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Hazardous Waste Disposal

Volume 432: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1982

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they are going to set up a Hazardous Waste Inspectorate and to implement the outstanding recommendations of the Select Committee on Science and Technology concerning hazardous waste disposal.

My Lords, although a final decision on the location of the Inspectorate for Hazardous Waste has still to be taken, we expect to be able to establish it by the end of the year. In the period since the report was published, interested organisations have submitted views on it to the Department of the Environment and a series of very valuable meetings has been held with the major groups—the local authority associations, water authority representatives, industry and the disposal contractors, the Institute of Waste Management and environmentalists. The Government's commitment remains to seek the best means of implementing most of the recommendations and, while a wide measure of co-operation has been expressed at those meetings by all parties, there is still much work to be done.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply, but is he aware that there is extreme public concern about all questions relating to toxic and hazardous waste? Is he also aware that it is now twelve months since your Lordships' Committee reported? I should have thought that that was sufficient time, even for the Department of the Environment, to come to some conclusion on the matter. The recent programme on BBC television, in which a number of noble Lords on the Government Benches took part, I think highlights the need for much more urgent action. May I also ask how, when in the fullness of time, decisions will, I hope, have been made, those decisions will be disseminated to the public? They need in effect to be notified to the various local authorities and to the contractors—

May I therefore ask that some thought be given to the issue of a waste management paper?

My Lords, unlike some of my noble friends, I was in great sympathy with the noble Lord until he used the words "even the Department of the Environment". The department is very proud of its record and of the speed at which it acts. I can say that the programme of research is continuing and, partly based on its results, work on the waste management papers on landfill and co-disposal is going ahead. Encouragement for the adoption of co-disposal in the right circumstances is continuing, as is the identification of further research. The Health and Safety Commission's notification scheme for new substances has been introduced informally and includes provision for information on wastes.

We hope to make a series of announcements, which will be followed in due course by a document containing a collective response. The Government feel that this remains the most appropriate way to focus attention on securing real improvements.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that one of the committee's most important and urgent recommendations was that all professional handlers of hazardous waste outside the place of production must be licensed by their waste disposal authorities? Can he tell us how soon that very important recommendation is going to be implemented?

My Lords, as I said in the House last November, the Government feel that waste disposal authorities should progress further into the preparation of waste disposal plans before bringing in Section 1, which I think is what the noble Baroness is referring to. The Government still believe that this is the best course. A considerable number of other authorities are now nearing the completion of their plans and the Government feel that a good momentum is now being maintained in this area. The Government are still firmly of the view that implementation of Section 1 must await further progress on these plans.