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Points Of Order

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.32 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may recall that, on 17 April last year I was fortunate enough to have an Adjournment debate on the finances of the Mersey tunnels. I have in front of me a letter, dated yesterday, to Councillor Ingham, the chair of the Merseyside passenger transport authority, in which, in effect, the Secretary of State has ruled out any solution to the problems of financing the work on the Mersey tunnels. As my hon. Friends and I have raised this issue in the House, is not it wrong that the Secretary of State did not respond to the House but instead wrote a letter which Parliament has no opportunity to scrutinise?

I must tell the hon. Member with deep regret that I do not immediately remember his Adjournment debate last year. I suggest that he tables a question, and perhaps he will get an answer.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether I can ask for your advice before the debate on South Africa begins. I refer you to page 94 of a book called "How to be a Minister" by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in which he said:

"Do not waste your good lines on having"—

Order. It is not a parliamentary book. I shall be very interested to read it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to do so.

If it were possible for me to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches in the coming debate on South Africa, I should do so. Indeed, even if it were possible to impose a five-minute limit on speeches, I do not think that I would be able to call all hon. Members who wish to speak. Points of order will take time out of that debate.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not think that it matters whether it takes up time. The liberties of the House are much more important than any debate.

Yesterday afternoon, we had, to quote you, Mr. Speaker, a particularly disagreeable exchange, in which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made an absolutely discreditable and disgraceful accusation, and he was allowed to get away with it. We had a build-up of pressure—in a pressure-cooker sense—because there was real outrage among my right hon. and hon. Friends about what was said on the Opposition side.

Is not it time for you again to examine the time when hon. Members may raise points of order? The idea that points of order have to wait until after however many statements there may be leads to more trouble, not less. Should not points of order, like any punishment or design, be made immediately after the offence, and not need to wait for hour after hour, as sometimes happens? On a most genuine point of order, Mr. Speaker, will you look at this matter again—that points of order are raised before statements and immediately after Question Time is concluded, because—

Order. I have frequently been asked to look at this matter. The hon. Gentleman will recollect that I have made numerous rulings on it. The proper time to raise proper points of order is immediately after private notice questions or statements. That is exactly what happened yesterday. If a matter needs the immediate attention of the Chair it should be raised as a point of order at the time. As regards yesterday, we cannot go back over that. I did not hear the remark of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).

The hon. Gentleman may have done. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is in Hansard."] Of course it is in Hansard, because it was subsequently referred to, but I did not hear it. However, I have now had an opportunity of not only listening to it on the radio but seeing it on television. The remark appears to have been somewhat magnified on the medium. However, we cannot go back on it now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Well, it was said from a sedentary position. It was not an unparliamentary expression, but it was certainly an offensive comment to make. It may be that we will have an opportunity today to put that right.

Many Opposition Members would want to go along with your ruling about the remark not being unparliamentary. The remark itself was very opportune, and most of us—

No. The hon. Gentleman is always very helpful. Of course he has a lot of experience in dealing with—

It is not a point of order. The hon. Gentleman has simply prefaced it in that way.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), Mr. Speaker. The observation by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not unparliamentary, but she had to withdraw it.

The House should look at what I said in Hansard. I did not hear that remark, either. What I said was that if the Prime Minister had made an unparliamentary allegation, I am sure that she would wish to withdraw it. She did withdraw it. That is exactly what happened.

On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. You referred to restricting speeches to five or 10 minutes. Many Back-Bench Members do not think that the quality of debate would be improved by a restriction of either five or 10 minutes, except perhaps in my own case.

I subscribe to that view. It is a pity that the Chair does occasionally impose limits, because I am a believer in personal restraint. If hon. Members could limit their speeches today to about 10 minutes, we would be much better off.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, you rightly followed precedent by saying that you could not pursue remarks made from a sedentary position that you had not heard. However, you were equally saying yesterday that we should have regard to the fact that the television cameras are now here. This afternoon, you said that, on reflection, having taken advantage of what the cameras picked up and of programmes this morning, you had heard something today that you did not hear yesterday. Is not there a case for you to reconsider precedent and, when you find something to have been offensive, to require it to be withdrawn the following day?

It is not for the Chair to require offensive remarks to be withdrawn. Offensive remarks are, I fear, frequently made in the House. The role of the Chair is to ensure that unparliamentary expressions are not used here. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman concerned to decide what to do in relation to that, and perhaps today we shall hear something from him about it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said some moments ago that it would not be possible to go over an incident that occurred in the House some time ago. Did you mean that? Surely we are constantly going over matters—

It is on a slightly different matter, Mr. Speaker. It is now in the public domain, as we all wearily know, that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), a man who chooses his words carefully, said yesterday that the Prime Minister should have done 27 years—[Interruption.]—inside. For the right hon. Gentleman to have said that—

Order. I am not certain that this is going to add to the quality of our discussions in the House. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order for me?

The point of order for you, Mr. Speaker, is that if the right hon. Member for Gorton has evidence for that remark, perhaps he should bring it before the House. If not, like any other hon. Member, he should do the decent thing and withdraw it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that we might clear the matter up by putting the words used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in the form of a motion? There were so many Tory wets laughing yesterday that we might just carry it.

Bill Presented

Control Of Amusement Arcades

Mr. Kenneth Hind, Supported by Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Den Dover, Mr. Patrick Thompson and Mr. Tim Devlin, presented a Bill to control the licensing of amusement arcades by local authorities; and to restrict entry to amusement arcades to persons over eighteen years of age: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 March and to be printed. [Bill 72.]

Recycling Of Plastics

3.42 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that ownership of plastic wrappings and containers shall remain with the manufacturer or retailer; to require the return of such materials for recycling; to provide for incentives in the form of returnable deposits for consumers and a standard labelling format to ease segregation of materials; to impose controls on the incineration and disposal by other means of certain plastics; and for connected purposes.
The Bill is timely because it arises from a recognition by the plastics industry, heavily represented in my constituency, that there is a waste disposal problem with plastic materials, and because it outlines the path down which the industry may wish to go in future.

I begin by paying tribute to the managers and staff of Visqueen Limited, in my constituency, one of the largest manufacturers of plastic bags and film in this country, who first raised this important subject with me.

World consumption of plastics has risen from 1·5 million tonnes in 1939 to 80 million tonnes last year. In the European Community, plastic makes up 7 per cent. of municipal waste by weight, but 25 per cent. by volume. Its use is to be encouraged because it has the inherent advantages of lightness, economical cost and excellent mechanical properties. It is a particularly important material in the protective wrapping of food, in the distribution trade, in building and in the electrical industries.

However, encouragement means that we must think creatively about the disposal after use or possible reuse of plastics. With that in mind, the industry has already taken positive steps actively to collect post-consumer waste and to introduce in-factory reclamation of waste. All the in-factory waste at Visqueen is reused to make black plastic refuse sacks. The parent company now has two further plants on stream—one to deal with agricultural plastic film and bags at Ardeer in west Scotland and the other to deal with supermarket waste at Heanor in Derbyshire, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim). It is due to be opened by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs next Monday.

Recycling has been slow to be recognised as a major option for waste, but we cannot sustain our present throwaway attitudes indefinitely. If we do not move to tackle the problems of plastic waste, we shall increasingly harm our surrounding environment. There are few alternative options open to us.

Refuse dumped at sea leads to plastic film damaging aquatic life, smothering fish and plant life and wrapping round the propellors of ships. Agricultural film which is ploughed into the ground comes back up, choking animals and ruining the countryside. In cities, plastics make up much of the lightweight litter about which we complain so bitterly.

According to William Rathje, an American garbologist—apparently that is the term for someone who excavates dumps—plastics have not been a major problem in landfills. They are inert and compactable. The largest single item in landfills is paper, with telephone directories the main culprits, but landfills are filling up, and thermosplastic materials—the six main commodities—are made from crude oil, which is not limitless.

We must tackle the problems the right way round. The European Commission intends to legislate on the matter, according to Commissioner Schafter-Sotiropoulou. However, as we have found with paper and glass, encouragement cannot be given to recycling until industry has a demand for the collected materials.

The Bill provides for a marking scheme to ease separation of the six basic materials. It might work in the same way as the Australian green spot system, in which a number or code is put on products to say into which group they fall. I am sure that many consumers who currently collect their bottles and paper, could collect and separate plastics to go in with plastic waste collected from supermarkets.

Consumer goods, from lawn mowers to clothing, begin their useful life only when sold, but packaging has almost completed its useful life by the time that it reaches the consumer. Like all products, packaging uses raw materials and energy, which are both costly to the manufacturer. Therefore, there is an economic incentive to keep the use of those resources to a minimum.

Consideration should be given at the design stage to the impact that the package will have as waste. Features that will aid recycling must be considered. These days, few items need only one layer of protection. Most are packed in primary consumer packaging such as a jar, and grouped together by secondary distribution packaging, such as a cardboard box or shrink-wrapped tray. There can come a point where reducing the use of material in the primary pack is counter-productive, because the secondary pack has to be strengthened and more material used.

Some packaging is so efficient that its secondary packaging gives rise to more waste than the primary packaging. The secondary packaging accumulates at retail outlets and can be more easily collected for recycling.

Biodegradability is some times held up as an option, but it is not. First, none of the so-called biodegradable plastics are truly biodegradable. Secondly, the research into biodegradability is far from complete. Thirdly, waste in landfill is so compact that it may take centuries to rot.

If anyone wants a mint condition 1952 newspaper or telephone directory, our American garbologist advises digging down through 38 layers of any tip. With further development of recycling technology, I hope that it will be possible—[Interruption.]

Order. This is a very important Bill. Would hon. Members mind having their conversations outside the Chamber?

With further developments in recycling technology, I hope that it will be possible to reopen landfill sites by the end of the century and to recycle the plastic materials in them.

Plastic materials are one of our best options for the future if they are constantly reusable. We can start by recycling waste from large users, such as distribution, supermarkets, the building trades and agriculture. Deposits would work for large users, but they have been found to be ineffective for household goods. Proper labelling is also vital.

In my part of the world, we want to stop the dumping of rubbish in our North sea. We have run out of landfill space in our county and are looking for more. Our people do not want to incinerate any more than we have to, even if plastic burns well with other materials.

Recycling represents a crucial fourth option. With this Bill, I ask the House to seize the opportunity with both hands.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tim Devlin, Mr. Phillip Oppenheim, Dr. Michael Clark, Mr. David Tredinnick, Mr. Stephen Day, Mr. Toby Jessel, Mr. Anthony Coombs, Mr. Hugo Summerson, Mr. Gerald Bowden, Mr. Robert G. Hughes, Mr. Spencer Batiste and Mr. Kenneth Hind.

Recycling Of Plastics

Mr. Tim Devlin accordingly presented a Bill to provide that ownership of plastic wrappings and containers shall remain with the manufacturer or retailer; to require the return of such materials for recycling; to provide for incentives in the form of returnable deposits for consumers and a standard labelling format to ease segregation of materials; to impose controls on the incineration and disposal by other means of certain plastics; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 23 February and to be printed. [Bill 73.]