Orders of the Day — United States Domestic Waste (Dumping)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:10 am on 29th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South 1:10 am, 29th June 1988

I have had an opportunity to speak to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and I understand that he is not averse to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) contributing briefly to the debate if he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after my contribution.

It is my duty tonight to report a sense of utter outrage that is felt in the north-west at the proposal of the Manchester Ship Canal Company to import 7·5 million tonnes of supposed American domestic waste into my constituency. The resultant mountain of muck will dominate the flat Cheshire landscape. It will rise to 130 ft and cover 390 acres. Thousands of representations are pouring into me. I cannot over-emphasise the sense of bitterness and amazement among my constituents and among others in the north-west that the proposal should even be contemplated.

I have experienced this urgency of public opinion only once before, and that was when I was working in No. 10 during the Falklands crisis. On the Beaufort scale of political force, I reckon that if unassuaged these winds could destroy careers, even those of Ministers.

For the past 18 months there have been barges trawling around the Caribbean filled with sewage, one from New York and one from Philadelphia. They have been trying vainly to find a home. The Manchester Ship Canal Company is suggesting that the poor and under-developed nations of the Caribbean should reject the barges and that it will accept and welcome them for profit. This will be a national issue and the British people will reject the proposition and its defenders.

In 1986, Cheshire county council, against bitter opposition from my predecessor and the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), gave planning permission to the Manchester Ship Canal Company to place a tip on Arpley meadows. It was meant to be a strategic long-term facility to take Cheshire's waste for the next 25 years. The council was not disinterested because it agreed to share the profits of the deal. Critically, it entered into a local agreement to encourage the import of waste from outside Cheshire.

The Manchester Ship Canal Company has interpreted the agreement widely and has entered into a preliminary deal with Tower Water and Waste Ltd. to import 1·5 million tonnes of American domestic waste for five years. A company search of Power Water and Waste Ltd. shows that it has the princely sum of paid-up capital of £2. It has filed no accounts since the company was formed on 23 September 1986. The company will import—I say this so that my hon. Friend the Minister will understand the nature of the beast with which we are dealing—the muck into Liverpool and then ship it every day in 300 22-tonne lorries into the heart of my constituency, through the over-stretched road system around Warrington.

Why should Ministers be involved? First, it is a question of national importance as to whether we ought to be shipping in large imports of foreign waste. I wonder what areas of the country will be the next to be blighted by a megatonnage of muck. This is the thin end of a potentially enormous wedge. I wonder whether Cirencester, or even Tewkesbury, might be blighted by such imports.

Secondly, although one might think that the waste disposal authority itself would be the prime mover in stopping such imports, it may not be able to do so because it is over a legal barrel, due to the foolish agreement into which it entered, to encourage imports of outside waste.

The Royal Commission on environmental pollution, in its eleventh report, concluded that landfill capacity in the United Kingdom is a scarce resource that needs to be conserved. However, these proposals will reduce the life of the tip at Arpley meadows by 15 years. Cheshire, already hard pressed to find landfill sites, will discover that its entire strategic waste disposal policy is jeopardised. Worse, the Manchester Ship Canal Company plans to find another landfill site in Cheshire at the end of the five-year period with a view to importing even more American domestic waste.

I am told by the man in the street—and he is right—that the American continent is a vast land mass and that ours is a small country hard pressed by environmental problems. Why cannot the American nation find a place in its vast land mass—perhaps in its deserts—to dispose of its waste and not add to our problems? It is paradoxical that the Government are spending £4 billion on clearing the Mersey basin but at the same time we appear to be allowing a towering beacon of noxiousness right on the Mersey's banks.

The royal commission suggested that the costs of preventing pollution should fall on the producers. I should like my hon. Friend to say whether the Government accept that recommendation, and, if so, how it could be enforced on the municipalities of New York, Philadelphia and Boston. The royal commission commented: The greater the degree of separation between the final disposal of waste and the original process which gave rise to it, the more likely it is that the incidence of costs will be distorted. My fear is that Warrington will end up paying the bills of New York.

The royal commission commented that there is often uncertainty surrounding the composition of a waste. That must be especially so with a megatonnage of waste from the United States. I find it hard to believe that there will be a man with a pan sorting through 7·5 million tonnes of waste before it comes over here or when it arrives. The suggestion that there is one global environment and that US waste is exactly the same as United Kingdom waste is laughable. The United States has a different climate, different insects, different diseases and different rubbish—and different ways of dealing with that rubbish and those diseases.

I ask hon. Members to pay heed to the words of Mrs. Linda Haslock, who lives 35 miles south of New York. She writes: Non biodegradable plastic waste amounts to 112·8 tons of garbage each day for New York alone—never mind Boston and Philadelphia. It would pay, for once, to have a political jamboree for all those Cheshire officials to come out to Staten Island and spend a day or so surveying the current New York dump at Arthurs Kill and Fresh Kill. The mess is indescribable and the stench detectable up to 5 miles away when the wind is in the wrong direction. Park that lot in Warrington and you have the equivalent of a National Disaster area for years. To say nothing of the inevitable unkillable New York variety of cockroaches which will come with it all and proceed to infest the whole country at a phenomenal rate. Incidentally, the Staten Island Dump is largely responsible for the pollution of the New Jersey Coast. Three days ago a large consignment of used and filthy 'crack' phials and hypodermic needles washed up on the beach … drug dealers' junk.

There are real environmental risks in the proposals. Who would pick up the bill if the Colorado beetle infested the Cheshire potato crop and destroyed it? Last year we suffered swine fever in this country as a result of imported meat products. There is a danger that small rabid animals would be imported and would infect the native livestock. Who would be responsible if thousands of domestic animals had to be slaughtered within a given radius?

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food knows what horrors are contained in the proposals. It has been in correspondence with Humberside about the proposals by a shipping agent to bring in 15,000 tonnes from Holland. The ENDS report of May 1988 stated: According to MAFF's veterinary branch, any foreign household waste is likely to contain animal products and as such would be subject to licensing under the Importation of Animal Products and Poultry Products Order 1980. `No such licence would be given due to the animal health risks involved', MAFF says. 'Animal viruses are likely to persist in imported refuse, and could be taken up by seagulls, rats and other animals from British landfills', added a MAFF spokesman.

Even Chris Bonnington now faces a £400 fine for bringing in the supposed skull of an abominable snowman. MAFF even mounted a raid to seize the skin of a wild blue sheep that he had brought in. I urge my hon. Friend to dispense with this strange reticence about the 7·5 million tonnes that it is proposed to bring into the country, and to end this sorry saga now.

I realise that money is involved in the deal, but it is dirty money. The British people will be looking for more than the scalp of a yeti if the United Kingdom becomes the dustbin of the world but for paying dollars at the turnstile.