Sixth Environmental Action Programme

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Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton): Does the document propose a greater emphasis on the re-use, rather than recycling, of materials? Obviously recycling is important, but if we try to create less waste—glass bottles, for example—there would be less need for it. We need to change our approach to that issue in this country and throughout Europe.

Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The EU position on waste management has largely focused on two areas. First, we must reduce landfill. In the UK in recent years, household and municipal waste has been about 85 per cent. landfill. We have to reduce that to no more than 35 per cent. of 1995 levels, which is huge reduction given that we have the highest landfilling rate of any of the member states.

The second aspect is incineration. I am the first, but probably not the last, person to mention that this morning. The standards that must be met on discharge levels of incinerators were substantially tightened through a directive that came into operation on 1 October 1996, which was extremely welcome. There has been relatively little on recycling, reuse and recovery as such. As more information becomes available about waste practices and the loop is closed to ensure that the waste products of one process are put into another process, I have no doubt that the Commission will return to the subject.

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My hon. Friend was right to say that recycling was not the only relevant issue. The ultimate aim is to avoid the creation of waste in the first place, or to reduce the amount of waste as far as possible. Below waste minimisation, the next requirement in the waste hierarchy is recycling, reuse and recovery, as opposed to just recycling. She rightly referred to glassware. It amazed me that one use of cullet—broken glass—is as a base for road construction, obviously with layers of different quality above it. In small, gritty chunks, cullet can provide something of the suspension requirement for roads. As we improve our capacity for waste management, there must be myriad ways to use waste products of one process for another process.

Another example is tyres. A directive requires that there be no landfilling of tyres from 2003 or of shredded tyres from 2006. The question is what happens to those tyres. They must not be landfilled, and we all agree that they should not be fly-tipped, so we must find out the best environmental use for tyres. That issue relates to reuse and recovery.

The United Kingdom Government have tried to deal with the problem by setting up WRAP, a lovely Whitehall acronym that stands for Waste Resources Action Programme. It is designed to establish markets for used products, and to advise local authorities about the markets that they will be able to use if they can increase recycling, reuse and recovery. The subject is large, and there is no question but that it will substantially expand in terms of recycling, reuse and recovery.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): I have three points, one of which is about the issue of redundant tyres to which the Minister referred. I have an illegal tyre dump in my constituency, and I want to ask him how much progress is being made towards ensuring that we achieve the landfill target dates of 2003 for whole tyre disposal and 2006 for shredded tyre disposal.

Secondly, what is the Minister's view of the different approaches taken by member states to nuclear power? Our approach is extremely different from that of France. Is that too hot a political potato for the European Union to juggle with?

My third point returns to improvements in implementation. The Minister was diplomatic and referred only to allegations of failure to implement EU environmental legislation. However, I suspect from what he subsequently said that he accepts that that approach needs to change. The name, shame and fame approach will clearly involve the exposure of member states for failure to implement. What is the current situation? Is it true that neither the Commission nor anyone else publishes information that would tell EU citizens which member states are failing to implement environmental legislation? Must we rely instead on allegations of non-compliance, as the Minister suggests? That is wholly unsatisfactory. Although the new document will address that problem, can it not be addressed now? Existing legislation still needs to be implemented; what is the Commission doing to ensure that that happens?

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Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman's first question was about tyres. We are dealing with a directive, and it is a statutory requirement that those target dates of 2003 and 2006 should be met. It is not optional. All member states will be subject to sanctions if they fail. The UK will certainly meet those targets, as we have in all other cases. However, I appreciate that it is not an easy problem. If tyres are not to be used as landfill, what else can be done with them? Shredded tyres can be used as a base in certain forms of construction, and they can be used in cement kilns or incinerator plants as a form of fuel, along with other unusual materials.

I do not have the technical experience to make a judgment, but I know that strong views have been expressed about the environmental impact of the burning of tyres and other such fuels, particularly on local communities. The Environment Agency is acutely aware of that, and I am seeking more detailed information about that impact. It remains a problem, but we shall certainly meet our targets. I am sure that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) will be keeping an eye on whether other member states do as well as we do.

On nuclear power, there is a difference between Britain and France. We remain the only two states in the EU with nuclear military hardware. However, there is a difference in our use of nuclear energy as a source for electricity. France obtains something like 70 per cent. of its electricity from nuclear plants. The figure for the UK is about 27 per cent., but that percentage will reduce over the next 11 years to 2012 as a result of the gradual closure of the Magnox plants.

The issue is now being debated in the press, in light of the performance and innovation unit report, which has, over the past few months, carried out a review of our energy policies. I am one of the members of the ministerial advisory board. If the Prime Minister is so minded, the report will be published in the near future. The nuclear question is one of the matters addressed in that report. For instance, it asks whether there should be new nuclear build, and whether there should be a greater or lesser shift from conventional sources of energy, including nuclear, towards sustainable sources, particularly wind, solar, biomass, tidal and wave power.

The use of sustainable sources is inevitable, and all member states will make such a shift. The question is how far and how fast. Companies such as BP and Shell, who are motivated by the need to make a return in the market, believe that as much as 50 per cent. of their production will be concerned with sustainable sources of energy by 2050. That is the way that the market is going worldwide, and it is important that we should be in the forefront, and not lagging behind. However, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) should wait for the report to be published.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire made an interesting point about naming and shaming. I shall tell him a secret: I have been keen to name and shame in several areas in the environment portfolio, but my officials are always cautious because such a process may seem unfair. There are often mitigating

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circumstances, or attempts to comply may have been made but blocked by factors beyond a company's control. There are always extenuating circumstances, and it is difficult to consider damaging the reputation of a company or a country unless one has taken full account of all the circumstances. One must make whatever qualifying statement is necessary so as not gratuitously to damage brand image, which is an important aspect in the market.

Having said that, I believe that there is justification in going further in this direction. We must ensure that accurate and comprehensive information is available—that is the only constraint. ''Naming and shaming'' is a colourful phrase, which only means that citizens in the United Kingdom and European Union are entitled to know about the performance of a company or country in meeting a target. It is a matter of public entitlement to know, which is perfectly proper.

I agree that the Commission should be prepared to publish that information. It will be cautious about doing so, for the reasons that I have given, but we should consider the possibility further. Subject to any necessary qualifications, extending that information to all EU citizens would be partly a matter of citizens' entitlement and partly a powerful incentive for companies and countries to comply.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I want to refer to the regulatory impact assessment in the pack of data that I received before Christmas, which relates to a couple of points that hon. Members have made.

There is a danger that costs are imposed on business without our fully thinking through measures suggested by the European Union. The deadlines required to be met for whole tyres and shredded tyres have been mentioned. We do not know how those tyres will be disposed of or how much those measures will cost business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has spoken in the House many times about the disposal of fridges, and he will have another opportunity this afternoon to question the Prime Minister on that subject. That provides us with a clear example of a directive that has been implemented without our knowing exactly how it will be dealt with in practice.

Page 9 of the regulatory impact assessment refers to recycling measures, which are

    ''likely to create extra costs for local authorities.''

It adds:

    ''The extension of producer responsibility measures is likely to involve additional costs.''

Will the Minister assure us that the Government will push the EU to ensure that any new directives on recycling are properly costed before they are put in place? Will he also assure us that we will be told what measures will be introduced to eliminate the issue of what will be done with tyres after 2003?

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