HL Deb 09 July 2001 vol 626 cc933-5

3.14 p.m.

Lord Ezra

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on the incineration of waste.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Government set out their aims and objectives for sustainable waste management in Waste Strategy 2000, published in May last year. The choice of waste facilities is a matter for local councils in consultation with their local communities. The Government recognise that the recovery of energy from waste may have a role to play, alongside recycling and composing, in an integrated waste management plan, but they have no plan for any particular number of incinerators.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he not aware of a general feeling that there is some ambivalence in the Government's policy, as was stated in a recent Select Committee report from another place? Is it not apparently a contradiction that whereas energy recovery from waste counts towards the achievement of the Government's objective for renewables by 2010, it nevertheless does not rate for the benefits under the renewables obligation? I believe that we are justified in asking whether the Government are seeking to encourage or discourage the recovery of energy from waste.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the disposal of waste has as its prime consideration the issue of whether we can reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first instance, or recycle or compost it. Therefore, the use of waste for energy production is second or third down the list. Nevertheless, the production of energy from waste makes a contribution to the diversification of energy sources and is considered in that context. However, from the point of view of waste management, it is not necessarily the optimum solution.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the thousands of bonfires or pyres which burnt—indeed, some are still burning—millions of animals under the auspices of MAFF or DEFRA complied in every way with the waste incineration directives and laws which we imported into this country?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the House will know that the impact of the temporary pyres, which regrettably we had to use during the foot and mouth out break, has been monitored by the Environment Agency and by the Food Standards Agency. A report was issued by the FSA last week and the indications are that no dangerous levels of dioxins are emanating from them. Clearly, the use of such pyres must be minimised and will continue to be so as we continue to fight the disease.

Baroness Thornton

My Lords, given the need to maintain the balance between recycling and incineration, do the Government intend to give local authorities more money in order to make it possible for them to meet their targets on recycling and to encourage them to do so?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, yes; waste and recycling are being supported in the current spending review. During the next three years the amount available to spend on waste strategy will have risen by £ 1.1 billion. We have also provided significant funds—about £40 million—to the waste and resources action programme in order to overcome market and other barriers to the recycling of waste. Furthermore, we have provided support of £220 million through PFI projects, some of which have been announced. In addition, my colleagues in DCMS have announced that £159 million will be available for a programme of environmental renewal and that will include provision for recycling, composting and waste reuse.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I understand that the Government's waste disposal strategy will require many large incinerators to be built throughout the country—I have been given a figure of 165—and that there is strong public resistance to the building of incinerators in residential areas. How do the Government propose to strike a balance and do they intend to alter the planning regime in order to allow those incinerators to be built?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as I said in my Answer, the Government do not have in mind any particular figure for the number of new incineration plants. If a local authority decides that new incineration facilities are required, they will go through the normal planning application and, if they are large enough, through DTI assessment. No particular figure, particularly one of 165, has any bearing on government policy. The Government would prefer to see waste minimisation in the first instance and then the recycling of waste, rather than an increase in incineration capacity. However, where it is needed, the new standards for incinerators will ensure that there is a minimum safety standard.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, following the previous intervention, what is the Government's latest thinking on the impact of emissions from incineration, on which there appears to be a diversity of reports, particularly in respect of dioxins?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the technology now required of incineration plants will reduce to minimal levels any form of dangerous emission. For example, the level of total incineration exposure will be substantially less (about 6 per cent) than that from major manufacturing sectors such as iron and steel. Incineration plants make only a very small contribution to the problem of emissions, and exposure from any particular plant has been reduced to a minimal level. Therefore, some of the public anxiety to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred earlier is misplaced. Where incineration is necessary, subject to all the caveats that I have spelt out, the danger to the public is minimal.