an inefficient and under employed use of resources.

It so happens that 1990 is Tidy Britain year. It is also the beginning of the decade which has been declared "the clean nineties". It is hoped that the new legislation will deal with some of the fundamental problems that have been outlined in the debate. I shall not take the time of the House by repeating what has been said. However, I wish to emphasise that if there is a move towards setting up yet another council to introduce a cohesive national environmental waste policy—and I consider that that has merits—account should be taken of all the existing bodies before it becomes of interest to those who now see that not for much longer will they escape the consequences of flouting the existing legislation.

The House is today debating the subject and will discuss it again on a Friday. Despite that, there is in Britain a general consensus that we should tackle the problems of dirty beaches, foul water supplies and litter and that we should do so in a national, co-ordinated way. I wish to point out to the Government in a friendly fashion that local authorities have come to think that they are not properly respected by central government and that their efforts are not properly regarded. I make an appeal that in this case we should have a body of expert inspectors of the environment throughout the country in local authorities, which, with diminished resources, have grappled with the growing problem.

I wish to give the House an example of how daily the nature of the problem becomes more difficult as the attempts to grapple with it become more serious. In Pembrokeshire, my home county, agriculture is basic to the economy of the area and the people. I have noticed that there is a new technology whereby every early potato is planted under a plastic cover. Now as one drives through the lanes and highways of Pembrokeshire, one sees that each field is covered in plastic. When the south-westerly gales come off the Cleddau estuary the plastic is lifted from the potatoes and wrapped around the blackthorn bushes. The plastic is indestructible and is causing a new problem, or a new aspect to an old problem.

Telephone directories have been buried in the infill projects of the world and show the date when each layer was laid. As the sites are dug up one can see from the date of the telephone directory, which has not changed its nature in the slightest, exactly when it was put into the infill project. I believe that most, if not all, of the states of the United States have outlawed infill projects and that that material will be dug up. In fact, there is a saleable product emerging from some of the new technologies and there is an end buyer for some of it. I know that your Lordships will know of the great machines which produce material called fines. That can then be used in agriculture and horticulture. Therefore, there is marketable product.

The first important point to bear in mind is that we have steeled our nerve about the problem. The second is that we are in the nervous nineties. In grappling with the Bill I believe that we should try to make certain that it is amended in order to face up to some of the very basic problems with which it does not seem to deal in its present form.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, we are particularly indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, for enabling us to have what could be described as a curtain raiser debate to the debate which we shall have in a few days' time on the Environmental Protection Bill. Our attention has already been drawn to the unfortunate choice of a Friday for such an important debate but, quite apart from that, the Bill deals with so many wide-ranging matters—and waste is one of the more important of them—that to have a preliminary discussion at this stage seems to me entirely appropriate. This is all the more the case as noble Lords who have spoken so far have personal experience of the subject and I believe that they have made a very positive contribution to the developing debate.

The fact is that the whole question of waste has entered more and more into the public domain. However, let us not assume that this is the first time in our national history that we have been anxious about waste. In the days of horse-drawn traffic the accumulation of manure on the streets of London caused serious problems. Calculations were made by the economists of the day as to how that would grow into great mountains before the century came to an end. Before the century came to an end another means of transport was developed. Human ingenuity knows no bounds. However, in turn that led to other emanations which have caused other sorts of problems with which we are now seeking to grapple. Therefore, this is an ever changing scene. It may be argued that because it is ever changing at no point in time can one say, Well, this is it. Now let us have a clearly defined policy to deal with it". However, I suggest that we have reached a situation in which enough has been done to recognise the problems of waste in the society in which we live at present to enable us to have a more clearly defined policy than we have at present but which would allow for flexibility and change in the future.

The problem of waste divides itself naturally into two parts: industrial waste—the waste associated with a manufacturing process; and what is called post-consumer waste—domestic waste. In the case of industrial waste the real problem is that a number of industrial processes lead to noxious by-products which must be very carefully disposed of in a controlled manner. I believe that much progress has been made in that direction and more measures of that sort are proposed in the Bill which we shall soon be debating.

What I feel is a shortcoming in our attitude towards waste in industry is that on the whole that attitude is reactive. Enterprises are constrained to carry out certain measures and ways of doing that are found, quite rightly, with the minimum possible expenditure. We need a more pro-active attitude. A good example of that was given by the noble Lord, Lord Layton in his very interesting speech, of a saw mill in Northern Ireland which has found a way of sawing wood without creating sawdust. Therefore, a waste problem is automatically eliminated. That should be encouraged.

How can it be encouraged? Businessmen are businessmen and the best way of encouraging them is to give them an incentive. I feel that some sort of fiscal incentive would be highly desirable and certainly there should be no fiscal disincentive such as a I found in the coal industry when dealing with the problem of pit heaps. We developed a way of reclaiming the material on the pit heaps for the purpose of providing road in-fill material. However, as long as the pit heap remained in place it was not rateable. As soon as we started to take away the material and began filling in roads with it, it became a commercial operation and we immediately had to pay rates. That made it much more difficult for us. I regard that as a fiscal disincentive to being pro-active. I merely illustrate the mysterious ways in which we seem to operate. Perhaps in reviewing the whole policy of waste in industry we might, in order to stimulate positive thinking, have a degree of fiscal incentive.

When one looks at domestic waste, that is a different problem. It all comes together in the family dustbin at the end of the day. However, there has been one big social change: we notice that in all our households our wives, children and so on are keen to do something about the problem. That is a big phenomenon which is emerging in Britain today and I do not believe that we are taking sufficient advantage of it. I believe that people who feel that they should so something about the problem are not clear as to what they can do. There may or may not be a local bottle bank or a place where tins can be disposed of. There may or may not be a waste paper collection. In the end, most people say, "We'd like to do something about it but we can't work this out", and they shove all the waste into one dustbin which is then taken to the landfill site and disposed of in what we all recognise as the least effective manner.

The Secretary of State for the Environment has made it clear that the aim of the Government is to recycle at least 50 per cent. of recycleable materials in domestic waste by the end of the century. That is a very laudable and desirable objective. However, we must ask how that is to be achieved. How are we to move from where we are today—when the proportion reclaimed is in low single figures—to the Secretary of State's 50 per cent.? Many changes must be introduced.

One simple way of setting about change is to facilitate the separation of household waste. That is being practised in other countries. For example, in Ontario, Canada, there is the blue box system. They have separate collections at different times of the day and week for different forms of waste. Experiments are now being carried out on a similar basis by forward-looking local authorities such as Sheffield, Richmond and one or two others. I strongly recommend to the Government that, as soon as those experiments and any other studies which are considered necessary are concluded and if they are serious about the idea that domestic waste can be recycled in such high proportions, they should introduce a legislative framework within which the separation of domestic waste can be brought about and facilitated.

Therefore, there are ways in which, through the adoption of clearly defined policies to be enshrined in the appropriate legislation, we can move forward very positively. Where I believe the Environmental Protection Bill falls short is that, while it sets up a regulatory and monitoring system, it leaves open the actual policies to be pursued. I read Part II of the Bill with great care to find out what those policies were to be. I am afraid that they are not very clearly defined. There are all sorts of restrictions on doing wrong things but what those wrong things are is not properly defined and there is no incentive to do the right things.

I suggest that, in tackling that part of the Bill, we bear in mind that there has been a gigantic step forward in the public attitude towards the waste problem. I believe that industry and the public in general are really prepared to move but there must be guidance. More than guidance, there must be a clearly defined legislative framework which must reflect the work being done within the European Community and in other countries. In an area in which international efforts are very considerable, we have an opportunity to move forward so long as we do it in a way which is more practical and effective than we have so far.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Mcintosh of Haringey

My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, on his choice of subject for the debate this afternoon, and for the way in which he introduced it. I do not think that even he realised quite how topical the debate was going to be when he won the ballot. This, after all, is the week when the 23 other members of the conference taking place in Norway, which was called by Ms. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway, expressed great shock that the Secretary of State for the Environment, having undertaken to attend the conference himself, decided to send a junior Minister.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State for the Environment has major problems with the poll tax, but I suggest that they will not go away because he is absent for a few days at an environmental protection conference. I suggest that if he is making any attempt to preserve the green credentials which he so proudly waved when he first took office, he would have been wiser to attend the conference himself and not send a more junior Minister.

The noble Earl, Lord Shannon, has a second reason for being fortunate in his timing in that, as he observed he has timed this debate for the week before the Second Reading of the Environmental Protection Bill. I am not one of those who protested loudly with regard to the timing of the Second Reading debate. That is not because I do not agree with those who said that the subject matter of the Bill was of great importance and should have the utmost prominence in the timetable for business in your Lordships' House, but because I do not believe that the Bill is very important. It is in no way adequate to address the major issues which confront our society in the control of pollution and environmental protection.

Even if the Bill goes through with the major amendments for which we shall be looking, I fear that it will still need to be followed by a more comprehensive programme for environmental protection rather than simply for control of pollution. That must certainly be undertaken in the next Session and the subject must be treated as a high priority by the Labour Government which will be elected at the next election. The debate therefore is one which continues. It is not one which we should anticipate in too much detail on Second Reading next week.

The thrust of the noble Earl's speech, and of his conference which he held towards the end of April, concerned the need for government to impose obligations on industry and to ensure that it is forced by statute to declare environmental protection programmes and strategies and to act on them effectively under the control of an inspectorate. We disagree with none of that. Many of us feel that we already have an environmental inspectorate in the form of the officers of local authorities, who have been our environmental protection inspectorate for around 150 years. However, that is a relatively minor disagreement.

We, in our Labour policy, have been in agreement for many years with almost everything that the noble Earl says. He refers to the need to enshrine the polluter pays principle. He refers to the need for adequate access to information on environmental matters; and that means information from individual plants and companies,not just in general terms. He refers to the need for strict liability. With all those matters we on these Benches strongly agree. If the noble Earl intends to introduce amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill along those lines, he will find that we have comparable amendments. We shall have to come together to ensure that they have the greatest effect because they are best presented in agreement with each other.

The most interesting point arising from the debate this afternoon is the way in which it is already clear that the Government will be surrounded by well-informed and very able critics of the Environmental Protection Bill. I do not mean faced by able critics; I mean surrounded in the sense of the Cross-Benchers and the Minister's own Benchers.

Obligations on industry, however valuable, and however important it may be that they are supported by statute, as the chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority said in response to the noble Earl's survey, are only part of the effort required if we are to have effective environmental protection. Noble Lords will forgive me if I state a number of examples regarding the way in which local authorities, the voluntary sector and the academic community can play a role in environmental protection. These examples are taken almost at random because there are so many, but they will give a flavour of the way in which we could and should be making progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the blue bin system being considered in Sheffield. I commend to him and to the House the activities of Leeds City Council, which, together with a company called SWAP—Save Waste And Prosper Limited set up by the voluntary bodies in the community in Leeds in collaboration with the city council—has been investigating the possibilities of what is called the split bin system. In other words, they have the same bin with divisions for organic and inorganic materials and a separate collection system for recyclables. I have confessed to the House before that I have great difficulty in differentiating between organic and inorganic. I was a student in the United States in the 1950s. I never understood the distinction between garbage and trash which was required by the local authority of the city of Columbus, Ohio. I knew what the article was; it was the correct name which caused me difficulty.

The idea of a split bin system seems to me to be eminently reasonable. There is a division in the bin, and when the waste goes into the vehicle there is a division in the vehicle. That achieves what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is rightly commending, which is the separation at source of different sorts of waste for which different solutions are required.

There is an important economic lesson to be learnt when dealing with recyclables. Glass manufacturers estimate that it costs £35 to recover a tonne of glass which, in turn, is only worth £25. On strict Thatcherite principles that means that the whole exercise is pointless. However, if one looks at the effect on the environment, the cost of disposal of that glass by other means and the effect of the lower utilisation of the raw materials of glass, the balance of financial advantage becomes quite different. The difficulty is that a single company cannot make that social cost calculation. It has to be done by society as a whole. We need to balance in our costing the value of the recycled material together with the cost of alternative, less satisfactory methods of disposal.

The same is true of cars and tyres. Norway introduced a system whereby a deposit is paid when a new car is purchased. That deposit is returned only when the car is scrapped by an authorised dealer who has the responsibility and the facilities to recover the metal and the plastic material from the car. That is something which requires government action. It is not up to individual companies to do it. The Government have to take an initiative in imposing that kind of penalty for inadequate scrapping of cars.

The same argument applies to tyres. I will not deal with the economics of using tyres as a source of heat, although there are experiments in California and Connecticut which show that it is possible. There are methods of cryogenic reduction of waste tyres. There is probably one tyre made waste each year for each member of the population of this country. That means that tyres combined with other materials would become not only a relatively cheap but also a very effective method of road surfacing. That has been done in Sweden. Why is it not being done in this country? I hope that is another question which the Minister will consider in his reply.

1 now turn to the recycling of plastic from domestic refuse. It may be that there are individual commercial companies which carry out the work. The example which comes to mind is the study being carried out in Manchester by the University of Salford Business Services Limited, the Greater Manchester waste disposal authority and the Government's laboratory at Warren Spring. Here the collaboration between government, local authorities or ex-local authorities and the academic sector means that there is a possibility of significant improvement in the recycling of plastic.

Perhaps the most urgent and widely known problem which the Government now face is not how to deal with new waste but how to deal with old waste. In recent months we have learnt of the dangers from the very large number of landfill sites around the country containing toxic materials which are seeping out. Any governments who claim to have a coherent environmental protection policy must do rather better than this Government have done so far by saying what they will do about the dangerous landfill sites. Lists have been published for the first time. In effect, these sites have been concealed for many years. They are rightly causing concern in hundreds if not thousands of communities around the country.

I will not give other examples of the way in which waste policy in this country is inadequate. From the very few examples that I have given it is quite clear that, in addition to the remedies proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, relating to the responsibilities of industry, we have major responsibilities which the Government must assume. They must collaborate with local authorities and the voluntary sector. I am not going to make an advance or a rehearsal Second Reading speech on the Environmental Protection Bill, though I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that when it comes to defining the evils which it seeks to prevent it is remarkably vague.

The fundamental issue which noble Lords must consider this afternoon and which we must consider when we debate the Bill during the summer and autumn is this: who pays for an effective environmental protection policy? Where do the costs lie and now are we going to assume a proper balance with fiscal incentives, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, or penalties and recalculation of the cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Layton, said in his admirable speech?

My noble friend Lord Parry and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, spoke about the role of local authorities. In the balance of the responsibilities between government and local authorities I do not believe we have yet got the matter right. There is a good way further to go. There is a need for much more listening to the expertise of local authorities as we consider the Bill, the White Paper and the legislation which is to follow. In the meantime the noble Earl's initiative is most welcome. We agree with a very large part of what he had to say.

4.44 p.m.

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

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, on his choice of subject for today's debate and on his timing. I knew well before the debate the depth of expertise in your Lordships' House on this subject. I well remember last year piloting the Private Members' Control of Pollution Amendment Act through your Lordships' House and the high standard of debate which that promoted. I have not been disappointed today by the distinguished contributions.

The timing of today's debate is also particularly fortunate. It offers a curtain raiser to the much longer debates which I am sure that we shall be having on the Environmental Protection Bill over the next few weeks. The subject of waste occupies the largest single section of that Bill, and it is a valuable opportunity to put the government measures in the Bill in the context of our wider policies on waste.

I must first of all remind your Lordships that the Government have waste management policies. There has been criticism that our general approach, and this Bill in particular, are piecemeal in the way that they tackle waste management problems. Partly this reflects the fact that the Bill and our other measures are building on the existing system in the 1974 Act and partly it is true that the Government have been fire-fighting problems as they arise. Such problems as the import of toxic waste and landfill gas at abandoned waste disposal sites have come very suddenly into public prominence. We have had to take measures to deal with them.

It is also true that we cannot consider the United Kingdom's policies in isolation. The UK's membership of the European Community is the greatest external influence on the development of our waste policy. At first the Community adopted environmental law only where it was necessary to equalise the conditions of trade, but since the coming into force of a Single European Act in 1987 the Community has had an express remit to legislate on the environment. The European Community now has a sheaf of directives on waste.

There is the so-called framework directive of 1975 which defines waste and which requires member states to set up competent authorities and requires these competent authorities to produce waste management plans and to license waste disposal facilities. It is no exaggeration to say that the Control of Pollution Act 1974 was the model for this directive. There is the toxic and dangerous waste directive of 1978 which lays down more stringent controls for toxic and dangerous waste than in the framework directive. There are two directives on particular types of waste—on the disposal of waste oils and on the disposal of PCBs. Finally, there are two directives on the transfrontier shipment of hazardous waste. A number of these directives are now being renegotiated.

Although the Community issued these merit-worthy directives, there was no context and no overall Community waste policy into which they fitted. That was a deficiency corrected in March of this year when the Council of Environment Ministers adopted a resolution on waste policy. The resolution starts off from the premise that unless there is a waste management policy as a consequence of economic growth—the fundamental purpose of the Community—more and more waste will be created. It describes a waste management policy that will reverse this trend, this peril of affluence.

The use of low waste and clean waste technology is endorsed, as it is more easy to dispose of products themselves. Where waste is unavoidable, recycling and the re-use of waste is encouraged. Where waste cannot be recycled or re-used, the council said that the Community must plan for and build an adequate network of disposal sites. More than this, the council said that it was desirable for member states individually to aim at self-sufficiency in waste disposal. All these ingredients of a Community waste management policy, it will be noted, play their part in the Government's national waste management policy.

There are of course other international influences at work. At the global level the United Nations environment programme has produced the Cairo guidelines on waste management and the Basel convention on the specific subject of the transfrontier shipment of waste. Then there is the OECD, which is made up of the free market democracies. The OECD has almost specialised in the subject of transfrontier shipments and it was a major source for UNEP's Basel convention.

The UK supports these international measures, each and every one. In the case of the European Community they are hardly international measures but measures from our own hearth. There is an international waste management policy and a national one, and they coincide. The Control of Pollution Act 1974 was the progenitor of the European Community's framework directive. I am not too bashful to detect a new British influence on the Community mind as it now turns to revise the framework directive.

Within this international context, we have domestic overall policies on waste. These are reflected in the Bill which will be coming before your Lordships' House on Friday week. I shall pick out a few of the strands of policy which noble Lords will find in the Bill.

First, the polluter pays principle is being introduced to waste. One modest step towards this is the introduction of charges by regulation authorities. The regulation of waste management is expensive and is likely to become more so. It is only right that the producer of waste, which ultimately means the consumer, should meet these costs through the charges on licences.

It is vital that all waste producers should meet the full costs of the waste they produce. That is not only fair it is also the most effective market means of encouraging waste minimisation and recycling. Waste minimisation and recycling must be made to succeed on the basis of genuine economic viability. Undeserved subsidies are not a long-term solution to encouraging environmentally friendly routes. We do not want to lower the cost of recycling by subsidy; rather we want to increase the comparative cost of disposal, which will happen anyway as a by-product of meeting increasingly tough environmental standards.

But that brings in another strand of policy. The higher the standards and the higher the costs of disposal, the more incentive there is for evasion and law breaking. If we are expecting the legitimate disposal industry to invest heavily in plant, equipment and sites to a very high and expensive standard, we must ensure that it is not undercut by a lower standard or downright illegal competition. That means that we must make the flow of waste from producer to disposer tightly sealed against leakages from the system. However, the biggest step to curb illegal dumping is to cut off the supplies of waste before they ever reach the unscrupulous who could undercut.

That is where the duty of care comes in. The duty of care, for which credit is due to the Select Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, is not only a means of making producers responsible for the subsequent destination of their waste. It also offers a big step forward in enforcement and detection for waste regulation authorities. Combined with the registration of carriers under the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act, the duty of care will provide a chain of movements of waste that can be traced from producer to disposer to find where anything has gone wrong. That is without the necessity for a bureaucratic and cumbersome scheme of registering every waste producer in the country and without a formal consignment note system on a prescribed format such as we use for special waste. I believe that this is quite a reasonable balancing act between minimising bureaucracy and ensuring a sealed pipeline of waste from producer to disposer that can be properly policed.

With this sealing of waste disposal routes we can and shall press for much higher environmental standards. This will be largely achieved by turning the screw on waste management licences. The department will continue to issue waste management papers on the technical standards to be expected at disposal sites. We are determined to see a steady raising of pollution control standards everywhere, so that even the worst sites are operated at the standard of today's best. The control of standards by setting and enforcing licence conditions is the unglamorous bread and butter side of waste management that will not be found in the newspapers. But it is also the most important.

Another problem area, also touched on in the Bill, is that of the international trade in waste. In the past two years there has been rather more heat than light on the subject of waste imports. The odd thing is that, almost unnoticed amidst the thunder of outrage, we have reached a consensus on policy. It is now generally agreed that movements of waste across international frontiers are to be discouraged. Developed countries should certainly be able to deal with their own waste. It is also agreed that there may have to be exceptions and that we may need to help out developing countries and some of the smallest developed ones which lack specialist facilities. There is also a case for exempting movements of waste destined for recycling from those same countries where there are special cases. That is now the Government's policy and we are now very close to hammering out a policy on these lines in Europe and in the OECD. The Bill provides powers for the Secretary of State and local authorities to control international waste movements to implement that policy.

The final major issue addressed in the Bill's provisions on waste is the role of local authorities. I know that many noble Lords and people elsewhere would prefer that the Government had decided to strip the waste regulatory function away from the local authorities completely. The Bill, however, does not take this route. But we expect regulation authorities to show the consistent high standards of work that only a few of them have achieved up to now. I shall explain why the Government believe that statutory regional waste regulation authorities are not the best way forward. We should begin by looking at the measures that we have on the face of the Bill, and which incidentally, we believe, command general support.

Much of Part II of the Bill is concerned with increasing the powers of waste regulation authorities. But we also have to ensure that the authorities themselves do their job. That is why we place so much importance on the separation of poacher and gamekeeper. In future all waste regulation authorities will be divorced from their operational function, which will go into arm's length companies. For the first time regulators throughout the country will be able to concentrate effort and resources on enforcing high standards. There should be no more allegations of poacher and gamekeeper, and the income from licence charges will stop authorities from using the excuse of inadequate resources if they fail to come up to scratch as regulators.

The Secretary of State will issue guidance about licensing and enforcement of which authorities will have to take account. Regulators will be able to gain access to sites and information to enable them to see exactly how waste is being managed in their area. There will also be the tougher licensing regime carrying forward what we had in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and improving on it in a number of significant areas to close loopholes.

Regulation authorities will have to account for their performance in annual reports, which will lead to local pressure on them to raise standards. But that is not all Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution will inspect and report on the performance of regulation authorities, taking into account the authorities' annual reports. It is worth reminding ourselves that the role of HMIP is not to inspect every waste disposal site in the country. That is the role of the regulation authorities. Rather HMIP will audit the performance of the authorities and publish reports on their performance, praising the good authorities and castigating the bad.

So we will have single purpose regulation authorities, freed from their operational role and untainted by conflicts of interest, enforcing the new licensing system to higher standards and accounting for their performance to their local electorates and to HMIP. I am confident that these measures will lead to higher standards of waste management. But we do not stop there. The Secretary of State will be given new finely targeted default powers to use against authorities which fail in their duties. I hope those powers will rarely, if ever, need to be used but they are there and regulators should take note that they will be used if necessary.

Running alongside all those measures to raise standards, there will also be encouragement for authorities to co-operate in voluntary joint arrangements for waste regulation. This voluntary co-operation will lead to greater consistency in waste regulation. The Department of the Environment is now actively pursuing this with the local authority associations and I am convinced that the associations will play their full part in formulating voluntary regional arrangements. Indeed there has already been some co-operation between authorities.

The improvements to waste management standards which we all wish to see can be achieved by the measures in Part II of the Bill, implemented by regulation authorities participating in voluntary regional co-operation. We must not disrupt local authorities just at the time when they are being given the tools to do the job. But rather we should build on the strengths of the existing authorities. If we did go in for a wholesale re-organisation of local authority functions we could well jeopardise the genuine gains which will result from the measures in this part of the Bill. I hope therefore that we can all agree that there is a place for voluntary regional co-operation between local authorities. By encouraging and guiding that co-operation and co-ordination of effort and resources we can gain the benefits of higher and more consistent standards without causing unnecessary and damaging disruption.

Those are a few of the policies which find reflection in the Environmental Protection Bill. But I have to agree that such policies are not in themselves a strategy. I believe that we need a national waste strategy, though I am not sure that I agree with everyone else's views on what such a strategy should comprise. I believe that it should include what is proper for government both central and local to do, but is should exclude what is not within the power or competence of government.

We have to recognise that market-based solutions are the best answer to many environmental problems. It is the Government's job to set the standard and the authorities' to enforce it, but within a regime of regulation. It should be perfectly possible for the market to determine the answer adopted for particular wastes. That is especially so in this country where we have a well developed and impressively geared up waste disposal industry. What the industry and the country do not need is anything like a national plan for waste disposal, which might attempt to specify within itself what should happen to which sort of waste and where. With that caveat in mind, I do feel that there is a place for the Government to endorse a national waste strategy as a guide for local authority decisions and a confidence building backdrop for the private sector to make the necessary substantial investments over the next few decades.

One area in which such a strategy could be helpful is in identifying and planning to enable the provision of a sufficient network of strategic specialist facilities around the country. The facilities themselves will have to be provided by the private sector. But public authorities should be able to provide the assurance that a place will be found for them. Responsible local authorities, who are both planning and waste regulatory authorities, should be above the practice of NIMBYism. They should plan for the waste needs of their areas and make sure that the planning and licensing system enable the private sector to bring those facilities into operation. Every region produces waste: no region should expect another to dispose of it for them.

There is a need for strategic co-operation at a level higher than that for an individual authority. Many specialist facilities need a catchment area greater than that of a single county. There is quite a rational case, recognised freely by the Government in our publications, for regional scale co-operation in the planning for waste management. We have not taken the route of setting up statutory authorities; but we believe that authorities should be co-operating on a regional scale.

One facet of this is the ending of waste tourism. On the international scale, we have agreed within Europe on the general principle of minimising waste movements between countries. I see no reason why this policy should not also be applied on a regional level. There is no good reason why major flows of waste should have to take place from one end of the country to another or one end of a county to another; it cannot be environmentally beneficial, nor is it entirely driven by the consumer. More often, major flows of waste reflect differences in the willingness of different parts of the country and their local authorities to deal with their own waste or to regulate it to the same standards as their neighbours. That is not a responsible, rational or tolerable situation. Waste disposal facilities should be provided in places that are most suitable for those facilities, and where the market for waste disposal exists. They should not be provided in areas of least organised public protest and most obliging councillors and officials.

These are among the issues which the Government believe should comprise a national waste strategy. I am not sure that we can meet on all points with the views expressed by the noble Earl, both at his conference and during today's debate. However, I can say that we share his wish to create such a strategy. Officials of the department are now in contact with the local authority associations who must be our essential partners in any new strategic approach to the problems of waste management responsibilities. I expect to be able to come before your Lordships' House at a later date to report the progress that we are making.

I move on now to deal with specific points raised by noble Lords during today's debate. My noble friend Lord Layton and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, mentioned the funding of HMIP and what they referred to as the lack of resources. I can assure the House that the Government and the department are well aware of the problems which have arisen. We have increased the salaries of inspectors by about 30 per cent. in order to ensure that recruitment continues successfully and that the inspectorate vacancies are filled. I can assure both noble Lords that HMIP is not being starved of resources to achieve the ends to which it most valuably has to contribute.

Certain noble Lords referred to the United Kingdom as being the dustbin of Europe. I refute that assertion most strongly. If the articles written by Mr. Richard North in the Independent— which I think could be described as an independent newspaper in its own right, apart from its title—were perused by noble Lords, they would see that the newspaper holds a view which states that we are one of the best compilers with European directives both as regards those which lie behind us and those which lie ahead.

My noble friend Lord Layton said that he thought the UK was falling behind in Europe as regards landfill. We feel that we are far from falling behind; in fact, we are actually leading from the front on the issue. We are one of the first countries to have an effective licensing system. No other country has yet proposed a general duty on all waste producers to match the duty of care mentioned in the Bill which will be coming before this House on Friday of next week.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, referred to the recovery of methane from landfill sites. I can assure him that the Government are actively pursuing, through the Department of Energy's energy technology support unit, a number of schemes for the recovery of methane gas from old landfill sites for electricity generation. We are also looking to exploit the considerable potential which lies ahead in that area.

The noble Lord, Lord Parry, referred to local authorities and the perceived shortage of money. I should point out that the new system, to be introduced by the Bill, of charging for licences should ensure that that is not a problem; indeed, the reverse is the case. They will be fully funded and able to carry out their statutory requirements without any hindrance.

Lord Parry

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. When he reads his speech tomorrow, the noble Lord may find that the adjectives therein give the impression that it is much more likely that one would find a local authority dodging its obligations rather than a polluter. Is he prepared to make some correction to that statement?

Lord Hesketh

I am most surprised by the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Parry. I like to think that my words will receive the unqualified support of his noble friend Lord Mcintosh on the Front Bench. The Government are endorsing local authorities as being pro-active in these arrangements. Far from suggesting, as did the noble Lord, that I used adjectives that do not encourage local authorities, the reverse is the case.

The noble Lords, Walston and Lord Ezra, and other noble Lords, referred to recycling and the need for its encouragement. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to single figure percentage points against the 50 per cent. figure envisaged by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by the end of the century. The Bill contains many measures to promote recycling. Waste collection authorities will be required to draw up recycling plans. They will be able to keep back waste from the waste stream to recycle. Moreover, my honourable friend the Minister for the Environment has announced that on Third Reading an amendment will be brought forward in your Lordships' House to ensure that they, and others who recycle waste, will benefit financially from the reduced cost to disposal authorities. Such authorities will be required to pay them a proportion of the cost saved. I hope that that will be part of an overall and bigger programme which will achieve the figures that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State desires.

The noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Mcintosh of Haringey, both referred to the "blue box" system. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to it in respect of Sheffield and the noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh, extended the examples to Leeds, if I heard correctly. The Bill provides many measures to encourage this system and others; for example, the preparation of waste recycling plans and the payment of rebates to which I referred earlier by disposal authorities. Those are just two examples of what I hope will be an extension and in no way anything other than an encouragement for the system.

The noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh, referred to tyre recycling. I can assure him that the matter is at present being researched and studied at the Warren Spring Laboratory. The noble Lord referred to the fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would not be present at Bergen. He said that the task had been passed to a junior Minister. He was of course referring to my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Environment, who I should have thought is a very suitable Minister to be attending the conference. I can assure him that there are many reasons for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State being busy. I am sure that he will understand when I smile at him and suggest that hope springs eternal.

I should like to say a few words about the noble Earl's suggestion that there should be a council for environmental waste policy. The Government have some reservations. We have had such bodies in the past, and we do not believe that they achieved a great deal. The noble Earl intends that that body should be jointly funded by industry and government and that it should produce a voluntary policy for industry in the management of its waste. I wonder whether there is a need for such a group. The CBI and the CIA—I should point out that that is the Chemical Industries' Association and not another body on the other side of the Atlantic—already produce excellent guidance on waste management for their members which is available to a wider audience. That guidance is drawn up in the way that the noble Earl proposes for his council—by consultation within industry, using the expertise available through the trade associations.

The question is: how would a new council add to that expertise and how would it avoid duplicating it? I am sure that we can look to the industry associations to continue to provide the advice for their members that they have produced so well in the past. If they see a need to come together in larger groups, they will do so. I do not at this moment feel that there is a need for a joint industry and government council. However, we are agreed on the need for a national strategy and for the planning of the provision of waste disposal facilities. I thank the noble Earl for his efforts in promoting such a strategy and for organising the seminar on the subject which occurred last month.

5.11 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short, short debate. We may have been short on numbers, but I believe that your Lordships will agree that the quality of the contributions was that generally associated with your Lordships' House. All contributors spoke with great knowledge on the various aspects of the subject.

We are all waste producers. Waste is something that will not just go away. A charming example was given by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, when he said, "We put it in the dustbin. We shut the lid, and we turn our backs on it. It is someone else's job". The trouble is that we have made it, and so it is something that we must consider.

As we have heard, there is no universal panacea. Recycling, incineration, minimisation and landfill—not one is that universal panacea. We must have a strategic blend of all those processes. Our decisions on that blend must be based on proper scientific evidence and not on some euphoric dream of an impossible Arcadia.

Perhaps I may give one small example. When one mentions domestic waste, one of the first reactions one receives is, "Oh, excess packaging". No one has yet defined what excess packaging is. It is a statement which has clearly not been thought through. I may not get the percentage figures right, but they are of the right order. The person who complains about the packaging that goes into his dustbin does not seem to realise that over 30 per cent. of the food produced in developing countries is lost before it reaches the consumer. In developed countries, the loss is of the order of 5 per cent. Why? Packaging. We cannot suddenly say, "Get rid of packaging. Get it out of my dustbin." Let us then see how our food bills will increase. The wastage of food will be enormous. We must have good scientific evidence before we start to take any decisions.

Furthermore, we must remember that we, the producers—we are all producers of waste—are the baddies in this game. The goodies are those who are trying to get rid of it, provided that they are responsible. They should be regarded properly if they are worthy of it.

I was pleased to hear what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Layton, with his considerable knowledge of the subject and his technical knowledge of paint sludge, and the chisel, or whatever it was, that does not produce any sawdust. I noticed that, unlike the Minister, he kindly gave approval to my idea of a council. In support of that idea I should like to give a small quotation from a letter received by a colleague of mine from the deputy chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment in the other place who said: I am therefore delighted that you have formed a council for environmental waste policy. That seems to me a very welcome step forward". We also have encouragement from elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the fiscal incentives to business to use new technology. That was followed by a fairly broad hint from the Minister that there would be something of that nature in the forthcoming Bill. The noble Lord also referred to public enthusiasm, both domestic and industrial, which needs encouragement and direction. That is not like the Duke of Plaza-Toro, leading his troops from behind, which I strongly suspect is what one finds in Part II of the forthcoming Bill. It is strong on, "Thou shalt not", but does not contain a great deal of leadership as to which way we are going.

We also heard about the blue bin experiments in recycling. I have heard that they may not be fully economic; but any subsidy which may be found to be required will also be found to be well spent in the long run. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh of Haringey, about something with which I was involved many years ago in the Glass Manufacturers' Federation. He pointed out that the glass manufacturers did not want all that cullet back again but were prepared to take it back and make a financial contribution to the environment.

We are pleased to hear that something seems to be in hand with regard to inspection. I would disagree slightly with the Minister because there is no such thing as "the polluter pays". They are the buzz words referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Layton. Let it be fairly and clearly understood: the polluter never pays. It is always the consumer who pays, because eventually the price returns to him.

The Minister kindly gave a carefully delineated list of unenforced directives. When we have inspection and enforcement the situation may improve. It was good to hear of the building up of the network of strategic specialist facilities. Specialist facilities in this field can be expensive. It would clearly be useful for the movement of waste to be dealt with properly rather than improperly because of the need for transportation.

We have had a good short debate. Once again I thank all of your Lordships who participated. I hope that the Government will pay attention to the many wise suggestions made. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to