Wednesday 26 February 1986

Col 4, line 8 from foot of column for "Ministry" read "Minister"




Second Waste Regulation on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Wednesday 26 February 1986



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Crouch

Amess, Mr. David (Basildon)

Atkinson, Mr. David (Bournemouth, East)

Atkinson, Mr. Norman (Tottenham)

Bendall, Mr. Vivian (Ilford, North)

Benyon, Mr. W. (Milton Keynes)

Carttiss, Mr. Michael (Great Yarmouth)

Clark, Dr. David (South Shields)

Conlan, Mr. Bernard (Gateshead, East)

Conway, Mr. Derek (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Dickens, Mr. Geoffrey (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Durrant, Mr. Tony (Reading, West)

Fry, Mr. Peter (Wellingborough)

Hughes, Mr. Simon (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Lewis, Mr. Terry (Worsley)

McGuire, Mr. Michael (Makerfield)

McKelvey, Mr. William (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Waldegrave, Mr. William (The Minister for Environment, Countryside and local government)

Wookcock, Mr. Mike (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Mr. C. M. H. Wookey, Committee Clerk

3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 26 February 1986

[Mr. DAVID CROUCH in the Chair]

Waste Regulation and Disposal (Authorities) Order 1985

10.30 am

Dr. David Clark (South Shields): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Waste Regulation and Disposal (Authorities) Order 1985. The order results from Parliament's decision to reorganise the structure of local government and to abolish the metropolitan counties and the Greater London council. An unsung achievement of those authorities is the way in which they have tackled waste disposal and collection since 1974. Any independent authority that has investigated the problem of waste disposal has concluded that the metropolitcan counties and the GLC have a very successful record. The order does not provide the necessary mechanism to deal with the immense and complicated problem of waste regulations, which includes the disposal of hazardous waste. Some metropolitan counties, especially in the north of England, have come to an accord to minimise the problems, provided there is adequate finance. However, the problems will not be as easily dealt with as they were under the metropolitan county structure. Therefore, we must deal with the problems arising from the suggested arrangements for greater Manchester, Merseyside and greater London, although most of the problems will occur in greater London. The Government's original proposal was to transfer the responsibility for waste disposal to the district and borough councils, which would be encouraged by the Department of the Environment to work jointly. Following pressure from the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, the Royal Commission on Science and Technology, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the report of the hazardous waste inspectorate, the other place decided that that was not the best way forward. Consequently, the House of Commons watered down the proposal and the Secretary of State subsequently decided to establish statutory authorities for greater London, greater Manchester and Merseyside. As a result, we have five types of waste disposal authority. In the four county areas the district counties have agreed, as I said. In the two metropolitan county areas the Secretary of State has established joint arrangements. In greater London there are no fewer than seven groupings to deal with waste disposal. The Secretary of State has established a statutory body for regulating hazardous waste and site licensing, covering the whole of London. That is right and proper. But we are still worried about the disposal of 4 ordinary waste. In London there seems to be an Alice in Wonderland approach. The erudite reports published in the past few years on the problems of waste management all conclude that size brings great benefits. We are worried that large units are being broken down into small units, thus losing the economies of scale and wasting technological expertise. It is accepted that, because of the economies of scale, the larger units are more successful. There are three reasons. First, the smaller ones might lead to parochialism. Nobody wants a waste tip in his back yard. As we heard in the House yesterday, very few people are prepared to have a nuclear waste dump in their constituency. The smaller the unit is, the greater the inclination to parochialism. As well as nuclear waste disposal, there is also the problem of normal waste disposal. Waste is not always benign; sometimes it is toxic and just as dangerous as nuclear waste. Parochialism is not the best way to approach the problem. Secondly, fragmentation of the expertise and infrastructure will mean that the skill that is being developed, will be lost. Thirdly, some of the advantages, such as those of energy production, of a progressive waste disposal programme, will be lost. Will the Minister clarify the role of the London Waste Regulation Authority? The authority has been asked to provide some London-wide services on behalf of the new disposal authorities, but at least one of the new statutory waste disposal authorities has asked the regulation authority to "lend assistance" until the new authority is able to organise its management structure. That is worrying. Will the regulation authority be required to lend assistance? If not, will the Minister assure us that the management structure for the smaller authorities will be sufficient to deal with the problem? The Ministry's guidance has been, at best, patchy and, at times, inaccurate, and some of the new authorities have complained that they do not know what property, sites, vehicles and equipment they will inherit from the GLC. It is important to clarify the issues quickly because the abolition of the GLC is only four or five weeks away. Some authorities are worried that they will not be able to meet their guaranteed minimum tonnages required by contractors, and that therefore the cost to the ratepayers will rise. No authority has suggested that it will make savings. There is a lack of preparedness, partly because of the impossible time-scale imposed on the authorities, and partly because of the patent nonsense of the proposals. It would have been better if the task of waste disposal had been left with the big unitary authorities.

10.39 am

The Ministry for Environment, Countryside and Local Government (Mr. William Waldegrave): I agree with much of what the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said. If the metropolitan counties and the GLC had been judged solely on the way they dealt with waste disposal, no one would have considered abolishing them because they tackled those problems reasonably successfully. 5 We recognised that there were benefits in larger groupings. Therefore, after Lords Gregson, Cranbrook and others expressed their concern, we amended clause 10 of the Local Government Bill 1985 to give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment fall-back power to compel groupings if voluntary arrangements were not made. It is those decisions, announced by my right hon. Friend last November, that we are discussing. In the event, we were right to believe that voluntary co-operation between neighbouring boroughs or districts could prove workable. As the hon. Member for South Shields rightly said, in some northern areas satisfactory voluntary arrangements covering all waste disposal functions were made, for example in Tyne and Wear, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands. In London there were more problems. Satisfactory voluntary agreements were made for three groups covering the boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton; Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark; and Tower Hamlets and the cities of London and Westminster. Bexley preferred to join the county, which left us with the remaining 21. Moreover, we were committed to a London-wide regulatory body dealing with hazardous waste. The Secretary of State wisely decided to set up seven new joint authorities by order. They are the East London Waste authority, the North London Waste authority, the West London Waste authority, the West and Riverside Waste authority, which cover the 21 London boroughs, plus the London-wide regulatory body. Merseyside was another area of difficulty. Merseyside Waste Disposal authority will assume both operational and regulatory functions throughout Merseyside. The Greater Manchester Waste Disposal authority will do likewise, except in Wigan. Wigan demonstrated that there was no advantage in joint arrangements for operations with the rest of greater Manchester and so will be responsible for waste disposal in its own area.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes): Will the London Waste Regulation authority be concerned solely with hazardous waste?

Mr. Waldegrave: The London Waste Regulation authority will regulate special wastes. Its functions may 6 increase as we are having consultations on that. It will receive scientific back-up from the former scientific unit of the GLC, which for the time being, is to be transferred to the London residuary body. Therefore my hon. Friend is right.

Mr. Benyon: I have an insterest because much London waste goes into clay pits in my constituency. We are nervous that we shall have to deal with four authorities on this matter. Will the regulation authority be able to extend its permit to deal with the major matters of ordinary waste disposal which require substantial capital input?

Mr. Waldegrave: No. The regulatory authority will deal with special wastes and the licensing of sites. The lower tier authorities will deal with capital investment. Capital investment in those functions is lumpy. We have not found any way of distributing the money by a formula so we shall centralise the distribution of the capital allocations for those authorities so that it can relate to need. That will certainly apply in the first year. We shall then discuss what will happen. In some areas—particular London, because of the GLC's negative approach to giving information—these arrangements have got off the ground rather late. However, information is now available. There will be scientific back-up if needed, and both the Department's officials and the officials of the regulatory authority will be transferred from the GLC staff and will be able to advise the successor authorities. We would prefer the discussions to have started earlier, but I am assured that all the successor authorities are taking a responsible attitude and are planning the takeover of the service in an efficient and businesslike way. For the benefit of our citizens, the argy-bargy of party politics has been set aside and satisfactory arrangements for this essential service will be made for the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Waste Regulation and Disposal (Authorities) Order 1985.

Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.


Crouch, Mr. David (Chairman)

Amess, Mr.

Atkinson, Mr. David

Atkinson, Mr. Norman

Benyon, Mr.

Carttiss, Mr.

Clark, Mr. David

Durant, Mr.

Waldegrave, Mr.