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Newspaper And Magazine Recycling

Volume 348: debated on Wednesday 12 April 2000

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

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[ Mr. Jamieson.]

9.30 am

The Government will soon publish their waste strategy after much consultation in recent months and, indeed, since the general election. Hon. Members will be aware that the strategy contains seven broad principles, including a greater emphasis on recycling and energy recovery, increased public involvement in the re-use and recycling of household waste, the need for challenging but realistic targets, a strong emphasis on waste minimisation, and a need to change the perception of the waste hierarchy. The final two principles are the more creative use of economic incentives, with which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will deal, and increased public involvement in the decision-making process. I hope that the targets that will be set for recycling a range of materials will ultimately ensure that our nation becomes one of the best in Europe in that respect.

The Government strategy will include targets for increasing the recycled content of newspapers and magazines. Today's debate is, therefore, opportune. It is opportune for many of us, as politicians, because no group of people in this country is guiltier of producing reams and reams of printed material and because of references to our various doings in the newspapers. In a sense, therefore, we are culpable for some of the problems with which society is trying to grapple.

One of my earliest recollections is of my first proper job as a newspaper boy back in the 1960s. I recall the huge number of newspapers that were delivered in the area for which I was responsible. Nowadays, households probably buy fewer newspapers, but they are much bulkier and there are far more free sheets. The volume and weight of newspapers that drop through the letterboxes of North-West Leicestershire in the early years of this century are probably two to three times greater than when I was a paid employee 40 years ago.

I am sorry that the several key discussions that have taken place about the recycled content of newsprint have been in camera. I will not say that they were in smoke-filled rooms, because I know of the millennium resolution of my hon. Friend the Minister. However, I will press him to throw open the doors to let in some light and air. Are we not now in the brave new world of a nation on the brink of having freedom of information legislation? Let my hon. Friend's actions be the first sign of that advance.

The Government and the Newspaper Publishers Association are discussing appropriate targets for the amount of recycled paper in newspapers. However, I regret to say that those discussions hardly include all the bodies with an interest in such matters. The 300 or so hon. Members who signed early-day motion 17 in support of mandatory newspaper and magazine recycling targets were contacted by the NPA and asked to consider taking their names off the early-day motion—indeed, one or two of them did. However, when other hon. Members asked the NPA for more information, including a copy of the report that was submitted to the Government in June 1999 on targets for recycled content, their requests were declined. I hope to hear from the Minister that discussions will now broaden and that the June 1999 report can, and will, be made public.

The Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill is progressing through the House and is likely soon to be in Committee, which will provide another forum for debate. That Bill stipulates targets for recycled newsprint and for collecting and recycling newspapers and magazines, and it would require newspaper and magazine publishers to meet mandatory targets to collect and recycle 65 per cent. of the volume of paper that they put into the market by 2016. Publishers would have to ensure that the recycled content of newsprint increased to 80 per cent. by 2010 and meet two interim targets within that period. I commend that Bill and those targets.

What is the desirability and achievability of strong targets from the perspective of producer responsibility? The Government are right to support producer responsibility. Making producers responsible for their products from cradle to grave, or in this case printing hall to church hall, ensures that they are made more aware of the need to make goods more durable, repairable and easily recyclable. That also ensures that local authority funding for recycling comes from the product manufacturers, who produce the first form of what is ultimately waste.

Such requirements also comply with the polluter pays principle, which the Government and the two main Opposition parties support. A Conservative Government first introduced producer responsibility legislation with the packaging regulations, on which they deserve warm congratulations. Those regulations provide that 26 per cent. of packaging should be recycled by, I believe, the end of next year. Increasingly, that target means that packaging companies and retailers need to help, support and invest in local authority recycling schemes. The regulations also give an incentive to packaging designers to plan for recycling and to minimise the amount of packaging.

Those regulations implement a European directive that is likely to be reviewed soon, when its recycling targets may be set higher, which is a most welcome development. I am afraid to say that the United Kingdom has an abysmal record of recycling packaging and is far behind its European neighbours. For example, Sweden recycles 84 per cent. of its glass and Germany recycles 81 per cent., but the United Kingdom recycles only 24 per cent. Switzerland recycles 89 per cent. of its aluminium cans and Finland recycles 84 per cent., but we recycle only 38 per cent. The picture is the same for steel cans.

Those figures are not due to the fact that people in other countries care more about the environment than the British people do. We are as green minded as anyone. They are due to the fact that those countries have invested in recycling schemes. The Government backed a recent European initiative to ensure that car producers pay for car recycling, and they continue to tackle the excessive prices charged to consumers in this country. Therefore, the Government are making cars greener and ensuring that consumers are not ripped off by retailers who think that they are too green in the other sense of the word.

Mandatory targets for newspaper and magazine recycling aim to make producers, newspapers and magazines responsible for sharing the cost of increasing the amount of recycling. Targets would also help the United Kingdom to meet its obligations to divert waste from landfill under the landfill directive. They would introduce producer responsibility and help to make the polluter pay, thereby reducing the burden on local authorities and council tax payers.

My constituency is a former mining area, containing wasteland and voids that are attractive to landfill operators. I represent 85,000 people in North-West Leicestershire and I know how vulnerable we are to the requirements of the waste disposal industry. The impact on our environment and the local economy, and the social impact of excessive landfill can be very damaging, so mandatory targets are important. It is particularly important that all newspapers and magazines share such a responsibility, so that no section of the industry is given advantages. We could introduce regulations that set thresholds, so that smaller publishers are protected from excessive costs, as happened with the packaging regulations introduced by the previous Administration.

A producer responsibility for newspaper and magazine publishers to collect and recycle 65 per cent. by 2016 seems reasonable. In fact, that target is precisely in line with the landfill directive that requires the UK to reduce household biodegradable waste, such as paper, going to landfill by 65 per cent. by 2016. Sixty-five per cent. sounds ambitious and it is a laudable target, but it still leaves us far behind our European neighbours. A recent report from the European Commission said that
Recovery rates reach 80 per cent. and even more in Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, but collections in Southern Europe and the UK still clearly lag behind.
That is a source of much regret and an area in which Government action can make a difference. However, 65 per cent. would be a start. I am interested to hear from hon. Members whether they believe that higher targets would be better and achievable. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm the Government's position on producer responsibility? Do they think that it is appropriate for newspapers and magazines to be brought under the concept, together with the packaging industry?

What about the targets for the recycled content of newsprint? The regulatory impact assessment for the Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill stated that the newspaper industry is confident that it can reach the target of 65 per cent. recycled paper by 2003. I am encouraged to hear that Ian Broxup, who is the finance director for Aylesford Newsprint—the largest paper reprocessor in the United Kingdom—and a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw), recently told the publication Materials Recycling Week that a recycled content target of 80 per cent. by 2010
looks ambitious but might be achievable.
At present, the Aylesford Newsprint mill in Kent is producing 100 per cent. recycled content newsprint, which performs as well as, if not better than, virgin newsprint. The company can do that because about 30 per cent. of its feedstock is magazines, which have a high virgin fibre content. The suggested targets for collection and recycling include magazines as well as newspapers, so the continuing production of 100 per cent. recycled newsprint is rendered possible.

Mandatory recycling would put newspaper and magazine recyling on a stronger footing, guarantee that the necessary investment was made and therefore bring about employment, economic and environmental benefits from improved resource use.

I am interested to hear about what goes on in Aylesford. On a related subject, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the good environmental practice of recycling paper in Aylesford will be fully subject to the energy tax announced in the Budget?

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford may wish to comment on that matter. I cannot do so at this stage.

Aylesford Newsprint has a combined heat and power plant and will therefore be exempt.

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. Does my hon. Friend the Minister support targets, either in principle or those in the Bill? I believe that he should. Knowing his environmental credentials, I believe that he will fight for them.

The logging of ancient forests is a matter of concern to many environmentalists. The benefits of boosting newspaper and magazine recyling through challenging targets are manifold. Forests and biodiversity would be the first to benefit. The paper industry claims that newsprint comes solely from sustainably managed forests, but I regret that that is not always the case.

The United Kingdom produces 2.35 million tonnes of newsprint per year, which is predicted to increase by at least 1 per cent. per annum. About 60 per cent. of newsprint is imported—it is mainly manufactured from virgin fibre. Imported newsprint comes mainly from Scandinavia and Canada, with a small amount coming from central and southern Europe.

According to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, about 1,700 forest species are threatened or even face extinction due to the methods used by the Swedish forest industry. Swedish parliamentary auditors noted that old growth forests, containing threatened species, continue to be logged and stated that there are insufficient resources for forest protection. Species under threat from logging practices in Sweden include the brown bear, the Ural owl, the capercaillie and the golden eagle.

The situation is similar in Finland. Although two thirds of that country is covered in forest, only 5 per cent. of that is old growth or ancient forest, most of which is in the northern provinces of Oulu and Lapland and the eastern province of North Karelia. However, the remaining 5 per cent. continues to be logged. Species at risk there include the flying squirrel and magnificent birds such as the golden eagle. That situation is mirrored in Norway, where an ever-diminishing proportion of ancient forest remains. Its coastal rain forest is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world.

In Canada, the natural environment is being damaged at an ever-accelerated rate. According to Environment Canada, about 90 per cent. of all logging takes place in previously unlogged primary forest areas. Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec and British Columbia all tell the same tale. New Brunswick, more than any other province, has brought its forest into full industrial production. The cougar and wolf have all but disappeared. The Canadian lynx is on the provincial endangered list, woodland caribou have been exterminated, and the pine marten and the fisher are in decline.

Sometimes, people ask, "Does logging really relate to us?" Interestingly, wood from old growth forests logged in Finland is bought by companies such as UPA-Kymmene, the owner of the Shotton newspaper production plant in Flintshire, Wales. In Norway, the major forest products company is Norske Skog, which produces newsprint for the UK market and has been known to supply The Sun, The Mirror, The Express, The Times, The Guardian and The Observer.

In Canada, Abitibi Price, the owners of Bridgewater newsprint mill in the UK, have considered clear cutting the fragile forests in remote northern Labrador, threatening the livelihood of the Innuit people. Ancient forests are logged—logged for us—and some end up, absurdly and tragically, as part of wholly disposable newspapers and magazines. One of the answers has to be increased recycling, which would reduce the devastating effect on our environment for many generations to come.

In her book, "At the Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada's Forests", Elizabeth May states:
One encouraging sign that could lead to reduced pressure on the forests is the move to recycle paper. Driven by consumer demands, primarily from US customers, a number of Quebec mills are installing de-inking facilities in order to process newspapers into paper.
So it is not all doom and gloom; some progress is being made. There are some hopeful signs in Canada and Scandinavia.

Recycling waste paper also leads to fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the alternatives of landfill and incineration, so it helps to combat dangerous climate change. Only last month, the British Newsprint Manufacturers Association said that recycling old newspapers is cheaper and environmentally preferable to incineration, helps to displace newsprint imports and generates more jobs. Expanded newspaper recycling would indeed bring about benefits for jobs and for the wider economy. According to a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth, the targets in the Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill would lead to expansion of the UK paper industry, creating about 2,000 new jobs by 2010 and would reduce our import bill by about £175 million by the same date.

At present, local authorities' recycling targets and achievements are too low. More than 10 years ago, in one of their periodic fits of environmental awareness, the previous Government set a recycling target of a quarter of our rubbish by 2000. However, the average figure for local authorities is 8.9 per cent. North West Leicestershire, my local authority, recycles just 6.7 per cent of its waste. The Minister's borough—the fair borough of Lambeth over the water—recycles only 7.7 per cent. Much more needs to be done at local authority level.

The idea of newspaper and magazine recycling is strongly supported by all readers. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Dr. Naysmith) received more than 700 letters from individuals and organisations in a matter of weeks persuading him to adopt newspaper and magazine recycling as his ballot Bill at the end of last year. Pressure groups can encourage people to write, but people respond in such substantial numbers only on issues that are close to their hearts.

The mandatory targets for newspaper and magazine recycling are well supported in the House. I referred earlier to the fact that almost 300 hon. Members signed early-day motion 17 in support of stronger targets. The list of supporters grows daily. It already includes well over 60 local authorities and industry bodies such as the Independent Waste Paper Processors Association, Waste Watch, the Community Recycling Network and Friends of the Earth.

I hope that I have given an idea of the importance of this issue. It is important socially, environmentally and economically. I have four questions for the Minister. First, do the Government believe that mandatory targets are important for the recycled content of newsprint and, if so, at what level? Secondly, will they introduce producer responsibility in the newspaper and magazine industry? Thirdly, will they ensure that targets are reviewed periodically and that new and more challenging targets are set when earlier ones have been complied with? Finally, when will the Government open out the discussion with the NPA and make available a copy of the NPA's report to the Government of June 1999?

In his acceptance speech for his second, richly deserved Green Ribbon award earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment said that one of his future aims was for
there to be a revolution in the way we handle waste.
Strong targets for newspaper and magazine recycling will herald the start of that revolution. I hope that today's debate will be seen as a key stage in its achievement.

9.53 am

May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing an extremely important debate? As he pointed out, any debate about the paper and newsprint industry is listened to with great interest in my constituency. There are mills employing 1,000 people in the Aylesford and Snodland area of my constituency, producing 1.4 million tonnes of paper and board every year.

Among the four producers in my constituency is Aylesford Print. It boasts one of the most modern plants in Europe, reprocessing some 450,000 tonnes of 100 per cent.—and that is the best—recycled newspaper every year. That is just under half the total United Kingdom production. The UK consumes about 2.5 million tonnes of newsprint every year; it has recently overtaken Germany as the largest European market. Our growing economy is a testimony to its management. Despite there being a wider choice of available media—the internet and more television channels, for example—people remain wedded to buying newspapers and magazines.

I, too, was a newspaper boy; it was one of my first jobs. Some things do not change: my local party asked me to deliver leaflets every month, and that is still part of my job description.

I support the highly desirable aims that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire researched and articulated so well. As Mr. Broxup from Aylesford Newsprint said, those aims are tough, but they can be achieved. However, my hon. Friend did not mention capacity, or say how the 80 per cent. target can be achieved. In considering a sustainable development policy, we must also take account of the social and economic aspects of achieving that 80 per cent. target. Without increased United Kingdom capacity, the only way that we will achieve that tough target will be by importing recycled paper. As my hon. Friend said, most of the newsprint imported to this country is virgin fibre, so the life cycle of the paper is as long as it could possibly be.

Does my hon. Friend accept that about 40 per cent. of the nation's paper requirements are already imported?

Yes, they are. The reason why so much is imported is that the three mills that produce newspaper in this country are full to capacity; they cannot produce more. I shall expand on that issue later in my speech. Aylesford Newsprint's company secretary, Mr. Donald Charlesworth, told me the other day that his order book was full. He could fill another one tomorrow, but the United Kingdom does not have the mills necessary to produce the paper, and until we produce more we will have to import.

If the newspaper industry has to meet the requirement, it will mean more degraded paper imports, which have a damaging effect on the three mills, one of which is in my constituency. The life cycle of degraded paper is shorter and therefore has to go to landfill or incineration far sooner. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire spoke about local people being involved in decisions; if his constituency is anything like mine, incineration is not top of the pops—there is no campaign for an incinerator in my constituency. I regret that we are likely to have one and I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment did not agree to a public inquiry.

The United Kingdom domestic share of the newspaper sector has risen from 6 per cent. in 1982 to 34 per cent., thanks to a massive £2 billion investment. The industry is playing its part. A new machine to reprocess 350,000 tonnes of newsprint costs £300 million. My hon. Friend rightly referred to the number of jobs that will be created. Every 1,000 tonnes of paper recycled creates approximately 12 jobs somewhere down the line, according to the Paper Federation's research. All the mills are now operating at full capacity.

There is only so much room within the European newspaper market. Mills similar to Aylesford have opened in France. We must grasp the opportunity, because the market is shrinking. We can process only what is available. We import majority amounts of newsprint, so why is the climate in the United Kingdom not right, given that we use more newsprint than any other European country? Companies are not investing £300 million in a new mill because we are caught in a vicious circle. For that range of investment, companies require the stream of raw material to be available on day one. They could not operate for a year, a month, a week or even a day unless the raw material was available when they needed it, because losses on their huge investment would be too great.

There has not been a new machine since 1995.

Does my hon. Friend accept that if the newspaper and magazine publishing industry was set challenging targets, as proposed in draft legislation—I commented earlier that this might be desirable—a sufficient, continuous and expanded stream of newsprint for recycling would be produced relatively early on and would justify the high costs of investment?

There certainly does not appear to be support for that from the industry. If so much paper is now available, why are not companies using it? My hon. Friend remarked that many of our European partner countries' recycling rates were considerably higher than ours. The reason is that their collection is better than ours.

All local authorities are under considerable pressures to provide services in education, social services, highways and so on. Recycling is not always at the top of their list. My hon. Friend referred to his local authority and to that of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—Lambeth—where recycling services have a low priority. The reason is cost. Local authorities that wish to invest in a recycling scheme—paper is the largest single commodity to be recycled—have to secure long-term contracts to collect the paper. The paper has to be taken somewhere. All the mills operate at full capacity. If local authorities cannot get contracts because all the mills are full, nothing happens. The cycle is complete. Some local authorities have stopped collecting waste paper, because they cannot secure long-term contracts to make the operation viable.

The problem is one of capacity. Companies will not invest unless there is a stream of waste and local authorities will not invest unless there are contracts. That is the conundrum. There has been no investment since 1995 and the Government must consider the options. The quickest and simplest is to invest to provide assistance to companies to cover the crucial risk period while local authorities collect and provide raw materials to mills before they become fully operational.

The investment would not be huge, but recycling would increase almost overnight. We could then move towards the desirable but tough targets to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire referred. Without investment, the proposition will fall. We need capacity, capacity, capacity, with investment and assistance for companies to produce new mills. We would then achieve the desirable targets for recycling that we all want.

10.6 am

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing this debate and setting out the impact of our paper-consuming habits here on flora and fauna abroad. It seems that the production of Hansard and Order Papers in the House is leading indirectly to the extinction of the brown bear in Sweden and we should be greatly concerned about that.

I welcome the opportunity to probe the Minister on some key environmental matters this morning. Instead of bemoaning the achievement of local authorities, I congratulate my own authority, the London borough of Sutton, which recycles more than the Government's target of 25 per cent.—and the amount is rising. I support that policy as and when I can.

I want to examine why the Government are taking so long to respond to demands for tough targets for the recycled content of newspapers and recovery of newspapers and magazines. Why are they so reluctant to make public the details of the International Institute for Environment and Development report. If, as has been been suggested in answers to parliamentary questions, it is not theirs to release, why will not the Newspaper Publishers Association release it? What is in the report that must be kept secret, and why have Members of Parliament been provided with only an interim copy of it?

Perhaps the Government do not intend to release the report until they have launched their strategy on waste and perhaps there are stringent targets in the strategy that will satisfy hon. Members in the Chamber this morning. I hope that that is so and that the concerns of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) will also be addressed in the document.

Perhaps the Government are embarrassed by their performance on paper recycling. The attitude to recycling in the House seems not to be advanced. An answer to a parliamentary question to the Treasury on its paper recycling scheme suggested that it peaked in 1994–95 and then fell. That coincided with the time when prices for recycled paper were very high. However, the most worrying aspect of that answer was that the Treasury was not aware of the proportion of total waste being recycled. The economy is reasonably strong and there is a great deal of activity, so the proportion of total waste that has been recycled has probably fallen in the past two years. The Government must respond to that.

The worst case scenario—I say this only half in jest—is that the Government are back-pedalling on recycled newsprint content because they are about to announce a major expansion of the waste incineration programme. I hope that that is not the case. The Government made a surprising, possibly almost accidental, commitment in the Utilities Bill to generate 10 per cent. of energy from renewable sources by 2010, which is extremely welcome. The only problem with that is that there is nothing in the pipeline to help the Government to deliver the target. There is enormous potential in solar and wind power, but no investment is going into those.

The only quick fix that would enable the Government to deliver on the 10 per cent. renewables target is to use energy from waste as a renewable energy. That would be regrettable because the international definition of renewable waste does not allow the use of energy from waste or incineration, as matter is being burnt that cannot be renewed. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will confirm in his reply that there are no Government plans to rely more heavily on incineration either to get rid of the waste that is being generated or to help to deliver the renewable energy target.

I share the hon. Gentleman's nervousness about and distaste for a substantial expansion of incineration and I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in limited circumstances, incineration can be a marginally better means of waste disposal than landfill?

I agree that there are circumstances in which incineration is probably a better option than landfill, but a better option than either is to minimise, reduce, re-use and recycle.

The secrecy that the Government and the NPA have adopted over the report is matched by some of the newspapers. The Guardian, for instance, which has prominently featured a campaign on waste in the past week, is part of the NPA but is not willing to divulge the information in the report. I wonder why other organisations have not been allowed to participate.

The targets set out in the Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill are that, by 2016, 65 per cent. of newspapers and magazines should be collected and recycled and, by 2010, 80 per cent. of newspapers should be recycled content. The first of those targets is not negotiable, because under European Union law there will be a requirement to reduce household waste by 65 per cent. by 2016, which will include newspapers and magazines. One could argue that the figure should be even higher, because newspapers and magazines are clean and easy to recycle and are user-friendly recyclable materials in a way that other household waste may not be.

If the percentage of recycled material is increased above 65 per cent., is there not a danger that the newspaper will simply fall apart?

I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making but, as other hon. Members have said, other countries already achieve 80 per cent. One of the countries quoted was Sweden. Local authorities in rural areas in this country often cite the fact that their area is rural as a justification for their poor recycling rate. One cannot think of a more rural country than Sweden, which is already achieving very high recycling rates. Authorities that use that excuse for achieving the 6, 7 or 8 per cent. rates quoted earlier must think of a better one.

The figure of 65 per cent. is achievable. It is already being achieved in other countries. The target of 80 per cent. of recycled content for newspapers by 2010 might be harder to achieve, as the present figure is 52.4 per cent., according to a response to an earlier parliamentary question. However, if we set an artificially low target, one can guarantee that no one will endeavour to better it. Setting the target at 80 per cent. and establishing interim steps towards that target is reasonable. If the Government and the NPA believe that it is not, we would like to hear the reasons why.

The preference of Governments and all political parties is to enter into voluntary arrangements, perhaps binding ones, between the industry, the Government and other organisations. That must be the preferred solution. However, no progress appears to have been made on this matter since June—or if it has, hon. Members are unaware of it because we have been unable to obtain any information about it. The time for discussions is over. Either the Government and the NPA must formulate a tough, binding agreement with rising targets, or the Government must legislate.

10.17 am

I want to speak briefly to my Bill, the Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill, which astonished me by getting an unopposed Second Reading a fortnight ago, even though the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) shouted "Object." The procedures of this place still mystify me.

I am gratified that the Bill is to be considered in Standing Committee and I hope that in due course it will become the law of the land. It is an important Bill. We consume an immense amount of paper here. It is not only Hansard that is a problem; I discovered yesterday that, over the millennium, the equivalent of 19,000 square miles of wrapping paper was used in the United Kingdom. That is unbelievable.

No, that figure includes Scotland. It is enough to cover Greater London, the entire landmass between Bedfordshire and the Sussex coast and on down to Cornwall—and that is just wrapping paper. If one added the amount of newspaper and card used, we would be engulfed. It is almost impossible to imagine the sheer bulk of those materials: 85 per cent. of all municipal waste goes into landfill sites and 30 per cent. of that waste is paper and card. We must do something about that.

That figure is correct: 85 per cent. of waste goes to landfill. However, does my hon. Friend accept that the landfill sites required are disproportionately scattered throughout the United Kingdom? Some constituencies experience major adverse environmental impacts through the failure of industry, especially the newspaper industry, to recycle appropriately.

Who would disagree with that? We cannot just keep digging holes in the ground and piling our rubbish into them. We have to consider the issue more intelligently, and that means recycling. It is perfectly possible to recycle, as the necessary technology exists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) said, the capacity of mills is a problem, as they are running at full capacity. It is a chicken-and-egg state of affairs. How does one get local authorities to collect more newsprint for recycling if there is not the capacity to turn it into useful new products? We can break that cycle by legislating so as to change people's behaviour. That is why the Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill is so important.

If my hon. Friend's Bill becomes law, newspaper companies will import, which will have a detrimental effect on operations and jobs in the United Kingdom. His proposal is not in line with a sustainable development agenda.

I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says in response to that. It is no part of my master plan that jobs should be lost in my hon. Friend's constituency. One reason why I proposed the Bill is that it will create additional jobs in the recycling industry, which will have huge economic benefits. For example, many people will be needed by local authorities to collect waste paper, and many more will be needed to manufacture the new products.

Friends of the Earth has calculated that a 65 per cent. recycled content by 2003 would create 5,880 new jobs and reduce the UK's import bill by £106 million; 70 per cent. recycled content by 2006 would create 7,080 new jobs; and, 80 per cent. recycled content would create 9,720 new jobs.

Where will the local authorities that collect newsprint take the raw material if there are not enough mills?

I know that it is an important constituency matter. However, I cannot speak on behalf of the Government. My hon. Friend the Minister is paid to resolve such conundrums; I am not. I merely paint the broad canvas, while he is responsible for the details.

I have a couple more points to make. We have heard about the damaging effect on ecosystems of unrestrained logging. In Norway, Finland and Sweden the amount of remaining primary forest is tiny—5, 6 or 7 per cent. Managed forests are supposedly sustainable and, on their own terms, they are. However, there has been a huge impact on wildlife: many such forests are wildlife deserts. That is another reason why, if we care about the planet and are concerned about conserving rare species, we must progress to recycling.

So, Mr. Cook, I shall leave it there—

Order. I am sure that all hon. Members recall that in Westminster Hall the Chair must be addressed as Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is not a Committee.

Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is the first time that I have spoken in Westminster Hall and I am not familiar with its procedures. I shall not make the same mistake again.

In a couple of weeks, we will hear the Government's definitive view on the matter when the Minister responds to matters raised in Standing Committee—

Does my hon. Friend share my hope that, in reacting to comments made so far, the Minister will say whether the Government have produced an economic model that illustrates the undeniable link between the setting of ambitious targets and the requirement for the NPA and others to work with local authorities to produce the financial resources necessary to deliver the investment that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) believes is lacking in the industry?

I am sure that the Government will take all these matters into account when I receive a response to my Bill in a fortnight. I hope that we shall soon have sight of the Government's waste strategy. We have a waited a long time for that and I am sure that it will not be delayed much longer.

10.26 am

This has been an interesting debate. It is a shame that more hon. Members were not here to discuss what is a very important subject and I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on raising it today. As a former paper boy—that was many moons ago—perhaps I, too, should declare an interest. In the intervening years, the amount of papers delivered to one's door has grown enormously. On receiving my papers on a Sunday morning, I typically spend the first five or 10 minutes extracting the rubbish—

I was referring to rubbish in newspapers that one is obliged to read to discover what the Government are doing, such as The Observer and the Sunday People. I was referring to the dross that one encounters before getting down to the good meat in The Sunday Telegraph.

I further congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire on his extensive knowledge of wildlife. Given his comments, one would think that the whole of Canada is denuded of wildlife, but I am sure that that is not the case. I hope that the habitat of the flying squirrel, to which he referred, is not so denuded that they try to fly as far as these shores. I am having quite enough problems with land-based squirrels in my back garden and I do not want to have to cope with flying ones as well.

The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) and I are members of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, so this important subject is close to our hearts. That Committee debates the sort of problems that have been discussed today. Those problems are also urgent. As the municipal waste survey for England and Wales shows, about 22 million of the 26 million tonnes of municipal waste are disposed of through landfill. That figure is neither acceptable nor sustainable. Between 100 million and 130 million tonnes of waste per annum are produced by households, commerce and industry. In some sectors, that figure is increasing by 3 per cent. per annum, despite hon. Members'efforts to limit waste and encourage recycling.

Targets set in EU directives aim for the recycling of some 35 per cent. of household waste by 2020. If we are to achieve those and match the standards that have already been set in many continental countries, much work remains to be done.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire for mentioning the good work that was begun under the previous Government, although his reference to periodic fits of environmental concern was slightly uncharitable. Our last Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), was one of the most environmentally friendly Secretaries of State, with a great reputation among environmental groups. Not all hon. Members give him credit for that.

I certainly exempt the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal from that broad-brush criticism. It is a pity that his predecessors in the post did not share his interests and priorities.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be greatly relieved at that. He was the longest-serving Secretary of State for the Environment in the past century, which says something about the emphasis that the Conservative Government put on environmental matters.

Despite the tough targets that were set by the previous Government—and carried through to the current Government—and despite the progress that has been made, there are still enormous divergences in the records of local authorities throughout the country. The average figure for the recycling of household waste is still low—about 7 per cent. It is, however, worth noting that the records of certain local authorities are much better than those of others. Of the six local authorities that recycle more than 30 per cent. of their waste, no fewer than five are Conservative run—Chichester, Chiltern, Christchurch, Purbeck and South Bucks. Of the 15 authorities that recycle more than 25 per cent. of their waste, eight are Conservative-controlled authorities, namely—in addition to those that I have already mentioned—East Dorset, New Forest and North Dorset. Of the 26 authorities that recycle more than 20 per cent. of their waste, 13—half of them—are Conservative controlled, adding to our list Mid Sussex, St. Edmundsbury, Surrey Heath, Test Valley and Wycombe. Coming just below those authorities are many other Conservative-controlled authorities, not least Worthing, my local authority, which heads that list. That tells us about the priorities of Conservative-controlled authorities and about their effectiveness in not just talking green, but acting green.

I congratulate the authorities on that list, but is their ability to recycle relatively high levels of material not a reflection of the fact that many Labour-controlled authorities suffered capping regimes that prevented them from investing in the services or facilities that they would like to have had? The capping was less damaging and less prevalent in the case of Conservative-run authorities.

That is not true. Many Conservative-run authorities—I am thinking now of Wandsworth during the 1980s—found ways of making money out of recycling. At a time when raw material prices were rather higher, Wandsworth council made a substantial profit from glass recycling and directed it towards other areas of expenditure.

Another point to remember is that the vast majority of the authorities that I mentioned are in rural areas. We are told that recycling in rural areas is less economical because of the large collection areas. The Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), also referred to that claim. We can give the lie to it. The records of the authorities covered by the constituencies of members of the Cabinet leave much to be desired. In Kingston upon Hull, which includes the constituency of the Deputy Prime Minister, the local authority recycles just 7.4 per cent. of its rubbish. In Oldham, which includes the constituency of the Minister for the Environment, the local authority recycles just 2.9 per cent. The worst record for a local authority that includes the constituency of a Cabinet member is to be found in Sedgefield, the Prime Minister's constituency, which recycles only 1.4 per cent. of its rubbish. Best practice should start at home and Cabinet members should set an example. Only two local authorities covering Cabinet members'constituencies reach double figures for recycling. That is a pitiable example.

We have heard much about the consultation document, "A Way with Waste", which was issued in June 1999—a long time ago. A figure of 45 per cent. for the recovery of municipal waste—30 per cent. for household waste—by 2000 was identified then. I would be grateful if the Minister could update hon. Members on when we can expect to see the Government's response to that consultation. It has been expected for some weeks. Perhaps he could also tell us the reasons for the delay. The Conservative party has fears about the place in the hierarchy of waste disposal that is to be occupied by incineration—we favour other methods. We recognise that incineration has a role to play and that landfill should be very low down in the waste disposal hierarchy.

Incinerators are, of course, covered by the euphemism "waste to energy" in the consultation document, but they are still incinerators and they still have all the problems that are connected with incineration. The proposals to build 130 new incinerators by 2015, while recycling only 15 per cent. of our waste during that time, strikes the wrong balance. I would be grateful to hear the Minister's comments on incinerators.

There are problems with incinerators. For example, their existence does not encourage an increase in recycling because they are a soft option and they require a constant minimum flow of raw material to fuel them; otherwise, the fires go out. A problem that I have faced in my constituency is the location of incinerators near densely populated areas. Brighton and Hove, the local authority that borders my constituency, has been threatening to park an incinerator on the doorstep of my constituency, regardless of the consequences to my constituents. That authority has also refused to include my constituents in a consultation exercise—that is not acceptable. It has been said that that incinerator should bring in waste by sea from the continent to provide it with the raw materials that it requires for fuel—that is not acceptable.

We must find means to deal with our waste as locally as possible. If an authority such as Brighton and Hove borough council wants to be grown-up enough to be accorded the status of city, it should be responsible enough to know what to do with its rubbish, rather than dumping it on neighbouring authorities, as it has done for too many years. That authority recycles only 8 per cent. of its rubbish and charges for supplying recycling collection boxes.

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's call for greater openness and more detailed consultation with communities. Would he extend that principle to encouraging the NPA—to which I referred earlier—to publish the submission that it made to the Government in June 1999? That is a crucial document.

I am in favour of greater openness because it allays people's fears about such things as incinerators. I will later touch briefly on the Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill.

I wanted to mention the landfill tax, which was a Conservative achievement. It has, however, been rather diluted by the Government. Under the Conservative landfill tax, the vast majority of the revenue that was raised was recycled back to local environmentally friendly community projects. We now have an accelerated landfill tax that will go up to £11 per tonne in the present financial year. None of the extra revenue that is being raised by the Government is being recycled for local environmental projects—it all goes to the Inland Revenue. That is another example of the way in which the Government use green taxes as an excuse to raise revenue without recycling any of the money to good causes. We should use landfill tax revenue to encourage increased recycling and re-use and to encourage education that will result in the use of less packaging, increased use of biodegradable packaging technology and sustainable sources of raw materials.

The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford referred to my query on the energy tax for the recycling plant in his constituency. It is interesting that that plant will pay lower energy taxes by virtue of the fact that it is a combined heat and power plant, not because it is an environmentally friendly business. We should promote such environmental good, but the Government seem in that regard to have set the wrong priorities in the Budget. I wonder whether "capacity, capacity, capacity" will be the Labour party's new war cry at the next election.

There is a problem with the economics of the whole recycling project at the moment, due to the fall in raw material prices. We must find new uses for recycled goods. West Sussex authority is pioneering the recycling of plastic bottles into highly usable traffic signs, at a fraction of the cost of the aluminium versions. They are perfectly sturdy and tend not to get pinched. It is an innovatory project.

We should find uses closer to home. It is crazy that recycled goods in my constituency have to go to Wales or south Yorkshire to be reprocessed, which uses enormous amounts of fuel and the lorries add to road congestion. We must find sustainable alternatives within communities closer to home. We should use paper as a fuel substitute in domestic environments too.

On the Recycled Content of Newsprint Bill, proposed by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), it is probably due to the cock-up theory that it has passed through to Standing Committee. I wish him well with the Committee's deliberations. At first glance, the Bill appears to be a well-meaning attempt to spur the newspaper industry on to greater efforts in recycling. However, the newspaper recycling working group report, which has been supplied to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, shows that there are limits to the level of recycling that can be achieved with the current UK capacity. It also demonstrates that the industry has a firm and practical voluntary commitment to achieving the highest percentage as possible within that capacity.

In 1991, the recycled content of newspapers stood at 28 per cent. That content had risen to more than 52 per cent. on the basis of voluntary measures. We use all the UK-produced recycled newsprint available to us. If more were available we would use it, but we cannot use what does not exist?

May I finish?

The aggregates tax in the Budget is another problem. The Government do not seem to realise that aggregates are a finite commodity for recycling. Aggregates can be recycled only if buildings are knocked down. Unless the Government are recommending a mass knocking-down programme, they will not secure the amount of aggregates that they require.

To conclude, many questions have been posed and responding to them may take the Minister above his pay scale, in terms of what he is paid to do. Nevertheless, the Government must do more through their "Are you doing your bit?" campaign. They must work more closely with local authorities to develop innovative approaches, and with industry to encourage a more environmentally sustainable ethos in technologies. For all the talk in the Budget about research and development tax credits and help for industry, none is linked to green credentials in green technology for businesses. The Government claim that they are putting the environment at the heart of taxation, but they have woefully failed in that respect.

As Friends of the Earth said, if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor do not do more, the Government's new way strategy will be rubbished. We need targets for recycling that are comparable to best practice in the rest of Europe and funds provided for decent recycling services through money raised by the landfill tax, in particular.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire on securing the debate, but it has raised many questions, which the Minister must now answer.

10.43 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Mr. Keith Hill)

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing the debate. I am grateful for his useful and constructive comments on this complex subject. We have had an interesting and thoughtful debate, and I am grateful for the contributions of all the other former newspaper boys—my hon. Friends the Members for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) and the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake). I hope to deal with most of the issues that they raised, but I hope that they will forgive me if I dwell more particularly on the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire.

Before commenting on newspaper and magazine recycling, I should like to place the issue in the context of the Government's wider objectives, reflecting my hon. Friend's wide-ranging speech and the broad canvas depicted by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, tainted only by the underhand reference to filthy lucre.

The Government firmly believe that tackling waste must be a key priority for the future if we are to continue to make progress towards sustainable development. Last year, we published our draft strategy for waste, "A way with waste" and we expect shortly to publish our final waste strategy in the light of responses to the draft. Both documents are built on the support that we have already received for the vision described in our earlier consultation paper, "Less Waste More Value". The key element of that vision is an integrated approach to waste management. That means that we recognise that every step in the waste management process is part of a whole and should form part of the decision-making process. It means ensuring that all key players are involved, using a mixture of waste management options. Other elements of our overall vision support that approach. We aim to achieve a reduction in the quantity and hazard of waste arising, with higher levels of re-use and the recovery options for waste, including recycling, composting and energy recovery.

As part of the objective of involving all stakeholders, we especially wish to encourage and facilitate greater public participation in the decision-making process. Underpinning all those objectives is our commitment to effective protection of human health and the environment.

Tackling the growth in waste must be at the heart of our waste strategy. On average, each household produces more than a tonne of waste every year. Each year, industry and commerce produce between 70 million and 100 million tonnes of waste in providing goods and services. That quantity is increasing—in some sectors by as much as 3 per cent. a year. A step change is needed in how we think about and manage our waste if we are to make a full contribution to sustainable development. In particular, we need to gain more value from the waste that we produce, while managing it in an environmentally responsible way.

A fundamental element in initiatives to help us to achieve those objectives will be substantially increased levels of recycling. The Government are determined to play their part in ensuring that recycling in the United Kingdom is in line with the best practice in other countries.

Our draft waste strategy sets out several goals for waste management in the future. Principally, by 2005, we aim to reduce the amount of industrial and commercial waste landfilled to 85 per cent. of 1998 levels, while focusing on recovering value and reducing environmental impacts. By 2010, we aim to recover 45 per cent. of municipal waste and recycle or compost 30 per cent. of household waste. Achieving the shift to sustainable waste management reflected in those targets will not be easy and will require the involvement of all stakeholders: Government, business, local authorities and consumers.

The Government have already made a start, in partnership with business. The landfill tax escalator provides a strong incentive for waste managers to seek ways of recovering their waste. It may have led one third of companies to introduce or step up efforts to minimise, re-use or recycle waste. We are also taking steps to ensure that those seeking to avoid waste management controls by abuse of exemptions from the licensing system can no longer do so.

Building on the report of the Market Development Group last year, we are developing proposals for a joint programme involving my Department and the Department of Trade and Industry to promote a more sustainable and integrated approach to waste management, and to introduce many of the group's recommendations. We are starting to increase the recycling and recovery of packaging waste as a result of the implementation of the European directive on packaging and packaging waste. Further directives are at various stages of development, covering producer responsibility for end-of-life vehicles, batteries and electrical and electronic equipment.

There is much more that we can and will do. We will produce guidance for businesses on how to measure and report on their waste and to facilitate benchmarking. We are already seeking comments on a draft of the guidance. The "Are you doing your bit?" campaign is an example of how we are already stimulating public awareness and encouraging individuals to get involved by recycling their waste and buying recycled products. We will continue to work with the national waste awareness initiative to that end.

We will press local authorities to complete their waste management strategies and, if necessary, take powers to require them to do so. We will also work with them to develop innovative approaches to stem the growth in household waste, which has been much referred to during the debate. We will also monitor progress towards the achievement of our goals and keep them under review. We will assess progress with all those who have a part to play, including business, local government, community groups and the waste management industry.

It will be obvious from what I have said that we do not think that the Government working alone can achieve the significant changes we envisage. All the key players need to be involved and to make a contribution. The list of those with the potential to assist in meeting our goals is a long one and could include waste producers and managers, waste reprocessors, waste regulators, waste management planners, community groups, individuals and households. In the context of newspapers and magazines, it is perhaps best to focus for a moment on two overall groups: consumers and business.

As consumers, whether businesses or individuals and households, each of us can help by thinking about what we buy, what we throw away and how we influence others. Purchasing decisions can help to stimulate the market for more sustainable goods and services. In particular, we can choose products made from recycled materials, which in many cases perform just as well those that are not. Where recycled products are not available, we can ask the retailer or other supplier why not. Such action can help to establish markets for recycled goods. Without those markets, increases in recycling activity are difficult to achieve and sustain.

Consumers can also contribute by reducing the quantity of waste that they produce, separating recyclable material and composting. Individuals and households can also influence the planning process, particularly during the development of local waste plans. That can lead to a better understanding of the type and quantity of waste to be disposed of and help in making informed choices about how local waste services should be organised.

I have already mentioned the contribution that businesses can make to the development of markets for recycled materials through their purchasing choices. There are several other ways in which businesses can help. Many are already choosing to report on their environmental performance. We are currently consulting on guidance to help businesses do that and identify priorities for improvement. Some business sectors are already developing strategies aimed at tackling the economic, environmental and social aspects of their work. We are also encouraging businesses to widen the scope of their management systems to embrace a number of other aspects, including energy and water consumption, emissions, raw material use and product stewardship, which can all help to provide further opportunities to secure savings and reduce the environmental impacts of business.

The Government believe that the initiatives already in place in many companies to label products to provide environmental information can have an important role, particularly when used in conjunction with other market measures. Providing information to consumers about, for instance, whether a product contains recycled material, can allow that consumer to take that information into account in deciding whether to buy. Ultimately, that information could act as a marketing tool.

Finally, businesses can develop producer responsibility initiatives to increase recycling activity in their sectors. Such initiatives involve businesses that manufacture, distribute or sell products or materials taking a greater share of the responsibility for what happens when those materials become waste. As I mentioned, European legislation has proved to be the driver for initiatives covering packaging, end-of-life vehicles, batteries and electrical and electronic equipment. Legislation is already in place for packaging and the other directives may also need to be implemented by regulatory means. Where possible, we are keen to encourage the voluntary approach, as that can yield benefits in flexibility and the ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances. That is the approach that we have sought to follow in the case of newspapers and magazines.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire asked me four questions that I will attempt to answer. First, he asked about the Government's attitude towards mandatory targets. We certainly support the principle of targets. However, we—and, I was interested to learn, the Liberal Democrats—would prefer a voluntary approach that allows technical issues to have a bearing on targets.

Secondly, my hon. Friend asked about producer responsibility. Targets, whether voluntary or not, will place responsibility on producers to achieve high levels of recycled content in newspapers.

Thirdly, my hon. Friend asked about the Government's attitude towards reviewing targets and setting more challenging targets. We expect any targets to be subject to review in the light of changing circumstances and, not least, in the light of recycling capacity, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford referred.

Fourthly, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire and others asked about the publication of the Newspaper Publishers Association report. However, I fear that it is not for the Government to publish it. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said, it is the property of the NPA.

A general request was made for an indication of the timetable for the announcement of the Government's decisions on the recycling of newsprint. As with issues such as incinerators, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned, we will make our position clear as part of the announcement that we will shortly make on our waste strategy.

Let me deal in more detail with the issue of newspapers and magazine recycling. Some 1.4 million tonnes of waste newspapers continue to be landfilled each year, and newspapers and magazines form a significant proportion of total household waste. That means that increases in the recycling of newspapers and magazines could have a considerable impact not only on the amount of waste landfilled each year, but on the viability of local collection infrastructure. With that in mind, the Government have been working with the newspaper industries through the Newspaper Publishers Association to achieve an increase in the level of recycled material in newspapers. We have worked with the NPA on the basis of a voluntary agreement. Given the gains that that approach has produced, that is still our preference.

In 1991, the recycled content of newspapers was 28 per cent.; in 1998, the last year for which we have confirmed figures, it had almost doubled to 52.4 per cent., which is a significant and welcome increase. My Department has been in discussion with the NPA to secure further increases in the recycled content of newspapers through a voluntary agreement. However, those discussions have taken place in the context of the practical constraints within which the industry must operate. The most important of those is the need to take into account the likely mill capacity that is available in the UK to deliver increased recycling.

Our experience of working with the NPA has shown how we can make progress in partnership with businesses and other stakeholders to achieve significant gains in waste management. I hope that our waste strategy will provide a framework for similar partnerships elsewhere—

I am afraid that I do not have time to give way.

Without those partnerships, we shall find it much more difficult to achieve the vision that I have outlined for our waste strategy.