I beg to move amendment No. 36, in
clause 4, page 3, line 28, after 'authority', insert
'taking into account that there can be no separation of responsibilities between district, or county council,'.
The amendment identifies the different types of authority. I believe that there are at least four types: the allocating authorities and the district, county and unitary authorities. Currently, we are dealing with the allocating authority, which would be an Assembly, such as the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, when there is one.
The important point is that all the authorities should work together to achieve the landfill targets. I am keen to close the loophole that may allow authorities to play off against one another. Let us say, for example, that a district authority under a county council is responsible for waste collection, while the county council is responsible for waste disposal. I am keen to ensure that if there is any failure, the failing part of that two-tier team is held responsible, but equally that the responsibility is managed internally, rather than by the Government. That is what the amendment is designed to achieve.
That is an important consideration, because there are many different ways of dealing with waste collection. We can consider examples from abroad. Apparently, almost all EU members are introducing a type of landfill tax except for Greece, Portugal and Germany, so even within the EU there are exceptions to the rule. I am keen that we do not allow exceptions to creep in with our Bill. I hope that the amendment is constructive and helpful and that the Minister agrees with me.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the relationship between district and county councils or, more accurately, waste collection and waste disposal authorities, because it is terribly important and needs to be discussed in some detail. I must refer to clause 31, because it is inextricably linked with the amendment. In fact, that clause is in a rather odd place in the Bill, but for the purposes of discussion it does not matter where it falls.
My concern is that previous legislation constructed arrangements whereby the responsibility for waste in two-tier local authority areas is divided between county and district councils. Of course, the same does not apply to unitary authorities. Under those arrangements, a patchwork solution has been constructed whereby some county councils perform very well, pulling district councils along behind them, and other, star district councils are let down by the county councils. Each waste collection authority or district council will almost certainly construct a different solution for waste on its own patch.
Like many hon. Members, I have more than one district council in my constituency. Lewes and Wealden both perform very well, but each has a completely different approach to waste collection. One has a traditional dustbin system, and one has a wheelie bin system. One authority has a doorstep collection in different parts; another has a ''bring it along'' system. There is a mixture with regard to how authorities are
delivering, but they all want to achieve the recycling targets.
I am concerned that if we are not careful, the Bill will result in an attempt by county councils to force a uniform system on authorities, particularly district councils, that may not be appropriate to their needs. I do not underestimate the difficulties of finding a solution, and I do not have one, but there are two options. One could abolish waste collection authorities and make one authority responsible for collection and disposal. Many people consider that an appropriate solution. It seemed to work quite well in the unitary authorities, and it is easier than when the responsibility is split.
Alternatively one could have a system in which one authority within the disposal and collection regime is unable either to frustrate the other authority or to behave in such a way that it misses targets and leaves a different authority to pick up the bill. In that system, one could not have a situation that allowed a disposal authority to decide that it wanted to have a uniform approach across its county, telling individual collection authorities that they must change their method of dealing with waste, irrespective of the cost and the consequences for their particular scheme, which they might have carefully nourished and developed specifically for their needs.
Clause 31, which we will deal with in detail later, seems to give disposal authorities excessive powers to control the performance of collection authorities, which will then be at their mercy, irrespective of how well they are performing now. They will simply be told to change because they do not conform with what the waste disposal authority wants. In a sense I was expecting to have some of this discussion on that clause, but the amendment refers to the separation of responsibilities.
How does the Minister see the future relationship between disposal authorities and collection authorities? How would a solution be found if those authorities were in dispute? How will he ensure that one type of authority cannot thwart another type of authority or behave unfairly towards it? What does he envisage the role of collection authorities being in the allocation of landfill allowances? This is a big issue, and we need to get it right or it could derail the Bill.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. Following on from the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), I should like to ask the Minister about the planning process, principally through the waste strategy plans that each authority has to put in place. It is a matter for which he does not have responsibility but it is crucial to the way in which the Bill will operate.
I can speak only through my own experience in Gloucestershire, where I gave evidence for the waste plan. The idea was that the six district authorities would work with the county authority to produce an all-singing, all-dancing, cohesive plan, which would have major implications for recycling and for waste disposal in general.
I would have spoken about this on Second Reading if there had been more time, although I alluded to it. Is
it possible to move to a system in which, as the hon. Member for Lewes said, one authority cannot dump, metaphorically and literally, on another? If not, the whole strategy will begin to unravel. I am particularly interested in how we can give every encouragement to two-tier authorities to work together so that targets are not just set, but delivered. We all know that waste does not necessarily remain in the area where it was collected; it moves on. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how we can get that greater degree of cohesion and how, without having to use the stick, we can ensure that instead of just speaking warmly about their waste plans, authorities get their act together and adhere to them.
I want to amplify the arguments of the hon. Members for Lewes and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and to reaffirm those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) when he introduced the amendments.
The key point is recognition of the fact that there is great variability in waste culture both between and within local authorities. A county council in a two-tier situation may be good at its job, but some or all of its district councils may not be so good at their jobs. That is a fact of life: it is not a party issue, but is about all parties and none. However, in those circumstances, and where the relationships are not right and proper, it would be difficult to meet targets for which a high level of co-operation is required.
The point made by the hon. Member for Stroud should be emphasised. He said that it is not just that such authorities will not be efficient, but that they may not yet have taken their responsibilities seriously. They may not yet have woken up to the necessity of putting together a coherent plan. I need to be convinced that sufficient discussion is taking place between the relevant authorities in all parts of the country. That will certainly happen in some places where strong relationships already exist. Those areas will have got ahead of the game and will already be having the right sort of discussions in anticipation of the targets and the Bill. However, in many parts of the country that will not be the case.
That issue must be viewed against the background of the variable needs and qualities of different parts of the country. Some areas have a proliferation of a particular type of waste—commercial and industrial waste, for example—whereas other areas have dense populations. My area is sparsely populated and that creates a different kind of problem in terms of waste collection, the distribution of resources and the provision of a public service to a sparse community. There is enormous variation in the means and needs of different areas and that will have an impact on the ability of different areas to meet the targets. To enable them to do so, we must include in the Bill an impetus for the relevant authorities to work together. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster sought to do that in proposing the amendments.
I will be interested to hear from the Minister his assessment of how far we have gone in encouraging local authorities to operate in that way and what his
model would be for encouraging them to do so in areas where they are not.
I welcome you to the Chair, Miss Begg. I am concerned about the idea of consultation. In a perfect world, a district authority or a borough council should be consulting with its county council and, of course, we would all want them to agree. One of the interesting things that the Audit Commission found was that the
''split between collection and disposal authorities appears to be unique in Europe.''
I believe that to be a problem and that is why I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes said. The Audit Commission found that the split led to inefficiencies, and stated
''two-tier authorities, where collection and disposal are split, will find it harder to meet their targets.''
Throughout the country, there are many examples of the collection authorities being, for one reason or another, unhappy with the waste strategy of the disposal authority. The collection authorities may have decided that they want to avoid incineration, particularly if it was going to come their way, and they might adopt a zero-waste strategy or some other waste management strategy that they felt was more sustainable than the one that the county council had proposed. Throughout the country there are authorities where the county and the district are at odds with one another about the most sustainable way of dealing with waste while also trying to achieve targets, and that is a problem.
I do not like that split, but I realise that the Bill is not about that. I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments on the matter, although I appreciate that there is nothing in the Bill to change it. I fear that the proposal in the amendment is not deliverable, because the disposal authority and the collection authority will not always agree, especially where the collection authority has from time to time made its own arrangements because it has probably been able to do it better.
It is understandable and proper that the allocating authority should look to the waste disposal authority to organise how waste is better processed, but that the waste disposal authority should require the waste collection authority, if it is not the same authority, to produce that waste in a form that allows it to carry out the task that it has been set by the waste allocating authority. Therefore, the relationship between the disposing authority and the collecting authority is fundamental to the working of the Bill and to our ability to achieve the targets that we are statutorily obligated to achieve. As I said on Second Reading, not enough thought has been given to that relationship, which falls into two parts. The first is the power to direct, if necessary, and the second is the power to fund. Then I suppose there is a third part: who is fined when it does not happen?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. His points are consistent with the evidence given to the Environmental Audit Committee by the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, which said:
''There is not a sound business plan for implementing sustainable waste management in this country, certainly not at a national level and certainly not at a local level because we do not get consistent messages. We are not hearing consistent messages from across various governments departments.''
That is extremely interesting. I admit that I had not read that piece of evidence, but it goes to the heart of the problem.
There is no size that will fit all. That is clear. What will happen in an urban environment will be different from what happens in a rural environment; what happens in an area of sparse population will differ from what happens in a semi-rural area, where the population density is greater. There is also the history of the way in which people have learned and practised any form of separating their domestic waste.
We can all accept that one size will not fit all. However, someone has to be in charge, and the person in charge will be the disposal authority, which will require different authorities to produce waste in a certain fashion. Provided that everyone is producing the waste in the fashion that is required, even if they are not doing things in the same way, they should be permitted flexibility in the way in which they perform that function.
What is not set out and what local authorities I speak to are unclear about is what happens if they cannot get the collection authority's agreement to produce the waste in the fashion that they require—the two authorities may be politically at odds with one another—in which case the disposal authority can have a fine levied on it. As I understand it, there is no provision to pass that fine on to an errant authority.
My hon. Friend makes a very strong case, which builds on the question of variety. He understands that a county council may have in its bounds seven or eight districts. They may have different politics and will certainly have different waste profiles. Some may be urban, some may be suburban and some may be rural. The relationship between the two sets of authorities is therefore complex politically and in terms of the waste profiles and cultures of the collection authorities within the disposal authority, which may be a large county council.
My hon. Friend absolutely makes his point. My constituency includes Bedford borough council, the edge of Luton, which is a unitary authority, authorities in south-west Bedfordshire and a bit of north-east Bedfordshire, and Mid-Bedfordshire district council. Each of them might do things differently, although, in fact, three do things similarly, while two do things very differently. However, they all have one disposal authority, even though they are of different political persuasions.
We are all trying to achieve the same thing: the source separation, recycling and reuse of waste. Neither the Bill nor any regulations of which I am aware will ensure a harmonious relationship between the collection and disposal authority, nor will they ensure that collection is carried out in a way that assists the disposal authority with its job. Given that
that is the case, how will the fining of the disposal authority filter down to the collection authority if it is at fault?
Will the hon. Gentleman also reflect on the fact that we could be facing further local government reorganisation? There is a move towards the creation of regions and it is not impossible that councils may be abolished in the near future. I do not think that I am taking things too far and such moves have certainly been suggested. Will he reflect on the problems that would arise between potentially much larger disposal authorities and an even greater number of collection authorities?
That may be a bit further over the horizon than I wish to look. I will oppose the regions and the diminution of county councils' powers throughout my political life. That is one guarantee that I will give, because I am dead against regionalism—it is a load of rubbish.
Anyway, to get back to a different form of rubbish—waste—the Minister must answer a fundamental question. How does he envisage the relationship between the collecting and disposal authorities in terms of funding and fining?
This is an important discussion, which runs through not only the Bill but wider social and economic policy. In effect, we are talking about the distance between those who believe in a centralist approach and those who believe in, dare I say it, new localism.
One discussion today has been about the words ''diverse'', ''different'' and ''complex'' and we all need to perceive that local authorities and their areas are fundamentally different. There will be real differences between collection in urban and rural areas. In high-rise areas, it is tough to have a collection system and, beyond that, a recycling system, while rural areas have their own problems. The key to the debate is how we handle those difficulties.
The essence of the argument is the relationship between the collection authority, which is typically the district council, and the disposal authority, which is the county council. As I said, that discussion runs through the Bill. As the hon. Member for Lewes said, there will be a lively discussion about the matter when we come to clause 31. There will also be a discussion when we come to clause 17, because the Bill was amended in the other place to include a new subsection (5), which means that the waste disposal authority—the county council—can tell the waste collection authority what to do. That is not satisfactory. I am not entirely sure that the amendment that we are discussing is satisfactory.
There will be discussions later when we consider amendments Nos. 20 and 21, which the Minister intends to introduce as a substitute for the Lords amendment relating to clause 17(5). As I understand amendments Nos. 20 and 21, they specify that there should be discussions between the collection authority and the disposal authority and that use should be made of best practice as defined by guidance from the
Secretary of State. There is no one easy solution. The solution for the Committee in the course of its work is to find a form of words to define the relationship that acknowledges that there are tensions between the collection and disposal authorities. We should build on the framework of this skeleton Bill and lay down a set of parameters and guidelines that allows those authorities to work together. That is what we are trying to edge towards now.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my reading of the Bill? It is that the allocating authority allocates allowances to the waste disposal authority, which has the power to direct the waste collection authority about how to separate waste and where to deliver it. Does he think that that is a healthy form of direction? Does he believe that it is likely that the disposal authority will really understand each and every one of the collection authorities? Is this not an occasion when one size will not fit all?
I fundamentally agree with the last point, which must be right. On the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, the Bill has been altered since its introduction in the other place. Clause 17(5) gives the disposal authority the right of direction. Clearly, that does not appear to be right. If I understand the Government's intentions, having considered the amendments that we will be discussing at a later date, clause 17(5) is to be deleted. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 will redefine the relationship. They state that the disposal authority must have discussions with the collection authorities and must take into account best practice and guidance from the Secretary of State. That is a positive and healthy way forward. I am not entirely convinced—I may be convinced after some more discussion—that that will resolve and settle the problem, but it is a better way forward than the present provision.
If people are not already putting their heads in their hands, may I add a further element of potential complication. That is not the relationship between waste disposal authorities and waste collection authorities, but that between waste disposal authorities and waste disposal authorities. The allocating authority is supposed to provide each waste disposal authority with an amount that it can put into landfill. In fact, a number of waste disposal authorities have formed consortiums—there are four in London. There is a consortium of all the Manchester authorities except one, and there are consortiums of the Cleveland and Merseyside authorities. In Hampshire, the former county council that covered a unitary authority area where the unitary authority has become unitary relatively recently has formed a consortium for waste disposal purposes with the unitary authority. Such consortiums have, in many cases, entered into long-term contracts with each other. That poses the question of what the allocations mean to each waste disposal authority. Those authorities will, between them, jointly endeavour to do particular things with their waste. Just as there are distinctions between waste collection authorities and waste disposal authorities in terms of the preferred routes, so there are between waste
disposal authorities where they have formed a consortium.
In some instances, waste disposal authorities specify that they do not wish their waste to be dealt with in certain ways. As part of a consortium, they opt out, for example, of incineration. Where a consortium has part shares in an incinerator but one or two members of the consortium do not choose to send their waste to that incinerator, two things might result. First, it is possible that elements of the consortium will not be able to reach their targets, whereas others will. In that case, does the consortium, as a basket, count in terms of the target? Alternatively, it might be necessary to trade allowances to balance the books between waste disposal authorities. That would be insider trading. I am not sure that it would be a particularly good idea for insider trading to be an integral part of the waste allowances trading mechanism, but there are no doubt ways around the problem.
More hon. Members have participated in this debate than in any other. That reflects the fact that this is an integral part of the operation of the system. I do not demur from anything that has been said. It is a difficult system to operate and it depends on willingness to co-operate. We want there to be flexibility between authorities and positive responses to meeting targets. However, one cannot regulate authorities—one cannot force relationships. One can only have a fall-back provision in case the relationship breaks down. As many hon. Members have said, the relationships between some districts and counties are not good—not necessarily where they are represented by different political parties.
Although there are serious problems, it is right to try to nurture the relationship and to structure it in the way that will get the best result. The amendment would require the allocating authorities—the Secretary of State in the case of England and the national Assemblies in the devolved Administrations—when they make their allocations to take into account
''that there can be no separation of responsibilities between district, or county council,''.
That is odd because, as hon. Members know, there is a division in two-tier areas where the waste disposal authority is at county level and the waste collection authority is at district level. The Bill seeks to ensure that the UK meets its targets under the landfill directive by requiring the waste disposal authority to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill. I think that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said that that was the right focus in terms of securing the appropriate agent.
The obligations are imposed on the disposal authorities, whether unitary or county, because they are obviously responsible for the final disposal of waste and so for sending waste to landfill. The important thing is that we must have a clear ownership of responsibility if the directive targets are to be met. However, I agree that the waste collection authorities will have to work in strong partnership with the waste disposals authorities if the reduction of waste to landfill is to be achieved in a sustainable way. I think that that there is no division in the Committee on that. I hope that we are all agreed.
The only question is what is the best way to achieve the target. One does not do it by abolishing the collecting authority and having only a single authority. That is not viable. One therefore has to structure that relationship as positively as possible, while putting the focus on the key body, which must be the disposal authority.
Many areas—even a majority—have good partnership arrangements between the different authorities and they manage waste together. That is not always the case, however, and I know of some notorious examples. Some waste collection authorities are by no means working constructively with their waste disposal authorities. We tried to tackle the problem by giving the disposal authorities the power to direct the waste collection authorities on the form in which waste should be delivered. We shall have the opportunity to debate the power of direction when we come to clause 31. I take it, Miss Begg, that it is not your wish that we should have a detailed discussion about it now. However, when we reach the relevant clauses, that can be explored further.
We will also be discussing the provision included in the Bill in another place for statutory joint municipal waste strategies. I have already referred to that. The Government are still considering their view on that, but it is certainly relevant to the issue that we have been discussing this afternoon.
The amendment would not be helpful. I hope that it is a probing amendment. It would not ensure joint working. It does not reflect the reality on the ground, because there is a real division of responsibility that we cannot ignore in that way.
We chose a power of direction rather than other methods of enforcement, such as penalties being passed down, for a number of reasons. First, we want local authorities to work together. We want to accentuate the positive and the threat of financial penalties between authorities is not a good way to do that. We certainly do not expect the power of direction to be used in the first instance. It is the last resort, to be used only if patient negotiation between authorities cannot be made to work. It is a power of enforcement. It can be legally enforceable. For that reason, it should be used only when relations have completely broken down. We certainly do not regard it as the norm, but as a fall-back position.
We shall discuss that when we come to clause 31, but I agree that in giving a legal power of enforcement—a legally enforceable mechanism—there must be a right of appeal against undue restraint or unfair practice. However, I accept that we cannot put an untrammelled power of direction in the hands of one authority, to be used against another.
The second reason that we did not want to use penalties, preferring a power of direction, is that it
would become a fight about who had responsibility and not about joint working. The emphasis is wrong. Thirdly, penalties would drain money out of the system and that is the last thing that we want to do. If anything, we need more money in the system and financial penalties would have a perverse and unintended effect. That is why we have chosen this fall-back method of fostering good relations between collection and disposal authorities. I hope, with that explanation, that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I shall be fairly brief. I agree with the Minister that we do not want to drain the system of resources, and we certainly do not want to pay them to lawyers. The idea of paying lawyers from one authority to fight the lawyers of another authority does not seem to be any good for anyone—except lawyers. The Minister said that, if I may paraphrase him, he wants to nurture good relationships between authorities, and that is a very worthy aim. However, authorities will disagree and their disagreements will be fairly fundamental, and legislation that does not allow for that is faulty.
The Minister suggested that the best method was the power of direction, but I give him an example: close to an election a waste disposal authority, pressurised by European legislation that forbids it to send its waste to landfill, determines that it will dispose of its waste by building a big incinerator in the area of the waste collection authority. Does anyone believe that a waste collection authority will abide by the directions of a waste disposal authority that require it to produce its waste to go into an incinerator in its own area? I imagine that that is very unlikely. Legislation that cannot allow for conflict is faulty. The Minister talks about having an appeals process that allows one to appeal against undue restraint or unfair practice, but in the example that I have just given, a collection authority would profoundly contest a direction that was so much against its interests. Unless legislation can deal with such possibilities it runs the risk of going badly wrong in future.
I shall try to respond to that. I repeat that the aim must be to try to establish a good working relationship. The hon. Gentleman has posited a situation in which the collection authorities abide by the direction—this is when relations have broken down, I presume—only to find that what they have duly collected in accordance with the direction imposed on them is then sent to an incinerator in their own area. If an incinerator already existed on a site, presumably the waste disposal authority would have been engaging in the practice for some time. It would not be a new situation created by the Bill. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), who, if I remember correctly, had question 19 on the Order Paper today, was going to raise that issue with me. I can assure him that I was well prepared.
I do not think that that will be generated by the Bill. Even where that happens and there are strong objections, there are ways in which authorities could be required to look at the matter again. I return to the example, with which I am now familiar, of Essex. There was a proposal there to build new incinerators
but there was such public controversy that consultants were appointed to examine all the implications. I understand that in the light of that, the proposal is now being reconsidered and the role of incineration is now more open to public discussion and debate.
I do not think that one can structure everything entirely by statute. I am one of those who think that that can do little more than provide the framework. In the end, it is a matter of using all the other levers that exist in a democratic society for dealing with objections. I still think that it is right to have this balanced relationship. I am sure that it will work co-operatively in the great majority of cases. If not, there should be a power of direction, but that has to be exercised reasonably. We will discuss that further under clause 31. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster will find it acceptable to withdraw the amendment and keep to the proposal set out by the Government.
I thank all members of the Committee who have spoken, because the purpose of the amendment was to draw out from the Government ideas on the difficult situation that we are approaching. To my delight, some extremely wise, helpful and sensible points have been made—perhaps rather better than I could have made them.
I hope that the Minister has taken on board the points made by not only Labour Members but Opposition Members. I hope that lessons from people's comments are learned in time. If we continue at this rocket-like pace, the Minister will have plenty of time to consider all the points made. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
On a point of order, Miss Begg. I waited for a convenient time to raise this point of order rather than interrupt the flow of the Committee's work, but when we had our interesting discussion about fact sheet No. 5, it occurred to me to question whether we had had sight of the regulatory impact assessment. I noticed that that was not detailed in the explanatory notes, which I know is the custom in such matters. I have also discovered that the assessment is not on the departmental website, which is also the normal practice. I expect that that will concern Members across the Committee. I wonder whether I might query that through you, Miss Begg. It might simply be an oversight, but a word of explanation would be helpful.
Good. That has happened only this moment. I apologise that it was not made available earlier. I do not know whether it is on the departmental website. If it is not, I will ensure that it
is placed there. Again, I say in all sincerity that I am very keen for all hon. Members on the Committee to have access to the same data that I have to explain the Bill. I apologise that that document was not made available earlier.