Clause 17 - Strategy for England

Part of Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 8th April 2003.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 4:15 pm, 8th April 2003

I am happy to concur with all the comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. I return to a point that I and others in the Committee made at an earlier stage: the Bill is about implementing the European Union landfill directive, not about implementing the Government's waste hierarchy and waste strategy. It is one element. The Minister put up a brave case to refute that accusation, but the first line of the clause states:

''The Secretary of State must have a strategy''.

Here we have a strategy. What does it do? According to the Bill it simply seeks to remove the amount of biodegradable waste that goes to landfills. In other words, it is about controlling the landfill problem brought about by the EU landfill directive.

It is impossible to have a strategy to deal with just one aspect of the waste hierarchy or the waste chain, if I can call it that. Everything is connected to everything else, as Lenin once said. Labour Members might have some dim and distant recollection of him. The signals that the Government send out on recycling or landfill will affect what happens with incineration, waste minimisation and reuse of materials. If the Secretary of State is to have a strategy—I hope that he will and I fully endorse that concept—he needs to look at the waste hierarchy in its entirety. The Minister cannot get away from that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and I have tabled new clauses 13 to 16 precisely to give the Secretary of State such a strategy. I am a bit surprised that they are not grouped with this set of amendments. I hope, Mr. Amess, that you will be patient with me when I refer to them. New clause 13 asks the Secretary of State to have a strategy for

''setting of statutory targets for the recycling of waste streams from (i) households; (ii) construction and demolition waste; (iii) business . . . developing a mandatory doorstep recycling scheme in all local authorities within a period of 5 years . . . developing the market for recycled materials and goods in parallel with the increase in collected materials''.

We also refer to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in subsequent new clauses. We must deal with this problem on a UK-wide basis.

I do not dissent from the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Leominster at all. This is perhaps a slightly different means of achieving the same ends. I will not be as churlish as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings and suggest that one is preferable to the other: I simply say that there are two different routes. I would be happy if our route or that proposed by the hon. Member for Leominster were chosen. I would not be happy if we ended up with the strategy set out in the Bill, which does not seem to

achieve what the majority of the Committee wishes to see.

We want the Government's waste hierarchy to be achieved. They want to see minimisation. There is no dispute about that. They then want to see reuse and recycling. They do not particularly want to see incineration and they put it only marginally above landfill. That is where the critical mass of opinion is in this House and in the country. We will have the debate on incineration shortly, but the signals sent out by the clause seem to encourage incineration not on a par with recycling, but, for reasons that other Members and I shall give, above recycling. The signals in the Bill are wrong to that effect.

We know that people want to recycle more. When they are given the opportunity to do so, they take it. If they are asked to take their recyclables to an inconvenient site some distance from their home, they will do so, even though it is inconvenient. They have an appetite for recycling, and when they are given the opportunity for doorstep or kerbside recycling, they take it and the amount of waste collected rises enormously. We know that that happens from schemes that have been introduced by different local authorities throughout the country—whether Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) will know of a very good example from Wealden district council, which covers part of my constituency. It has introduced a good scheme in Polegate and elsewhere, which has enormously increased the amount of waste collected and recycled. From a slow start, schemes have grown quickly, which proves what can be done.

An appetite exists for recycling. The Minister has said that he is prepared to agree with the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, but that there are several caveats. That is acceptable because he has to clear the Bill with other people in Government, not least the Treasury. However, if that Bill is not passed or is filleted beyond recognition, the Government will pay a heavy price. They will have been seen to stop a measure that commands support across the House and throughout the country. I hope that the Minister will relay that point to his colleagues and bear it in mind. There is no question but that there is support for that Bill in the House.

As I mentioned, there is an appetite for recycling—nine out of 10 people would recycle more if it were made easier, according to the Environment Agency survey released on 23 May 2002. Almost 80 per cent. of household waste could be recycled or composted, reducing the need for landfill. The average household produces 1 tonne of waste each year, and that figure is increasing by 3 per cent. a year.

The Minister is an honest man, and he has been good enough to recognise on several occasions that the problem is a major one, that targets are tough and that strong action must be taken. However, if we try to deal with the problem in the narrow way set out in the clause—simply focusing on what can be diverted from landfill without addressing the waste hierarchy or

waste minimisation points and reuse opportunities—we will fail.

Where are the measures in the Government's strategy to minimise waste? The Minister may say that they are working on the packaging directive and bits and pieces here, there and everywhere, but their work must be tied in. Everything is connected to everything else, and it is impossible to have the strategy on only one narrow focus. The Government have had the strategy since 2000, and there has also been the Cabinet Office report, to which a response is due shortly. They are doing many sensible things, but those things must be brought together. The Bill, and the strategy that it sets out, provides an opportunity for doing that.

The Government are seeking, almost desperately, to divert the waste stream from landfill. That is the Bill's purpose in the minds of those who drafted it. I agree with that aim as far as it goes, but they have taken it no further. We need a strategy for best practice, which means implementing the Government's waste hierarchy, and I do not believe that the clause as drafted will do that. It will simply shove off the problem somewhere else and lead to incineration up and down the country, for the reasons given by the hon. Members for Mid-Bedfordshire and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and by me in several contributions. We will come to that debate shortly, but it is necessary that the Government's work should be widened. I hope that the Minister will examine that point seriously and look sympathetically at the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Leominster or at new clauses 13 to 16, which we tabled. It is not sufficient to leave things as they are.