Amendment 119

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 7:00 pm, 30th June 2021

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.