Details of hazardous waste imported into the United Kingdom are not held centrally. However, I am advised by the Greater Manchester waste disposal authority that the total amount of foreign waste imported into its area was 7,770 tonnes in 1985 and 11,937 tonnes in 1986. Figures for 1987 are not yet available.
The authority records the point of entry into the United Kingdom and the final destination of each consignment, but not the route taken.
Is the Minister aware that because other European countries are placing restrictions on the import of hazardous waste materials the United Kingdom in general, and Greater Manchester in particular, are expressing concern that we are becoming the dustbin of Europe? With this extra workload the site operatives may well be flouting the rules and regulations that apply to waste disposal.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that waste imports amount to a small percentage of the total waste disposal in the United Kingdom —0·5 per cent. annually. He will also agree that the critical factor is that we should have the right facilities and the capacity to handle hazardous wastes. I hope that he will welcome the directive on trans-frontier shipment of hazardous waste, to which we are hoping to adhere as soon as possible. It will increase the amount of information that is available across boundaries and thus help to ensure safe handling and the effectiveness of the regulations that are currently in force.
We are looking at ways of improving controls; for example, by extending the special waste regulations to cover all pollution risks, improving the consignment note procedure and introducing a statutory code of practice to put greater responsibilities on the producers of waste to ensure its safe disposal. We are examining the possibility of registering waste carriers and extending the powers of licensing authorities. Those are all ways of improving control, and deep consideration is being given to every one of them.
Is the Minister aware that his answers will be thought amazingly complacent? Why are we importing any hazardous waste into this country when we have enough of our own to dispose of? The Minister told me in a parliamentary answer that in 1983 we imported 14,824 tonnes of hazardous waste from abroad. By 1986 that had escalated to 53,000 tonnes. Has that escalation continued? Why does the hon. Gentleman's Department not know what happens to the waste when it arrives in this country, or how it is disposed of, or where it goes? Surely we do not need to rescue the British economy, which the Government claim is not ailing, by buying the rest of Europe's hazardous waste?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have a long history of waste control, and it is essential that the treatment and disposal operators be required to achieve the highest standards. The export of a waste disposal service is an important industry, as long as we continue to have the right facilities and the capability to handle hazardous wastes properly. Far from being complacent, the Government are dedicated to ensuring that every possible control is exercised to ensure an effective, well-managed and highly proficient industry.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are a limited number of people with the high skills required for controlling waste, and that it is therefore better to concentrate on a few sites than to have the waste scattered hither and yon over Europe?