Amendment 119

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 6:30 pm, 30th June 2021

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.