Clause 184 — Rate of Landfill Tax

Part of Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 14th May 2003.

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Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 5:30 pm, 14th May 2003

I support the clause. Despite pertinent points made by Mr. Flight, I am not sure what Conservative policy is on waste minimisation, waste reduction and recycling. However, he was right that the landfill tax is one of the longest running pieces of environmental taxation in the UK. Its relevance to the waste mountain is important, so it is vital to spend a couple of minutes examining why we need a landfill tax, the rate at which it should be set and whether it will help us to meet the Government's aims and the wider European aims to which we have all subscribed.

The landfill tax is one of the few taxes that businesses recently asked the Government to raise, and at a greater rate than proposed in the Bill. Although the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs prayed in aid the CBI, the Economic Secretary will be aware that the waste companies wanted an accelerated increase in the economic drivers towards waste minimisation and a reduction in landfill in favour of recycling. In fact, they were a little disappointed that the Bill did not impose a greater level to reach the Government's eventual target of £35 per tonne for the landfill tax.

Those companies see clearly that we will not meet our recycling obligations and our more important European obligations to reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfill without a much stronger driver in the economic market. I would have expected the Conservatives at least to be in favour of strong economic drivers, because that is how markets work. Sometimes it is necessary to regulate markets so that they take the right direction for the greater aims of the public good.

I want the Economic Secretary to address some of the concerns of the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I serve and which recently produced a report on waste. As the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs rightly reminded the House, that report makes it clear that the Committee thinks that the Government's approach is a knee-jerk reaction to the demands of the European Union. We did not think that their approach was anti-European. The reality is that the Government reacted to demands for which they had not properly prepared. They had not properly engaged with the EU legislation and had not thought through how it would work domestically. As a result, they have been forced to rely on a landfill tax and very little else to achieve their waste minimisation and recycling aims.

In that context, we have the unhappy news from MEPs who have served on the European Parliament's environment committee that the Government are already missing their EU targets and will fail miserably in implementing EU legislation. I hope that the Economic Secretary can give us assurances tonight that that will not happen and that the landfill tax, increasing at a set rate of progression, will achieve the aims of the 2000 waste strategy throughout the United Kingdom, not just England. The obligation to represent the UK in negotiations on EU targets involves not just Westminster but the devolved Administrations.

Finally, to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, the landfill tax may encourage less sustainable methods of waste disposal, and I am particularly concerned that there may be an increase in incineration. That is no reason to argue against the landfill tax. Indeed, it is a reason to argue for an incineration tax or the correct regulation of incineration to ensure that such an increase does not happen. However, I am concerned that we may rely on a single economic instrument that is not designed to encourage recycling or waste minimisation but to stop waste going into landfill. Are we sure that the market and people responsible for the disposal of waste will make the necessary jump?

We cannot dispose of things in landfill and cannot go ahead with the co-disposal of hazardous waste in landfill, but have we ensured that local authorities and waste disposal companies will take the opportunity to achieve waste reduction, minimisation and recycling? Have we ensured that the landfill tax will prevent the use of other methods of disposal such as incineration? That is not yet clear in the Government's approach to the issue. An economic driver such as the landfill tax is undoubtedly the correct approach, but the Government have not yet thought through its impact on the market—it is a suck-it-and-see approach. I am concerned that many local authorities are already missing their recycling targets, as has been admitted in evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee. We would be in an even worse position if we missed the target set by the European Union. I hope that the Economic Secretary can give guarantees that the Bill will bring about what other areas of government aim to achieve—greater use of recycling, less waste going to landfill and a reduction in the waste produced in the first place.