I beg to move amendment No. 29, in
clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out 'must' and insert 'may'.
I am delighted to kick off our proceedings.
At first sight, the amendment might seem to weaken the Bill's provisions fundamentally because part 1 arguably sets the tone for our consideration of the Bill
as a whole. In fact, the reason for the amendment is the uncertainty—to put it mildly—about the opportunities to exercise the derogation that the provisions make available to the Government.
The Bill deals with waste. Our record on the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that goes to landfill is lamentable—and among the worst in Europe—although I think that the Minister has said that in Greece the situation is worse, and he might be right. However, we are certainly not near the top of the league table of dealing with waste in an environmentally friendly manner, which is why our targets are stiff. That is acknowledged in all parts of the House, and in debates on the matter the Minister has said that the targets are demanding and challenging.
As we debate whether to put ''may'' instead of ''must'' in subsection (1), the question whether the derogation will be used arises. The matter will be debated again when we come to an amendment on the derogation, but it is important to consider how the Government intend to proceed in respect of the targets. ''Must'' suggests that the Government will not use the power to extend the timetable, whereas ''may'' would perhaps give greater flexibility to do so. That does not suggest in any shape or form that those in the Opposition who care about these matters deeply want to dilute the intent to move ahead. It is vital to make significant progress in dealing with waste, but I wonder whether the targets can be met. Does the Minister wonder the same thing? He has hinted that he is uncertain that the targets can be met, has talked of them as an enormous challenge, and has said how stiff they are. I do not doubt the Minister's resolve to try to meet those targets, but if we do not allow any flexibility or take account of the possible derogation—
No. The point is that the Bill should give the Government extra flexibility. That would open up to the Government a range of options on how to proceed. I accept that we are under obligations, but we should not tie the hands of the country in that respect more than we have to—[Interruption.] I should like to move on; otherwise we shall be here all day.
The last thing that I want to do is to be here all day. However, may I pursue one further point: should there not be compulsion? A trading scheme must have limits; otherwise, it cannot work.
True. However, as the hon. Gentleman has a detailed knowledge of such matters, he will know that trading schemes operate in different ways in different places and he will be familiar with the American model. Investigations have been made into trading schemes, and there have been proposals to allow for varying degrees of flexibility. Suggestions have been made by Labour Members concerning the flexibility of the trading scheme and the way in which targets would be met—he might even have spoken on the matter. It would be wrong to suggest that we are in a straitjacket. It is important that we know that we have targets to meet, and understand the cost of not
meeting them: the potential fines are some £150 million, which is not small beer.
There is a nobler objective. This is not simply about meeting targets or about the fear of fines; it is about a determination to have an integrated waste strategy that is sufficiently flexible for us to be able to implement it. It is no use aiming at targets that we cannot meet or pretending that we shall achieve things that cannot be achieved. We do need an ambitious plan, a strategy and a vision, but we also need to be flexible about how we meet the targets and realise the vision.
The object of the amendment is to probe the Minister as to how he sees the Government's obligations. I hope that the apparently minor semantic difference between ''may'' and ''must'' does that. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says and, in setting the tone for the debate, I might say that there is no lack of determination on this side of the Committee to do things that are sensible, wise and strategic in order to implement a waste management plan. However, we will accept only targets and objectives that can reasonably be met.
This is an interesting first amendment because, as the hon. Gentleman has recognised, it could be perceived as a fundamental weakening of the structure of the Bill. I accept that that is not his intention and I realise that it is a probing amendment, presumably to find out why there is an obligation on the Secretary of State to specify an amount in target years but only a power to do so in non-target years. For the years for which targets are set in the landfill directive, which the United Kingdom must meet, amendment No. 20 changes into a discretionary power the obligation placed by the Bill on the Secretary of State to specify by regulations the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that can be landfilled in each target year by the UK and each of its component countries.
The hon. Gentleman is concerned about whether we can meet those obligations. They are absolute and are subject to infraction proceedings and to sizable fines, to which I am determined that the UK will not become liable. By no means am I suggesting that we might not meet them and that, therefore, we need to have a measure of discretion. The fact is that we do not have a measure of discretion. As I said, the limits have been set down for the first period, which is 2006. A derogation may apply until 2010, if we choose to use it; indeed, I think that we are bound to in the first period. We must achieve a target of no more than 75 per cent. of 1995 landfill levels. That is a very testing target, but it is absolute and it is an obligation. There can be no question of using our discretion or of changing the dates or amounts—we can change neither. The UK must meet its obligations under the landfill directive. The devolved authorities recognise that fact, which neither they nor, indeed, anyone else has challenged. In order to meet those obligations, they have agreed to the division of targets set out in clause 1(1).
I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has simply tabled a probing amendment and that he does not seriously intend to weaken the Bill's structure. I am
absolutely clear about the fact that the obligation must remain an obligation, that the ''must'' must remain and that we cannot insert ''may''. On that basis, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
I simply say that the Minister is of course right about the obligations. However, it seems odd—I put it no more strongly than that—that we have ''must'' in clause 1 but ''may'' in clause 2. That said, I do not want to get into a debate about a later amendment, and I am sure that you would not want me to do so, Mr. Amess. However, the Minister touched on the point with reference to non-target years. There is presumably discretion in that respect, and the provision could have been firmed up.
The Government seem to be saying that they inserted ''must'' at the beginning of the Bill to signal clearly that they must meet the targets that have been set outside this place. When it comes to non-target years, however, they are saying that there is precisely the sort of discretion and flexibility that I mentioned. I am therefore a little uncertain, because there seems to be an element of judgment and discretion. The Minister alluded to it, and it would be helpful to have a little more clarity.
Yes. The point about ''must'' and the obligation is that they apply to the target years. The targets that apply in those years are the trip wires, although I am not sure whether that is an appropriate metaphor. They are the standard or the objective that we must meet, and there is no getting away from that. However, there is the capacity in non-target years for a measure of discretion, and we shall come to that in a few clauses' time. The allocating authority—in England, that is the Secretary of State—and the disposal authorities will have a measure of discretion over how to deal with the stream in the years leading up to the next target year. It can be greater in the earlier years, although it would be very unwise to allow it be greater in the later years. However, that is a matter for discussion. The important point is that, by the time one reaches the next target year, there must be no dubiety about the UK's capacity to meet its targets. In the non-target years, however, there is a power, as opposed to an obligation, and there is a measure of discretion. The window is fairly small, because the reductions in each year will be so large that there will be little discretion to alter them.
I am just thinking about the obligation that the Minister has brought on his Department in light of the Labour party's desire for further devolution. Making the Secretary of State responsible by obligation rather than by choice will mean that if the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly seek further powers to set amounts for biodegradable municipal waste, the Bill will have to be further amended; but if the word ''may'' was used, that would not necessarily be the case.
No; that is not the case. The UK—that is all four countries—has an international obligation; the Government signed the landfill
directive in 1998. Under devolution arrangements, the Government retain an override in order to meet international obligations. I see no alternative to that, and it is not disputed by the devolved Administrations. Therefore, the only measure of discretion is in the non-target years—the years in between—and the pace at which we move towards the next target year. When we come to those target years, there can be no question of discretion, of trading forward or of not achieving targets in those years. It is a balance; we are trying to achieve as much devolution as is compatible with achievement of the international obligation. The key point is the amounts in those target years, but there can be absolutely no dubiety about our requirement to meet them, nor about our methods of doing so. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess.
I understand why the United Kingdom asked for a derogation. We have historically relied upon landfill to deal with municipal waste, and we must change our ways. We have used landfill to a much greater degree than other countries, and we therefore applied for a derogation. I have no doubt that the Minister is sincere in his wish that we should not be required to use that derogation. However, I am not so convinced that that wish is matched by the Government.
Let us be clear about a few things. We know that there is a 3 per cent. per annum growth in waste, and that there is a 1.5 per cent. per annum increase in the recovery of biodegradable waste. We also know that, even with the four-year derogation, we shall fail to meet the landfill directive's biodegradable municipal waste diversion targets, with a shortfall of almost 4 million tonnes in 2010, and nearly 12 million tonnes in 2020. The Minister has not said how we shall ensure that we meet the targets, even with the four-year derogation. I have no doubt about the Minister's good intentions, but I am not sure that they will be matched by the Government.
There is no question about it; they are matched by the Government. I am speaking on behalf of the Government, and as far as I know there is no dispute within Government, the local authorities or the devolved Administrations.
It is a great pleasure that the hon. Gentleman is still with us; I understand and respect the reasons why he now speaks from the Back Benches rather than the Front Bench. As always, he is testing with his carefully prepared comments. On this occasion, however, I am not quite sure of the force of his argument, because we have to choose whether to exercise the derogation. I shall come to that subject again when we debate later clauses.
For the first derogation years 2006–10, we probably have no alternative, although there is more of a question about later years. The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that even if we exercise that derogation so that the first guillotine—I would rather call it that than a trip wire—comes down in 2010, there is no guarantee that we will meet it. Of course, that absolutely depends
on the figures put down for each of the non-target years leading to the target year 2010. We will obviously choose figures that can deliver the requirement. The test is whether we can meet those figures, but there is no question that the run of totals leading to the amount for 2010 will be such as to meet the target when divided between the four countries. As I say, the problem is to get the change of behaviour by business and households to reduce their commercial and demolition waste drastically. I think that we are the first Government in the world to draw up a trading Bill of this kind with powers of this kind and enforcement of this kind. We are in that position not for a good reason but for a thoroughly bad one: we send so much to landfill. This is an innovative Bill. There is no question about its logistics; it is changing behaviour because it has the powers and mechanisms to do so. The landfill tax escalator is a major enforcer in achieving our targets. Using physical amounts seems to us the best way of ensuring that targets are met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) spoke about the uncertainty of meeting the targets, not, as he made clear, because of any lack of determination on the Minister's part, but because of practical considerations. However, given the obligations that we are under and because we do not want anyone in the House or outside it to think that the Conservatives on the Committee want to weaken the Bill, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 9, in
clause 1, page 1, line 8, after 'weight', insert 'and volume'.
I start by repeating a point that I made on Second Reading: there is cross-party support for the Bill, which, as the Minister says, is innovative. However, I am disappointed that the Bill simply seeks to implement the landfill directive without taking the opportunity to implement a wider waste strategy. That is all the more disappointing considering the recently published paper from the strategy unit, which was reasonable on the issue, and the fact that we are expecting an announcement in the Budget. The Bill is therefore somewhat threadbare compared with what it could and should say about a proper waste strategy.
The relevance to the amendment of that Second Reading comment is that the Minister and his civil servants have produced a definition of municipal waste by weight. That, I think, is to comply with the landfill directive; perhaps the Minister will tell me if I am wrong. Although the Bill may achieve the targets in the landfill directive, it does not necessarily do everything possible to reduce the waste stream and to maximise recycling. I would like the Government to take the opportunity, on the back of this sensible measure, to reduce waste that cannot be covered by the word ''weight.'' I refer, in particular, to plastics, which are not particularly heavy, so the clause gives
waste disposal authorities little incentive to reduce the amount of plastics sent to landfill sites.
Would the hon. Gentleman recognise the huge amount of work that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has done in desperately trying to convince the Government of the importance of the volume-to-weight ratio?
I am happy to recognise that and to give credit where it is due. I am sure that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire will have his own contribution to make as the Bill progresses.
If volume is not taken into account, the structure that is established by the allocating authority, the waste disposal authority, the collection authorities and the industry, which is geared up to deal with the measure, will simply focus on weight. However, with a little imagination the structure could focus on volume as well. I do not suggest to the Minister that volume should be used as an alternative to weight; I recognise that that would not be sensible and that he must abide by the European directive. What an opportunity we would miss if we did not, in establishing the structure, deal with volume at the same time. If the Minister does not accept the amendment, how will we create incentives to reduce the disposal of plastics to landfill? Or is that not important, in his eyes?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman—or indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire—has done any modelling in relation to that, but will he tell the Committee what he estimates the trend to be in the disposal of plastic waste? I suspect that he has identified an increasing problem, which my hon. Friend also identified earlier. In that case, the amendment is all the more profound.
I understand that the volume of plastic waste is increasing; first because of the greater use of plastic and a change from the use of glass bottles to plastic ones; and secondly because there are no strong signals coming from the Government that the matter should be taken seriously. This is the Government's blind spot in relation to the waste stream. If they are not keen to include in the Bill a provision relating to volume, although I think that they should, will the Minister say what alternative steps he is taking to reduce the disposal of plastics to landfill, to ensure that plastics are recycled and, most important, to ensure that a regime is imposed on waste disposal and collection authorities to drive them down that road? Warm words will not achieve the desired end—one which I am sure the Minister and I share.
Two years ago, I first proposed that we should consider the weight-to-volume ratio. The reason is simple. All the legislation currently coming out of Europe is framed on a weight basis, but the problem is not weight related but volume related. Holes and lorries fill up, so it makes sense to have a system that discourages the production of lighter fractions that take up a lot of room.
When I first suggested the idea, it was argued that a weight-to-volume ratio would be difficult to manage, but that is not the case. In the shipping industry it is used all the time in stuffing containers. The industry uses a ratio of 1 tonne to 1 cu m, and there is a very
good system for marking containers, both by volume and by weight, and registering how they are filled. The ratio is known throughout the industry, so such a system is practically possible. The real problem is that Europe has never used a system based on weight-to-volume ratio for dealing with waste. The Government should have taken the lead in persuading Europe to change the regulations.
What do we know? We know that, on average, the ratio for municipal waste is 3 cu m to 1 tonne. If we are to discourage the use of the lighter fractions, particularly plastics, we need to use a ratio that is less than 3 cu m:1 tonne. I have been proposing that we should use a ratio of 2 cu m:1 tonne, and that people and businesses should be charged on whichever is the greater. In other words, if waste weighs 1 tonne but is 6 cu m in volume, a person would pay not 1 tonnes-worth but 3 tonnes-worth of charges. That would discourage the use of lighter fractions; the current system encourages local authorities to collect the heavier fractions—glass, paper and so on—and ignore the more difficult, lighter, fractions such as plastics. It will also send a significant sign to the packaging industry and to supermarkets about how they should package food and other items.
My hon. Friend has come to the nub of the argument. He is right in general, but he is particularly accurate when he refers to the impact on producers. One of the criticisms that have been made of the Bill is that it is not far-reaching enough; it is not sufficiently integrated in its approach to waste. The term ''integrated waste strategy'' has been used by my hon. Friend and others, and the impact on producers of dealing with volume seems to be at the heart of the matter. Will he explore that further?
I thank my hon. Friend—he has taken the advancement of my argument almost out of my mouth. I was going to say that we can change behaviour by having regulations that encourage a form of behaviour that we all wish to see; it is preferable to use carrots rather than sticks.
The core of the argument is that we know that we are producing too much plastic—in packaging in particular, but in other ways also. We would like to reduce the amount of plastic that is sent to landfill, incinerated and recycled. We know that fractions are difficult to deal with because they do not degrade, they send off toxins if they are burned and they are of low value if recycled. It therefore makes sense to have a system that discourages the production of waste plastic.
The best way to do that is to penalise the light fractions, and the best way to do that is to have a system with a weight-to-volume ratio. I believe that the ratio should be 1 tonne:2 cu m, and I should be interested to know whether—although he may not accept this particular amendment—the Minister would be prepared to push for that to be included in all European waste legislation.
May I join others in saying how much I am looking forward to the debate, and to working under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess?
I shall speak briefly because my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) has encapsulated many of our views. The issue of plastic bottles illustrates how we feel about waste management as a whole. The Bill is an important jigsaw piece in the conundrum of waste. Sometimes we work as though we do not know what the big picture is; we know the meaning of one piece of work but not of the rest.
I support the views that have been expressed about the volume as well as the weight of plastic, but how do we get the volume down? Councils have to do an enormous amount of work to find suitable ways of crushing bottles. None of them is particularly safe—one would not want one's children to go near the sites—so they are not implemented. Other things can be done to reduce plastic use. Many people drink water out of plastic bottles, which is barmy, given the high quality of our drinking water. We should be working with schools; some have begun to tell pupils to drink water instead of fizzy drinks, which is far better for them. What about the old-fashioned practice of providing a bottle or jug of chilled tap water? We seem to have lost all that.
The Bill does not entirely deal with that matter, nor should it. However, we face the problem of how to reduce the volume of waste that we produce. We should consider other options, such as dealing not only with packaging manufacturers but with behaviour, especially through education. I support the words of my colleagues, but I urge the Minister to consider how we might alter behaviour and steer it in other directions as part of a waste management strategy.
My argument is brief and could almost be made in an intervention.
We throw away about 15 million plastic cups and bottles a day—the figure is staggering and I could not quite believe it when I heard it—the majority of which are disposed in a wholly unhealthy way. What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact that the Bill will have? What signals does his research tell him will be sent to the market?
Plastics is one of the most problematic areas of recycling, as colleagues and others have hinted, and the economics of recycling are often questioned. The only way to find the solutions to recycling those troublesome plastics is to develop a viable commercial market that will attract the vital capital investment. What assessment have the Minister, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury made about how to prompt the market to make important investment decisions that will help to square the circle? How can capital be attracted to resolve the outstanding economic problems that mean that it is not commercially viable to recycle plastics or to make new products out of them? What hope do we have of making far better progress than simply sending plastics to landfill or incineration?
The last point is interesting and I shall come to it.
The amendment has sparked an interesting debate. The two key points are the importance of improving plastics recycling or reducing plastics in the marketplace, and the interesting question from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire about whether the weight:volume ratio might be reduced so as to apply pressure to reduce the amount of material that goes to landfill. Those were interesting ideas.
The amendment would require the maximum amount of biodegradable municipal waste that goes to landfill in target years and non-target years in each component country of the UK to be specified by weight and by volume. I can see the reasoning behind that: some wastes, notably plastics, are relatively light and can take up a lot of space.
I would make three points, however. First, the landfill directive targets for the reduction in the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that goes to landfill are set by weight. That does not preclude adding another consideration, but volume is not mentioned in that context.
Secondly, on a point that is relevant to our wider debate, plastics do not fall into the category of biodegradable municipal waste. That is the great problem with plastics: they do not biodegrade. However, the landfill directive is essentially about biodegradable municipal waste, so plastics do not count towards the targets.
The Minister is right: certain plastics do not biodegrade, but he knows that others do. For instance, one problem in supermarkets is the very thin plastic bags made from a type of plastic that will not biodegrade. Previously, the bags were made of heavier duty plastics that do biodegrade. We must effect a change in behaviour. However, I should like to hear the rest of the Minister's remarks.
The hon. Gentleman is of course right. As he knows, an interesting debate was recently sparked by the Irish precedent of introducing a plastic bag tax. There are various ways of trying to deal with the problem, which is that far too much plastic from supermarkets litters the highways, finds its way into the hedgerows and ultimately ends up as landfill. As I never cease to say, each year the UK produces 8 billion tonnes of plastic bags and each of us, on average, disposes of 134 of them. The issue is therefore very significant.
As the hon. Gentleman says, another way of dealing with the problem is to use biodegradable plastics, rather than to tax existing non-biodegradable plastic bags. We have studied various ways of resolving the problem; indeed, we are looking for a pilot scheme to take place in Wales shortly, involving one of the supermarkets which is trying to change behaviour in this respect.
I will, but I think that Mr. Amess will not allow us to go too far down this track, because it is taking us rather far from the amendment.
I was simply going to say that the true figure for plastic bags has probably been masked. If people emptied their kitchen drawers and
cupboards, the country's landfill requirement for a given year would probably double.
I have no idea, but that could be the case.
The third point about the amendment is that waste tends to be compressed before it becomes landfill, so volume is less of a problem. Landfill gate charges are also calculated by weight. Furthermore, the UK obligation under article 5(2) of the landfill directive, which the Bill is designed to implement, relates to reductions by weight, so we must set the targets by weight.
One always recognises that hon. Members do not have the same facilities as Ministers, but the amendments do not provide a way of measuring volume, although I am not suggesting that we could not find one if we put in enough effort. The requirement to set targets by volume, which the amendments would insert, would therefore be unworkable. That is not intended to be a sneering remark on the part of Ministers, because we could tackle the issue. The point, however, is that it is not a relevant consideration in terms of the landfill directive.
Perhaps I can turn now to the other points that arose. I am very concerned about recycling plastics. The highest priority is to recycle all compost, or biodegradable waste, which consists mainly of paper, card, and kitchen and garden waste. As it biodegrades in landfill sites, it produces greenhouse gases, which is why we focus on the weight, not the volume, of waste. Paper and card make up almost one third of the total, and kitchen waste makes up about one fifth of it, so those are by far the largest fractions. The economics of recycling are currently much more difficult for plastics than for other fractions of the waste stream—therein lies the problem.
I was asked how we are trying to tackle that. The Government and the devolved Administrations have set up the waste and resources action programme to tackle the market barriers to increased recycling. WRAP has identified plastics as a priority in its business plan for 2003–04—the current year. One of WRAP's priorities is to market existing recycled plastic products and to remove discriminatory standards. That is linked to the development of ''buy recycled'' policies and to a research and development programme to develop plastics recycling technology and support composite product development.
One of WRAP's targets is to achieve a 20,000 tonne increase in the mixed plastics processing for industrial products by 2003–04. It intends to award a grant to address the lack of a plastics sorting or processing infrastructure in the UK, which it says should result in an additional 20,000 tonnes per annum of post-consumer plastic bottles being diverted from the waste stream.
Trials are being undertaken on different ways of collecting plastics, notably sorting it prior to collection, collecting it with heavier materials such as glass and then sorting it, and crushing plastic bottles to reduce their volume. As hon. Members have said, plastics recycling is popular. I receive a great number of letters, including some from members of the
Committee, and I find that the message is increasingly being acted on, as local authorities respond to local pressure. I acknowledge that it is a serious issue.
Under the packaging waste directive, we are obliged to set packaging waste reprocessing targets. Last year, our target was 50 per cent., and we just failed to meet it because of the notorious failure by one compliance body. We achieved only 48 per cent. However, the targets for 2006–08 are now under discussion in Brussels, and we expect that the packaging waste target will be set at between 60 and 65 per cent., which would be a big increase in a fairly short period. I mention that because it is linked to material-specific recycling targets; and the one for plastics, which is by far the lowest, is expected to be substantially increased.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) asked what market signals the Bill was sending out. It is sending out a strong signal. Because it will result in a drastic reduction in the amount of materials, including plastics, going into landfill, there will be a premium on the development of new technologies to find alternative ways to recover, reuse or recycle plastics, and on the onward use of plastic products. That is a major effort, which WRAP is designed to encourage.
That point was raised in a detailed and comprehensive way by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) on Second Reading, and I am sure that we shall come to it when we debate later clauses. I do not believe that that will happen, however, because there are significant constraints on a large expansion of incineration. The Government do not prohibit or encourage it. We are leaving it to local authorities to decide—and to the market.
We are clearly setting out a strong waste hierarchy, the top element of which is waste reduction and minimisation; in other words, we should not create it in the first place. Secondly, as I never stop saying, if waste is generated, we should recover it, reuse it, recycle it or compost it. Landfill is completely unacceptable except in much smaller quantities.
We are looking for ways to ensure that waste is pushed up the hierarchy beyond incineration. First, new municipal solid waste incinerators require a planning process, and there is a good deal of public hostility to that. Secondly, the Government have commissioned research into the environment and health impacts of all forms of waste management and disposal, including incineration. The Chancellor said in his Budget statement of 2002 that the Government were considering an economic instrument in respect of incineration. No decision has been made, but we are considering whether it would be appropriate to use fiscal measures to encourage the shift of waste up the hierarchy. We do
not want it to shift simply—as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said—from landfill to incineration.
We want to ensure that incineration internalises the full environment and health costs, and we do not want the critical mass of waste to move to the next cheapest option after landfill. We want to shift it higher, and we are considering measures that will achieve that. Although there could be an increase in incineration, it will not be large, and it will be very small in comparison with the big increase that will be required by the local authority statutory recycling targets.
It is interesting that the debate has, properly, broadened. Points emerge from the amendments, which highlight an important aspect of the Bill revealed in the Minister's response. That is based on the Government's assertion that they do not accept the arguments of Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of the Committee because they do not have to; there is no obligation on them to do so. That is important because it is indicative of the fact that the Bill does what it has to do for the Government to meet the targets; at this stage the Bill is not, despite the Minister's commitment and understanding—all the things to which I paid tribute—part of a wider appreciation of the problem of waste management.
I talked about an integrated waste management strategy. The amendments focus on the nature of waste and on the problem of the production of unsuitable materials. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was that we should focus not merely on reuse, recycling and recovery, but on the production end of the problem. This interesting and valuable mini-debate has—in concentrating at length on plastic—drawn us back to considering why we increasingly produce plastic, why that plastic is produced in a form that is not biodegradable and what pressure we should exert on those who create the problem. We must get right the balance between that pressure and the pressure that we will certainly exert on those responsible for collecting and disposing of waste.
That holistic approach, which is essential if we are to deal with the matter, has been brought out by our debate on the amendment. There are doubts about whether the Bill is based on such an approach. The Minister might say that of course it is not, because it is a narrow, small Bill. However, if it is not part of a bigger strategy, we will never get to the bottom of the problem that waste is produced that is difficult to deal with, highly toxic and seems to be increasing. That problem was highlighted at some length by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test on Second Reading.
The other thing that has come out of the debate is the knock-on effect on disposal within the waste hierarchy. A disposal hierarchy that places incineration close to landfill is not acceptable. The Minister is honest and straightforward when he says that he is determined to do something to change its place in the hierarchy, but the problem is its position: if it is just below or above landfill, we have not made the strides necessary to deal with the emissions problems that arise from incineration, which were mentioned earlier and in this debate.
What is worrying about what we have just heard is that it indicates a lack of the holistic approach that I want, and which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has called for on several occasions. Such an approach is essential if we are to deal with waste in a proper and responsible manner.
My hon. Friend made a fundamental point. One of the ways to tell whether management is working properly, which one finds in all management textbooks, is whether managers are dealing with a core problem—the major problem—or whether they are dealing only with the minor ones. We can all agree that when there are a series of problems that need to be solved, the big problems should be dealt with first and then the more minor ones.
The real problem with waste is its volume rather than its weight. However, all the legislation on waste is weight-based. I have no doubt that WRAP does a very good job, but it deals with recovery, reuse and recycling. I also have no doubt that setting material-specific recycling targets makes good sense. However, those targets deal with the event after it has occurred.
The point about a weight:volume ratio, as proposed in the amendment, is not whether it is a perfect or imperfect concept, but whether the concept is accepted by the Government as a useful tool in reducing the production of the waste in the first place.
On Second Reading I said, when referring to the Bill:
''I am sorry to say that it is a testimony to their''—
''policy of serial compliance with EU directives, as and when they start to put the United Kingdom in a difficult, possibly costly or embarrassing position.''—[Official Report, 20 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 1156.]
Although I supported the Bill, I believe that there has been too little imaginative thinking about how we can deal with the really big problem concerning waste, which is volume-related. That is why I would like the Minister to answer the question that I asked—does he believe that a weight:volume ratio of, for example, 1 tonne to 2 cu m makes sense, and, if he does think so, will he promote that in European legislation?
I shall respond to the points made in the last two interventions.
I agree with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) about the need for an integrated waste management strategy. The Government's strategy is based on that concept, and was set out in ''Waste Strategy 2000.'' That is the reason why the Bill does not set out a whole waste strategy. As I have said repeatedly, we have already done that, and the Bill simply provides for an area in which we needed legislative cover. There is, therefore, no dispute about that matter.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings then said that what we proposed in the Bill was simply what the directive required, and that that determined the mechanisms put in place: the concentration on weight as opposed to volume. We must meet the targets, and that is the purpose of the Bill—I do not pretend otherwise. Those targets are set
by weight, and that is why we must meet the targets and the time scales on a weight-of-waste basis. That does not mean that we are not prepared to look at the interesting points raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire about the weight:volume ratio and the relationship between 1 tonne and 3 cu m of waste, for example, which the hon. Gentleman proposed—presumably illustratively—to reduce to 2.
The hon. Gentleman said that the big problem with waste is volume, but I think that the problem is minimising it, or not creating it in the first place, which is the central requirement. Once waste is created, volume is important but it is not the prime consideration. There is a lot of unnecessary waste; some materials should not end up in the waste stream at all. Changing the mindset of individuals and households and industrial and commercial businesses is a huge challenge and it is difficult to incentivise. However, as I said, we are working on the problem and there are at least half a dozen ways in which we can bring pressure to bear.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman's question whether the Government would consider the utility of a weight:volume ratio, I am happy to say that we would do so, although I will not give a commitment at this stage. No amendment has been tabled on the proposal; the matter arises somewhat tangentially to the amendment before us, which refers to weight and volume, not to a specific relationship between the two, and how that can be engineered in order to change the waste stream going to landfill. I am happy to look at the matter because it is an interesting concept, but I cannot go beyond that. It would be useful in respect of plastics, as the hon. Gentleman says, but I repeat that we are considering tackling the problem in other ways, notably through the material-specific recycling targets—they will apply to plastics and some of the other, more difficult materials—which will be dramatically increased. The measures required to meet those targets may move in the direction that the hon. Gentleman proposed.
I am pleased to say, without commitment, that we will seriously consider the hon. Gentleman's idea. I will write to him when the Department has had a serious look at the proposal.
I welcome the Minister's agreement to consider the idea. I hope that he will write on the subject to the entire Committee, not merely to one hon. Member.
This has been an interesting debate, which shows that Opposition Members are concerned that the Bill is not a waste Bill but an EU landfill directive implementation Bill, which may be all right as far as it goes, but does not go far enough. The Government have an integrated waste management strategy, which the Minister spoke about, but this is not an integrated waste management Bill. The Minister has achieved much aside from legislation; he regularly pushes, pulls and cajoles, and there have been improvements. However, some measures require legislation and I wonder when the Minister thinks he will get another bite at the cherry and be able to introduce a waste Bill.
There will be a response to the Cabinet Office strategy unit's proposals but no opportunity to implement them if the Government decide that far-reaching measures are required. The next opportunity for a Bill from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will not be for some time; it may not even be in this Parliament.
I have tremendous respect for the Minister, as he knows, and I understand these issues better than most people. This Bill is an opportunity for him and the people who share his beliefs to enact the measures for which he has clamoured for many years. He should use the Bill as a portmanteau vehicle to implement the changes that he believes in, rather than simply accepting the views of civil servants who say, ''You need to have a Bill to implement the EU landfill directive.'' It will be a missed opportunity if that is all that we get.
Throughout the passage of the Bill I and, I suspect, Conservative Members, will argue for widening the measure and including other proposals that are important in dealing with the whole matter of waste. The Bill's long title says ''make provision about waste'', so it is perfectly in order to push that. I hope that the Minister recognises that he can make provision about waste beyond the landfill directive.
The Minister gave three reasons why he was not happy with the amendment. The first was that the EU landfill directive targets are set by weight. That is true—every hon. Member who has spoken fully accepts that the EU directive sets targets by weight. However, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said, there is nothing to stop the introduction of an element such as a ratio that also deals with volume. That would not stop the Government from fulfilling their requirements under EU legislation, and would not weaken the weight requirements that the Minister wants to impose and that I do not oppose. Rather, that would add something and pick up some of the waste stream that the legislation does not deal with, but which the Minister wants to deal with.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. The amendment would not detract from the Government's responsibilities, but would widen the perspective of those concerned with such matters, in particular the Minister, with respect to the strategy mentioned earlier. I do not go as far as the hon. Gentleman and say that the Bill should be widened as much as we would want, since it might not be within our remit to do that. However, the hon. Gentleman might want to invite the Minister to assure us that the Bill will be part of a series of measures that will implement the strategy that we all want.
I hope that the Minister will assure us of that. However, like other hon. Members, I am aware of the pressures on legislation and the time that the Leader of the House allocates, and I am not very confident that we shall see further waste legislation in the foreseeable future. Nobody would cheer more than me to hear the Minister say that whoever the Leader of the House is these days has assured him on the matter,
and I should be happy to give way to him if he can do so.
In the absence of that intervention, I pursue the second reason why the Minister was not happy with the amendment. He said that plastics were not biodegradable—he was picked up on that point—and so were outside the Bill. Even if plastics were biodegradable, that would not mean that they would have to be outside the Bill. Plastics are waste and the Bill is about waste, so the Minister's argument is not terribly convincing.
Thirdly, the Minister said that the amendment would not work. Clause 2(1) says ''maximum amount by weight''. On its own, that provision does not work. It works only because elsewhere the Bill explains what weight means and how that is incorporated into other measures and the Government's thoughts. On that basis, adding ''and volume'' would work, and I would be happy to promise the Minister that if he accepts the amendment, I shall be sure to incorporate an amendment later in the Bill to ensure that the amendment would work. I am not convinced that we should be much governed by the Minister's strategic argument.
More serious are the environmental consequences that will result from the Government's going down the road that the EU has chosen, which is weight-based. The Government must incorporate targets by weight, but not necessarily exclusively by weight. What are the environmental consequences of that? There could be pressure to reduce the use of heavy materials, in particular glass. One of the market outcomes of the measure might be further movement from glass bottles to plastic bottles. Do we want that? One could argue, for example, that plastic bottles are lighter to transport than glass bottles, which might be a plus. However, we know about the difficulties in recycling or incinerating plastic, and the noxious fumes that are given off. Therefore, I am not convinced that the environment gains if plastic replaces glass, and suspect that what I described might be one of the outcomes.
What signal does the measure give to the packaging industry? The packaging industry recognises that the Government are loading their cart with a measure about weight that does not mention volume. The Minister talked about the packaging directive, which will go some way towards dealing with the plastic situation if the target is raised as he says it will be. I will be pleased if it is. However, that directive deals only with recycling. It does not minimise the production in the first place, and the Minister indicated that he wanted to go down the route of waste minimisation. The packaging directive is therefore no answer to the fundamental problem of the generation of waste in the first place.
When the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said that the volume of waste was the major problem, the Minister picked him up and said that it was the creation of waste. However, the packaging directive does nothing to deal with that. Fiscal measures need to be implemented to prevent waste generation in the first place, but they are absent.
I did not want to intervene when the Minister said that I had said that the volume of waste was the fundamental problem, but in fact I did not say that. I cannot remember my exact words, but the record will show that I said that first we have to reduce the production of waste, although if we consider the waste produced, that is on the basis of volume. As I said, I did not want to intervene on the Minister, but as the hon. Member for Lewes repeated that canard, I thought that I had better correct it.
Well, the record will show not only the hon. Gentleman's original words, but that intervention, so if he is right, what he actually said will appear in the record twice.
Volume is important. It is no use having a Bill designed to deal with waste if it does not deal with volume at the same time. We heard about compacting plastics. I do not know the ins and outs of the pros and cons of that, but if there is an incentive to reduce volume, that will leave more space for landfill. Waste disposal authorities ship lorry loads of waste over ever-increasing distances throughout the country, because the holes in the ground in their areas are filling up. There is an incentive to reduce volume so as to minimise the amount of waste transported on our roads—there is also an environmental gain from that—and to minimise the number of lorries on our roads. I have no problem with the Government's waste management strategy, which is quite good. The trouble is that it is not being implemented in this respect, and some signals that the Bill gives may work counter to the Minister's objective. That is the essential problem.
The Minister talks about the waste hierarchy. Let us dwell on that for a moment. It takes us marginally away from the amendment, Mr. Amess, but as others commented on it, I feel that I should respond briefly. I shall return to the issue in more detail on the incineration amendments. The Minister and his colleagues have created a system that puts landfill firmly at the bottom of the waste hierarchy. However, they have not prioritised measures that prioritise minimisation, reuse, recycling and incineration in that order, and I see no indication that that will turn out as the Government and all of us who sign up to that hierarchy want.
In fact, the Minister said in relation to incineration—I hope that I do not misquote him—that he was happy to leave the matter to local authorities and the market. That is my concern. If he leaves it to them, we will end up with a large number of incinerators up and down the country, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test forensically demonstrated on Second Reading.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that, whereas he admits that this is in effect an EU landfill directive implementation Bill, it is not only a missed opportunity, but some of the measures taken as part of the Bill could be at least marginally counter-productive. I hope that, to achieve his objective, the Minister will seriously consider introducing into the Bill a measure relating to volume. I feel so strongly about that as a matter of principle that, unless he is prepared to do so, I shall seek to divide the Committee.
I have already said—I repeat this for the hon. Gentleman—that I am prepared to consider whether, in one form or another, this issue has a relevant place in the waste strategy. I cannot accept the amendment as it stands, but I am prepared seriously and materially to consider the issue, because I am persuaded by the arguments adduced that we should give it more consideration. It is not required by the EU directive—no one disputes that. However, as an addition to the requirement spelled out in the landfill directive, it may be a relevant concept and perhaps it should be incorporated in some way or another. I am prepared to consider that seriously.
The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted it to be an integrated waste management Bill. I have repeatedly said that it is not. I repeat again that the Bill is intended to give us the legislative power to implement one part of the integrated waste management strategy that is set out in ''Waste Strategy 2000'', which the Government published in May of that year. Rather than simply turning it into a wider Bill, I would ask for examples of omissions—things that are excluded from the White Paper for which legislative powers would be required. I believe that we already have the legislative powers necessary to implement ''Waste Strategy 2000''.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Government's response to the strategy unit report, which is not yet published for reasons beyond our control—the delay in the Budget. We intend to publish our response at or around the time of the Budget, so it will be published during proceedings on the Bill—if not during the Committee proceedings, certainly in time for Report. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to read it and to discover how extensively and in what ways we have responded. I would welcome responses.
The hon. Gentleman said that we need a wider Bill because wider legislation is needed. However, we already have a landfill tax, and we have suggested a landfill tax escalator to raise it to £35 a tonne. We already have mandatory performance standards, sometimes referred to as statutory recycling targets, for local authorities. My problem—it is a big problem—is getting those carried out on the ground, but we have the necessary power. I am not aware of a lack of legislative capacity. My concern, given the proliferation of agents—the local authorities—who have to meet those requirements, is whether, in more or less every case, we can ensure that they meet those targets. That is the problem. The real issue is whether we have the means of supporting, assisting, cajoling, applying pressure and, in the end, issuing directions to ensure that they meet those targets. We have to ensure that those very tight landfill and recycling targets are met in each of the target years.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of prioritising the higher reaches of the waste hierarchy, which is something that concerns me. In answer to an earlier question from the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, I set out some of the measures by which we intend to ensure that the great mass of waste is not simply moved up one layer but is pushed higher than that. I
believe that the combination of all those instruments is likely to be effective.
I return to the central point about weight and volume. I agree that if one relies entirely on weight, a switch from glass to plastic would not necessarily be environmentally desirable. In many ways I would argue that it is not. I can also see that, unless there is effective crushing, it can result in more transporting of plastics, which are rather bulky, and I am anxious to avoid that. The hon. Member for Lewes spoke in earlier debates about the proximity principle. I am keen that that should be made effective.
We are on only the second amendment; I do not know how many more we shall achieve in the course of considering the Bill. It has been an excellent debate and I take seriously what has been said. In view of the amount of interest, I shall consider all the issues. I shall not merely send a reply—which would, anyway, be invidious to the hon. Members for Mid-Bedfordshire and for Lewes—so that all Committee members will know that we are responding positively. That is much better than to make a snap decision at this stage, and I hope that it will be acceptable.
I do not want to extend the debate further than necessary. However, I want to pick up a point mentioned by the Minister—the trend issue. We have spoken a lot about the balance between waste that is less or more biodegradable, and that which might be less or more toxic. I intervened on the hon. Member for Lewes about whether there was a growing trend. The Minister will probably have information that the hon. Gentleman and I do not. I shall be interested in his observations. Do the amendments need to be set in the context of a growing problem, particularly in respect of plastics? That might help to inform the Committee and to guide its members as to how they might vote in any Division.
I should admit immediately that I do not have the figures to hand. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives them. I know that, unfortunately, all forms of the waste stream are increasing, most of them faster than the rate of economic growth. That is exactly the opposite of what we need. As a minimum, it should be no more than the rate of economic growth. We have to reduce it so that we decouple the economic growth—an economic good—from the creation of waste—an environmental bad—so that we have, ideally 3 per cent. or more economic growth and, say, minus 1 or 2 per cent. waste arising. That is the aim, but we are a very long way away from achieving it because the manufacturers of packaging waste are still only beginning to reach the point at which they are required to internalise the costs of unnecessary or excessive packaging. They have to pay for the reprocessing to meet the packaging waste targets. The more they can reduce it, the less they have to pay, so they do have an economic incentive. However, I am the first to argue that there is little sign that that has yet bitten hard enough to make a major impact. There is no doubt that the public continue to be deeply offended by the amount of packaging that is produced,
especially that which is plastic. It litters the landscape in a way that all of us abhor, so there is real force to the argument. I hope that the Committee will allow time to consider the matter seriously.
I have listened carefully to the Minister. He has promised to consider the issues and I believe him, because I know that he is sympathetic. I am in a dilemma as to whether to press the matter to a vote. I do not wish to reject the Minister's offer, but it is an important point of principle for many Committee members; it concerns a key part of the Bill. If we were not to press it, it would be a dereliction of duty. In a way, our pressing the amendment might strengthen the Minister's resolve. For those reasons, I shall press the amendment to a vote, and I hope that other Committee members will support me. In any event, I look forward to hearing the Minister's considered thoughts.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.
I should like to add my sentiments to those expressed by the hon. Member for Lewes on the previous amendment. The Minister is deeply sympathetic to all of us who feel so strongly about the environment that we want to widen the Bill. He generously said that he would still come back to the Committee on that.
The purpose of the Bill and the first two headings in the list of contents—''Landfill targets'' and ''Landfill allowances scheme''—seem to suggest that it is really about landfill rather than meeting European targets, as the Minister suggested earlier. He also suggested that minimising waste was another objective. I believe that deep in his heart the Minister is genuinely concerned not only about reducing the volume of waste to meet
European targets, but, most important, about making this planet, and this country in particular, a better place for us and for future generations. I therefore seek to widen the Bill by inserting
''municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial waste and construction and demolition waste'',
all of which currently go to landfill.
As the Minister said, the Bill is the first of its kind. I therefore felt that this was a constructive amendment because if it is the first of its kind, those types of landfill cannot be covered in other pieces of legislation. I am also aware of the tightness of the legislative timetable. I therefore feel it incumbent on myself, and on all hon. Members who care passionately about the environment, to try to widen the Bill as far as possible so that we do not miss the opportunity to cut the amount of waste that goes to landfill. I was dismayed that my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that we should not be here all day. When it is a subject of such importance I fear that we have to be here all day.
As my hon. Friend chides me, perhaps I should put my remark in context. I meant on that amendment. I am happy to be here all day on the Bill as a whole.
I am delighted to hear that. I know that my hon. Friend is as committed as it is possible to be to improving the environment. I am grateful for his support. Earlier we mentioned derogation. The Minister's strong determination to reject any derogation of targets was impressive. He also mentioned the size of the waste target, which is enormous. I was pleased to see his determination, but I was dismayed by the size of the target and the fact that the Bill is not wide enough to help him to achieve it.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not feel that this is a wrecking amendment, but will recognise that it has been tabled with the most constructive principles at heart. Hon. Members from all parts of the Room have made passionate speeches about improving the environment. I wished to be elected to try to improve the world in any small way that I could, and I believe that the amendment is a step in the right direction for all of us here today.
My constituents in Worcestershire and Herefordshire face the same dilemmas as we face, because waste management planning in those authorities is open to consultation. I mentioned that on Second Reading, so I shall not repeat the points, but I want to draw the Committee's attention to some of the difficulties faced by those in the countryside.
The authorities in Worcestershire and Herefordshire recognise that a European directive has introduced new regulations for landfill and has set targets to reduce biodegradable waste sent to landfill. They have to decide what to do about it. They realise that waste minimisation will be fundamental to the strategy and to reducing the number of new sites. They are also determined to increase recycling and composting to meet Government targets. Many
households and businesses already contribute towards achieving that. However, the authorities recognise that they have to be realistic and that there will continue to be residual waste and the need to manage through-disposal routes in future years.
The problem is that the authorities have to meet not simply biodegradable targets but targets for municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial waste, and construction and demolition waste. The target for reducing commercial and industrial waste to landfill is 85 per cent. of 1998 levels by 2005. They are looking at waste across the board—wisely, in my opinion. They have to put together a strategy that is separate from our responsibilities: we face only what we see in the Bill, whereas they have to deal with real problems, real landfill, real waste.
Therefore, I believe that the Bill will be greatly improved if we tackle the problems that the authorities in Worcestershire and Herefordshire face as robustly as we can. They have a comprehensive plan. They have given people several choices, because they recognise that, by taking people with them on the crusade to cut the amount going to landfill, they have a better chance of achieving the targets. That is why we must provide them with the necessary legislative structure to take their plan forward.
I hope that the Minister will accept the amendments, which cover different types of landfill waste. If the Bill is really about landfill, I hope that he will accept them, because they will help him to achieve the targets that deep down in his heart of hearts he wants to achieve.
This debate shows again that we must broaden our waste management strategy. In the interests of brevity I shall not repeat many of the points made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), but the Government report, ''Waste Not, Want Not'', showed that 68 per cent. of commercial waste goes to landfill, only 28 per cent. is recovered and only 24 per cent. is recycled or composted. Much more needs to be done with commercial waste. As we all agreed earlier, this is our only opportunity to tackle the problem in a waste Bill.
Our main problem is that 78 per cent. of municipal waste and 44 per cent. of industrial waste goes to landfill. The industry has done a great deal to reduce the amount through various other instruments, but there is much more to be done. A tremendous amount of waste is going into landfill. The Bill is about reducing the amount of waste that we send to landfill, but it does not go as far as reducing landfill as such. We will still have all the sites with which we are already suffering, which are a blight on our countryside. Those of us who serve in constituencies around London and in the south-east know that that is a tremendous problem, on which we have endless casework and with which we need to deal.
Perhaps I should start by thanking the hon. Member for Leominster for the gracious way in which he spoke to the amendments. I am beginning
to think that we have here not only a group of experts but a group of highly like-minded persons with a cross-party determination to achieve good environmental results that is truly amazing. The environment manages to bring out the best in all of us, across the parties. I embrace that.
The amendments' objective is considerably to extend the scope of the landfill allowances scheme that the Bill establishes to include not only biodegradable municipal waste but
''municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial waste and construction and demolition waste''.
Amendment No. 30 would require the Secretary of State to specify the maximum amount of each of those waste streams that could be landfilled in each target year. Amendment No. 47 would place a duty on waste disposal authorities not to landfill more of any of those waste streams than the allowances for that year.
I am only too aware of the need to tackle the wider issue of sustainable waste management, so I do not demur at all from the amendments' objective. However, that is not the purpose of the Bill. All those wastes are covered in Waste Strategy 2000, which is the starting point for dealing with those streams. The primary objective of this Bill is to provide the UK with a workable—I would say, innovative—system that will allow it to meet the reduction targets in the landfill directive. I am repeating a position that hon. Members know well, and they will repeat to me, ''That's all very fine but we want more than that''. I can see that those positions will be taken throughout these Committee proceedings.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the provisions in the amendment are substantive increments over and above the purpose of the Bill. My argument is not that they are wrong or unnecessary, but that they are already encapsulated in a strategy and dealt with by different mechanisms. The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of those, and I shall turn to them in a moment.
I understand that point, but the hon. Member for Leominster referred to other targets that are part of the waste strategy, which perform a very similar purpose. In Waste Strategy 2000, we announced a target of reducing the amount of commercial and industrial waste sent to landfill to 85 per cent. of 1998 levels by 2005. He mentioned that himself, and he is correct. That target is more modest than the much tougher local authority recycling targets because the level of recycling by commercial and industrial organisations, which the hon. Member
for Guildford (Sue Doughty) mentioned, is much higher. The Bill is designed to ensure that the disposal of household waste begins to meet the much higher targets met by industry and commerce.
Perhaps I should not give the best arguments to those who oppose me in Committee, but we should all recognise and deal plainly and transparently with the fact that this country creates 300 million to 400 million tonnes of waste each year. Most of it is construction and demolition waste. Industrial and commercial waste accounts for about 120 million tonnes. Household waste accounts for 28 million tonnes, which is a relatively small amount. If we are to have leverage on the totality, the capacity to influence other parts of the whole is important.
Relevant measures exist outside the Bill. I am not suggesting that they are unimportant or that we do not need them. I am simply saying that the Bill concentrates on an area in which we have, over a very long time, traditionally, chronically and utterly failed. We must raise the relevant standards and begin to get back into the European mainstream. We must deal with the overwhelmingly weak spot in the waste management system, and that is the purpose of the Bill.
Two points arise from the Minister's comments. I am sorry to be repetitive, but the first is that we must see the issue in the context of the trend. If the trend mentioned by the Minister in respect of commercial, industrial and demolition waste is worsening, we have a major problem, given that those kinds of waste make up a greater volume of the total. That adds strength to the assertion by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster that the Bill should take them more into account.
Secondly, there is an issue of joined-up thinking. We acknowledge that the Government's waste strategy deals with the matters before us, and that ''Waste Not, Want Not'' discusses them seriously and studiously. However, if the way in which the Bill deals with household waste is not consistent with the measures in place for dealing with the kinds of waste mentioned in the amendments, there does not really seem to be a strategy. Such an approach is not joined up, is it?
I think that it is. I was going to deal with the point shortly, but this is perhaps the appropriate time to raise it. Regrettably, the amount of biodegradable municipal waste is still growing quite rapidly. It is increasing at a rate of 3 or 4 per cent. a year, which means that, on a compound, cumulative basis, it will virtually double in 20 years. That is extremely serious. Provisional, unpublished Environment Agency data, which are based on returns from licensed landfill sites, suggest that the amount of industrial and commercial waste that goes into landfill may have decreased by about 8 per cent. between 1998–99 and 2000–01. That is a provisional figure, although I am sure that it is approximately correct. That 8 per cent. reduction over two years compares with an increase of about 7 per cent. in the household waste stream over the same period. That is why the Government and, indeed, the EU are right to prioritise the issue.
Each country in the UK already has a comprehensive strategy covering all waste streams. As I have said repeatedly, we have Waste Strategy 2000 in England, but the devolved Administrations have similar documents. We are implementing policies to achieve more sustainable waste management across the spectrum. The introduction of the landfill tax has had an effect on the commercial and industrial waste streams and on the construction and demolition waste streams. The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 will also have had an effect on commercial waste. The regulations are not lying dormant; they are dynamic measures that are being progressively and sharply tightened.
A possible increase in the landfill tax escalator was announced in the pre-Budget report in November 2002. I remind hon. Members that the Chancellor said that he proposed to increase it by £1 a year up to 2004 when it will reach £15 a tonne. It is then proposed to raise it in 2005 by £3 and by at least £3 until it reaches £35. In the light of the strategy unit report, the Government have been considering the time scale within which the final tax level would be achieved. The packaging directive is also under review. All the signs from Brussels are that the targets will be increased sharply over the next few years, and that will be agreed towards the end of this year.
The hon. Member for Leominster also referred in his amendment to municipal solid waste. However, I should tell him that a large proportion of that is covered in the Bill under biodegradable municipal waste, as much municipal solid waste is also household waste that is targeted through strategy household waste recycling and composting targets for local authorities. That has been backed up by an increase in funding to local authorities for recycling.
I mention it now and no doubt I shall return to it, but I do think that the Government have made very generous increases in funding the environmental protective and cultural services—[Interruption.]—I am not sure what the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle finds amusing; perhaps it is a Minister saying that the Government have been generous. I am not sure what I am supposed to say, but I think that they have been generous; as is known, I intend to say frankly what I believe. The funding has increased by slightly more than £1.75 billion in the current five-year period, and that is a substantial increase. We also had the £140 million waste recycling and minimisation challenge fund and increases in private finance initiatives from one spending review period to another from £220 million to £335 million. Those are substantial sums. We have put in place not only the measures, but the funding to make them effective.
I have, inevitably, given only a brief outline of the work being done to deliver more sustainable waste management in all waste streams. I entirely accept the need for waste management. However, I merely say that the measures to implement such management are already in place and that they are being tightened and funded. Much of it does not require further legislative change. The Bill, with its focus on biodegradable municipal waste and its innovative approach,
represents a small, although extremely important, part of that delivery for which new primary legislation is necessary. That is the difference.
I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster will accept that I am wholly behind him in his objectives. However, what he seeks to achieve is already being achieved through other measures and funding. I hope that he finds that satisfactory.
If I may make a helpful intervention, does my right hon. Friend accept that it does appear that the private sector and the public sector respond to financial and other signals in different ways on landfill? His evidence that there has been a change in the approach to landfill by the private sector seems to bear that out. Therefore the fact that the increase in the landfill levy may cause problems for local authorities, because they cannot respond in the same way as the private sector, suggests that it might be appropriate to maintain in the Bill a distinction between municipal and commercial waste.
I appreciate that there is a difference between industrial and commercial organisations and local authorities. Local authorities have an obligation to collect waste in their areas. I continually make the point that I strongly believe that local authorities are not there simply to sweep up the waste that has been idly created or dropped by a lazy, slovenly and dirty electorate. I will not mince my words: such behaviour is disgraceful. We are a sloppy nation and we need far tougher measures to deal with such things in the first place so that local authorities do not have to deal with an increasing load of waste.
The Government treat local authorities differently. We have given substantial fiscal incentives and increased the EPCS. We have also provided the challenge fund. As hon. Members will know, the strategy unit recommended that we continue with that, and we are considering that recommendation. We have increased PFI moneys in order to provide local authorities with the plants and equipment that they need to gear themselves up to a different form of waste management: sustainable waste management.
Those things are not provided to industrial and commercial organisations. They are faced simply with a rising landfill tax escalator, without any fiscal incentives. So, in respect of the creation of waste, we already recognise that the situation of local authorities and industrial organisations differs.
The Minister attempted to rebut the Opposition's concerns about the approach to waste not being holistic and integrated by saying that the Bill had a single purpose, because the other powers that the Government require are already on the statute book and he does not see the need for further waste powers. What message does that send to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who is piloting through the House a private Member's Bill on national kerbside collection? Does the Minister intend that message to have an impact on what the hon. Lady is trying to do? Her Bill is currently passing through to Committee.
The hon. Gentleman is very solicitous on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for
Lewisham, Deptford and I am sure that she will be hugely appreciative. The purpose of my hon. Friend's Bill is to create a kerbside collection that is as near universal as is compatible with achieving the large increase in recycling that we are demanding from local authorities. Her Bill contains a proposal for a much higher target for local authority recycling, which goes beyond the period set out in the Government's waste strategy, and we are considering that.
My hon. Friend's Bill also contains a proposal to produce mandatory sustainable waste management strategies. That is an important issue and it arose when this Bill was considered in another place. The Government were defeated on an amendment that was agreed there. We are considering our response to that and will be bringing it forward during the course of the consideration of the Bill—that is probably as far as I can take the matter. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be extremely pleased to know that she has the support of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle.
I just wanted to say a word in the light of the Minister's remarks. He is right that what is emerging from this discussion is that the Government's position is essentially minimalist. He described the Bill as one element of a strategy where we need legislative cover. It is not legislative cover that we need but an overall approach. As I said earlier, I accept that this Bill may not be the Bill to deliver the integrated waste management strategy that I have advocated, the need for which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster has acknowledged, but it should, at least, fit into that process. It should form part of a jigsaw that delivers such a strategy. If we consider the Bill in isolation, out of the context of those wider considerations, it may be a jigsaw piece that does not fit. It may be a mismatch with the picture that is emerging from the discourse in Committee.
My hon. Friend's amendments are good and right because they give us the opportunity to focus our attention, as well as that of local authorities and the public, on other important elements of the strategy, without impossibly widening the scope of the Bill or damaging our chances of meeting our obligation, to which the Minister has drawn the Committee's attention most forcefully. Yes, of course it is right to say that the amendments, and others that will, no doubt, be tabled in succeeding sittings of the Committee, will not produce a Bill that does everything, but it is vital that our appreciation of these matters is sufficiently broad to produce a complete jigsaw, of which the Bill is one fitting part.
I had not intended to contribute to this part of the debate, but the Minister said something that prompts me to do so. He described some of the electorate as dirty and slovenly. He was referring to those people who discard their rubbish on the pavements and empty their car ashtrays on the road. One of the problems, however, is that we sometimes make things difficult for people to do what we want them to do. There is not a single rubbish bin outside this Palace, and there has not been for 18 to 20 years, because of the threat of bombs being put in rubbish
bins and killing a lot of people. However, we know that some rubbish bins have been designed so as to enclose a bomb and ensure that the explosion goes upwards, rather than outwards, preventing the bomb from killing people.
It seems lamentable that this Government and previous Governments have not encouraged local authorities to make it easier for people to dispose of their rubbish. It might cost more to produce such bins—clearly, even with new materials, it does—but if we are interested in creating a cleaner environment, we should be promoting them. It is understandable that Westminster and other councils removed bins in the past, but it makes it more difficult for people to act in a clean and unslovenly manner, so I hope that new ones will be reinstated, which protect us as well as collecting rubbish.
Well, I hope that Westminster council is listening, because I do not demur at all from the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He makes a fair point; if we want to change people's behaviour, we should facilitate that change, rather than making things difficult for people. Indeed, the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford is designed to deal with precisely the problem that many local authorities do not currently provide facilities for kerbside collection, which would result in significantly higher levels of local authority recycling.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently considering waste, as he gave evidence to the Committee yesterday. Some weeks ago, members of the Select Committee visited Denmark. One of the things that we learned by going to Denmark was that it deals with commercial waste in a different way to municipal waste. More than anything, on the commercial side, a cultural change has had to be engineered in the way that the construction industry and all manner of other waste producers operate. The danger of the amendment is that it would take some of the pressure off that we could bring to bear on the commercial side of the waste business, which could undermine the Government's overall strategy. Would the Minister care to say something about that?
I recognise that that is an issue. We had some discussion about it yesterday, when I had the pleasure of being grilled for two hours by the Select Committee, which certainly drew attention to its recent visit to Denmark. I regret that I was not able to be part of that visit as Denmark is among those European countries that are ahead of us on waste management in many respects. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, we are looking for a change in culture. That is the essential point. The mechanisms and the structures will follow once we can trigger, or stimulate, that change in culture. I would be willing to learn from international experience how that is best done.
I am harassed, if that is the word—it is probably a rather aggressive word—by colleagues who are concerned about burdens on business. That is the
other side of the coin. Everything is a matter of balance. It is easy to slap taxes on people and it has an effect—there is no doubt about that. People go a long way to avoid paying tax, as Ken Livingstone has recently demonstrated. On the other hand, one does not want to do so flippantly, excessively or unreasonably. The difficulty is finding a balance that effects that change in behaviour while imposing minimal economic burdens on businesses that we want to be competitive and provide good value-for-money products.
If the Select Committee has some proposals in its report, which I gather is going to be published soon, about how we can learn from other countries to achieve that change in culture, particularly for business, I would be pleased to take that into account.
Finally, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that the Bill, albeit relatively narrow as I have repeatedly explained, should fit into a wider picture of sustainable waste management. I agree and would insist that it does. Several hon. Members keep saying that the Bill should be wider. I would like to know exactly in what way it should be wider.
The hon. Gentleman should hear me out. Which precise measures are needed that are not already covered? I am insisting that the hon. Gentleman's proposals are already covered by existing measures. If hon. Members think that others are needed beyond that, particularly when they see the Government's response to the strategy unit report, we shall consider them, but the picture is a composite and the Bill supplies a particular element in the jigsaw. Of course, it has to be compatible with, and fit into, the wider picture. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not feel the need to press the amendment to a vote.
I thank the Minister for his kind and constructive comments. Listening to the debate, I was impressed at how helpful everyone has been on the matter I touched on at the beginning. We all have the express desire of improving the Bill and making its provisions as wide-reaching as possible.
Earlier this morning, the Minister gave a clear and determined defence of amendment No. 30, when he insisted that the Secretary of State must specify by regulation the maximum weight of biodegradable municipal waste. If the Secretary of State is happy to take on so much responsibility for one type of waste, I do not understand why she should not take responsibility for the other types of waste, as the amendment requires.
The Minister was kind enough to discuss the amount of other types of landfill waste and, while shooting at his feet, was helpful and constructive. I felt sorry for him when he said that he had been grilled by the Select Committee. The last couple of days have been painful for him. As I was present, I can tell him that he had only a light toasting. However, his presence was welcome and we look forward to seeing him in that Committee again.
We all want the targets that the Government set for the other types of landfill waste to be reached successfully and speedily and there is no reason why the Secretary of State should not specify those targets as the Bill suggests. The landfill tax, which the Minister mentioned, is welcome and constructive, but it escalates over a long period and if fly tipping becomes a problem, the Minister will need to review that escalator and must be free to do so. It is not enough to say that the landfill tax will do everything necessary to create the nirvana that the Committee is working towards.
I have decided to divide the Committee on the amendment for two other reasons. First, in future the Minister can be confident that he will have the support to legislate widely on environmentally sensitive issues knowing that there will be support from both sides of the House, as there has been in the debate. Secondly—I use language that we all understand—all hon. Members hear from constituents that they tried recycling once and were dismayed when they saw the dustmen throw all their carefully sorted rubbish into the same lorry. That is exactly what the measure does, however. It tries to make people separate biodegradable waste and watch as lorries trundle past their house to dump other types of waste into the same hole. I hope that the Minister will accept that analogy and recognise the amendment's positive contribution. Although I am dividing the Committee, I am keen that in future the Minister should be bold and legislate widely.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.
I beg to move amendment No. 31, in
clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end add
', taking account of the 4 year derogation,'.
I hope that the proposal can be dealt with more quickly than earlier amendments. We have had a useful, positive and wide-ranging debate—at your discretion, of course, Mr. Amess. However, this matter is more straightforward. Members of the Committee are aware of the targets set by the EU for biodegradable municipal waste and landfill. We are obliged to reduce our percentage of biodegradable waste—municipal waste sent to landfill—by up to 35 per cent by 2016. Hon. Members will also know that those member states that were sending more than 80 per cent. of biodegradable waste to landfill in 1995 qualify for a derogation. We are in a position to take advantage of that four-year derogation and the
amendment presses the Government to explain whether they intend to do so.
We suggest that the derogation is incorporated into the Bill, because it gives the Government the flexibility that I mentioned earlier. We do not think that the Government should be let off the hook, or that the nation should not be taking the matter seriously, but realistically and practically we expect the Government only to set objectives that they can reasonably meet.
The European Union, in its benevolence and wisdom, recognised that some member states would have difficulty in meeting the targets because of the percentages of waste that they send to landfill—there are other states that send a fairly high percentage to landfill although, as I said and the Minister acknowledged, we are among the unhappy leaders in that respect. The amendment seeks to clarify whether the Government are likely to take advantage of the derogation available to them. It is no more complicated than that and does not need to be debated at length. None the less, I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says, as there has been some uncertainty about the Government's position on the matter.
I, too, think that this matter can be dealt with fairly quickly and I shall try to answer the question. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, amendment No. 31 would ensure that the UK could make use of the full four-year derogation that the landfill directive provides for member states that sent more than 80 per cent to landfill in 1995. The hon. Gentleman has, in a way, answered his own question because the amendment is unnecessary. For the reasons that he gave, the UK qualifies for the derogation and it would be consistent with the directive to take advantage of it. We do not need additional legislative provision to enable us to do so.
The target years are defined in clause 23(1) as 2010, and as 2013 and 2020 if we take full account of the derogation, but clause 23(2) provides flexibility. The hon. Gentleman said that the purpose behind tabling the amendment was to establish whether we intended to take advantage of the derogation. We should not automatically rely on the use of the derogation.—[Interruption.] If I may have the hon. Gentleman's attention while I answer his question. As we are now well into 2003, we will certainly not be able to achieve a reduction to no more than 75 per cent. of 1995 levels of landfill by 2006. The use of the derogation in the first period will therefore be inevitable.
I would not wish to foreclose on the automatic use of the derogation for future periods, particularly when we reach 2016 to 2020. Much depends on the progress that we make in meeting the targets as a result of the Bill and the landfill tax escalator. If we manage to make better progress than expected, I can foresee that we might not exercise the right to the derogation in either of the latter periods, particularly the last one. That remains open: we do not have to take the decision now. The Government are the last body that would wish to set targets that they cannot meet. No rational Government would do so. However, the
whole beauty of targets—if I can use that phrase—is that they test and stretch one. They challenge one to do better than one otherwise would. Targets such as getting to no more than 50 per cent. by 2009, as opposed to a derogation to 2013 or to no more than 35 per cent., which is a reduction of two thirds by 2016 as compared with 2020, are pretty demanding considering how far we are moving in the other direction.
We can and will use the derogation if we need to, but I want to sensitise people to the fact that the Government are not simply flopping back on an automatic use of the derogation. We are pressing as hard as we can on all the levers to achieve the biggest and fastest turnaround that we can and that is the right position. I hope that with that explanation the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings knows our policy and is convinced that we already have the powers that the amendment would introduce.
May I tempt the Minister a little further? He has explained—his explanation was understandable—why he thinks that the use of that derogation will be required in the near future. The Department must have considered the future. At which of the guillotine points does he think that that derogation will have to be used? Where does he think that he has greater flexibility beyond that point?
That is implicit in the answer that I have already given. There are three points. I have referred to 2006. We shall have to fall back on 2010, yet even that will be quite tough because it will mean changing the dynamics and effecting a significant downturn in a process in which movement goes ever upwards at an uncomfortably fast pace. That will require a huge change of behaviour, the magnitude and force of which local authorities and business still only partly understand, but there is no question but that we shall probably have to use that full derogation in the first period. We might have begun to achieve that reduction and significantly changed behaviour by 2009. I should not like to make a commitment now and would prefer to leave the question open.
I hope that when we come to the third and final stage there will have been a sufficient change in the dynamic of the process in the other direction and that waste will be decoupled from economic growth, so that we might achieve our aims by 2016. I do not want to exclude that possibility. It would be foolish to make any commitment now. All I can do is lean powerfully on the levers to effect the change and see if it is possible not to use the derogation, but I cannot make a prediction or give a promise.
Implicit in the Minister's answer is the expectation that waste growth can be controlled. If waste growth gets out of hand, it will be far more difficult to avoid the derogation. What analysis has the Department done to explain waste growth? That is a key matter in both minimising waste and therefore complying with the time scale and avoiding the derogation. Is waste growth caused by rising living standards, which means that people buy more and
throw more away? Does increased packaging cause waste growth, or are people reusing materials less?
I am not aware that we have done work on that, but it might have escaped my notice and there could also be academic work on the topic. All the factors to which the hon. Gentleman referred are probably operative. An unfortunate characteristic of increased living standards is more packaging and more elaboration in how products are produced to seduce people into buying more and to keep up the level of economic demand. The capacity to reuse and recover has changed in the past 30 or 40 years. We have increasingly become an obsolescence and throwaway society. We do not make do and mend, as our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents did. In some ways, that is a sign of prosperity, but environmentally it is damaging, so we must ensure that either those habits change or people pay the full internalised costs of the environmental damage. All the elements to which the hon. Gentleman referred are typical and there are probably others.
The Minister is right to say that this is a cultural matter—a matter of changing people's habits. I suspect that it is also a matter of changing producers' habits and by ''producers'' I mean business in particular. We talked about packaging, including producer-orientated packaging. The danger with our discussions and with the Bill itself is that we focus on disposal rather than on the root cause of the problem, but perhaps that is inevitable given the constraints of the legislation.
I was interested in what the Minister said on the derogation. He has a realistic appreciation of the targets that we have been set and our likely ability to meet them. He is right to say that the early targets will be extremely difficult to meet, at the very least, because this is about cultural change—a fundamental difference. It is not about changing things incrementally or on the margin.
I am not sure that I entirely agree with the Minister about the beauty of targets—that was an interesting phrase. As someone who believes that his political mission is the pursuit of truth and beauty, I think that the more beautiful things are probably those that cannot be measured and targeted. I am rather suspicious of a culture that relies wholly on that which can be put on a graph or tabulated. An aesthetic
appreciation of life is a more glorious thing and certainly a more beautiful one.
Leaving that to one side, the amendment is about
''taking account of the . . . derogation''.
We are not saying that the derogation would necessarily be used, as I think the Minister is aware. We are simply saying, as he has said, that we need to be aware of the opportunity to use it should it become necessary if we feel that the targets have become unrealistic as time goes on.
The amendment was designed to test the Minister's perspective, which seems realistic and reasonable. He seems to be saying—he will correct me if I am wrong—that the Government are aware of the derogation and will use it if they need to, but they do not want to take the pressure off, to assume that we should not drive on, or to give the impression that they will not be firm and committed in trying to achieve those objectives. If that is the Minister's intention, it is pointless to press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Order. We are about to hear from the Government Whip.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Eleven o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock.