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Waste Recycling Targets

5. Mr. John Baron (Billericay): What financial support her Department is giving to local councils in order to help them meet their waste recycling targets. [29540]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): The Government are increasing funding for the environmental protection and cultural services block, which includes waste management, by £1.1 billion over

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the SR 2000 period. There is also a ring-fenced fund of £140 million for local authority recycling and £220 million for the private finance initiative waste projects over the same period. Councils will also benefit from the £40 million that the Government have given to the waste resources action programme to overcome market barriers to re-use and the recycling of waste.

Mr. Baron: I thank the Minister for that response. Given that Britain has just nine years to triple the amount of waste that it recycles, or face stiff EU penalties, and that organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Waste Watch have criticised the Government for the amount of assistance that they are giving to councils compared to what those organisations believe is required—something like £375 million a year—can the Minister now respond to Greenpeace's accusation that Labour is the party of incineration?

Mr. Meacher: As I have already said, now and on many previous occasions, the amount of extra funding that has been provided to reach the statutory recycling targets for local authorities is generous by any standard. Let me make it clear that this is not just a question of resources. Although the recycling record of some local authorities is abysmal—at 3 or 5 per cent.—many local authorities are in the 15 to 20 per cent. bracket, and some are meeting targets of more than 25 per cent. and even up to 30 per cent.

It is a matter of local political will and of providing the appropriate local facilities—notably, kerbside collection. I do not accept that the suggested funding is necessary.

I find the hon. Gentleman's last point extraordinary. Under the previous Government, there were about 20 or 30 incinerators in this country; there are now 11. There are no plans for any further increase in incineration, provided that we can meet the EU landfill directive targets and achieve the statutory recycling targets. The Conservative party presided over a much larger number of incinerators than we are conceivably planning.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement of extra money for recycling will be warmly welcomed in the north-east, especially as local authorities in the county of Durham have had a very poor settlement this year, despite Government protestations to the contrary? But I warmly welcome his statement that this is not just a matter of money. Is he also aware that, in the Bishop Auckland area, all kinds of voluntary groups and, indeed, the business community are bubbling up with imaginative ideas for recycling, but the local authorities seem to be unable to respond supportively?

Mr. Meacher: My right hon. Friend is right because, let me I repeat, this is not simply a question of resources—those resources must be adequate. We are sure that we are providing adequate resources. Three things are required: first, the targets to drive the programme; secondly, the money to finance it; and, thirdly, the all-important markets, to which he referred. There is no point in recycling large amounts of paper, glass, tin, aluminium or whatever unless it can be sold on. The purpose of setting up WRAP—the waste resources action programme, which is business-led and chaired by Vic Cocker, who is a water industry chief executive—is to

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provide local authorities with good business sense, at arm's length from Government, on the markets for recycling. We think that that is very important. There are many innovative ideas, and there is no excuse for local authorities not to adopt them.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): Is the Minister aware that Bexley council has a good recycling record? However, as well as encouraging such councils, is he aware that in places such as Welling the recycling site is located close to residential properties, so the local authority spends considerable amounts trying to protect residents from the inevitable noise generated in pursuit of what is unquestionably a very good cause? Recyling also has human consequences and local authorities need support from the Minister to deal with them.

Mr. Meacher: Of course I accept that any industrial process, including an integrated waste management facility, involves a certain amount of noise and lorry journeys, and I am well aware that it can cause dust and nuisance. Obviously, this is matter for local authorities. In the past such facilities have been re-sited as a result of planning applications, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's local planning authority has taken account of the wider environmental impacts.

I repeat that integrated waste management facilities may be required in the future, and I believe that the necessary finance is available. However, it is a matter for local authorities to locate such facilities sensibly.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I congratulate the Government on their record on recycling and praise my right hon. Friend for his personal commitment to this issue. Will he consider assisting local authorities to deal with a particular item of domestic waste: used domestic batteries? He will know that, except for an excellent scheme in Lancashire, there are hardly any schemes that allow for their recycling. Will he consider ways of encouraging local authorities to recycle domestic batteries and to work with industry to achieve that?

Mr. Meacher: That is a useful point. [Laughter.] I do not think that it was amusing.

If batteries are thrown away and collected by local authorities to end up in landfill, that is not the most environmentally sensible way of handling them. There needs to be kerbside collection and separation at source. There is an EU proposal for a producer responsibility directive for batteries. Obviously, in the light of experience of other matters, we shall need to examine the proposal's drafting and we shall consider it carefully. However, the concept is sensible.

It is already possible for local authorities to put in place arrangements for kerbside collection. We believe that statutory recycling targets will require virtually all local authorities to do that. However, there is nothing to stop them doing that now. I therefore urge local authorities to put in place arrangements for the kerbside collection of products, such as batteries, that should not go into landfill.

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Landfill is not the most environmentally sustainable way of handling them, and kerbside collection will enable them to be collected and reused in a better way.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): I was intrigued by the Minister's scathing remarks about local authorities that achieve recycling rates of only 3 to 5 per cent., which he described as abysmal. Does that apply to the authority in Oldham in his constituency, which achieves 4.5 per cent. recycling? Will he compare and contrast that with the position in Tandridge council in my constituency, which achieves 21 per cent. recycling? Will he congratulate Tandridge on that?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that none of the £140 million to which he alluded—it has been ring-fenced to help local authorities—has yet been spent? It is no good boasting about the money, because none of it has been spent. Will not robbing environmental trusts of funds in a desperate bid to bolster the Government's failing recycling strategy deprive many environmental projects of much-needed funding while still failing to save the Government's face over the shambles that they have made of recycling? Their own performance is abysmal.

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is getting better, but he still has some way to go.

I congratulate those local authorities, such as his, that have a good recycling record. I am delighted about that. I do not know what Oldham's exact position is, but it is certainly in one of the lowest groups. I am targeting precisely such authorities through the £140 million recycling fund in an attempt to help them raise their performance. I point out, however, that Oldham is a Lib-Dem controlled council.

The £140 million recycling fund is, indeed, ring-fenced and it can be used only for waste-management purposes. We have just completed a consultation about how it will be distributed and we shall make a statement, I hope, very soon, on our conclusions. However, I cannot, of course, at this moment say how much will go to any individual local authority.

It was a bit rich of the hon. Gentleman to talk about robbing environmental trusts because he is actually referring to the fact that we are reconsidering the landfill tax credit scheme. We want to use that scheme, which we of course inherited from the previous Government, to support sustainable waste management objectives. It has by no means been focused on that. That is why we are reviewing it. We have published indicative guidelines saying that 65 per cent. of the spend should be towards such schemes, including one third of it specifically on recycling. In the next few weeks, we shall issue a consultation paper on the full range of options, from the status quo to full replacement via a public expenditure programme.

I have said repeatedly to the Wildlife Trust and the other environmental bodies that I am keen that the amount of money that they receive—valuably—for the important projects over which they preside should not be reduced in any redistribution that might be achieved. That remains my position.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): The Minister has referred several times to the importance of recycling in cutting incineration, but is recycling not also an important

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way to cut the number of landfill sites? Is he troubled by the fact that Rhondda, Cynon, Taff council, which, to inform my right hon. Friend, is run by the Welsh nationalists, has only now begun a pilot recycling scheme? Will he undertake on the next occasion that he speaks to his counterpart in the Welsh Assembly to raise his concerns on that matter?

Mr. Meacher: I am certainly happy to do that, although we have made very clear over a long period the need for a fundamental transformation in the way in which this country handles waste. We are driven by the EU landfill directive. At the moment, we landfill probably more than any other member state—around 85 per cent. of household waste. We must reduce that to no more than 35 per cent. of the 1995 level, which is of course much lower than today's.

On our reckoning, if we continued current practices all the way to 2016, by which time the change must occur, which of course we certainly shall not, we would in that year have to shift about 33 million tonnes away from landfill. That is why there must be action now on a significant scale.

The first requirement is waste minimisation—not creating the waste in the first place. Secondly, if the waste is generated, it should be—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I very gently say to the Minister that I have to get through the Order Paper, and the answers are too long.

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