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8.5 pm

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) in a debate. He mentioned kerbside collection, and the fact that the Liberal Democrats estimated that it would cost, I think, £200,000 to implement such a scheme. Obviously, if that was the right figure, there would be no hesitation in doing so. However, I received today a report from the UK waste management industry entitled "Facing the Facts", which is published by Onyx. It states:

So, there is a vast difference between the figures quoted by the Liberal Democrats and those quoted by the people involved in the industry. The report goes on to say:

Those figures have an impact on what we are discussing tonight.

I want to express my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), who chaired our Committee and worked very hard to ensure that the work of the Committee was constructive and directed so that we could publish the report that we are discussing tonight. Members of the Committee appreciate the work that our colleague has done as Chairman.

As a member of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, I want to raise certain issues that I consider important to the Committee and to the industry involved with waste and packaging. I also wish to declare that I am the co-chair of the all-party sustainable waste

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group, which came together in 1995 to raise issues in Parliament involving waste and sustainable waste management.

Let us consider the terms of reference of the Committee, as outlined in paragraph 6 of the fifth report, which states:

a publication from the Government—

Our terms of reference were to consider whether the strategy would result in

If we can achieve that result, we can reduce energy costs. We can reduce the amount of material that is needed to sustain the waste and packaging industries.

Our terms of reference referred to

Producer responsibilities are certainly an important factor. I know that the glass, aluminium, steel and paper and board industries are making approaches in a bid to recover all possible waste consisting of those materials from the waste stream for recycling.

I live near a Rockware Glass factory. I am told that within a 10-mile radius of that factory, 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of glass go into landfills every week because there are no procedures to extract it from the waste stream. Every ounce could be recycled, turned into cullet and returned to the system. Similarly, the aluminium industry will take all the aluminium waste that it can recover. The steel, paper and board and plastics industries are crying out for material to be recovered. Most of this is municipal or household waste. I agree with the hon. Member for Gordon that we should press the issue. I am sure that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Environment are familiar with such demands, and that their recent initiatives will help.

The terms of reference also referred to

I know of a number of manufacturing firms that have set up their own education units. Rockware Glass and Re-use, a recycling company, have such a unit, to which children are brought from all over the country so that they can understand the importance of recycling. Coca-Cola and Schweppes in my constituency also has a unit to educate people in the importance of returning not just glass but plastic bottles so that they can be recycled, and libraries have similar units. A great deal of time and money is being spent on programmes to make people understand the importance of extracting materials from the waste stream. I have already mentioned the 30,000 tonnes of glass, plastic, steel, aluminium, cardboard and paper.

When we took evidence on sustainable waste, we were referred to the role of civic amenity sites and their importance to recovery and recycling.

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There are threats that civic amenity sites could be taken from my own authority of Wakefield and offered to the private sector. They are purpose built and they operate efficiently, so I would consider removing them from local authority operation a sin. We have recycling targets and the main one for recycling or composting household waste is at least 25 per cent. by 2005, increasing to 30 per cent. by 2010 and 33 per cent. by 2015. The civic amenity sites can play a major part in meeting those targets, so I plead with the Minister to ensure that their development is encouraged, as outlined and recommended by the Committee.

I sat on the Standing Committee that considered the establishment of the Environment Agency under the Environment Act 1995—there was a Division over that legislation—and the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 followed. Under the regulations, material manufacture was to bear 6 per cent. of the responsibility for the finished product; converting materials to packaging, 11 per cent.; packing and filling, 36 per cent.; and the retailers—supermarkets and others—47 per cent.

There was a tremendous imbalance there, because the retailers collected all the waste and sat on it, as they had much more than their 47 per cent. The packaging recovery note system was the currency through which people could purchase waste from those with a surplus to enable them to meet their targets as outlined in the packaging waste regulations. We were told that they would apply for five years, but after the 1997 election my colleague the Minister for the Environment listened to the industry's pleas and agreed to review the producer responsibilities and the obligations under the regulations.

A consultation document was published in 1997 and slight adjustments were made to those percentages, which benefited the industry, but they did not go far enough to redress the advantages that the retail people—the supermarkets—enjoyed under the regulations. The document says:

The industry appreciated my right hon. Friend's intervention in reviewing the percentages, and the glass, aluminium, steel, paper, plastics and wood industries responded to the document by offering him advice. I am sure that he valued the interest that came from the industry.

Recently, however, there has been anger among people in the packaging industry because of a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—there are problems when departmental boundaries cross. She announced that the new code, as recommended by the Competition Commission and involving the supermarkets,

and that was obviously welcomed by the supermarkets. The code has had an impact on the packaging industry and on farmers. However, that made waves: it creates problems for the waste packaging industry. We need to consider decisions that have an effect on people in that industry and on those involved in recycling.

May I make a plea on behalf of the packaging industry? In many instances, owing to cheap imports, our industry is at a disadvantage compared with competitors in Europe

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and the far east. The massive increase in gas prices, the climate change levy and the proposed mineral extraction levy will all have an impact on the competitiveness of our packaging industries. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister try to find an opportunity to discuss with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury the impact of those levies on the waste packaging industry?

We should use the recycling process. We need to undertake more recycling, so if we can obtain more material through the waste system, it will help to offset some of the industry's problems and the extra costs—including those from increased administration—that it has to bear. My plea to my right hon. Friend is that we implement kerbside collection as quickly as possible. We must extract between 30,000 and 40,000 tonnes a week of glass and other materials for recycling. That will help to make our packaging industries more efficient and accountable, and environmentally friendly.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is fully aware of the situation and of the plea in the report, which I support, that that recycling should continue.

Several hon. Members rose

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