Amendment 119

Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 30th June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

119: Schedule 4, page 160, line 8, at end insert—“(1A) When making regulations imposing producer responsibility obligations, the relevant national authority must have regard to the public interest in such obligations being operational by 1 January 2024.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment aims to ensure that the new packaging producer responsibility system is in place for the beginning of 2024, given that the final compliance year of the current package will end on 31 December 2023.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, we now move on to the next part of the Bill, dealing with resource efficiency. I very much look forward not only to the coming debate on my amendments but to the debates on a number of groups in the days to come. For now, in moving Amendment 119 in my name, I add my support to the other amendments in this group.

Amendment 119 is simple but important. It adds to Schedule 4 the requirement that a new extended producer responsibility scheme should be introduced by 1 January 2024. It sounds technical, but it is a fundamental part of delivering a circular economy.

This new charging system will place a powerful onus on manufacturers to ensure that they design their products so that they can be re-used, dismantled or recycled at the end of life. It will move waste up the hierarchy and cut down on the unnecessary use of resources. It will ensure that they pay the full cost of disposal of their packaging, which will encourage them to cut down on unnecessary packaging, and it will provide additional charges for materials which cannot be recycled. It will include requirements on labelling to ensure consumers are clearly directed as to how to dispose of the item. It would also, potentially, provide additional charges on producers of materials which are routinely littered. It would indeed ensure that the polluter pays. I know these issues are very dear to the hearts of your Lordships. Incidentally, I tabled a number of Written Questions last week about the absolute scandal of Amazon destroying millions of items of unused stock simply because they did not want to pay to store them. I hope a scheme such as this would catch Amazon in its net as well.

This could be a really exciting initiative if we get it right and introduce it in a timely way—but herein lies the problem. As it stands, Schedule 4 simply says:

“The relevant national authority may, by regulations, make provision for imposing producer responsibility obligations on specified persons in respect of specified products or materials.”

It does not say when this might happen, and we have been waiting for an initiative of this kind for far too long. I spent the weekend chasing through government documents to see what they said on a possible implementation date. A lot of fine words have been written about the Government’s ambition on extended producer responsibility, going back to the publication of the 25-year environment plan back in January 2018. Since then we have had the Resources and Waste Strategy for England, published in December 2018, and the Waste Prevention Programme for England 2021, published earlier this year. There have also been two consultations on extended producer responsibility, one in 2019 and one earlier this year.

All this time the clock has been ticking, but no scheme has materialised. So far, nearly four years have passed. We already have a scheme for producer responsibility for packaging, which has been in place since 1997, but it is seriously out of date and, by most measures, ineffective. As I understand it, it is due to come to a natural break at the end of 2023. This is why we fixed January 2024 as the date for the new scheme to start.

I did finally find a reference to an implementation date in the latest government consultation on packaging. It says that

“we remain committed to the implementation of packaging extended producer responsibility as soon as possible and propose implementing EPR through a phased approach commencing from 2023”.

If this is the case, there should be no problem with the Government agreeing to our amendment. However, I should add that we have not yet seen the outcome of that consultation, which finishes this month—and other consultations on electronic goods, batteries and end-of-life vehicles have not even started yet. I should also acknowledge that the Minister has tabled several amendments allowing consultations that have already taken place to meet the requirement to consult in the Bill. Of course, that is a relief, but it does not give us any more guarantee that a new scheme will be operative by 1 January 2024. I should also add that, once again, we seem to be behind on these issues, with the EU’s ambitious circular economy package due to be operational by January 2023.

In conclusion, I hope that noble Lords and the Minister will understand our frustration with the ongoing delays in implementation. Our amendment is an essential precondition to cutting back packaging, reducing plastic waste, cutting back on single-use items and rationalising all the use of scarce resources that will make up a proper resource-efficient scheme. It goes hand in hand with all the other issues that have been tabled in other amendments in this group. These schemes could make a real difference to our resource-efficiency strategy and the management of waste. I hope that noble Lords will support our amendment and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, there can be few more unpleasant jobs than clearing fatballs and wet wipes out of congested sewers. It is done underground, often in sweltering conditions. It is a terribly hard job, and in many ways it should be quite unnecessary.

In my amendment—which the Minister and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, might agree could be a point at which the Minister will actually say, “I agree and I will do something”—I have simply written that people who sell wet wipes and other non-flushable items should, as was done with tobacco advertising in the early stages, be obliged to print on their packaging the words “Do not flush”. This is not a revolutionary amendment. It is one that I know the water companies would greatly welcome. I am a great critic of the water companies in many respects, but it would help them in their task.

It does not seem to me that the amendment would move any great laws. It would just mean that the Government has to tell people who sell non-flushable items such as baby wipes that on each package there should be the words “Do not flush”. I myself have looked at several packages. On some you can find the words printed very small while on others you cannot find them at all. I think the Minister might welcome this opportunity to get up and say, “Yes, that’s a good idea. I will take it away and look at it.”

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. We have a history of working together that goes back many years. I think the last time was to do with Railtrack, which is a million miles away from Amendment 120A, which I shall speak to today, concerning septic tanks and their management.

I have some experience of this, going back a while to when I was a much younger married man with a small family who had moved into a rather old but pleasant Edwardian house on the edge of the country. When there is a sewer in the main road outside, naturally one assumes that one’s house is connected to it, but I discovered one morning, when an unexpected hole appeared in the back lawn, that there was no mains drainage at all, but a septic tank. As I say, I was a young man with a family and not a lot of money, and I had to get a second mortgage in order to pay for the drainage works to connect up to the sewer in the road and explain to my friends and neighbours that it was I who had caused traffic lights to be put up to cope with the construction works.

That is not to say that I have a particular bias against septic tanks—an issue that we will return to later in the Bill—but this amendment is to do with something very similar to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw’s point, which is that caustic household cleansers, when used too liberally, or even at all, you might argue, to cope with the cleansing of waste into septic tanks in domestic homes, can cause damage. What can happen so easily is that chlorine-based or similar bleach-based domestic cleaners prevent the tanks from functioning at all, and the result can be that you end up with little better than open defecation. So the purpose of the amendment is to try to reduce, and in due course eliminate, the discharge of untreated or poorly treated sewage into our rivers, watercourses and aquifers.

This occurs mainly in rural communities that remain—as I found out to my cost—unconnected to mains sewers, and are reliant on septic tanks and cesspits. Those are often inefficient and poorly maintained. Not only can septic tanks poison our rivers, streams and other watercourses as a result, but in areas with chalk aquifers they can poison the groundwater as well, often causing irreversible long-term harm.

Elsewhere in our European continent, several countries have not only banned this form of drainage but replaced it with more sensible and rational mains drainage systems. I would like to think that we would be trying to catch up with them. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this is an important group of amendments, ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I completely share her frustration, and agree with pretty much every word that she said. All the amendments in the group are concerned with the application of extended producer responsibility for single-use plastics, particularly those that are highly polluting in our sewers, such as wet wipes and—as we will hear later from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—nappy liners. I support all the amendments in the group.

There cannot be a better example of “out of sight, out of mind” than sewers. People simply flush all sorts of things away and give no thought as to the consequences. The water industry tells us that wet wipes make up 90% of the material in fatbergs, and because they do not break down, they cause 300,000 blockages every year, at a cost of around £100 million. That is money that the water industry could spend in far more productive ways—dealing with leaks, for example, or investing in water-saving schemes. Fatbergs also cause flooding in people’s homes, and pollute our rivers. As well as wet wipes, other products are routinely flushed, despite not being suitable, including nappy liners, sanitary products and condoms, which also lead to clean-up costs and add to both micro and macro-pollution.

There is an urgent need to develop a strategy and a legislative framework for dealing with this, and we must start immediately, with more public education and awareness campaigns. This can start the business of behavioural change and, crucially, it will start to help people understand why the more drastic measures that are needed will have to be taken. It is amazing that volunteers give up their time to clean beaches and rivers—and when they do that, it helps to raise awareness, as well as removing the pollution. But volunteers are no substitute for the serious measures that are needed.

There are many consumers who want to do the right thing, but the problem is that they do not always know what the right thing is. I agree with my noble friend Lord Bradshaw that we need clear labelling on product packaging to help improve the level of appropriate disposal of those products. At the point of sale, including online, packaging and advertising should identify products that contain plastic and do not comply with the water industry’s standard for flushability, Fine to Flush. Clear instructions are needed—“Do not flush”—with appropriate advice on waste disposal options.

Finally, clean-ups of blockages should be funded through graded financial penalties commensurate with the damage caused by the product. Products containing plastic should incur the highest penalty, followed by products that do not, but which also fail to meet the Fine to Flush standard.

The Government urgently need to provide clarification and detail about the schemes they will introduce under extended producer responsibility and the powers in the Bill. Their coverage, their delivery, the methods of consultation and the anticipated financial flows all need to be developed quickly. Action should be targeted on those areas where the most environmental damage is caused. The objective of my Amendment 124 is to provide some urgency, and to ensure that the Government have to bring such a scheme forward. That would give the industry, and to some extent consumers, a very clear direction of travel, and it sits very well with Amendment 119, which would introduce the statutory start date.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:15 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, it is not only producers who have to have regard to resource efficiency; it is also the Government. It is really important in devising regulations in this sort of area that we look at the overall effect of what we are asking people to do and, in particular, what we are asking companies to do to make sure that the end effect of what we are regulating is an improvement and not a disimprovement.

We have seen, for instance, in the case of washing machines and dishwashers, regulations regarding their use of energy, but we have done nothing to regulate how long these machines last. If you are replacing a machine every five years because it has fallen to bits, that surely is part of the resources being consumed by the process. It ought to have been part of the regulations and something that we should look at. We will come to this question when we look at deposit return schemes.

If we are instituting a deposit return scheme on something where we already collect 85% efficiently, and it is only the remaining 15% that are causing problems, then by creating a system that puts a lot of extra costs on society in recycling the existing 85% in a different, less efficient manner, we are not achieving an overall benefit. What is sauce for the goose is very much sauce for the gander.

Looking at the other amendments in this group, I think that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, would result in regulation that was extremely resource efficient. The small one-off costs for producers after that would lead to a very substantial reduction in costs for the sewerage undertakings. That is what we ought to be aiming for: a good, big overall benefit. We should not be looking at little bits of the process; we have to look at the benefits and the costs that will be imposed by the regulation as a whole.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I want to speak to my own Amendment 128, which goes back even further into the depths of this Bill to Schedule 6. It is a probing amendment in many ways, and very mild, just to tease out where the Government stand on this. Although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said so well, this seems to be a very technical area, these issues are absolutely essential in making the future circular economy, and everything we want in terms of resource efficiency, actually to work and become public friendly—and the way that it faces the public becoming friendly as well.

It comes down to labels. We have had some mention of labels already, particularly from my noble friends Lady Scott and Lord Bradshaw. What I am trying to get at here is that there are provisions, rightly, for the Secretary of State to be able to make regulations about such things as labels on products, but what it does not do is suggest that there should be some consistency about that labelling so that we all find that interface useful, friendly and usable.

I am thinking of two other areas in particular. When I put the laundry into the washing machine at home, there is the occasional garment that I do not have a clue how it should be washed. So what do I do? I look at the label on the garment that has all those little symbols that tell me how I should wash this—at what temperature and all that sort of information. It might tell me not to wash it at all, but to dry-clean it instead. Over the years, I have got to know those symbols. Everybody else has: they are actually fairly international rather than national; I am not even asking for them to be international. Through that, we get to know what we should do.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who mentioned electrical appliances. Whether it be a dishwasher or a dryer, they also have labels that give an energy efficiency rating. That has been so successful that we have had to reinvent or restate what the most efficient levels are, because people have got to know them and simply go for green rather than red.

This amendment is merely offering a suggestion to the Government. It would give the Secretary of State the power to ensure that labelling on goods in the system that will become part of the circular economy is consistent, so that everybody gets to understand the symbols and they are therefore effective. We should not have a wide range of different labels from different manufacturers, or different systems, which would confuse consumers. In labelling, we need consistency, good design and systems that have been tried and tested, and last. As, I think, my noble friend Lady Scott said, this will make sure that people who want to do right can achieve that.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I rise chiefly to speak to Amendment 292, which appears in my name and has the backing of the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I thank them all for their support and note that a number of other noble Lords would have signed this amendment had there been space.

I was simply going to speak to my amendment, but I must briefly and strongly commend Amendment 119, which was so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, highlighted in a previous group that I had focused on the word “urgent” a lot. With this amendment the noble Baroness has really driven home the need for urgent action. We have a plastic and waste-choked planet and nation that cannot take any more: it cannot take the volumes we are imposing on it every day.

Amendment 292 is about nappies. That might sound like a minor issue but I hope that by the time I have finished, noble Lords will understand that it is not. Before I begin, I declare my position as vice-president of the Local Government Association, since that will become relevant. For full transparency, I declare that I have worked on this amendment with, and many noble Lords will have received briefings from, the Nappy Alliance, which represents makers of reusable nappies. Supporting a green industry and working with it is not something I am going to make any apologies for, but I think it is important we acknowledge such ties and where the resources come from.

On average, each single-use or disposable nappy generates 550 kilos of carbon dioxide throughout its whole lifecycle, from production to disposal. From birth to stopping using nappies, an average child will use the equivalent of 15,000 plastic bags and half a tree in fluff. This is why the Local Government Association is relevant: at a local level, single-use nappies account for some 4% of residual waste in England. That is 3 billion nappies each year, and it costs local authorities £600 million a year to dispose of them. When such nappies are sent to landfill it takes 300 years—roughly 12 generations—for them to break down. Incinerating them gives rise to significant carbon emissions and local air pollution levels, an issue we keep coming back to. This is where my amendment links to that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw: single-use nappies often end up contaminating waste for recycling because of misleading labels and consumer confusion. Many people do not realise they contain plastic, and think they are a kind of paper.

By way of contrast, reusable nappies use 98% fewer raw materials and generate 99% less waste. They save the equivalent of 17 plastic bags per day. Here, I think I need to dispel some misunderstandings. As we have seen in many other areas of health and environment where there are powerful industry interests, there has been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about environmental impacts and comparative environmental impacts. In March 2021, in a report I would be happy to share with any noble Lord who is interested, the United Nations Environment Programme published a comparison between single-use nappies and reusables. It concluded that reusable nappies had a lower environmental impact across all trial scenarios when compared to single-use nappies.

Michael Gove seems to be coming up a lot this evening. Back in 2018, he did actually suggest that disposable nappies might be banned. In a very rare occurrence, I am not going to go as far as Michael Gove did in 2018. When people are travelling or when there is a new babysitter, for example, there may be an argument for the occasional use of single-use nappies, but it should not be the norm.

This brings me to some other aspects of the amendment that really start to address how we change the situation. There are some really good local authority small-scale practical schemes that are helping people change to using reusable nappies and get away from single-use nappies. Often, they are based on nappy libraries—frequently run by volunteers, most usually women—which have a range of nappies that families can try out. People can see which ones are suitable before they spend money. Many local authorities—by no means all and by no means extensively—offer schemes that can help families to purchase reusable nappies. The problem is, of course, that when you have a new and growing baby, you need a set of nappies, which is a big initial outlay beyond the reach of many people. Subsection (8) of my amendment would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations for a levy to be paid by nappy manufacturers to fund a scheme to help people use reusable nappies. We are talking about ensuring that people can afford to buy them and that they have access to understanding and knowledge—nappy libraries also share information about how to use nappies and what the best ones are.

There is a comparison here. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, talked about energy labels on packaging, and that is partly what this amendment calls for. But in fact, it is a bit like cigarette packets, for which we have labelling and pricing that acknowledges the cost of the product that applies to all of us.

So, I strongly commend this amendment to the Minister. I point out that I have probably been approached by more noble Lords on this amendment than on any other I have tabled—and I have tabled some with very wide-reaching effects. This issue is of great interest to people for many reasons. One, of course, is something I am sure we will be referring to a lot in the next few hours: litter. There is a big problem with litter from single-use nappies. It is a deeply unpleasant thing. I am sure most noble Lords have been volunteer litter pickers in some form or another, and it is not a pleasant thing to encounter when doing that.

What we are talking about here is changing things to make life better. It is about the kind of systems thinking that I very often refer to. This is the Environment Bill, and when we talk about the environment people ask if we can we afford the cost of this or that measure. If we can help most families to use single-use nappies, that would save them, on average, £11 a week. That is a lot of money to many families—money that could be spent on healthier food or on taking off some of the stress and pressure. This amendment has environmental and social benefits: it is a win-win. If the Minister is being pressured to offer some yeses, here is an easy win.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 6:30 pm, 30th June 2021

I am delighted to speak briefly on this group and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who spoke eloquently and forcefully on single-use nappies. Of course, it is not just at the beginning of life that people use nappies; there is the similar and even greater problem of incontinence pads, if we dare call them that, for the third age, so I can see where the noble Baroness is coming from.

If he will permit me, I will congratulate my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and the Government on drafting and including Clause 49 and Schedule 4 in the Bill. I press him on the sentiments behind a number of the amendments, particularly Amendment 119, which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and which presses for the introduction of a timetable. The explanatory statement says:

“This amendment aims to ensure that the new packaging producer responsibility system is in place for the beginning of 2024, given that the final compliance year of the current package will end on 31 December 2023.”

All who have spoken and will speak in this debate are very concerned about our inability to address producer responsibility. I worked very hard for this during my 10 years as a Member of the European Parliament.

We all seem to pick up on the end of use, and we have all these recycling issues. If you buy perfume or aftershave for a present, you think you are gifting someone what looks like a really nice present, but, when you watch them open it, the contents are of course absolutely tiny, and you think it must be something to do with the marketing of it. Is there some way that we can use the provisions that are set out in the Bill?

What is the government position on labelling? The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, gave a very good example about garments, and I know that there are others that we could use. Has the department done any work on this? I accept the concerns addressed by many, including my noble friend Lord Lucas, who spoke about resource efficiency. Has the department done any costings on this?

In speaking to his Amendment 120 this evening, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned a concern, which I share and support him on, about wet wipes being put down the toilet, which causes so much cost further down the chain, as we know. We do not need regulations to ask manufacturers to do this; it is a case of education and asking them why they are not doing this in letters that we can all read. So I press my noble friend to say what work has been done on labelling and the education of consumers. We should not let producers slip away from their responsibilities in this regard. I wonder what the cost of such labelling would be—or would we micromanaging and micro-legislating if we were to ask my noble friend to address this?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment 120, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. No one who saw last April’s “Panorama” programme on the state of our rivers could possibly not support this amendment. That picture of what initially looked like a sandbank in the River Thames but was in fact a huge pile of wet wipes and other plastic-fibre sanitary items was simply disgusting to me. I do not think that that is an overreaction on my part.

In evidence given to the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee, one witness—one assumes that he was an expert and knew what he was talking about—addressed plastic-fibre wet wipes, stating:

“every day 7 million wet wipes ... are flushed ... down the toilet”.

There were also

“2.5 million tampons, 1.5 million sanitary pads and 700,000 panty liners”, all currently with a varying degree of plastic content. They do not dissolve or break down but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, have to be raked out of the sewage treatment works and sent to landfill.

The flushing of these products is already illegal. I believe that they can now all be produced without plastic content; in other words, to a “fine to flush” standard. They can now be produced in materials which are equally effective, but which can and do break down within the sewage system, like paper. So I make a plea: the Government should look into this issue and then, I hope, announce a legal end date for the production of all sanitary goods that are not produced to a flushable standard. In the meantime, as Amendment 120 proposes, we should ensure that all the current products are clearly marked as non-flushable.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the next three speakers on the list—the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—have withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys.

Photo of Baroness Humphreys Baroness Humphreys Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, I apologise for the fact that I was not able to speak at Second Reading on the Bill. I wish to speak to Amendment 124 in the name of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market. I hope the House will allow me to use this amendment to probe with the Minister not the disposal of single-use plastics but the banning of them, and the aspirations of the Welsh Government to do just that.

To understand the drive towards such a ban in Wales one has to understand that the pursuit of sustainable development is central to the Senedd’s devolved powers. It is expressly mandated as a core aspiration of the Welsh Ministers under Section 79 of the Government of Wales Act.

Like most countries throughout the world, Wales has its concerns about the prevalence of single-use plastics and the pollution they cause in our cities and towns, on our beaches and in our seas. In 2019, the Great British Beach Clean weekend organised by the Marine Conservation Society found an average of 322 plastic items per 100 metres of beach it surveyed, while in its 2018-19 street cleanliness survey, Keep Wales Tidy found fast-food litter on 20% of the streets that it surveyed across Wales.

The Welsh Government want to use their powers to ban 19 types of plastic items. As well as hoping to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds, the Senedd wants to ban plastic cutlery, plastic plates, plastic beverage stirrers and plastic straws, as well as food containers and beverage cups made from expanded polystyrene. This is all very sensible—so sensible that our wonderful catering facilities in the House of Lords had already achieved all this before the pandemic struck. Obviously, where the House of Lords leads, Wales is keen to follow.

The problem is, of course, the impact of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, which would mean that any single-use plastics permitted or imported into the rest of the UK could still be sold in Wales, in effect negating the Senedd’s aim. In January of this year, the Counsel General for Wales sought permission for a judicial review of the position but the application was denied on the basis of prematurity. I believe, however, that the Court of Appeal has granted permission to appeal the Divisional Court’s decision and that a hearing will be listed in due course. I do not expect the Minister to pre-empt any decision that the Court of Appeal may come to. Can he say, however, whether he or his civil servants have had any discussions with their opposite numbers in Wales on single-use plastics, especially following the election of the new Welsh Government in May, and whether we are any closer to clarity on the situation?

Finally, I want to refer to an excellent article by Dr Richard Caddell, a member of the Wales Governance Centre in Cardiff and a senior lecturer in law. Writing in FTB’s Environmental Law Blog and highlighting the problem Wales faces, he concludes:

“The widespread concern over marine plastics … may potentially persuade some UK regulators to upscale their environmental ambitions to meet those of other devolved actors, in order to stave off this particular constitutional conundrum.”

These are wise words. I find the phrase “the upscaling of environmental ambitions” particularly elegant, providing, as it does, a rather elegant way forward. Rather than insisting on asserting the letter of the law or resorting to the courts, employing a strategy of wholesale upscaling of environmental ambitions could, perhaps be more effective.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I have campaigned long and hard on the horrors of plastic waste, the need for biodegradable alternatives and the deficiencies of the UK local authority recycling system and its inconsistencies. It was a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. Of course, the Welsh Government did some pioneering work on plastic bags, although I think we need to maintain a single market across the UK.

I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister is making progress in these areas, as we can see from several provisions in the Bill. I also agree with concerns expressed today about wet wipes, nappy liners and discarded masks. However, I am disturbed by the wide-ranging powers we are now discussing. Since there is so little specification in the Bill of what they will be used for, and barely a glimpse of the cost-benefit of individual measures, we are essentially being asked to put our faith in Ministers, subject to the odd debate on affirmative instruments. Against that background, I make three points, the first two of which apply to several of the schedules.

First, has the Minister considered a much simpler and economically more robust alternative approach, which is a simple resource tax? Why cannot plastic and waste be taxed in a simple, linear way, like petrol and landfill, discouraging use rather than creating a common agricultural policy-like array of schemes and exemptions? Even someone relatively well informed, such as myself, cannot find their way around all the different proposals. What study of such levies has there been, including the effect on business and consumers, to pick up what my noble friend Lord Lucas was saying?

Secondly, what is the plan to publicise these various schemes as they are adopted? Is there already a consumer website where they can be studied and one’s obligations and risk of penalties understood? If they were taxes, one could just go to HMRC. There is nothing practical and up to date on the Defra website that I could find: everything is very legalistic and bureaucratic. Is such a user-friendly website planned for such measures? Perhaps I can offer help.

Thirdly, on Amendment 292 on reusable nappies, I have to say that I was one of the last mothers in this country to use terry nappies for my four children, as I dislike the waste represented by disposable ones, and my views go back a long way. But I know that, like one-stop shopping, disposable nappies have been a godsend to working mothers and fathers. I am not against some simple standards so that people know what they are buying, and allowing the promotion of washable nappies processed at home or through house-to-house services of the kind I encountered in Vermont. However, I fear I cannot support this highly regulatory and restrictive amendment. I encourage the proposers to think again and come back with something much simpler and easier to justify on Report.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench 6:45 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to add my voice in general support of these amendments. It is always a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, with her rapier-like perception of how we might do things better and differently. I commend the usual channels on what is probably a very appropriate grouping, but it does cover a huge area of concern.

On Amendment 119, moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I certainly agree that setting a deadline for producer responsibility is necessary and that we need to force the pace. We have been waiting too long and, without the pace being forced, I fear that, quite literally, the can will get kicked further down the road.

On Amendment 120, from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I have a sense of déjà vu here. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, a revulsion at things such as the Whitechapel fatberg. I also declare a proprietorial interest as an owner of private drainage systems. I have long prevailed upon tenants, holiday visitors, ordinary visitors and my own offspring not to put unsuitable things in drains, not least that product that noble Lords will recall claims to kill all known germs, including, I should say, the useful flora of any septic tank. These are among the things that we have to tell people not to use in private drainage systems.

In fact, many of these items, whether solids or fluids, should not go into foul drains of any sort, whether municipal or private. I agree that clear instructions on things such as nappy liners and wet wipes merely confirm to me that the information needs to be simpler, waste disposal more intuitive and the general public better informed. However, in moving to make this more rigorous, we can help by forcing the process of substitution with flushable alternatives, as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron.

I noted the laudable campaign of the Nappy Alliance in Amendment 292, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Of course, as we have heard, nappies are only part of the problem and many other sanitary products are involved, but I would say that I tread carefully here. However, as an experienced user of drain rods and high-pressure drain flushing systems, I support the general thrust of these things with considerable fervour.

Earlier in Committee we had a discussion on single-use plastics. Again, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and her Amendment 124, that we need to force the pace on publishing a scheme for dealing with this. It is very much down to the Government to produce that.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, reminded us in a very timely manner that resource efficiency must be one of our overarching touchstones in considering this. There has to be a degree of proportionality. We have to know what strategically we are getting at so that we can look at the thing in microcosm. I very much support that.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on labelling, brings in a vital part of providing better information on products of all sorts and—this is perhaps where one of the low-cost things might come in—generating cultural change. I think there are many willing members of the public up and down the country who, with better information and knowledge about the adverse effects of these things, would willingly and voluntarily move in the right direction. We need to try to tap into that. Personally, I am tired of searching for information on contents and potential hazards and for container recycling codes which are often badly printed or covered up by something else and so on. It would be very easy to do a great deal better.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred to out of sight, out of mind. There is one thing that has always worried me. Certainly, in my youth it used to be the standard advice that if you found a bottle in your late Uncle Fred’s garden shed, but the contents were not clear because the label had fallen off, you put it down the loo. That should not happen because there are some quite dangerous chemicals floating around. There needs to be better information about what to do with that.

When we talk about householders taking things to recycling places where they can be disposed of, please let us make sure that there is enough capacity and that they do not have to do what happens in one household recycling depot near me, which is that you have to go on the web and make an appointment to go there, otherwise you will not get in.

There are many things that we can do. On plastics, I am a great believer that the throwaway society is wrong. I am a great user of previously used plastic containers for all sorts of things. I obviously recycle the ones that I do not use, but some of them have been perfectly good substitutes for things that I would otherwise have gone out and purchased, and they last for many years—as containers for garden purposes, for property maintenance and so on. If some plastic items had a second or even a third life available to them, we would go some way to not requiring so many to be purchased in the first place. However, in general, I very much support the thrust of these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I too support Amendment 124, so ably explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and agree on how urgent it is for the Secretary of State to publish a scheme for disposal of single-use plastics, and to have that done within a time limit that reflects the sense of urgency that we have heard from so many noble Lords today. I also support many of the aims of the other amendments in this group.

These amendments touch on everyday family life. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, explained, anyone who saw the “Panorama” programme a few weeks ago would surely wish to support policies that can help to stop the build-up of fatbergs and pollutants which are already so damaging to our sewers and rivers. The figure of 7 million wet wipes being flushed down our toilets each day, without people generally even realising the damage they are causing to the environment and our sewers—they do not even give it a second thought—is something that this Bill may have the opportunity to address. Making sure that there are clear warnings on such products and that these parts of a household’s normal weekly shopping are both identified as being as damaging as they are and, ultimately, as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, replaced by biodegradable alternatives which do not cause that same damage are issues which I believe have not yet filtered through into the public consciousness. Given the work that we have done, we understand them—I declare an interest in that my son works in a company involved in replacements for plastics—but extending responsibility for this issue so that everybody becomes aware of it rather than just those in the know could help significantly to produce a step change in consumer behaviour and stop plastics clogging up so many riverbanks, sewers, landfill sites and other areas.

Taxation is clearly an option. Through the price mechanism, it would make sense—I believe that we are coming to this in a later group—to ensure that the most damaging plastics, which have caused significant damage already, are more punitively taxed so that consumers are less keen to use them. In that regard, I add my support to Amendment 128 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on consistency in any framework of public warning messages that potentially will be introduced to help public awareness. However, ideally, as I said, in the not-too-distant future the best option would be for those products that contain plastics that last for potentially thousands of years and do so much damage to be replaced with options that do not hang around and pollute our environment in the way people are currently doing without quite realising the extent of the damage.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, this group concerns packaging and single-use items. I shall speak in support of Amendment 292 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. All the amendments in this group have a degree of urgency.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, spoke passionately to Amendment 119, which would ensure that producer responsibility for new packaging is in place for January 2024. I have spoken before about the need for producer responsibility on plastics and I fully support the amendment. The noble Baroness is quite right to emphasise the need for producer responsibility to be implemented without delay. After all, there has been extensive consultation. I am obviously more impatient than the noble Baroness, since I would have chosen an earlier date. However, I accept that manufacturers should be allowed time to change their practices and that this cannot be achieved overnight.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey quite rightly raised the issue of those households with septic tanks, a large percentage of which will be in rural areas. For the septic tanks to function as designed, chemical cleaning products and wipes should not be used and should be phased out nationally. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on this point.

My noble friends Lord Bradshaw and Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, would require the Secretary of State to publish a scheme by December 2021 on the disposal of single-use plastics. This urgent timeframe meets with my approval. Wet wipes are causing tremendous problems and should not be left to volunteers to clear up.

My noble friend Lord Teverson’s Amendment 129 provides part of the answer for the Government. If all products were adequately and clearly labelled using a consistent format that the public could easily recognise, they would be more likely to read the information and take notice. This commonly approved and consistent design cannot be in 6 point font on the very bottom of the package. It will need to be of sufficient size for the purchaser to easily read on the front of the package, rather than having to hold it up over their heads to read what is on the bottom, which often happens when the package contains wet food.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised built-in obsolescence in household goods such as washing machines. Redundant white goods are extremely difficult to get rid of.

My noble friend Lady Humphreys spoke about the use of single-use plastics and the role of the Welsh Senedd, which wants to ban 19 types of single-use items, including plastic cutlery. The Senedd is concerned about the impact of single-use plastics coming over from the rest of the UK into Wales.

Amendment 292 is definitely not on a glamorous subject. There is no doubt that disposable nappies are extremely convenient. I wonder whether there is a Peer in the Chamber, including the Minister, who has not changed the nappy of a baby at some stage. My mother bought me two dozen terry nappies when I was expecting my first baby. They lasted until my second child no longer needed them and they still had a life in the garage as cleaning cloths. There were disposable nappies around, but they were costly and so were used only when we went on holiday. My granddaughter was kitted out with reusable nappies—a very different kettle of fish from the terrys of my day. They had a set of poppers, which meant they could fit a range of sizes, and were extremely colourful.

Disposable nappies are costly, but the cost is spread over the infancy of the baby or toddler, whereas reusable nappies require an initial outlay, but they last and can be passed on. Despite the initial outlay, reusables could save parents £1,000 and possibly more if used on more than one child.

For there to be a modal shift from disposable to reusable nappies, several things need to happen. Single-use nappies need to be disposed of safely and hygienically, not mixed with ordinary household waste. Local authorities and health centres need to promote reusable nappies, especially at postnatal and baby clinics. Fully flushable liners need to be labelled as such in large letters on the front of the packet, not in microscopic writing on the back. This is essential for households not on mains drains. A publicity campaign to encourage parents to switch from disposable to reusable nappies should be given high priority.

A quick search on Google shows a number of supermarkets stocking reusable nappies and online companies selling them. This is not, as they say, rocket science. I fully support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 7:00 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. It is a rare area of almost complete consensus—the shared horror at the horrific legacy our throwaway culture has left us and every society on earth. I think the World Economic Forum said that by 2030, if trends continue, there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans, as measured by weight, than fish, which really is almost unimaginably horrible to think about.

The resources and waste provisions in the Bill introduce much-needed reforms to tackle waste of all kinds and increase our resource efficiency. The measures look across the product life cycle, from design to use to end of life, ensuring that we are maximising our resources and adhering to the waste hierarchy.

I thank noble Lords for their amendments. I will begin with Amendment 119, for which I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Our recent consultation on extended producer responsibility for packaging committed to the implementation as soon as possible and proposed a phased approach commencing in 2023. These are, rightly, major reforms—almost revolutionary, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested—and we need to listen to those who are going to be impacted by them and ensure that they are able to adapt.

I am pleased that stakeholders have welcomed the measure, such as the Food and Drink Federation, which said:

“Food and drink manufacturers want to be accountable for the packaging they place on the market and an effective and cost-efficient system has the potential to be an enabler for increased investment in recycling infrastructure.”

We are currently analysing responses to the consultation and will publish our response as soon as we possibly can. We also remain committed to introducing these reforms as quickly as we can. But, unfortunately for those, like me, who are impatient for this change, the system is such that, because we are introducing individual schemes, and because those schemes have a significant impact on products and the producers of those products, each one of those schemes needs consultation and will require an SI. There will be process, and that process is largely unavoidable.

All I can tell the noble Baroness and others who support the amendment is that I and my colleagues in Defra are committed to doing this as quickly as possible. We want to go as quickly as we can, but we also want extended producer responsibility to be extended as far as it possibly can. We want an extensive programme, because we recognise that extended producer responsibility, taken to its logical conclusion, is a really significant part of the solution if we want to get to a zero-waste or circular economy.

On Amendments 120 and 120A, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Chidgey, respectively, the Government echo the concern around the Committee surrounding the damage caused to sewerage systems and the wider environment by the incorrect disposal and abundance of wet wipes and the use of inappropriate cleaning products, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. Small sewage discharges from septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants in England are already regulated under the general binding rules, which specifically state that the discharge from septic tanks must not cause pollution of surface water or groundwater.

Nevertheless, I assure the Committee that we have a number of additional possible routes to tackling this issue through the Bill. Powers in Schedule 5 to the Bill could require wet-wipe producers to pay for the disposal costs of discarded and used wet wipes. Schedule 6 allows us to mandate for wet-wipe producers to put information on packaging regarding their correct disposal, including “do not flush” directions or clearer alternative text on products not suitable for those with a septic system, to answer the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. I would like to advance progress in this area as well, as quickly as possible. That ambition is shared by all my colleagues in the department.

Closely related is Amendment 292 on nappies, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The powers that we seek in this Bill will enable us to act, if necessary. We explicitly outlined this on page 161 of the Bill’s Explanatory Notes to make it clearer in response to discussion on this important issue in the other place. We have also commissioned an environmental assessment looking at the waste and energy impacts of washable and disposable products. This will bring our evidence base up to date, putting us in the best possible position to decide what action to take. That report will be published within a matter of months and certainly this year.

The noble Baroness is right to highlight this. She almost apologised at the beginning on the basis of it sounding marginal, but, as she pointed out, it is not. The amount of residual waste that is made up of used nappies is staggering. Clearly, we must move to a situation where the incentives are such that people by default use genuinely biodegradable alternatives, if they have to use disposables, or even better, washables, although they come with inconvenience that not everyone can accommodate. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, I believe that I was dressed in throwaway nappies as a child. It was a long time ago—it feels even longer after a few weeks trying to get this Bill through the House—but we were all guilty, without a doubt, and we need to see a shift in the right direction. We have in this Bill the tools that we need to foster that shift.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for Amendment 124, which calls for a scheme in relation to disposal costs of single-use plastics. Clause 50 enables regulations to require those who place specified products on the UK market to pay disposal costs. While the clause could technically be used for a scheme on single-use plastics, the Government are already undertaking a lot of work to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastics and, therefore, do not think that a specific scheme under Clause 50 is necessarily the right course of action. Instead, Clause 54 provides powers for charges to be applied to any single-use item containing plastic. We also have powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to prohibit or restrict the use of certain substances. Noble Lords will know that last year, we used these powers to restrict the supply of single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cotton buds, et cetera. In May, the single-use carrier bag charge was doubled to 10p.

In answer to questions put to me by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Humphreys and Lady Scott, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, we have the tools to extend that ban, and very much hope that we will extend it, because clearly straws, stirrers and cotton buds need to be a start, not an end, if we are to phase out the use of unnecessary single-use items. The consultation that I mentioned earlier covers proposals to ensure that businesses pay the full net disposal costs of all packaging, including single-use plastics.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe raised a number of issues and appealed for a cleaner and simpler system. I sympathise with her. We are bringing in a tax system so that products which are made without a threshold of recycled plastic will be taxed a virgin plastic tax, which, I hope, will stimulate the market for recycled plastic.

However, in addition to that, I do not think it is possible through taxation to get to where we need to get to. That is why extended producer responsibility is such an important part of this, as it requires producers to shoulder the full lifetime cost of a product. Equally, no matter how sophisticated extended producer responsibility, or the virgin plastic tax that I mentioned, and some of the other measures that we have talked about today, may be, there is no escaping the need for bans in certain circumstances. That is why we have introduced some bans, and we will certainly be introducing more.

On Amendment 127, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, before making regulations under the powers in Clauses 51 and 52 and Schedules 6 and 7, the Government will consult stakeholders as appropriate. As part of this, the Government will carry out and publish impact assessments in accordance with standard practice and the requirements of the specific provision. I hope that the noble Lord is somewhat reassured by that. I note his return to the theme of transparency, and bringing the public with us, and he is right. That is a challenge that we need to bear in mind every step of the way. The impact assessments that I just mentioned will cover the resource efficiency benefits of the proposed regulations, having regard to the underlying environmental goals of these provisions.

Finally, on Amendment 128, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the existing provisions in Schedule 6 already allow us to include requirements about the design of labels, and in exercising these powers the Government will encourage the use of clear and consistent labels that consumers will be able to recognise and act on. That, of course, will include information on whether a product is recyclable. The precise design of future labels or other means of communicating product information will be subject to further policy development, including evidence gathering, analysis and consultation with all the obvious stakeholders. So I hope I have been able to provide clarity and some reassurance to noble Lords, and I ask them to withdraw or not move their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I have had one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, so I call the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I must be the most unpopular person in this House today, and I must apologise. I failed to tell the Whips which amendments I wished to speak to, so I was left off the list. However, I did add my name to Amendments 119 and 292, and I am speaking only because the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, in particular, asked me to, as she is unable to be in the Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whose name is also on Amendment 119, also cannot speak . I want to make the point that it is not only the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who very much wants these amendments to be taken seriously. So forgive me, and I shall speak as briefly as I can; I have crossed out all sorts of bits.

Amendment 119 refers to paragraph 1 of Schedule 4. I have a significant concern about the wording of sub-paragraph (1), which is not dealt with directly in the amendment. It says:

“The relevant national authority may”— not “shall”—

“make provision for imposing producer … obligations”.

As the Minister made very clear in his response, this leaves Ministers with lots of tools, but there is absolutely no assurance that they will use them.

We know that our Minister—indeed, our Ministers—need important issues to be on the face of the Bill. Otherwise, they will be steamrollered by other Ministers elsewhere, and prevented from doing really important work. This is not trivial; it is important.

Having raised that issue, I want to speak in support of Amendment 119. I think that it was the Minister, on day 1, who made the point that responsibility for superfluous plastic packaging or other waste generally lies squarely on the shoulders of producers—and I think we all know that. I realise that packaging is only one form of environmentally damaging plastic product, but many producers bury their products in a sea of plastic. The great benefit of Amendment 119 is that it focuses on the regulations, which would affect a lot of producers—but, even more importantly, it gives us a target date by which the regulations should be in place: 2024.

As others have explained, Amendment 292 is all about dealing with the appalling consequences of single-use nappies on the environment. Having had four children, and used terry nappies for all four of them, I was a bit shocked—believe me—at the idea of moving away from single-use nappies. But the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has set out very clearly the damaging effect of those nappies on the environment.

While understanding the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—from my perspective as a user of these other things—I have been introduced by the Nappy Alliance to the features of modern-style reusable nappies. I am assured that they really do not commit mothers, or indeed fathers, to the sort of work that those of us back in the day had to put up with. It really was quite appalling: you had buckets and buckets of them. They are apparently perfectly usable with washing machines and with very little parental input. That is very important to me, so I wanted to make that point.

I think those who tabled the amendment are absolutely right that the issue needs to be dealt with through the promotion of environmentally friendly products, rather than prohibition, and through the provision of accurate information to families about the savings they can make. No, they are not more expensive, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, indicated. Families save money if they move to reusable nappies, which is very important.

Also, the amendment makes clear that there should be controls over trading and advertising to ensure that the public are properly informed about the environmental credentials of nappy products—all really important stuff. Already some local authorities have schemes to promote reusable nappies, offering vouchers, discounts, trial kits and other financial incentives to families thinking of switching from single-use to reusable products. This is all very good stuff. I could say more, but maybe I have said enough to make the point that this really is important. Nappies are doing the most enormous damage to the environment. It could sound trivial, but it most certainly is not.

This is a very helpful Bill, but it could be substantially more helpful if it included some of these sensible, down-to-earth amendments which, in my view, really do not present problems for Ministers. Indeed, they would give our Ministers some strength when arguing their case with others elsewhere.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 7:15 pm, 30th June 2021

I thank the noble Baroness for her helpful comments. I hope that in the course of my speech I addressed many of them, on issues such as labelling and so on. I say only that the word “may” is standard drafting practice. I would love to see every “may” become “shall”, but that tends to be the way that things are written. As she noted, we have all the tools we need to deliver very radical change. Combined with the targets we are setting elsewhere in the Bill on biodiversity, waste and a whole range of issues, I do not believe that even a reluctant Government would be able to escape the need to use those tools to their maximum. So I am much more optimistic than she is that Governments, whether they like it or not, are going to have to take advantage and make use of those tools. I hope that that addresses the main thrust of her argument.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I have received another request to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

Sadly, I think the plastic tax that is coming is too complex, but maybe we will learn from that. I rise again because I wondered whether the Minister could now—or indeed by letter, if it is easier—answer my question about communicating these new schemes to consumers. To my mind, discussions of this Bill are too focused on producers and not enough on consumers. You see that in labelling; some labels are great for consumers, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said—for example, washing labels. The labels from my old company, Tesco, show whether or not you can recycle specific packages. These things are actually quite helpful to consumers. I am afraid that a lot of statutory labelling, in my experience—both in the UK and right round the world—is decided by politicians and producers, without thinking about the consumers, who often just ignore the message but have to pay the cost of the extra labels. So this is a really important area.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I apologise for not addressing that point earlier. I think my noble friend has almost answered her own question: the key for most of these products will be in the labelling. As she said, we need clear labelling. That is where most consumers will get the information they need about a specific product. She disagrees—but if labelling is clear, I think consumers will be much more likely to treat products in the way that they are supposed to be treated. However, that is clearly not the extent of the consultation or outreach that we will do. If she wants details about the plans coming up, I will write to her; I hope that is okay.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. We have heard some excellent proposals about how we can, for example, improve the labelling of items to make sure that we recycle and reuse efficiently. The noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Chidgey, and others are rightly concerned about what is being flushed down our drains—the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, gave us some vivid examples of the consequences of non-flushable items clogging up our sewers. We clearly need action on wet wipes. The statistic that we are flushing 7 million wet wipes a day down the drains is truly shocking. How can so many consumers not know the damage that is being done by these actions? It is a matter of communication as much as anything. I did not see the “Panorama” programme, but I saw the chunk of fatberg that was on show at the Museum of London a couple of years ago and I can verify that it was truly horrific.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised an important point about the proper labelling of products with an agreed improved design—he is quite right about that. He points to the success of energy-efficiency labelling and we can all identify with the urgent need for consistency and clarity of labelling. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, echoes this need for clarity and for the detail of the resource efficiency of products so that people can make informed choices. He is right that we should ensure that products such as domestic equipment should be designed for long life. We should know what we are buying and what the ultimate lifespan of these materials is.

As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, it should be easy to do a great deal better on this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked what the Government are doing on labelling. I understand that there is already considerable work going on to agree a consistent labelling regime, but maybe the Government should make it more of a priority to choose a system and sign off the design so that we can all see it in practice.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, is pursuing the same approach as I have taken in my amendment, which is to try to pin down the Minister and the Government on dates—in this case, on the use of single-use plastics. I agree absolutely that it should be possible for the Government to publish such a scheme by the end of the year. The issue of single use is going to be a running theme through a number of groups as we debate them in the coming hours and days.

I was quite taken by what the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, said about the perverse application of the internal market, which was surely never intended for the use that it is now being put to, which is stopping the Welsh Senedd taking more immediate action on single use. I am not sure whether the Minister addressed that issue, but it was never intended, I am sure, that the internal market should have that effect.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the huge issue of disposable nappies and the environmental damage that they create by being dumped in huge quantities in landfill or misplaced in other recyclable waste streams. She gave us some shocking examples about their impact on the environment. I pay tribute to the work of the Nappy Alliance and all others who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue. We urgently need a cultural shift to using reusable nappies, as well as better information about the materials and packaging used in disposable nappies. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, many people think they are made from paper and do not realise that they have a plastic content. I thank the Minister for updating us on the work that the department is doing on this problem, but clearly there is far more to be done.

Finally, I welcome the many comments from around the Chamber in support of my amendment, but the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I am a little disappointed in his response. I do not doubt his personal commitment, but the truth is that the introduction of extended producer responsibility has already been delayed. It has been three years since it was first proposed, and our deadline will take another three years, so it is absolutely reasonable. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, she would have introduced a much more immediate deadline. I understand that we have to allow time for producers to adjust, but if we do not set a deadline there is a real danger that they will simply drag their feet in the consultations and we will find that we are consulting more and more without an immediate deadline to focus individual minds. I have to say that we feel that there should be more ambition and that our date and deadline is a reasonable deadline for producers to deliver.

As a final point on that, noble Lords just said that the use of “may” was standard phraseology, but there are some “musts” in the Bill, so we could have had a “must” on this occasion. Perhaps that is something we can look at when we return, as we inevitably will, to this issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 119 withdrawn.

Amendments 120 and 120A not moved.

Sitting suspended.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:55 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 121. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.