'(1) The Secretary of State shall carry out a full national environmental impact assessment of existing incineration capacity using life cycle analysis, including assessment of the impacts of—
(c) effects upon alternative methods of waste disposal
(2) The Secretary of State must ensure that no permissions for new incinerator capacity are granted until after the requirements of subsection (1) have been completed.
(3) Before formulating policy for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2), the Secretary of State must—
(a) work in conjunction with the Scottish Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales, the Department of the Environment, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, the Environment Agency and the Mayor of London,
(b) consult such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of local government as he considers appropriate
(c) consult such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of industry as he considers appropriate, and
(d) carry out such public consultation as he considers appropriate.
(4) The Secretary of State must set out in a statement any policy formulated for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2).
(5) The Secretary of State must, as soon as a statement is prepared for the purposes of subsection (4), send a copy of it to—
(a) the Scottish Ministers,
(b) the National Assembly for Wales, and
(c) the Department of the Environment.'.—[Norman Baker.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 6—Monitoring of Dioxin Emissions from Waste Incinerators—
'In section 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c.43) (Emissions etc. limits and quality objectives) there is after subsection (2) inserted—
"(2A) The Secretary of State must introduce regulations to require continuous monitoring of dioxin emissions for all waste incinerators by 2006.".'.
New clause 17—Directions to waste disposal authorities—
'(1) a waste collection authority in England which is not also a waste disposal authority may direct that the waste disposal authority to whom it delivers its waste shall not dispose of that waste by incineration.
(2) Any waste disposal authority which receives such a direction shall take such steps as are necessary to ensure it is complied with within 12 months of the issuing of the direction.
(3) A waste collection authority issuing a direction under subsection (1) above shall pay to a waste disposal authority such amounts as are needed to ensure that the disposal authority is not financially worse off as a result of having to comply with the direction.'.
Amendment No. 59, in clause 26, page 17, line 23 at end insert—
'( ) A waste collection authority in England which is not also a waste disposal authority may direct that the waste disposal authority to whom it delivers its waste shall not dispose of that waste by incineration. Failure on behalf of the waste disposal authority to comply will result in a penalty as set down in Clause 9'.
No doubt the Minister wants to discuss incineration. He has shown a thirst for the subject in our debates this afternoon, so I am confident that he will deal eloquently with new clause 5, which requires an environmental impact assessment of incineration—a spot check, as it were, of the current position. That is important, because incineration is not only a controversial matter for the public but is being reviewed, as the Minister will know, at European Union level. I am sure that he will be aware of the Luxembourg judgment, which I mentioned in an earlier debate and which has recently reclassified incineration, previously a recovery technique, as a disposal technique. That should influence the Government's thinking—it does not change the components of the hierarchy, but it moves incineration further from recycling and closer to landfill, and it is important that we view it in that way.
In "Waste not, Want not", a report on the future of waste management by a Government strategy unit, a review of the health and environmental impact of different forms of waste management was promised. The Government have therefore taken the issue on board, although the review encompasses more than just incineration. A report was promised for autumn 2003, so perhaps the Minister will say something about its progress. I hope that that there has been consideration of whether or not to introduce fiscal measures on incineration—in other words, an incineration tax. If incineration is now officially a disposal technique, should we not apply the logic that we have applied to landfill and discourage it through the introduction of a tax? Before anyone seeks to intervene, the tax would not be used to raise funds and would be redeployed on a revenue-neutral basis.
We must however find a way to discourage incineration. Like other Members, I believe that, under pressure from the European Union, the Government have sought to minimise landfill but have not sought to prioritise anything else in the hierarchy. Consequently, the waste that was going to landfill will simply go to the next available alternative which, I am afraid, is incineration. It will not be recycled, minimised or re-used—it will be largely incinerated. The Government must therefore consider whether they are content to incinerate the 50 per cent. of waste currently going to landfill that will no longer be allowed to be disposed of in that way by 2015. I urge the Minister to give the matter serious consideration, as that will happen unless the Government change the course.
The public are entitled to a clear understanding of the full national environmental impact assessment of incineration, as required by our new clause. The Government's general assessment in "Waste not, Want not" is welcome as far as it goes, but unless the Minister tells me otherwise, I do not believe that it will deliver such an understanding. He will be aware that in 1996 a European Commission report on the draft incineration directive estimated that for every tonne of municipal waste that was incinerated, between £21 and £126 worth of environmental damage was caused. Incineration therefore has a serious downside that has to be accounted for in environmental terms. If there is a cost to the environment, perhaps a cost should be imposed on incineration above that which currently applies.
We need to know the true cost of incineration—not simply a 1950s Treasury cost of incineration but the overall environmental cost, taking account of externalities, whether damage to health, transport movements or the loss of the proximity principle, if that can be costed. Incineration can result in such a loss because it requires a large throughput to justify the initial capital costs, pulling waste from a large geographical area, larger than that required for recycling schemes or other waste treatments. To use East Sussex as an example again—I am sorry to do so, but it is the area I know best—there is a proposal to have one incinerator there. Waste from a large geographical area will be pulled into a single incinerator, thus defeating the proximity principle that the Government correctly espouse when they talk about the waste hierarchy. The idea that local communities should take responsibility for their own waste has also been defeated. If it is all transported 40 or 50 miles to an incinerator, they are not taking that responsibility.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. The logical conclusion is that if an incineration plant is localised and conserves energy and heat as well as waste, that is supportable. Is that his position?
Not entirely, but I shall get there. In response to that sensible intervention from Paddy Tipping, I can say that an incinerator that was more local, which people owned and for which they had responsibility, and which was consistent with the proximity principle and used the heat generated, would be preferable to the sort of incinerators being proposed across the country, which do not always meet those requirements by any stretch of the imagination.
We are told by those who propose incineration that it is perfectly safe and that there are no health risks. The health case is not certain, one way or the other. However, those who advocate incineration are the first to jump up and say, "We can't have it in our area." Why? Because they are concerned about the health risks and the negative impact of incineration. They want the waste taken somewhere else, out of their area. The Government should not support such a strategy, which undermines the concepts that they espouse in the '"Waste Strategy 2000"' and in "Waste not, Want not".
Transportation is an aspect of incineration that must be considered as part of any impact assessment. The process of incineration, by and large, requires greater transport movements than would be the case with waste minimisation and re-use, obviously, and possibly also with recycling. Have the Government quantified the transport movements that incineration generates?
I mentioned emissions. It is true, as those who advocate incineration say, that emission levels have been tightened considerably over the years and are now a fraction of what they were. I accept that, but there is still some doubt among eminent scientists who have looked into the matter. Dr. Vyvian Howard and others say that the present level of emissions still represents a health hazard. I do not know whether that is true or not, but people with experience and qualifications maintain that case. A further issue for those who live in the vicinity is the emissions resulting from large numbers of lorry movements to the incinerator and back. We need further investigation of the health aspects.
We cannot necessarily believe the figures that we are given about dioxin emissions. There are two reasons for that. One is that the Environment Agency does not have enough staff to undertake proper monitoring. Their visits are pre-announced, so it is possible for the incinerator plant to be operating at maximum capacity in order to produce the minimum dioxin emissions at the time that monitoring takes place. Secondly, if there is no continuous monitoring of incineration emissions, as there should be and for which new clause 6 provides, all we get is intermittent photographs that tell us everything is all right. In the meantime, if the incinerator plant has not been operating at capacity, the emission levels may have increased without being caught by the Environment Agency.
There are other downsides to incineration. The Minister will know of the fly ash that is generated. Up to 5 per cent. of what is incinerated has to be disposed of to landfill in any case—highly toxic fly ash. There is also bottom ash, which is generated in even larger quantities.There is no doubt that incineration gives rise to significant problems. If we can avoid it, we are keen to do so, except for specialist uses such as the disposal of special waste, chemical waste and medicines waste, where incineration clearly has a role to play.
Can we obviate the need for incineration? Earlier, the Minister kept asking me questions and would not take yes for an answer. If landfill is minimised according to the landfill directives, if there are special purpose incinerators, as well as the existing incinerators, if recycling, re-use and other techniques are promoted, particularly the separation of organic material for composting, which is a strategy that we have not yet maximised, if we consider anaerobic digestion and so on, and if we have a proper waste minimisation strategy, which we do not have at present—if all those conditions are met, we do not need the expansion of incinerators. That is the aim that the Government should pursue, but they have palpably failed to do so.
I have clarified the position and I do not know how much more I have to do so. The hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically disingenuous. He suggested earlier that the incinerator that he described was preferable to the others being built across the country. I was happy to agree with that proposition while not endorsing the creation of such incinerators. That is the position. If we are to have incinerators—that is the phrase that I used—it is better that they be the sort that he described than those that local authorities are currently planning to build. In making those comments, I am not suggesting that we should use incinerators as a matter of course, as I am keen to avoid them.
I am in favour of the waste hierarchy, which the Government fail to deliver. I believe that a judicious mix of waste minimisation, re-use and recycling, separation of organic waste, the use of anaerobic digestion and so on, obviate the need for a lower option in the waste hierarchy to be pursued in relation to incineration, taking account of specialist needs such those related to chemical and medicinal waste and so on. I hope that that is clear.
It is not clear to me. The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the waste hierarchy, in which incineration is listed above landfill, especially where it is linked with energy re-use. He is probably aware that we have commissioned a detailed study in conjunction with the Royal Society—I shall deal with it in more detail later—on the environmental and health effects of all the various ways of disposing of waste. I have no idea what that study will say, but what will his position be if it says that incineration is the best option in certain circumstances in terms of environmental and health objections? Does he agree that incineration may be justified in certain circumstances, depending on what those circumstances are?
It is not a matter of saying "at last", as I have made the same comment about eight times. In dealing with clinical waste, for example, incineration is clearly the best technique. There is nothing new about that—it is the hypothetical example that the Minister wants and he has now got it. I hope that that is now clear. Many problems also arise in respect of landfill, but it may be the best solution in relation to inert building waste, for example. There are circumstances in which landfill is an entirely appropriate solution.
The Minister is keen to push the cause of incineration, and people out there in the country should be aware that he has intervened regularly this afternoon to defend it. That will not be missed by local authorities and others outside the House. If he does not want to believe me, however, let me refer to work done by his colleague, Dr. Whitehead, who made effective contributions on Second Reading. He carried out a study in which he received replies from 130 councils about what they were planning to do with their waste. Some 45 of those councils, or 35 per cent., are contracted to private incinerator firms individually or as part of a consortium, and 36 of them, or 28 per cent., will start using incinerators within a set time frame. Only 49 of the 130 councils that replied—it was a big survey—have no plans to use incineration, and 19 of the 36 councils considering incineration have relatively short-term plans. So it is clear that, whatever the Minister may say about his hierarchy, local authorities are opting for incineration.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the excellent survey on the website of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, which includes that information. He has also collected, through parliamentary answers, details of planning permissions that have been given and are outstanding. Mr. Drew may want to dispute that information, but it comes from a Labour MP, so I hope that he is not saying that it is in any way unreliable.
The reality is that under the Bill, local authorities are faced with a very short time scale within which to conform to the EU landfill directive. They know that they have to reduce the amount of landfill very quickly. The situation is not comparable to that in Denmark or anywhere else. We landfill about 80 per cent. of our household waste and we have to get that down to 35 per cent. Doing that quickly will require either an explosion in recycling, a really radical waste minimisation programme, or more incineration. Local councils are saying that only way in which they can meet the target quickly and effectively is to opt for incineration.
The Minister may shake his head, but that is what is happening all over the country. He needs to get out a bit more to talk to local councils.
Incineration is not the best solution by any stretch of the imagination. There is no tax or other disincentive to incineration—on the contrary, once landfill is eliminated, there are perverse incentives to incinerate, and it is not surprising that local councils are taking them. The Government want to avoid a chain of incinerators, but that is what they will get.
The Minister shakes his head again, but I am sorry to say that he does not know what is going on. Planning permissions are being granted all over the country. If we end up with a chain of incinerators, that will represent a failure of the waste plan. Local authorities will be tied into what the European Union now officially calls a disposal technique—not a recovery technique—for 25 or 30 years, because they have to enter into long-term contracts with incinerator manufacturers in order to recoup their funds. They will not be able to change direction and we will be stuck with this fourth option in the waste hierarchy for the foreseeable future.
It is worth reminding the Minister that the Environmental Audit Committee regularly tells the Treasury that, because it is cheaper to send waste to incineration than to landfill, the perverse incentive will remain until it starts to tax waste that goes to incineration, as well as to landfill, and accelerates it to some £35 a tonne in a far shorter time frame than is currently planned. The Bill will maximise that perverse incentive. We require the Government to take the threat seriously and to understand that they have a choice, as well as responsibilities, in this matter.
I have kept very quiet because I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. He is right that the Bill promotes incineration, but does he agree that for Sue Doughty to urge an increase in the landfill tax sends a wrong signal? Surely we require some sort of disincentive for incineration, not for landfill.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to be careful how such fiscal measures are introduced. They should not be introduced individually so that they send the wrong signals. The Government should implement a comprehensive overall waste strategy through an Act of Parliament that brings in measures to achieve the ends that they, and we, want. By contrast, all that we are getting is the part of the Bill that discourages landfill. As long as the Government continue to run behind EU directives instead of considering the waste hierarchy as a whole and producing joined-up legislation, they will continue to send perverse, stop-start signals that, for example, discourage landfill and encourage incineration. What is missing from the Bill is a comprehensive, overall, holistic view of the waste stream.
As I have said, local authorities will be tied to their contracts with incineration companies for 25 or 30 years. If we find that the health problems are greater than we may now think them to be, or discover other problems with incinerators, we shall not be able to do much about it. We shall be stuck with those problems, as will local populations.
The situation is even worse than that, however. Sensibly enough, for business reasons—I do not blame them—the incinerator companies want to guarantee throughput. They have to operate their plant at near capacity to reduce dioxide emissions, and they want to be assured, as part of their contracts, that they will be delivered a certain amount of waste with which to deal.
What will the consequences be? I do not happen to believe that the Government are right about waste minimisation, but let us suppose that the Minister proves me wrong and that the Government reduce the amount generated by, say, 10 per cent. over the next 10 years. The amount to be incinerated, however, will not diminish because it is guaranteed under the contracts. In the event of minimisation, recycling must suffer, because there will be no waste to recycle. We can have minimisation and incineration or incineration and recycling, but we cannot have all three—and I know which option I want to dispose of: incineration.
The Minister must face the reality of the fixed-term contracts, and what they mean in terms of guaranteed waste throughput. When the amount of waste is changing, the only fixed point is the amount that authorities are required to give the incinerator companies. Notwithstanding the Minister's protestations, this is a Bill for incineration. It will lead to incineration up and down the country, in council area after council area, as landfill gives way to that option. Unless the Government produce real measures to implement the waste hierarchy, that is what will happen, and I intend to be here in 10 years to say to the Minister, "I told you so".
I agree with Mr. Baker that this is a Bill for incineration, although I do not believe that the Government intended it to be. I know that the Minister strongly favours implementation of the waste hierarchy, and I share that sentiment; what I do not share is his optimistic view that the Bill will lead to such implementation. The purpose of new clause 17 is to ensure that we do not increase the amount of incineration. I know that that will find favour with the Minister, which is why we are trying to amend the Bill in a helpful and constructive way.
The important thing about local authorities and, indeed, all involved in the waste scheme is that they will try their best to do what they interpret the rules as making them do. That means, first and foremost, that they will avoid being penalised. They will not allow themselves to fall into the trap of having to pay because they have failed to achieve their targets. They will therefore look for the best way of achieving those targets. They will start with good intentions, and recycle, re-use and recover as much as they can; but if they feel for one second that they will not achieve their targets by those methods, they will immediately investigate incineration. Because there is little incentive for them to do otherwise, they are likely to choose that option.
The Minister responded positively when I pressed him on the incentives issue earlier, but he should give it proper consideration. This is the way in which to encourage people to do the right thing. I always prefer incentives to penalties, but unfortunately that is not how the Bill has been drafted. Local authorities are opting for incineration to meet reduced landfill targets because the Bill contains no measures to implement the waste hierarchy, which places recycling and re-use above incineration. A decision on incineration needs to be made properly.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as are a couple of Labour Members who are present. The Committee expressed a fear that incineration will be the sole beneficiary of the landfill directive. It said:
"We fear that increases in the landfill tax could simply drive waste to the next cheapest option, which is likely to be another form of disposal such as incineration."
I believe that that is right—I suppose that, as a member of the Select Committee, I would. The statement is clear and accurate, and we need to deal with the matter today to prevent that fear from being realised. We are trying to make the Government acknowledge that incineration will increase so that they deal with that undesirable disposal option. Waste minimisation should be the focus, but the Government have set no targets for it and it is not incorporated in the Bill.
We have not yet mentioned energy recovery today. The United Kingdom currently recovers only 9 per cent. of energy from waste, compared with 78 per cent. in Japan, 58 per cent. in Denmark, 45 per cent. in Switzerland, 42 per cent. in the Netherlands, 38 per cent. in Sweden, 35 per cent. in France and 18 per cent. in Germany. Those figures are impressive. If we are to follow the incineration route, we must also have energy recovery. I am keen not to rule out incineration, because it is not an inappropriate method of dealing with waste, but it must not be encouraged in the Bill. However, the measure will do that instead of encouraging what the Government want to achieve. New clause 17 tries to change that counter-productive aspect.
I wonder whether it would be helpful to caricature the hon. Gentleman's position. He does not like waste or incineration, but does he accept that incineration of locally collected waste, which produces energy, is relatively better than many other options? Does he support that?
The hon. Gentleman's caricature is most unfair. The Bill was not designed to encourage incineration, but it will do that. That is its failure. The hon. Gentleman should have drawn that caricature but, sadly, he did not. I have no objections to the position that he outlined. There are many benefits, especially in terms of carbon dioxide, to be gained from local incineration, but the Bill aims for implementation of the waste hierarchy and it fails. That is a fundamental problem, which new clause 17 seeks to resolve.
The hon. Gentleman should read new clause 17 carefully. He is trying to force me to make a statement on incineration when I do not need to do that. According to the Minister, the Bill does not promote incineration. However, he, the hon. Members for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and I know that the Select Committee found that it would do that. Although local incineration that cuts carbon dioxide and provides energy has many benefits in principle, and Britain could increase the amount of energy recovered from waste from 9 per cent. to the levels of our European counterparts, that is not happening. Worse, it may never happen if we do not insist on energy recovery from incineration. Nothing in the Bill does that. The Minister tells us that the measure promotes the waste hierarchy. Unfortunately, the Opposition do not believe that that will happen. That is a shame, because we all want to do the right thing for the country and the planet. We shall fail because the measure is inadequate. I have made my position clear and I note that the hon. Member for Sherwood is no longer trying to intervene.
Waste collection authorities may direct the waste disposal authorities to which they deliver not to dispose of waste by incineration. However, the hon. Member for Lewes gave the example of waste collection authorities collecting sorted waste that could have a more beneficial use but goes to incineration because that allows the disposal authorities to avoid penalties. It will be a mistake and a wasted opportunity if we allow the Bill to progress without rectifying that.
New clause 17 would amend the Bill to ensure that collection authorities can insist that disposal authorities do not burn the hard sorted, hard collected and most useful resource that constitutes much waste. It would also ensure that recycling, recovery and re-use happened before incineration. I am sure hon. Members agree with that, and I therefore urge them to support new clause 17.
I rise not to continue the debate that we had in Committee but to try to clarify the misjudgment in relation to the new clauses. In Committee, we managed to redefine the Bill as one that would not speak the name of incineration. That was probably achieved from a position of opposites, and I am sure that I do not necessarily agree with my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping. From my perspective, the reason that the Bill does not speak the name of incineration is that incineration is not a possibility. It is certainly not a possibility at present, and I do not foresee it being one in the future.
Unlike the Liberal Democrats, I genuinely believe that local democracy should flourish. From all the analyses that I have carried out in my area, I have discovered overwhelming opposition to any proposals for incineration, in terms both of planning procedures and of the overall debate on waste disposal. I worry about putting the term into the Bill, because if we begin to speak the name of incineration, it could become a possibility. It could become a viable option, but I do not think that it should be, either for economic, social or—dare I say it—political reasons. I should like to see a local authority launch a campaign for incineration as its means of waste disposal, because I hate to think what would happen if such a campaigning agenda were adopted.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for individual councils not promoting incineration. Like him, we are committed to local decision making and democracy. He must, however, address the issue of why, if there is such overwhelming opposition to incineration from the public, for a whole variety of reasons, local authorities up and down the country are promoting it.
My hon. Friend Dr. Whitehead did some interesting evaluations of local authorities in regard to this issue, and it is fair to say that they are in something of a mess. A meeting will take place this week in Gloucestershire with the county council, the waste disposal authority, at which its waste proposals will be discussed. Its waste plan did not get a very good response. In fact, it was so badly written that the inspector ended up coming in like a deus ex machina and talking about putting back the proposal of a regionally centred incinerator, which has caused an outcry. The one thing that the whole panoply of parties in Gloucestershire can agree on is that incineration is not the right way to go.
In our long discussions in Committee we agreed that incineration would not be on the face of the Bill. That does not mean that we removed incineration, but it is a piece of realpolitik that no one on the Committee saw us going in that direction in the immediate future, so I do not quite understand why hon. Members are now trying to put it back into the Bill.
The point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the people of Gloucestershire is extremely important. What we are really saying to the general public is, "If you don't want incineration, you should recycle." It is sad that 90 per cent. of people would go for that—they will recycle if they are given the chance—but that is not happening either. We are in a dangerous position in which the Government could force people to incinerate because there is no other option, and expect to pay penalties.
I hate to disagree with the hon. Gentleman because we agree on many things, not least on the subject of fluoridation, on which I shall say more in a minute.
It is dangerous to pre-empt local decision making by saying that, if local authorities are incapable of changing the mindset and consciousness of their local populations, they will inevitably come back with the incineration proposal. I believe that they would be foolhardy to do so. They had better get on with the persuading now, because if they deem themselves faced with that problem—that may be what they fear, as the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test may suggest—they will face some difficulties. If they are in tune with their local populations, the campaign against incineration should be the way in which authorities meet the Government's agenda. That is why I fear proposing these particular changes at this time.
I hope that the two parties will reconsider. Having secured a degree of agreement in Committee, it is not right to divide the House now. We should be clear and the message should come out loudly from this Chamber that incineration is not the way forward—and it is not what is happening out there. The Minister was accused of not knowing what is going on, which I honestly cannot understand unless I am misreading all the parliamentary answers that suggest time and again that planning has resulted in not proceeding with incineration. Even where there has been an attempt to expand existing capacity, it has not progressed. Something confusing is going on out there, but I believe the parliamentary answers.
Further to challenge the Liberal Democrats, I hope that they will not repeat what they did in the fluoridation debate. They led me to believe that there would be four-square opposition to fluoridation, but at the last moment bottled out on their opposition, resulting in a much bigger majority for clause 61. I understand that that is a different issue, but if the Liberal Democrats are against incineration, they should state that they are against it. Similarly, if they want incineration, albeit with qualifications, it would be honest of them to say so. It is no good making proposals that tend to mislead, for example by saying that the process is up to local authorities, and the waste collection authority can be predisposed to argue in favour of a different process from the waste disposal authority. That is quite an assumption. One cannot envisage waste disposal authorities opting for incineration where the waste collection authority says something different.
I hope that we are clear that incineration is not the way forward. The Bill is clear that there are other ways of disposing of waste, and we should campaign to ensure that people know about them. Making specific provision for incineration in the Bill at this time is a mistake.
During the course of our debate on Report thus far, the Minister has tried to persuade hon. Members that the Government have a coherent strategy and that the Bill is just one part of it. We are told that the other parts of the strategy will mesh together comfortably to provide a series of policies that fulfil all the environmental aims that we all share. I have to tell the Minister that he has not persuaded the participants in the debate, and in respect of his particular assertion that the Bill will not encourage incineration, he has very clearly not persuaded some hon. Members. Furthermore, neither he nor his predecessor has been able in the past to persuade Committees in which his own party has a majority.
What we do know is that incineration is already cheaper than recycling, thanks to the perverse tax breaks that it receives from schemes such as the climate change levy and the renewables obligation, as well as enhanced capital allowances and exemptions from business rates. With co-incineration plants also receiving tax breaks to burn waste, incineration operators could reduce their gate fees to compete even with landfill. That would make the prospect of incineration even more attractive to local authorities.
I am indebted to Friends of the Earth, which has conducted a series of case studies, which provide us with evidence from outside this place that seems to indicate that some local authorities are already planning to reduce the amount they send to landfill and intend instead to resort to incineration. For instance, Brighton and Hove and East Sussex councils, in a confidential report to the cabinet dated
Norfolk county council has voted for a policy of landfilling nothing by 2010. That sounds great, but it has also rejected the recommendation of a 50 per cent. recycling target. How will it fill the gap between recycling just 36 per cent. and landfilling nothing? I suggest that some of it will go in incineration. A report to the county council's cabinet on
"may be able to buy and sell tradable landfill permits for 'unused' landfill space. This would allow [Norfolk] . . . a possible 'windfall'".
We know, and Mr. Drew is right to say it, that incinerators remain a contentious issue with the electorate, who foresee enormous plants with a long lifespan that will despoil the landscape, consume waste that is not just locally generated, create more traffic—not just local traffic—and demand a steady stream of rubbish in order to operate efficiently and fulfil the terms of their contracts. Local people will not want incineration. However, if they are faced with the alternative of having no way of disposing of 64 per cent. of their rubbish, they may be forced to accept it.
As I told the Minister, I believe that some incineration is necessary, but I believe that tests should be undertaken before we reach that stage. For the avoidance of doubt, those tests are that where it is economically possible waste should be dealt with at the higher end of the waste hierarchy, and only when it is not economically possible should one be looking lower down the waste hierarchy for a solution.
We know that some European countries have proved that high levels of recycling can go hand in hand with certain forms of incineration, but what do we know in this country? We know that small-scale energy-from-waste plants that deliver energy to the local community, coupled with incentives to minimise waste, should help us to develop policy that leads to sustainable consumption and resource management. We also know that local authorities have a pivotal role in that, but what does the Bill say about it? It is silent. Therefore, I believe that it is necessary to support new clause 17, as it will force the Government to face up to reality.
The new clause does not go far enough. We need to ensure that the Bill encourages local authorities to provide a market for recyclables. Part 2 uses a market mechanism to produce an emissions trading scheme. It is rather odd that such a mechanism should be accepted as a way to get rid of waste, but not to encourage the better use of that waste. The Bill could, and should, have used fiscal measures to encourage a market for recyclable materials. It should have contained the mechanisms, drivers and signals to encourage the right type of design, production, consumption and investment. In that way, more of what we produce could be recycled.
The Bill also fails to provide the raw materials that allow us to recycle more efficiently. One of those raw materials is source-separated waste. The Bill is silent on that. We have shown that environmentally friendly councils could produce source-separated waste that could be mixed again to produce the right mix for an incinerator. That is another opportunity that the Bill has missed.
The Bill is yet another example of the Government transposing a European directive into law without taking the opportunity to introduce some sensible legislation to support the environment. Amendments on packaging waste and the WEEE directive could have been incorporated in the Bill, and we have not even touched on the subject of hazardous waste. Only last week, members of the sustainable waste group heard Sir John Harmon of the Environment Agency say that we are nowhere near ready to deal with the hazardous waste directive. That is another matter that must be resolved.
The problem is that we are not looking at waste in an integrated way. The Minister probes us about Liberal Democrat policies on incineration, but the Bill deals only with biodegradable municipal waste. It does not cover hazardous waste, or clinical or construction waste. It contains no strategies to help councils avoid the pitfall of incineration.
People worry about incineration. Mr. Drew implied that councillors were unelectable if they were keen on incineration, but incineration is part of Surrey county council's waste strategy.
There are major problems associated with incineration. Surrey has encountered a great many, but the council leader, wearing his regional assembly hat, has proposed it as a possible strategy for the whole of the south-east region. In that regard, the figures produced by Dr. Whitehead in relation to councils' intentions to go for incineration when there is no real alternative tell their own tale.
Taxation is another problem. The fact that landfill waste is taxed and incineration waste is not is a cause for concern. The Select Committees have pointed out that if we taxed materials that are currently being destroyed we should promote the recycling market. That is what we are really talking about. It is not merely that we are unhappy about incineration and the health risks and problems; it is sheer folly to build incinerators to burn materials that could have a further use. There is so much in the waste strategy relating to re-use and minimisation that implementing a policy that pushes such matters right down the waste hierarchy seems completely perverse.
The public are worried about incineration and we need some good studies on the impact of incineration, fears about dioxins and other health concerns. One problem is that even the monitoring of dioxin emissions from municipal solid waste incinerators is unreliable. Two years ago, the Environment Agency told the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee that it did not believe that viable, continuous monitoring systems existed, yet in Belgium such systems have been implemented with no great increase in either the capital costs of incineration—the figure is about 0.2 per cent.—or the running costs. The laboratory costs have been driven down; market forces have had an effect and more samples can be taken at lower cost.
The Belgian experience shows that when there is continuous monitoring—every two hours or so—the result is different from the snapshots that, as my hon. Friend Norman Baker pointed out, might be taken when the incinerator was just being started up. Overall, the recording of dioxin emissions in Belgium was much higher—50 per cent. higher—than had been experienced previously, because the sampling system that had been used was so unreliable. That should become a thing of the past; we have improved water sampling so that it is statistically viable, but we do not seem to be able to do the same with incinerator sampling.
Was that unexpected result due to the fact that when certain materials are incinerated there are peaks of some types of dioxin emission? People tend to ignore those peaks and consider only the mean figure, so continuous monitoring and closure of plant may not be the best idea, even though it was suggested in the report to which the hon. Lady referred.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. The report, which was published in 1998 in the Journal for Organohalogen Compounds, identified several long and technical reasons and suggested that continuous monitoring equipment could give dioxin emission readings that were up to 50 times higher than when measurements were taken only twice a year. There were many factors involved in those low readings, many of which were identified, but the fact remains that our current sampling method is not based on sound statistical science and it is high time that the public received the information that they need about the health risks from dioxins. Our decisions must be based on sound science rather than on information collecting methods that are widely mistrusted by the public and thereby add to their concerns.
On the provisions relating to collection and disposal authorities I welcome the amendment. In an area where a council of one political persuasion is responsible for disposal while another is responsible for collection, it would be tempting when drawing up a countywide waste strategy to place the incinerator where people would not vote for the ruling party in any case. That is why it is so important to know whether the Conservative party will support holding real consultations between county and district or county and borough, so that there can be a co-ordinated response and local wishes can be taken into account. The wishes of people living in the collection authority area must be considered, whatever their party view, as that is important for local democracy.
In Essex, it is well known that the Friends of the Earth group in Mersea has got recycling up to 60 per cent., yet the Essex waste strategy still includes the possibility of incineration. One group is saying, "We can do it" and another is saying, "We'll use incineration." The authority in Colchester signed the zero-waste pledge. We have heard about the problems in Surrey and those experienced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes.
Many of those problems could be avoided if the Government were to adopt a coherent waste strategy that took into account fiscal measures, the economics and the number of jobs that would be produced by a sustainable waste strategy. We have been talking about lots of jobs in recycling—for example, refilling ink cartridges—but that is not what the Bill is about, so I shall not detain the House further, except to make the essential point that, even if the Bill does not explicitly promote incineration, by golly, that is what it will do.
Interesting contributions have been made by a range of hon. Members—the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), my hon. Friend Mr. Drew, and the hon. Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) and for Guildford (Sue Doughty)—and I was very interested in what they had to say. I appreciate that incineration was a major issue in Committee, where it was discussed in some depth. People feel very strongly about it, but I make no apology for probing the Liberal Democrats on exactly where they stand.
The hon. Member for Lewes took a bold stand on water metering when debating the Water Bill and he was perfectly reasonable about that, but his position on incineration is a bit weaselly—although I do not know quite why weasels always get that reputation—and I am still not absolutely clear about it. I thought that we had moved forward a bit.
With regard to the points made by the hon. Member for Guildford, I do not think it coherent to have a waste strategy that apparently rules out one strand whatever the circumstances and whether or not it is justified. That is not a coherent strategy; it is just populist pandering, without trying to weigh up properly the advantages and disadvantages of each strand of the hierarchy.
In all fairness to Conservative Members, I do not disagree with their position on incineration. They want to consider the options as part of the hierarchy—which has been established, as we all agree—and, occasionally, there just might be a case for some form of incineration or, indeed, some form of thermal treatment. I do not say that I advocate incineration; all I am saying is that it should not be ruled out of consideration.
We have been consistent about incineration in the context of the Bill and municipal waste. We have been thinking out a coherent waste management strategy, and it seems a bit rich for a Minister of a Government who do not have a coherent sustainable waste strategy to criticise any other party.
That is just a load of old nonsense. I have just gone through in great detail a range of work streams and strategies, including "Waste Strategy 2000", the strategy unit and the waste and resources action programme. Incidentally, in respect of what was said by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, that programme provides a range of support to develop markets for using recyclates, which we regard as an important part of the overall strategy. We have strategies coming out of our ears. It is important to make them work effectively, but part of doing so involves considering the range of options available—not ruling them out, without consideration, in the way that Liberal Democrat Members suggest. I repeat that the Bill is not in itself the principal deliverer of the waste hierarchy; it is part of the delivery of the waste hierarchy. It is one of a number of elements in relation to the Government's strategy and approach.
The aspect of new clause 5 on which I do not particularly disagree with the Liberal Democrats relates to the potential health and environmental effects of incineration and the concern that incineration could crowd out other forms of waste disposal. That is a serious point that we should examine, and a full national environmental impact assessment of existing incineration capacity should be carried out, on which I will touch in a moment. I do not agree, however, with the press release from Friends of the Earth, which I have looked at in some detail, in relation to the assumptions being made about this Bill and its potential to increase incineration. In that sense, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Leominster. I am not saying that there may not be further incineration in this country, because the Government's approach in relation to the joint strategies in the Bill, while not advocating incineration per se, is that people should look at all the options. I return to the point that incineration is above landfill in the hierarchy, and in some circumstances that may be the more preferable approach. Local authorities, as part of their strategy, will determine whether they think that that is appropriate.
The Minister's point is genuine, and none of us has questioned that the Government's approach is well intentioned. However, will he tell the House exactly how many incinerators he accepts must be built? If more than that number are to be built, will he reconsider whether the Bill has been successful? The Opposition are worried that we will see an explosion in the number of incinerators. If he is prepared to say that that will not happen, will he set some parameters?
I certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not see an exploding number of incinerators. The answer is that I cannot predict how many incinerators may be constructed. I do not believe that such an incentive is part of the Bill. Let us look at the situation on mainland Europe in relation to recycling, as one of the concerns expressed is that the Bill might crowd out recycling as part of an increase in incineration. Where there are no restrictions on incineration on the continent, no evidence exists of recycling being pushed out. In Flanders, for example, in 1999, the recycling rate was 62 per cent., which I would be very pleased to see in this country, and the incineration rate was 22 per cent., whereas ours is 8 per cent. There is a very large difference between the recycling rate in Flanders and in this country. No evidence exists that looking at incineration as an option necessarily pushes out recycling.
The situation in other countries in Europe is different from that in this country. Over a long period, those countries have stopped landfill and have grown recycling as a desired option, as well as incineration. In this country, however, we must move off landfill very quickly, and that is the difference. Local authorities are faced with that quick, stark choice. Under the circumstances that Liberal Democrat Members have described, local authorities will opt for incineration more than we would like, because they are not starting with a strong recycling base in the way that other countries are.
I certainly accept that we are not starting with that strong recycling base, although we are making increasing progress in relation to accelerating the process of improving the percentage of recycling and re-use in this country, and we will continue to do that. I return to the point that statutory targets exist, which local authorities must meet, that incineration cannot remove. Some examples have been given of authorities that have high rates of recycling, and I do not necessarily believe that, with incineration, those rates would go down.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud made a good point about the difficulties of the planning process in relation to incineration. Incineration is very unpopular—no two ways about that—as is landfill. These days, even applications for large-scale composting are not popular with people. None of those things is popular. It is absolutely right that local authorities will have to reduce landfill under the Bill's obligations—that is its objective—but there are several ways in which they may do that. They will not necessarily have to go down the route of incineration because that is unpopular with local people and local democracy means that that must be taken into account. Although this is not an argument put forward by the Department, the point made by my hon. Friend shows that understandable local concerns will put enormous pressure on local authorities to up their levels of recycling and re-use rather than going down the road of incineration and landfill. That pressure will be on, so I do not accept for one moment that the wonderfully easy route to incineration that has been spelled out will exist.
I do not know all the details of what the authority in Norfolk is planning. Part of the approach is for local authorities to determine the best way in which to deal with waste in their areas. We expect them to consult and have a joint strategy, and that will apply to Norfolk as much as any area. Any decision that authorities reach must be made on the basis of what they think the most appropriate approach, and they will be accountable for that to their electorate and local communities. It is for them to justify the choice that they make. Local authorities should have the right to determine the best steps that they can take on waste minimisation with regard to the measures that we introduce.
On the potential impact from incinerators, the hon. Member for Lewes fairly recognised that things have changed greatly during recent years. Indeed, the most modern incinerators bear little comparison with older ones. Directive 2000/76/EC replaced earlier directives on hazardous waste incineration and the prevention and reduction of air pollution from municipal waste incinerators. The 2000 directive imposes stringent operating conditions on incinerators. It was partly transposed into UK law through the Waste Incineration (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 and remaining provisions have been transposed in directions to regulators. That led to the closure of several older incinerators and a two-hundredfold reduction in dioxin emissions from incinerators compared with five years ago. I know that the hon. Gentleman conceded that.
We want to go further. We need more information to compare the impact of incinerators with landfill. The Department has commissioned an independent review on health and environmental effects, as I briefly mentioned earlier. The review will cover all waste disposal options because they all have associated risks. It will include an assessment of the potential risks attached to incineration, and will especially consider the latest science and technology. The review is nearly complete and we expect it to be published in the near future. We are taking seriously the points raised by the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes and addressing them, as the House will discover when we publish the report.
We are not actively encouraging incineration as a waste management option, but it is part of the hierarchy and people should be able to consider it. We have been through the hierarchy—there is no need for me to go through it again—and hon. Members know that minimisation and recycling are at the top of it and that we are putting measures in place to encourage that.
All financial instruments should be regularly reviewed. There may be a case for reconsidering them whatever the waste route. That is a possibility. We have no plans to do that, but financial instruments are an important tool, especially in terms of environmental outcomes.
There is considerable sense in what the Minister advocates. However, I am struck by the fact that local authorities are deciding to have incineration today and that could tie them in to long-term disposal methods. That approach by local authorities will bind future generations, will not allow best technology to be used in future and could have an impact on re-use, recycling and minimisation strategies. Surely the Minister must share some of the concerns expressed.
I understand why hon. Members raise that point. Again, I return to the thrust of the Government's approach. We have confidence in local democracy and such decisions need to be taken locally. People will have to weigh up the capital costs of long-term contracts. I do not dispute that.
Even if we make good progress on recycling and re-use, which I am confident we will, and achieve a recycling rate of 50 per cent.—I would be more than pleased to hit that target, which would be pretty good in this country—14 million tonnes of municipal waste would still need to be disposed of each year. We could reduce that by using waste minimisation measures, which we have to address, but we would still need to dispose of a similar level of waste. Some of that could be dealt with in other ways, but there is a limit to the amount of material that is biodegradable and can be composted. The choice is to use landfill or incineration to dispose of that residue. Incineration may be the most sensible option, especially if it involves energy recovery, which the Conservatives mentioned. We agree that we need energy recovery if we are to benefit from the waste.
What proportion of the current waste stream would fall into that category? I accept what the Minister says about local democracy, but would he not be well advised to give guidance to local authorities on the letting of contracts so that they do not tie the hands of future generations?
The latter idea goes a bit far on the legitimate role that central Government play in the decisions that local government makes on contracts. Local authorities are issued with guidance on a range of issues in relation to financial and practical matters. The waste implementation programme that we established also provides advice and support to local authorities on a range of waste strategies. That support is in place. The proportion of energy recovered from incineration is very low, although I do not know the exact figure. We need to increase that percentage if further development is to take place.
New clause 6 requires continuous monitoring of dioxin emissions for all waste incinerated by 2006. I am not unsympathetic to that approach. Work is being done on the technology to achieve that. I am not sure that the technology has been established or proven to the extent that I could be confident that it would be robust enough to put in place by 2006, but it is coming and we think that it has a role to play.
That technology may not be appropriate for all types of incinerator. The material that goes into municipal solid waste incinerators is very homogenous, so the pollutants produced during combustion tend to be more predictable than hon. Members have suggested. Nevertheless, we do not rule out the use of such technology in future.
Amendment No. 59 and new clause 17 would allow the waste collection authority to direct that the waste disposal authority shall not dispose of that waste by incineration. That goes a little too far for the waste strategy because it would rule out what might be the most appropriate option, so we cannot accept those amendments.
I hope, although I am not confident, that I have given a detailed explanation, because this is an important issue that the Government take seriously. I genuinely do not believe that the Bill, in itself, is a stimulus to large-scale incineration. We have established the waste hierarchy, within which, all hon. Members agree, incineration should be considered if it is the safest, most environmentally sound and most appropriate option. However, given the problems with planning, local opinion and the views of local councils, I cannot see that there will be a massive expansion of incineration capacity. I do not believe that the Bill will in any way upset the targets that we have set for waste minimisation, recycling and re-use, which are far above incineration in the Government's hierarchy of priorities.
I shall be brief because we have had a long run round the course. The Minister is genuine in his desires, but I simply do not accept his analysis in one crucial respect, because the honestly held view on this side of the House is that the Bill will engender further incineration.
I refer the Minister to a parliamentary answer given by his predecessor on
The hon. Gentleman is right about the long list of planning applications, and it would be interesting to consider its historical antecedents. But how many of them does he genuinely think will proceed? I think that very few of them will proceed.
I have no reason to think that any of them will not proceed. After all, if someone has gone to the huge expense—it is probably millions of pounds—of getting together a planning application and meeting all the Environment Agency's requirements for pollution prevention controls, which are also being determined, although I did not read out that part of the parliamentary answer, clearly they will proceed with that application.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that any company considering making a planning application for an incinerator, rather than investing in other, more sustainable technologies, will only be encouraged by the Minister's words today? The Minister may be ambivalent towards incineration, but it is a huge, lost opportunity in the Bill.
Companies may not be encouraged by the Minister's words—that is a little harsh towards the Minister—but they may reasonably conclude, after reading the Bill, that they can proceed with incineration because that is the direction in which the Government are pointing, whether or not they want to.
Will not barristers at planning appeals use the words that have been used today in their arguments that the Minister should decide in favour of a planning application?
Barristers looking at the Brighton and Hove waste plan chided me for daring to try to include waste minimisation. They did not see a role for it, as they believe that the priorities should be recycling and incineration. That, I am afraid, is what is happening on the ground, irrespective of the Minister's best intentions.
"The ultimate conclusion is that if nothing else happens by the end of the decade, some 70 per cent. of waste disposal authorities will be involved in some form of incineration."
The hon. Gentleman had talked to councils and conducted a survey of their methods of waste disposal. He continued:
"Perhaps we need measures outside the Bill on incineration tax and different ways of dealing with incineration, and perhaps we need incentives on how local authorities work."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B,
The hon. Gentleman is very good on these matters, but the Minister has not given us the definitive assurance about incineration tax that we would like. Once landfill has been excluded, or at least made difficult, which is what the Bill rightly does, there are no further incentives to prioritise the waste hierarchy, so local councils will go for the easiest option. They will follow the money and choose incineration—a matter about which the hon. Member for Stroud asked. Councils will follow financial pointers, so the Government must change those pointers to stop them doing so. Unless the Government take an active interest and introduce change, the right decisions will not be made at local level.
I am grateful for the Minister's comments on DEFRA's work on the health and environmental review, which I mentioned in my introduction. He was right to highlight that welcome Government development. I am grateful for his comments on new clause 6, to which he was sympathetic. I am not sure that I agree that the technology is not proven, as there is continuous monitoring in Denmark and other countries. That is a minor point, but at least he will look at the matter.
I am not convinced, however, that the conditions set out in new clause 5 will be met in the assessment of transportation, emissions and alternative methods of waste disposal. It is important that the House send a signal that it does not want incineration unless that is a last-gasp effort, according to the Minister, in the waste hierarchy. However, we are going to get it as the Bill is currently constructed, so I shall seek to divide the House on new clause 5.