Is my hon. Friend aware that such imported material contains a good deal of hazardous waste? Does he agree that the regulations governing the disposal of hazardous chemicals are a good deal less stringent than those governing the disposal of nuclear waste? Will his Department give more thought to the safe disposal of hazardous chemicals, and at least as much thought as the Government give to the safe disposal of nuclear waste?
We ensure that all waste is properly controlled in transit and disposed of without risk to public health. We are looking to introduce a statutory code of practice to place greater responsibilities on the producers of waste to ensure its safe disposal. We are also looking at several other measures that I announced in the House two months ago on this important issue.
May we urgently have a set of stringent regulations to govern the matter? Last year my constituency received a large tonnage of contaminated soil from Holland. My constituents were upset and worried and, to some degree, quite frightened that material that the Dutch had rejected was about to be placed near their homes. Does the Minister realise that people make a profit from receiving contaminated soil from abroad and dumping it in constituencies such as mine? We need an urgent review and strict regulations.
We have strict regulations. One of the reasons why waste imports have increased— albeit they represent a small percentage of total waste inports; only 0·5 per cent.—is that we have a long history of waste control. Treatment and disposal operators are required to achieve the highest standards. The Government intend to ensure that that continues to be the case.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the statutory code will include the proper fencing of sites? He will be aware that children have gone to sites, dug into the area, and come across highly contaminated materials.
Is the Minister aware that the Government do not have a good record on the safe disposal of toxic waste? There is great concern about the fact that 500,000 tonnes of toxic waste are being imported into this country, and the tonnage is ever growing and increasing. In answer to parliamentary question after question the Minister has refused, or been unable, to say where imported waste goes and how it is disposed of. He does not know, or he will not tell us. Is it not unsatisfactory? Is it not wrong for the Government to cover up their balance of payments deficit by importing toxic waste to be disposed of in this country?
I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I share his concern about the potential growth in imports where there is no wider technical or environmental benefit to be gained by treatment or disposal of waste in this country. Therefore, the Government are considering ways in which imported waste may be more closely controlled.
The Environment Select Committee is concerned about the problem and intends to conduct a rigorous inquiry into the matter soon after Easter. No doubt my hon. Friend will have to answer us in some detail about the form of statutory declarations and other measures proposed by the Government.
We look forward to the outcome of the review. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will carefully consider all the detailed representations made through that report.