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Andrew Bennett: I am pleased to hear this statement from the Conservatives. Will the hon. Gentleman convince his local councillors that that should be the policy in places such as Surrey and Essex?

Mr. Sayeed: I will certainly endeavour to do so. As I shall illustrate, I am endeavouring to do so on other issues,

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such as recycling. The problem is that, because recycling has been so poorly conducted in this country, councils have considerable difficulty in getting rid of domestic waste.

Incinerators should be used to generate energy from waste. Local residents should receive benefits from being located near an incinerator and the Government should consider ways of discouraging recyclable materials from going up in smoke.

The Conservative party has called for a review of regulations to cut down on wasteful packaging and tackle waste at its source. We want to see a simplification of regulations, to improve their effectiveness and to reduce their burden. As a general principle, we believe that regulations should discourage excessive packaging in products. Clear incentives are needed to minimise waste at the point of origin, and packaging regulations should require a higher recycled content.

There should be tougher enforcement by trading standards officers of existing regulations on over- packaging, and the regulatory burden should be streamlined so that processes are tough but straightforward and easy to understand. Under the packaging recovery note system, established in 1997, manufacturing companies are required to buy PRNs for every tonne of packaging waste that they produce and are required to send for recycling. The PRNs are used to show compliance with regulations. The notes are bought from agents who arrange waste recovery and recycling, or directly from waste producers.

Since 1998, about £250 million for PRNs and packaging export recovery notes has been channelled to reprocessors in this way; but there is little evidence that money has been invested in increasing the collection of material for recycling. The operation of PRNs is deficient in that regard, and should be reconsidered so that it works to everyone's benefit.

The words "sustainable development" do not, I regret to say, appeal to many members of the public, and some do not even understand their meaning. It is when they are put in the context of everyone's everyday experience—when people can see that what they are doing is of value to them, close to home—that our efforts to achieve sustainability will succeed. That is why the Conservative party's recycling policy is significantly greener and more radical than that of any other party. [Laughter.] It is clear from Labour Members' guffaws that they have not bothered to read any manifestos apart from their own party's.

We have proposed for some time that 50 per cent. of household waste should be recycled or made into compost by 2020. That target is significantly higher than the Government's, and it is the reason for our saying that we would introduce doorstep recycling for all households. The question is, what are the Government going to do?

The United Kingdom must improve its record on recycling, which will in turn allow less dependency on landfill as a means of disposal. Britain has just nine years in which to triple the amount of waste that it recycles, or it will face harsh financial punishment from the European Union. The Government's own officials have warned that the UK faces fines of £500,000 a day if EU rules on landfill sites are not observed by 2010.

The Government could help themselves to reach that target if they followed the Conservative lead. We want every home in the country to have recyclables collected

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separately from other waste. Perhaps the Government should learn from an organisation called Wastepack and its "pink bag" system, or perhaps they should learn from Berlin; but they must learn from someone.

Mrs. Ellman: Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what recycling percentage had been achieved by the Conservative Government after 18 years?

Mr. Sayeed: First, I am happy to have been promoted to the status of a Privy Councillor, which I am not.

Mrs. Ellman: I apologise.

Mr. Sayeed: The hon. Lady should not apologise. I ask her please to go on doing it! Secondly, I was about to deal with her question in any case.

Labour claimed that it would be "the cleanest Government ever", but Britain still recycles just 11 per cent. of household waste, as opposed to more than 50 per cent. in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. At the recent waste summit, the Secretary of State announced the production of a consultation paper dealing with how to spend the £140 million that the Government had allocated to local authorities to promote recycling. I welcome that move. This country's recycling performance is lagging far behind where it should be—and just as we lag behind as a country, many local authorities lag behind comparable authorities in the recycling of domestic waste.

That brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). Why did 42 per cent. of Labour local authorities have no provision for separating recyclable material from household waste, according to independent Audit Commission figures for 1998-99? The figure for Liberal Democrat authorities was 29 per cent., and of the three parties, the Conservatives showed the lowest figure—19 per cent. I have recently contacted that 19 per cent. to ensure that many more Conservative councils are taking appropriate steps, but what is the Minister doing about the 42 per cent. of Labour councils and 29 per cent. of Liberal councils whose performance is lamentable? Why is Scotland's record on waste such a disgrace? Waste management may be a devolved responsibility, but this Labour Government are the Government for all the United Kingdom, so it is unacceptable that they should do nothing to persuade the Labour and Liberal Administration in Scotland to clean up their act.

British households produce enough waste to fill the Albert hall every hour. Unless the Government rethink their approach to waste, we face the shame and expense of being branded the dirty man of Europe. We produce too much waste and the situation is getting worse. Landfill is no answer, nor is incineration a proven safe substitute. The only answer is far less waste, much more recycling, much more re-use, and a Government who talk less and begin to act with vigour.

9.36 pm

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I begin by paying genuine tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) for his Committee's report, which is a good one. Also, I pay him a personal tribute for his distinguished record as Chairman of the Environment Sub-Committee.

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He leads a Committee that has produced a series of most telling and effective reports that have had a not insubstantial impact on Government policy, and that reflects his dedication and commitment to the environment. Indeed, as he suggested, it also shows why he, as a person who is seen as independent, respected and a champion of the environment, was chosen for the investigation being undertaken in Byker, Newcastle.

I am sorry that the report was delayed, but I can assure the House that the response is in its final stages and it will be submitted to the Committee shortly. The reason for that is that the Government's response was delayed by the general election being called in May, as my hon. Friend acknowledged. Also, for a lengthy period, from May to October, there was no Select Committee in existence and thus nobody for the Government to respond to.

Once the new Select Committee was established, there was a need to update the material in the Government response, given the passage of time. Finalisation has been further delayed to take account of the recent waste summit and the Prime Minister's announcement that the performance and innovation unit has been asked to review the waste strategy and consider what more needs to be done to ensure its effective delivery.

My hon. Friend made important points and I shall try to take most of them up. He said at the outset that we are not a sustainable society, and that is perfectly true. I always use this example: there are 60 million people in this country and average yearly consumption is 1 tonne per person. Taking into account input to the productive process and the energy involved in processing products and waste material, the figure is 11 tonnes.

A ratio of 1:11 is simply not sustainable and we recognise that. The Prime Minister established the PIU review on resource efficiency and the report was produced recently. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) said, we have announced that the PIU will now review the waste strategy. It will deliver its initial findings in the first half of next year, with a final report due in summer.

There is no doubt that the minimisation of waste is most important. Contrary to the impression given by several hon. Members, there is a clear national waste strategy plan. There is also a clear waste hierarchy, the first and most important element of which is waste minimisation. The best thing is not to create waste in the first place—not to quarrel about recycling or incineration.

Secondly, and clearly—in response to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)—the requirement of the waste strategy is to maximise recycling, re-use and recovery as long as that is the best practicable environmental option. In the vast majority of cases, that will be true, but it is not always so. For example, it may not be easy to extract waste from individual households in tower blocks. Similarly, as rural households may be at a considerable distance from recycling treatment centres, it may be best to use alternatives. However, recycling is obviously the most desirable course in the vast majority of cases.

We realise that, on its own, merely to set targets will be insufficient to deliver waste minimisation. I am keen to develop effective mechanisms actually to reduce the creation of waste. However, there must be adequate policy instruments, some of which we have already introduced: the landfill tax escalator—I shall talk about levels in a

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moment—producer responsibility and support for Envirowise, which gives businesses advice on waste reduction.

I think that the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) mentioned the fact that there had been an increase of about 3 per cent. a year in waste arising. That is far too high and must be reduced. The objective is to reduce that plus-three percentage towards nought and then to a minus figure in order to decouple economic growth from waste arising. Although we can all agree on that objective, it is another matter to deliver it. We need effective instruments and I hope to introduce a clearer and more comprehensive policy than we have managed to initiate in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish referred to targets. I do not accept that the recycling targets are unambitious. I am grateful for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) in that regard. Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) who spoke for the Opposition, referred to the much higher recycling figures in other countries. I shall refer to the record under the Tories in a moment.

High recycling rates in other countries are often cited as evidence that our targets are too low. However, many countries include construction and demolition waste in their recycling rates for municipal waste. Such waste is both heavy and easily recyclable, thus increasing the potential for higher recycling rates. Construction and demolition waste is, however, largely excluded from the figures for England and Wales. That is an important consideration.

The targets set are demanding. It is rather too easy for Members to say that instead of talking about doubling and trebling the amounts we should be aiming for a 60 per cent. increase. Let us achieve a doubling and trebling of the amounts within a relatively short time—let us get that under our belts—before we aim for more ambitious targets.

Those targets are not, of course, ceilings—they are targets that we expect people to exceed. They are realistic minima that every local authority is being required to achieve. In fact, under our proposals, 83 local authorities are required to achieve recycling and composting rates greater than 33 per cent. by 2005–06, although the overall national target for that date is 25 per cent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned markets. He referred to Aylesford and the £20 million that WRAP had made available to enable further newsprint recycling to take place. That will have a major impact on recycling in this country.

I should also certainly like to mention other examples of markets. Several such examples have been produced by WRAP—the waste resources and action programme—which was established to develop as a centre of expertise in market development. That is its precise purpose. In its first three years, WRAP is being supported by £40 million of Government funding from my Department and other Departments. Its first business plan has focused on seven key sectors in which there are particular market barriers to increasing recycling. It is tackling those barriers with the Government's support.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish also raised the incinerator issue, which is often the most controversial part of the strategy. He made the important point on the security of supply in relation to an incinerator's long lifespan. I make it absolutely clear, however, that the Government are not encouraging incinerators. We are simply recognising that there may be a role for some incinerators if we are to achieve by 2016—or, with the derogation period, by 2020—a massive shift from the 1997 position in which about 85 per cent. of household waste was landfilled—that is 28 million tonnes a year—to one in which no more than 35 per cent. of 1995 levels are landfilled. However, we are not encouraging such a role.

There is absolutely no figure on incinerators in our back pocket. The figures of 100 and 165 have been mentioned, but that was totally mischievous. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire knows perfectly well that that is nonsense—I have said so, and he has heard me say it. He repeats such figures simply to be mischievous. We have no intention of supporting or recommending any such total whatever.

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