HL Deb 19 April 2000 vol 612 cc699-702

2.46 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What communications took place between officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions during the consultation period for the European Union directive on the incineration of waste.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions leads for the UK in the ongoing negotiation of the proposed waste incineration directive. Since February 1994, when the Commission began consultation on its initial working paper towards a proposal for a waste incineration directive, MAFF officials have been fully consulted by their colleagues in DETR (and its predecessor, the Department of the Environment) in writing, in meetings of interested government departments, and bilaterally. DETR officials are continuing discussions with colleagues in MAFF and other government departments.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Is the noble Lord aware that I sat on Sub-Committee C of the European Communities Committee which considered this draft directive and that at no time was there any mention of an estimated 3,000 incinerators for animal carcasses—I refer to those in pet crematoria, in veterinary surgeries, farms which have on-site incinerators, hunt kennels and the big BSE incinerators—which, if this directive is not amended, will face disastrous consequences? I understand that MAFF was not consulted about the number of incinerators which may be affected although it is responsible for them. Will the noble Lord please ensure that everything possible is done at a European level to ensure that the operators of these incinerators are not penalised and that we have nowhere to destroy our animals?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, these issues have been raised. It may be necessary to tell noble Lords— although probably not the noble Baroness—that they should not believe everything they read in the Sunday Telegraph. We were well aware of a problem with small incinerators. At one point the number of these was probably underestimated, most of them having been established since the introduction of the 1991 regulations to dispose of fallen stock as a result of the BSE regulations. Fallen stock needs to be destroyed and disposed of to ensure that it is not used as feedingstuffs. We pursued the question of a possible exemption for small incinerators, but we received no support from other member states. As we agree with the objective of the directive and there is a five-year period in which farmers and others may adapt their practices, we consider that the final form of the directive will be acceptable to the UK and will be one that the agriculture industry can adapt to.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, is it true that the Italians have received not a derogation but a total exemption for incinerators of vegetable waste? Is it not further true that Her Majesty's Government did not even try to obtain such derogations or exemptions from this pernicious directive?

Lord Whitty

No, my Lords. We attempted to, but we received no support. As regards the Italians, there is an exemption for vegetable waste from the food processing industry and for cork waste used as biomass. This is because we do not want the regulations to be a disincentive to using biomass for energy purposes—which is, of course, environmentally desirable in itself.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, what are the likely compliance costs of this directive for each individual incinerator operator who will have to upgrade his equipment—which, as the noble Lord said earlier, was possibly installed only six or seven years ago?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the compliance costs for individual farmers will be dependent on the way in which they decide to dispose of such waste in the future. I have seen very large figures floating around, but they relate to a situation where every single individual farmer decides to buy a large incinerator. That will not, in practice, be the case. The farmers will have five years in which to adapt their practices and to use either neighbouring larger incinerators or other methods of disposal. The question relating to individual farmers has been misconstrued in some coverage of the issue.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, further to the Minister's response to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, I understand that exemptions have been given to Italy, which he has mentioned, and to Portugal. Meat and bonemeal are banned here and the disposal of carcasses is a big issue in the United Kingdom, but not in other countries. Under those circumstances, will the Government press for derogation for our farmers? Secondly, can the Minister confirm that although the directive is due to come into being in 2006, this country is due to implement it within the next two years—early yet again?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is a five-year period to adapt to the directive. Whatever the point of its transposition through Parliament, that five-year figure stands in terms of the period for adaptation. The noble Baroness is right, there is a particular problem within the UK as a result of the BSE regulations. We have to destroy carcasses—and, in some cases, render them into small incinerators—which is not necessarily the case in the rest of Europe. That in itself causes another problem in regard to small incinerators in that some of them do not appear to be operating at anything like the temperature which the SEAC committee recommended for the disposal of beasts of over 30 months. So there is an additional problem because of the peculiar situation in the United Kingdom.

It would be misleading to say that we will go back to seek a derogation on that, both for that reason and because there is no support for such a derogation elsewhere within the European Union, as I have outlined. The overall impact of the directive is very beneficial for environmental purposes.