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Mr. Barker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I can tell her that there is genuine concern in my constituency at the prospect of an incinerator being built at Pebsham in Bexhill or at Mountfield near Battle. There is a huge public outcry and huge public concern about the potential environmental impact. There is also huge concern from parents and families who live in the communities around the areas that stand to be blighted. The hon. Lady makes light of the matter at her own cost.

Jane Griffiths: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his most helpful intervention. I was not, of course, seeking to make light of his or his constituents' concerns. I was simply pointing out that to paint such an overblown picture does no service to this important issue.

The targets in the Select Committee's report have been described from all parts of the House this evening as unchallenging and not strict enough. In an ideal world, those targets might not seem greatly challenging, but in the country in which we live, they do present a challenge to those seeking to recover value from 40 per cent. of municipal waste by 2005, and from 45 per cent. of municipal waste by 2010, under the terms of the Government's waste strategy. Those are not unchallenging targets.

The Government's waste strategy, recognising that different local authorities are at different points in increasing the amount that they recycle, called for those recycling less than 5 per cent. of waste in 1998–99 to achieve at least 10 per cent. by 2003; for those recycling between 5 per cent. and 15 per cent. in 1998–99 to double their rate by 2003; and for the remainder to achieve at least one third by 2003. It is estimated that that will achieve 17 per cent. nationally by 2003.

I suspect that those targets will be difficult to achieve. That is why I found the Select Committee report so useful, as it takes a hard look at the issues associated with recycling and the difficulties in its way.

Some remarks have been made from various points of view about incineration. The Select Committee report states that energy from waste incineration should be excluded from energy renewables targets. I am not sure whether I agree with that view. The choice is not between incineration and wonderful, completely clean waste

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management, but between incineration, landfill and other measures, so I do not believe that we can try to exclude incineration all together.

Little mention was made of clinical waste, which forms a small but important proportion of our total waste. The Royal Berkshire hospital, which is situated in my constituency, is very large and is surrounded on all sides by a densely populated residential area. No complaint has ever been made to me about the clinical waste that is incinerated there. I believe that the process is carried out in a very clean fashion. I am not aware of any way of disposing of most sorts of clinical waste without using a form of incineration to prevent infection.

There are a great many pressures. The various EU directives put pressure on our Government. The end-of-life directives on vehicles, batteries and waste electrical and electronic equipment all extend producer responsibilities. The EU landfill directive of 1999 requires the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that is sent to landfill to be reduced to 75 per cent. of 1995 levels by 2010. That is a very challenging target.

In representing Reading, East, I represent part of the local authority area of Reading and part of that of Wokingham, which has a doorstep recycling scheme and some bring sites, and forecasts the achievement of 16.87 per cent. recycling. In national terms, that is a very high level. Reading has only bring sites and no doorstep recycling, although it has begun a doorstep recycling trial. That is welcomed by constituents who live in the borough, which achieved a recycling rate of 7.7 per cent. in 1998-99. Both those local authorities are working with the neighbouring area of Bracknell Forest borough council, none of which is situated in my constituency. They are working together on a long-term recycling waste treatment and disposal contract to find the most sustainable and cost-effective way of dealing with household wastes for between 10 and 25 years. The project aims to reduce the growth in waste by 2007 and then reduce the amount of waste arising by a further 5 per cent. It also aims to ensure recycling levels of 30 per cent. by 2005, 35 per cent. by 2010 and 52 per cent. by 2028. I believe that the project should be successful and that those targets are achievable.

Once minimisation, recycling and composting have made the maximum possible contribution, the proposals go on to deal with generating energy from waste, especially in the form of combined heat and power. The aim is that, by 2020, 13 per cent. of total waste arising, and no more, should go to landfill. There is also an intention to cap the ratio of waste to energy, with the aim that any waste that arises as a result of the forecast population growth in the three authority areas is dealt with higher up the waste chain. In the Thames valley, that growth is considerable and appears likely to continue. The point about landfill is important, because it is predicted that, if there is no change in the current extent to which it is used—this information comes from several sources—the available landfill in Berkshire will run out by 2006–07.

I know that there is another school of thought which says that landfill is not such a problem as most of those who are involved in waste and environmental issues hold it to be. Many who work in earth sciences believe that we should not worry too much about landfill. I am not convinced by that, but it is useful to discuss matters with people who take a different view.

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It is planned that the project in Berkshire should be undertaken by a joint contract with an organisation through a public-private partnership. The plans are subject to discussion between my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and the relevant local authorities. We shall meet next week to discuss taking those important proposals forward.

The report contained several recommendations that merit serious consideration. They all involve considerable resources. An environmental crime unit that could tackle fly tipping has been proposed. That would be immensely welcome in every constituency, but it would not be cheap to run; it would require a lot of resources.

The planning system does not always favour sustainable waste management. I am not simply referring to incinerators and proposals for them, although I do not believe that we should exclude incineration from our waste management plans. Problems can arise when land that has been used for landfill is subsequently proposed for housing development. For example, in Woodley in my constituency, problems arose when only part of an elderly landfill site was subsequently built on. Planning applications for more dwellings ran into serious difficulty.

The planning process must change. Like other hon. Members, I look forward to the Green Paper, which will be published soon and will highlight proposed changes in the planning process. If it does not include proposals that help us to manage waste more sustainably and minimise actual and perceived health risks to local populations, we will all fail in our endeavours. I am optimistic that we can achieve much more in sustainable waste management. We must do that for future generations.

9.17 pm

Bob Russell (Colchester): I appreciate the opportunity to make a brief contribution. I hope that the Minister for the Environment can clarify the Government's position on incinerators. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) drew attention to possible contradictions, and the Minister knows from parliamentary questions that other hon. Members and I tabled that we have tried to ascertain the Government's precise view.

The Minister told me in a written answer that there is no legal requirement for county councils to include incinerators in their waste plans. However, Conservative- controlled Essex county council is proceeding with incinerators in its plan because it claims that that is a legal requirement. We need clarification.

The Minister knows from when he was a resident in Colchester that two of the six proposed sites for incinerators in Essex are in Colchester: one in Stanway and one in Old Heath. That is causing considerable anxiety and alarm. There is a belief that incinerators will undermine the thrust of waste recycling, including doorstep collections. I say that from a strong position because Colchester, through policies that the Liberal Democrats introduced and developed, has produced the best recycling record of any council in Essex.

We need a firm but clear statement from the Government. What is their position on incinerators? Will they give a clear commitment tonight that incineration is not their preferred policy?

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9.19 pm

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): I feel sorry for the Minister for the Environment. Apart from one nodding donkey on the Labour Benches, no one has had a good word to say about the Government's environmental policy. The Minister's heart is in the right place, but the trouble is that no one in Government seems to listen to him.

The former Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee published the report that we have been discussing on 14 March this year. It is an excellent report, and I congratulate the Committee and its Chairman at the time, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett).

The report makes many good points clearly and succinctly, and much of it has considerable validity. There is no doubt that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has demonstrated over many years a commitment to protecting and enhancing the environment. That showed in his speech today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) made a battling speech. He made many a good point, to the evident discomfort of Labour Members.

Conservatism and conservation go together. My party is passionate about preserving the United Kingdom's natural heritage and the future of our planet. The most obvious starting point for that is to implement an effective strategy for dealing with the waste that we produce.

No waste strategy will be effective until we all understand that caring for the environment must be approached by educating people and instilling a collective responsibility. I am sure that we can all agree that Governments must work with people, and have faith in them—in the farmers who manage our countryside, in those who run the businesses that produce our wealth, and in every householder whom we are here to serve. We should align the people's best interests with their self-interest.

No one would deny that we produce too much waste, and I shall show that things are getting worse. I shall also seek to demonstrate that landfill is not the answer, and that incineration is no easy substitute. The only real answer is far less waste, far more recycling and re-use, and a Government who spend their time acting effectively rather than talking loudly.

England and Wales produce about 400 million tonnes of waste each year. In 1999–2000, average municipal waste was 26 kg per household per week, an increase of l kg from 1998–99. Nationally, the municipal waste management survey for 1999–2000 showed that there was a total of 29.3 million tonnes of municipal waste in England and Wales in that period, up from 27.9 million tonnes in the previous year.

To our discredit, we are a "throw-away" society that produces too much waste, and the waste that we are producing is growing by 3 per cent. a year. That might not sound too much, but in practice it means that, if nothing is done, we will need to double our waste disposal capacity by 2020.

Historically, landfill has been seen as the answer, but the space for landfill is rapidly running out. Landfill sites are deservedly unpopular: as any Bedfordshire MP knows, they scar the landscape, they smell, and they produce methane, which is a highly damaging greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

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It is true that landfill tax has been increased, and that we were told that it was a tax designed to discourage landfill and protect the environment. Well, it certainly is a tax, but for the amount collected it has had modest environmental impact, and there is little evidence that the proceeds have been spent on recycling incentives or measures.

What we do know is that EU directives dictate that the level of biodegradable material sent to landfill must be reduced to two thirds of the 1995 level by 2020. We also know that, with their current policies, the Government will not achieve that.

We should not ignore one of the consequences of landfill tax—fly tipping. Despite the Government's protestations to the contrary, higher levels of landfill tax have increased the incentive for many to fly tip to avoid paying tax. Farmland, especially, is often prone to abuse in this way. The National Farmers Union conducted a telephone survey of 300 farmers and growers last year, and more than 50 per cent. of the respondents identified fly tipping as a major ongoing problem; more than a quarter said that they had noticed a significant increase in fly tipping over the past year. Landowners or authorities then have to pay the costs of removing the material from the land and, often, the costs of proper disposal at a licensed landfill site. The Select Committee has urged far higher penalties for such "environmental crimes"—the Committee's own words—to combat the increase in fly tipping, and I agree.

I urge the Government to impose tougher penalties. Higher average fines should be introduced to discourage fly tipping, and local authorities should be able to keep the revenue from such fines to encourage them to catch the fly tippers. Dumped cars, discarded fridges, leaking drums of chemicals and old sofas line too many verges. The unintended, unfortunate consequence of one Department's decision on the policy of another Department shows that joined-up government is a wish yet to be realised.

As a result of new EU directives and the Government's failure to boost recycling, Labour is attempting to divert rubbish from landfill towards incineration. According to the Government's waste strategy, "A Way with Waste"—a snappy title, I admit—up to 165 large incinerators may have to be built across the country. But the waste and resources action programme, an initiative funded by the Government, has stated that

The Conservative position on incinerators is clear. We wish to see a moratorium introduced on new large-scale municipal incinerators until independent British scientific evidence proves that they are safe. Tighter controls should be introduced on emissions from existing incinerators.

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