New clause 30 - Zero waste strategy

Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 10th April 2003.

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'(1) The Secretary of State shall—

(a) within twelve months put before Parliament a strategy to deliver a year on year decrease in the volume of waste sent to landfill that shall be commensurate with statutory reductions in the weight and volume of waste sent to landfill as required by Clause One; and

(b) report to Parliament as to progress by area, every twelve months thereafter and that report shall detail the amount by both weight and volume.

(2) The strategy to decrease the volume of waste sent to landfill shall ensure that the volume of waste sent to landfill shall be reduced according to a formula, which the Secretary of State shall specify, which accurately measures the significance of waste by volume against waste by weight.'.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Welcome back to our proceedings, Mr. Amess. We have had a long debate on many of the issues, so I shall say little about clause 17 stand part except to reiterate my view that the Government's so-called strategy is a strategy for complying with the EU landfill directive rather than delivering a waste strategy—or even a waste hierarchy. Although the Minister wishes it to be a narrow Bill, I make the point again that taking one part of the waste hierarchy in isolation will have an effect on other parts of it, and not necessarily as the Minister and other hon. Members, especially on the Opposition Benches, would wish.

I turn to new clauses 1 to 4, on fly tipping. We seek to require the Secretary of State to have a strategy for reducing the amount of waste that is fly-tipped, extending the powers of local authorities and the Environment Agency to deal with fly tipping, and to consult relevant bodies, including the devolved regions, before finalising that strategy.

I hope that the Committee accepts that fly tipping is a scourge upon our land, particularly so in the countryside. The problem seems to be getting worse, but partly for the right reasons—the Government have rightly increased the landfill tax, and are making it more expensive to deal with waste. The unwelcome consequence of that, however, is that more people are choosing to behave illegally; they are fly-tipping their waste rather than dealing with it through the proper, legalised channels.

I draw the Committee's attention to a parliamentary answer that I received from the Minister on 4 March. I asked him to quantify the amount of material that had been fly-tipped for the

most recent year for which he had figures. The figures that he supplied were rather shocking. In 2001, 2,900 tonnes of white goods were fly-tipped in the countryside, as were 5,600 tonnes of furniture, 94,000 tonnes of green waste, 8,500 tonnes of general household waste, 380,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste, 118,000 tonnes of cars and 8,500 tonnes of tyres. That is more than 0.6 million tonnes of material in one year. I should be interested to know how the Government managed to measure all that, but assuming that the figures are accurate, that is an horrendous amount. Those of us with urban areas in our constituencies—probably most of the Committee—will know that fly tipping goes on there too. It is a major problem.

The Minister might say that it is illegal to fly-tip. However, as with many such problems, regardless of whether the sanction is satisfactory, the chances of the perpetrators' being caught and prosecuted are certainly not satisfactory. People fly-tip in the expectation that they will get away with it. To be fair to the Ministry and to the Environment Agency, it is difficult to be in all places at all times and to pick up when people are fly-tipping in hidden locations in the country. Nevertheless, again according to parliamentary answers from the Minister on 20 March, 0.6 million tonnes of waste was fly-tipped in the countryside in 2001. However, we learn from the Environment Agency that there were only 225 prosecutions relating to all that waste. One hundred and eighty-seven individuals were fined a total of £158,857—less than £1,000 each—and 38 businesses were fined £144,000, or some £4,000 each. The chances of being caught and successfully prosecuted by the Environment Agency for depositing fly-tipped material in the countryside are minimal and the fines if one is caught are ludicrous—particularly for a business. The odds are that a business that is being fined £4,000 for fly tipping would have paid that or more than that to deal properly with the waste in the first place.

I hope that the Minister will take the issue seriously. He needs to have a strategy, as new clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 suggest, in order to get a grip on the issue. That means that, first, he needs to identify where waste is being fly-tipped—what the trends are—and to look at more powers for either local authorities or the Environment Agency for prosecution purposes. He needs to start thinking innovatively as, in some regions, the Environment Agency is—for example, by putting closed circuit television in locations where fly tipping is a recurrent problem. If he does that, we might be able to send out the message not simply that fly tipping is antisocial but that those who fly-tip have a good chance of being caught, prosecuted and fined in a way that they will find not particularly attractive to their purses and pockets. That is not the situation at the moment.

I can tell the Minister of one location in my constituency, just outside Lewes, where there is a tremendous problem with tyre dumping. The general view is that it is undertaken not by individuals but by businesses, because the volume suddenly increases massively overnight. There is a disused chalk pit,

which is now reckoned to be the site of ''Mad Max III'', because at the last count it contained 27 burned-out cars. Dumping is a major problem throughout the country and I see no evidence that the Government have managed to get a grip on it, although I do not underestimate how difficult it will be to do so. However, MPs continually receive complaints about the matter in their postbags—I certainly do in East Sussex. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will respond positively to new clauses 1 to 4.

New clauses 13 to 16 deal with recycling strategies. I do not propose to spend long on them, except to draw attention to their merit. I have already spoken about them under an earlier grouping, where they would have been more appositely placed, so they have been covered. However, I draw the Minister's attention to clauses 17 to 20, the four other Liberal Democrat new clauses in the group, which suggest to the Minister that it would be advantageous to adopt a zero waste strategy. The Minister may say that a zero waste strategy is pie in the sky, or he may say that the Government are moving towards it through a combination of measures that are already in the Bill. I could write the Minister's reply for him, but I suspect that his civil servants can do that without my help.

However, if the Government committed themselves to a zero waste strategy, and the time scale is open, they would send out a clear message that it is not enough simply to minimise landfill or to increase recycling, beneficial though that is, but that we need a change in our culture, to use the Minister's phrase. We must ask ourselves first whether what we dump in landfill is waste: it could be a resource. One person's waste is another's resources.

I draw the Minister's attention to an innovative scheme in Newhaven in my constituency. The businesses in a business park there came together and identified the waste streams from individual businesses. They found that some businesses were paying for waste to be taken away and disposed of at landfill and that other businesses in the same park were buying materials that had been recycled from that waste. By marrying the two processes, the businesses eliminated the costs of disposal and successfully minimised waste. That is an example of waste minimisation and business competitiveness, and it is the sort of initiative that I would like the Government to promote.

I would like the Government to extend doorstep collection to every home in Britain without delay. It astonishes me that the Government are committed to increasing waste recycling yet I have heard no explicit statement recognising that there must be doorstep or kerbside collection for every house in the country. In parenthesis I say that I recognise that there would be a problem with blocks of flats. Nevertheless, the Minister should be making such an overt statement time and time again in response to the issues raised in the private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). I know that the Minister is committed to it, but, with respect, we do not hear regularly from Ministers or from the Prime Minister that that is what the

Government want. Perhaps the Minister could correct that impression.

We need to look at the treatment of mixed waste and to consider limiting disposal contracts to a maximum of 10 years; that point was raised this morning when we discussed incineration. We need to look at producer responsibility; we also need to consider establishing a zero waste agency designed to pull together the threads and to act as a semi-official pressure group. The Minister may say that he is already achieving some of those goals, and I am the first to concede that things are moving in the right direction, but he should not underestimate the political value that comes from encapsulating the policy contained in the zero waste soundbite. A policy of zero waste would send out a message to the public that the Government are committed to tackling the problem of waste. It would drive forward the agenda in Government and in the Departments of some of the Minister's recalcitrant colleagues whose thinking on waste management is less advanced than his. It would also send a message to local government and to business. There is a great deal to be said for adopting such a strategy.

I finish by saying that I have considerable sympathy with the Conservatives' new clause 30 and that I await with interest the Minister's response.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am very grateful to be called. I notice that our numbers are a little depleted—

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

No, I would never want to be described as a dog, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) is a real man. Perhaps he is a trifle less rugged than my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), but a man none the less. I have no doubt that the hard core that remains will do its best and that the others will be recovered, reused and recycled.

These are important matters, and the grouping of the amendments allows for a wide-ranging debate. We have extensively discussed some of the issues already, so I promise not to give a Periclean oration on this particular group. None the less, we must deal with some important matters, and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) spoke cogently about some of them.

First, I want to follow through the discussion that we had before lunch about a change of culture on the part of the authorities responsible for waste disposal. By implication, we need an important change of culture on the part of those responsible for waste collection, too. We must therefore change the culture as regards not only landfill and incineration—we talked about those earlier, so I shall not go over that ground—but collection. It is important to re-emphasise that the mode of collection will have a significant impact on the public's habits. If one makes it convenient and straightforward, and explains why one has adopted it, one will facilitate a practical change in public culture. One will also build confidence in the idea that what is being done is in

the wider interest—that is, part of a bigger picture. At the moment, people feel that much of their effort is wasted when they attempt to recycle. That view is not entirely correct, but recycled material is not dealt with as well as it might be. It is certainly difficult to get the right product to the right place when it comes to separating materials, and the waste collection authorities must play a key part in that respect. There must be a change of culture on their part.

There is a third change of culture—a change of public culture. In uncharacteristically harsh comments earlier, the Minister talked about the public's habits in respect of litter and waste. I do not know whether he remembers that—perhaps he does not remember his harsh moments.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

He was not harsh enough, he tells us—he is swinging into draconian mode as we get further into our proceedings. However, he is right to say that it is not good enough to put in place a legislative framework that makes demands on disposal and collection authorities, if it is not matched by a change in public attitudes. The hon. Member for Lewes referred to fly tipping, and the dumping of disused cars is also increasing. Indeed, it is a constant problem in my area. Cars are often dumped in dykes by the marvellous roads and byways of South Holland and The Deepings. These can be in relatively isolated, sparsely populated areas. Many of those cars emanated from other places—often, urban areas. They are left where they are for some time, because it is so difficult for the authorities to deal with them. It is a problem of scale, and there is a massive burden on those responsible for towing those cars away and scrapping them. It is not acceptable for us to allow that problem to continue to grow, but it will unless we send a clear signal through the Bill and put in place measures to deter such things.

Then, quite simply, there is the problem of litter. We should not underestimate it. A small pile of litter, although unsightly, does not cause people great worry. Personally, I find such things quite offensive, but I take rather a Meacher-like draconian view. Overall, however, this is a massive problem. Things have changed during my lifetime. As a child, I remember—although such memories are always tinged with nostalgia—the streets in our towns, villages and cities were much cleaner. The culture was different. My parents would no more have thrown away a tin can or a bottle in the street than jumped off a cliff, because it would have been outside their system of values. That is not the case now. Some people nowadays think nothing of casting down a used tin can or a bottle or other litter that does not degrade easily. Because of the increased use of plastics and other materials that do not degrade, litter in urban and rural areas lies around for a considerable time, spoiling the landscape, causing nuisance and, in the case of glass and sharp objects, real danger.

We need a public change of culture that offers zero tolerance. I should like to see zero tolerance for the dumping of cars in ditches and dykes and along roadways, for fly tipping, which has become all too common in lay-bys and isolated areas, and for people who carelessly discard a bag of rubbish through their car window after purchasing a takeaway meal. Driving along, one suddenly sees a car window open and a pile of rubbish thrown out on to the road. I do not know whether other hon. Members have witnessed that, but it is becoming a common occurrence. A generation ago, people would not have dreamed of doing that, so we need a change of culture, extending to the responsible authorities and the people who are causing the problem. We need to send a clear signal to the public.

The issue centres on expectation, encouragement and information, and on giving people practical facilities that are easily accessed, so that they can deal with the matter responsibly. That involves waste separation and collection, and the points that have already been made by the hon. Member for Lewes and others, which I shall not labour. It is part of a bigger picture, which includes understanding that, for each individual right, there must be a collective obligation. For each personal indulgence, there must be a social duty. It is about changing habits and style. Those matters are important and, wherever possible, they should be reflected not only in the Bill but in the Government's whole approach to waste management.

I want to deal specifically with the new clauses, which bring into sharp focus two important matters that have already been raised. I shall not discuss the large number of new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes because he has already spoken about them and it would not be appropriate for me to try to trump him with more eloquent advocacy. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman smiles, and I know that he takes my remarks in the kindly spirit in which they are meant. However, I shall deal with new clause 30, which focuses on strategy.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friends and to the Liberal Democrats, who have repeatedly asked the Minister for a signal that the Bill fits the strategy, because the Minister clearly has one. It is vital that a strategy and provision for regular audits is laid before Parliament, as new clause 30 proposes. That would allow scrutiny and publicity. We said in our last sitting that the publicity associated with such requirements will be an important check on those whose responsibility it is to enforce them. I do not mean local authorities only, but the Government, too. It is important that Parliament—and through Parliament the wider public—can check the Government's performance in meeting the targets and, more broadly, in delivering the strategy that they have devised. That explains subsection (1)(a) of new clause 30. Paragraph (b) deals with measurement of the strategy in terms of both weight and volume, which is the other matter that I want to discuss again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) had a prior engagement today, and it is sad that he is not here. He made an important contribution about volume as well as weight, arguing

persuasively that unless we included volume, we would obscure the picture, because much waste is bulky but light. He was talking about the packaging, plastic and polystyrene waste with which we are all familiar. That waste does not weigh a great deal, but it is extremely difficult to get rid of and typically does not recycle terribly well, although some plastics do recycle rather well, so one should not use too broad a brush. Unless we include volume in our considerations, we shall miss an important element in the growth of waste. In some senses the growth in such waste is disproportionate because it often consists of packaging waste, which is an escalating problem. Everything that one buys from anywhere now seems to come in an enormous amount of packaging. There was a time when things came in newspaper tied up with string, which was happily recycled. That is no longer the case. Waste measured by volume as well as by weight is important and, once again, new clause 30 deals with that.

In essence, that is the strength of my case. There should be parliamentary and wider scrutiny. Parliament must play a key role in challenging and auditing the Government's strategy, and that strategy must record measurement by both volume and weight. I suspect that the new clause would facilitate the three-way change of culture that I described earlier.

Photo of Anthony D Wright Anthony D Wright Labour, Great Yarmouth

There are downsides to the argument about waste as measured by weight and volume. A paper pulp manufacturer in my constituency manufactures egg cartons, which are considerably heavier than the new plastic cartons. One could probably get 10 plastic egg cartons to one paper pulp egg carton. The proposals would give an unfair advantage to the plastic industry, even though paper is biodegradable and breaks down. The hon. Gentleman's argument would therefore prevent the company in my constituency from being competitive in the market and would probably work against other paper pulp manufacturers.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I was about to say that I thought that that was an extremely good point, but my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster tells me from a sedentary position that he thinks that it is not and is, I suspect, about to intervene on me to say why.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The point that the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) made was entirely reasonable, and I think that my hon. Friend is about to talk about volume, which is the key point. One problem that we have encountered throughout our proceedings is whether we measure waste by weight or by weight and volume. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has constantly referred to that, and I draw the Committee's attention to his comments about the ratio of volume to weight of 2:1. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) will soon mention that.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I was clearly doing so with insufficient clarity, but that was the point that I was trying to make. However, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth may have something, in that the calculation will not be simple. There will be occasions when the larger package may be more desirable than the smaller, or the heavier package

more desirable than the lighter. That, I think, was the argument put by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth.

We need to measure the likely reuse or recycling of material, or whether it is possible to recover it. That is not as simple as it may appear, but given that we cannot analyse every piece of waste in fine detail at every point of collection and disposal, the volume to weight ratio would at least give us a handle on the increased amount of waste that is large and bulky but not heavy.

I am interested in what the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth said. I shall certainly give it proper consideration, and I am sure that the Minister will do likewise. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor I would qualify on either volume or weight, and the ratio would do neither of us much good. None the less, we should probably have it. I shall conclude by saying that the three-way change of culture that I identified is pertinent and necessary; and that would be assisted by what is yet another constructive amendment.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 3:00 pm, 10th April 2003

I am delighted, Mr. Amess, to serve again under your chairmanship. I shall not keep the Committee long.

The problem is how to define zero waste. It is a fine notion, in a similar vein to sustainability; both terms are bandied about by those who call themselves green or environmentalist, but they are difficult to include in legislation. I have no problem with the idea of waste minimisation. If we took it to its ultimate conclusion, we would create no waste—we would not have created the item that created the waste—but I am not sure about the concept of zero waste. In a sense, we can achieve zero waste only if we remove many types of production, because they inevitably have by-products, and some of them could be put to alternative and better uses.

We must also consider whether there is a way of creating an exchange mechanism whereby people who create waste can buy a form of allowance from those who are more environmentally friendly. I am not sure how that would fit in with the Bill. We need to give the matter a great deal more thought before using the term ''zero waste'', or we shall be creating a wish list, and that may undermine and degrade the very important work that we are trying to achieve. The Committee may like to ponder on that. Perhaps the Minister will give us his definition of zero waste.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

My hon. Friend raised an important point about definitions. Aspirational targets such as zero waste are rather vague. However, I must not let the moment pass without referring to the speech made by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, which was remarkable, not because he gave us the best of reasons to include volume and weight, but because of his panegyric about litter. I thought that I had finally found a soul-mate when he referred to zero tolerance, although he was a little wimpish about the penalties. I thought that he might have recommended the reintroduction of the stocks, but he did not go quite that far. However, his general attitude, which the country needs, about the

intolerance of laziness and sloppiness is something that is widely shared.

We are dealing with the new clauses together, because they are all concerned with the production of strategies for waste management. They bring together several issues and I shall try to deal with each of them. They express, once again, the understandable wish of hon. Members to extend the scope of the Bill and to tackle all sustainable waste management issues in one go—I see nods of assent. It might help those hon. Members with large ambitions if explain in more detail how the Bill fits with the wider strategy to bring about sustainable waste management in the United Kingdom.

Our vision for sustainable waste management was, I repeat once more, set out in ''Waste Strategy 2000''—perhaps I should circulate it before the next sitting so that my constant pleas do not fall on stony ground—and by the other UK Administrations in their waste strategies. ''Waste Strategy 2000'' gives us the overall framework. It looks at the whole waste hierarchy from waste minimisation to landfill, and it covers all waste streams. The strategy sets out our ambition to break the link between economic growth and increased waste. It also makes it clear that, where waste is produced, we must put it to good use. Although I have said this before and do not wish to keep repeating it, I am vigorous in asserting that it is the right policy. ''Waste Strategy 2000'' is a living document, not one to be archived; it is the framework on which we continue to build in light of further developments, inadequacies of policy or gaps in the strategy. We are delivering, and the Bill is part of that delivery.

New clauses 17 to 20 would require each country of the UK to produce a strategy for zero waste. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) asked what that means. Zero waste is usually understood to mean that no waste is sent to landfill. In its more radical form it could be zero waste production in a totally closed resource cycle—materials biodegrade, they provide the input for the production of alternative products or they are, in some other way, filtered out of the manufacturing process. However, I suspect that hon. Members mean the former.

The latter is a fine concept, and something that we should aim for, but it is an ambitious goal. I fear that we are running away with ambitious goals when our current position is lamentably inadequate. Only when we turn the corner and fundamentally change existing practices can we begin seriously to aim for such goals. However, even this is a hugely ambitious concept, which goes well beyond the scope of the Bill and of the landfill directive.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

For the sake of clarity, I am referring to the latter definition rather than the former. That is not in the expectation that we can achieve it in 10 years, or even in 20, 30 or 40 years. However, I believe that we should aim high; if we aim for 100 per cent. of a goal, we may achieve 50 per cent., and if we aim for 50 per cent., we may manage 25 per cent. We must be clear about where we want to go. Where is the route map—to use an overused

phrase—and how can we best get there? That is not to say that we expect to get there overnight. However, let us aim high and sell the idea to the population.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I am not sure that I wholly agree. I believe in stretching or ambitious targets. However, when one is engaged in a process that is moving all too powerfully in the wrong direction, to set an extraordinarily radical goal in the opposite direction does not inspire greater effort; it just brings the whole exercise into disrepute. That is what worries me.

I hope that members of the Committee will not continue to regard me as an isolated figure, because I speak for the Government on waste; I insist on that. However, like all Ministers, I want to be practical, and I cannot nail my colours to the mast of zero waste in the current circumstances. I am quite prepared to discuss the matter, but it goes far beyond the Bill and, indeed, the landfill directive.

Zero waste to landfill is the more modest definition. It is about not only the management of waste but the lifecycle of products, and we are beginning to take that on board in terms of producer responsibility. The issue is how we, as a society, use our resources. In that respect, I might add that the UK signed up to the world summit on sustainable development. There were five main objectives, the fifth of which was that all participating countries should draw up a plan for sustainable consumption and production. Again, that is an extraordinarily ambitious requirement, but virtually all countries have accepted it. If we think about what we mean by sustainable consumption and production, meeting that requirement would actually go quite a long way towards achieving zero waste. The Government are seeing stakeholders and trying to move in that direction. Significantly, other countries, not only in the EU but much more widely, have signed up to the same objective.

Those are important questions, which are linked to the idea of a consumer-led society. In the Bill, however, we should focus on what we can achieve. If I may put a brake on the ambitions of some members of the Committee, we should not try to run before we have shown ourselves and others that we can walk.

Reducing our reliance on landfill is, after all, the first step, and the Bill will help to achieve that. We must also accept that some landfill will still be needed. In the next decade, we are unlikely to get remotely near a situation in which we have nil waste going to landfill, but we can begin to turn around the amounts. If we do really well, we may be able to decouple economic growth from the creation of waste that goes to landfill. However, the best practical environmental option for some waste, such as asbestos, is probably to bury it.

New clause 30 would require the Secretary of State to put before Parliament a strategy for delivering a year-on-year decrease in the volume of waste—that is part of the decoupling process that I just mentioned—and to report progress to Parliament. It would also require him to specify a formula accurately to measure the significance of waste by volume against waste by weight. The reductions proposed in the strategy would be based on that formula.

We had an interesting and lengthy debate on the issue last Thursday, and I said that I would write to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire about it; indeed, I should probably circulate the letter around the Committee. As I emphasised last week, I am extremely sympathetic as regards the underlying problem that he outlined. To be completely honest, we are not recycling enough low-weight, high-volume items such as plastics. That is probably the weakest point in the whole recycling framework, but I am not convinced that specifying targets using volume as a measure is the right way to solve the problem. Most waste can be, and is, compacted, which makes volume a much less robust measure than weight.

That is obvious if one considers the space occupied by a bag of household waste. First, that waste is contained in a wheelie bin, if the authority provides them, as mine does. I am dubious about wheelie bins because they are so large that they encourage people to throw virtually everything bar the kitchen sink into them. The waste is compacted in a dustcart and then it is compacted in a landfill site, where it is subjected to increasingly high pressure as more waste is piled on top. The question arises as to when we should measure volume, and that is not an idle question. Should it be measures when the waste goes into the bin or when it has been at the landfill site for six months? The measure is relative. Compaction of waste once it is in the site is so effective that the volume of such things as plastics is no longer a major issue.

There are other problems associated with the measurement of volume. The weight of waste can be easily and accurately obtained from weighbridge readings. Volume can be registered only with reference to the nominal rated size of the container, and part loads in skips or tankers can only be estimated. Using volume as a measure simply is not accurate enough to be of value and for heterogeneous solid waste—which is normal—there are no statistically acceptable factors that link weight and volume. I add the highly relevant point that the last Environment Agency survey on waste arisings had to use estimates of volume where weighbridges were not available. Conversion of those volume data to weight introduced such significant errors that further work had to be done to refine the data. I do not pour cold water on the idea, but there are serious methodological problems.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 3:15 pm, 10th April 2003

I am listening carefully to the Minister and he is right to point out that there are methodological problems in making an assessment. However, people are just as concerned with the volume of waste at the point of generation as with the volume taken up when it gets to landfill, if not more so. If one wants an holistic solution, one must consider people's concerns about the large amount of space that card, polystyrene or light plastic bottles take up when they are put into the backs of lorries and trundled long distances to landfill. A lot of people are troubled by the space that such waste takes up en route to landfill.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I understand that problem, but some compaction often takes place then. I am also interested

in pursing an alternative way of dealing with plastic bottles, glass bottles or containers, which is to consider seriously the practicality of reintroducing deposit and return schemes. Such schemes reduce litter and give people a personal incentive—not through force, or companies or local authorities—to take things back to either the manufacturer or a container, for which they get some small reward. I do not know why such schemes fell out of use in this country, but I am keen to pursue that idea.

Mr. Wiggin rose—

Mr. Hayes rose—

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is most generous of the Minister and entirely appropriate, given our relative seniority—not that I am hierarchical. The Minister has made a good point that deserves the support of all parties, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Lewes shares that view. As the Minister said, it is extraordinary that such schemes have gone out of fashion. We all know from our childhood days that lemonade bottles and other bottles were kept, stored and taken back to get the penny or ha'penny one got for them. That was perhaps the most widely known form of recycling—everyone knew about it and did it. Given the Minister's sensible remarks, which I fully endorse, would he commit himself today to discussing with manufacturers, and perhaps the supermarkets, which do so much harm in other ways, how to make a positive contribution on the issue?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

Well, I am very glad to say that I am proposing to do that. However, if the hon. Member for Leominster is going to press me, I also tell him that there are problems and that things are not as simple as they look. One problem is that, precisely in order to reduce packaging waste, manufacturers have reduced the thickness of bottles or containers, whether made of glass, cardboard or other packaging material. If the glass is going to be reused by being refilled, it must be thoroughly scrubbed with a chemical to remove any impurities. That will probably be caustic soda. The problem that has been drawn to my attention is that reducing the thickness of the bottle reduces also its capacity to withstand scrubbing with caustic soda. I do not think that that rules anything out—I am sure that it does not—but I am exploring the difficulties.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister will no doubt also wish to explore the distance travelled and the waste and air pollution caused by carting around empty bottles so that they can be refilled. I am not against his ideas on the recycling of bottles; that is just one step.

I draw the Minister's attention to the challenge of volume. An immediate and easy solution is not essential, but it would not be impossible to measure the volume twice, first uncompacted and then after the waste has been compressed. We could have two measurements, or even three. The Minister can take this as far as he needs to. If we measured on weight alone, we would send out very different signals. I remember the Minister's comment about the wheelie bin; the volume of the bin was the problem because it was too large.

Plastic bottles can be a problem. A drinks company in my constituency produces huge numbers of bottles, which it fills with water and soft drinks. It is not necessarily wrong to produce plastic bottles; but if we are going to address the waste problem, we must be more innovative about how we measure the volume. We need to prevent them from ending up in landfill.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

We are at one in saying that we need to encourage the separation and recycling of high-volume, low-density materials such as plastic. The question is whether setting targets by volume as well as by weight is effective. I would question it. If it was a mechanism rather than another way of measuring, that would be another matter. The question is how to deal with the problem. Why should measuring by volume be of such great assistance when the problem remains to be solved? Compaction or other totally different ways of solving the problem are the right way forward. There is an increasing demand for alternative materials that do not have that problem.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

We may be repeating a previous discussion, but the problem of measuring only by weight is that it is a disincentive to using glass. It would encourage the market to use plastic, which is lighter, but that may not be the best environmental solution.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

It depends. The problem of plastics is their non-biodegradability. That is precisely why they were invented. For certain functions, it is their non-biodegradability and non-wear and tear, even over long periods, that makes them so valuable. We are now finding that it is a problem when it comes to waste management. It would not be sensible to commit myself by saying that we should in all cases favour glass over plastic, because glass itself is a problem. We need to analyse the environmental impacts at each stage of a product's life cycle—manufacture, use and disposal. Indeed, the Department is trying to do so, not only with plastics but with other materials.

The waste resources action programme was set up in 2001 to try to find alternative uses. It is working to develop markets for several materials, including plastics. The strategy unit report recommended that the role of WRAP be continued and expanded. We are concerting that in our response to the report, and we hope to publish our response very soon.

New clauses 13 to 16 deal with strategies for recycling and waste reduction; they would require each country of the UK to have a strategy for setting recycling targets for household, business and construction and demolition waste. The strategy would also have to cover the development of a mandatory doorstep recycling scheme and the development of the market for recycled materials. I fully agree with hon. Members that the issues dealt with in the clauses are very important, and we are dealing with them. The waste strategy set a target to reduce by 2005 the amount of commercial and industrial waste sent to landfill to 85 per cent. of that landfilled in 1998.

I am aware that industrial and commercial waste is so much larger a fraction of the total waste that goes to landfill; it is about four to five times that of household or municipal waste. Therefore reducing that amount is four to five times more important. However, there is an argument that the recycling of industrial and commercial waste is at a much higher level; I think that it is 45 per cent. That compares with a recycling level of household waste of 13 per cent. The year 2005 is approaching rapidly, and we should consider what further measures are needed beyond that.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I ask a genuinely inquisitive question to which I do not know the answer. [Interruption.] Yes, unlike most parliamentary questions. Is household waste generally more biodegradable than commercial waste? That is relevant to the growth of each of those sectors and to their effect on the problem. Perhaps the Minister will return to the Committee with an answer.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I certainly could not give an authoritative answer now. However, my instinct is that household and municipal waste is more biodegradable because it includes more organic material than industrial and commercial waste does. However, I am sure that my officials will be pleased to look into the matter, and I shall return to the Committee with an answer.

Our aims on the landfill of commercial and industrial waste are supported by the increases in the landfill tax announced in the pre-Budget report in November 2002. Provisional data from the Environment Agency, which I do not believe have been made public before now, based on returns from licensed landfill sites suggest that the amount of industrial and commercial waste that goes to landfill may have decreased by about 8 per cent. between 1998–99 and 2000–01. That is an interesting statistic; it is the one area in which there has been a reduction. That is before the increases in landfill tax have started to bite, although there has been a modest escalator of £1 a year between 1999 and 2004. That is interesting because it suggests that industry and commercial offices are beginning to take the management and reduction of waste more seriously. If so, I certainly welcome it.

The waste strategy also introduced the principle of statutory recycling targets, and I have spoken enough about those already. We will consider what further targets may be necessary and how we can support them. We agree that substantial increases in kerbside collection will be needed to support increased recycling. Indeed, we cannot double and treble recycling without a major increase in such collection. The private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford seeks to make that universal, but my view is that we shall come very close to that simply as a result of the pressure exerted by the targets. I believe that we would need an increase in the level of kerbside collection in the order of 45 to 50 per cent. in parts of local authority areas.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

Well, I shall ask my officials for the precise figure. I am not saying that that is the case in all parts of local authority areas, but my recollection is

that 45 to 47 per cent. use kerbside collection, at least in part. The national waste minimisation recycling fund—driven by Government funding to support the council tax—is already helping to increase kerbside collection.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 3:30 pm, 10th April 2003

Surely we should be most concerned about the laggards—the last quartile of authorities—and those who are having problems, invariably because of the start-up costs involved and the lack of resources that results from the allocation of Government funds. Those authorities will need to be encouraged and coerced into action. For that reason, we need a national framework for kerbside collection.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I am fascinated, and slightly surprised, to see how the hon. Gentleman is getting into coercion. He told me during the lunch break that he was surprised to find me out-lassez-fairing him. He is certainly moving rapidly in the other direction.

I am glad to say that I was right: the figure for partial or whole kerbside collection by local authorities is about 45 per cent. I entirely accept that, as in every process, those who are most resistant will require pressure, but the current pressures in the system will take us a long way in the right direction. As I have already said, we agree that there is a need to secure markets for recyclate. That is why we set up WRAP.

The hon. Member for Lewes spoke about fly tipping, an important and troubling issue. I concur with the figures that he produced, as I think they were drawn from my parliamentary answer. They are worrying: a total of 600,000 tonnes was fly-tipped at various sites throughout the country, which is hideously high. The hon. Gentleman said—his interpretation is not quite correct, although he said it considerately—that the Government were pursuing the right policy by increasing the landfill tax, but that it had made the situation worse.

There is no reason why an increase in the landfill tax should make landfilling worse, because one need not go into the countryside to get rid of waste. One can do it, legally and legitimately, by leaving it at the local authority civic amenity site, which is free for small businesses and households. Even bulky items can be deposited at such sites. An increase the in landfill tax should not, therefore, affect the availability of that form of disposal.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

That is true for individual householders, who often avail themselves of that facility. The problem lies with businesses. I do not know what national practice is but, in my constituency, the county council does not allow businesses to deposit huge amounts at household sites. The problems result from the evasion of landfill tax by businesses seeking not to incur those higher charges. Certainly, abandoned cars are not allowed on council waste sites.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that local authorities are within their rights to impose some charge on small businesses, because civic amenity sites are primarily for individual

householders. Authorities should consider whether that it is a wise policy, because it could deflect a certain amount of waste, which would otherwise have been taken by small businesses to civic amenity sites, into the countryside, where it is simply fly-tipped. There is no difference between us with regard to the problem. It is awful, and although I am not sure whether it is getting worse, I am prepared to concede that it may be. Many anecdotal stories suggest that it is, but there is little systematic data. The problem is how to catch the offenders; that is what we want to do.

I also entirely agree that when we do catch people, we should impose deterrent penalties. My wife says that I am becoming increasingly punitive, but I believe that this is a matter of making people aware of the consequences of what they are doing. Why should the rest of us pick up the tab for them? I do not wish to be draconian, but the current penalties are derisory. Many companies and individuals are prepared to take the risk because the chances are that they will not be caught and that, even if they are, any penalty will be a very small fraction of their turnover. That is a ridiculous situation. I do not wish to tell judges what to do—no Minister dare enter into the arena with the Lord Chancellor. However, it is important that magistrates, who receive 96 per cent. of all cases, realise the significance of environmental offences. I have a constant battle to persuade the Magistrates' Association to get its members to take the matter seriously.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I think that we have found common cause on the matter, and I suspect that we also agree that those who are elected and accountable, rather than unelected judges, should take a lead in such matters. However, I shall not go down that philosophical avenue.

It is right that we catch and penalise people who act in a flagrantly irresponsible way and cause enormous nuisance. It is also right that we should change the popular culture: the expectation of what is acceptable in terms of waste. How we do that is a challenge—it could be by information, education or other routes. It includes penalising people when they do wrong, but it also involves trying to encourage them not to do wrong in the first place. I hope that the Minister will address that.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

Of course that is right. There is a strong consensus in the Committee that we need such a change of culture. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, our parents and grandparents would not have dreamed of behaving in that way, and if they found their children doing so we would have had quite a hiding. I do not recommend bringing that back, but our local and national leadership, in all its forms, must change its attitude.

In my constituency, come the local elections, a big concern is the British National party. However, that aside, the single issue that people are most concerned about is litter. They do not like living in a neighbourhood that is grotty and degraded and makes them feel bad about themselves. They need some leadership in tidying it up, and then they will begin to behave differently; it will create a virtuous spiral.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do not want to take the Minister any further round his virtuous spiral. I can say with some authority, because I am, for the moment, the Conservative spokesman—on loan—on such matters, that the Opposition would be very supportive of the Minister in that respect as, I am sure, would be the Government. It is a cross-party issue because we have the same constituency pressures and the same correspondence. If appropriate measures are proposed, the Minister will have support from all parts of the House. I hope that he will have the courage to proceed. He will certainly have my backing.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

The Government do have the courage to introduce legislation. It is called the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, and I shall come to it. However, it is not as though provisions are not already in place. It is often the exercise of provisions that is lacking. We already have legislation to deal with fly tipping. The key provisions are to be found in part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and in the Refuse Disposal Amenity Act 1978. Other relevant primary legislation includes the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989, the Public Health Act 1961 and the Highways Act 1980.

Some of those provisions may need to be amended, but one has only to read out a list of legislation to discover that the real problem is that it is not being used to anywhere near its full extent. It is not being policed; no one is detecting or apprehending those who are behaving badly; and when they are caught the penalties are not sufficient. The problem is not a lack of law; it is a lack of readiness and determination to do something about it. This is a cross-party issue. I cannot believe that any serious political party is not wholly behind us. The Anti-social Behaviour Bill—

Norman Baker rose—

Hon. Members:

Here we go.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am not about to say that I am not fully behind the Bill, so the Minister can cross that off his list of ammunition.

It is not only those who drop litter who are responsible. I refer, for example, to fast-food restaurants that hand out meals in plastic trays, which can later be found lying in the roads in a half-mile radius around the restaurant. When travelling around the country, one can see where McDonald's is by marking the location of the boxes; in the middle of the circle, there will be a McDonald's restaurant. It is the same for the kebab shops in Lewes. What will the Government do about that? They should either encourage those companies to take responsibility for their litter—a producer responsibility—or ensure that those companies patrol the streets themselves rather than putting the bill onto the taxpayer.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I called in the leading management from the fast-food manufacturers to discuss that problem. Most of them assured me that they already had a voluntary code of conduct and that the area up to 100 m from their shops was regularly cleaned up by staff. [Interruption.] That is what I was told. It is not for me to say that it is not true, but it certainly does not work as seamlessly as they suggest.

The answer, however, is exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggested: we need independent people on the ground, not only near fast-food shops, although they are the worst, but near fish and chip shops and others that generate a lot of waste. Those people should be independently monitored, and the responsibility has to be clearly identified and action taken. It is not impossible for local authorities to do that now. They have the power, and we have to activate them to act in that way. However, even local authorities will be deterred if the people whom they take to court are given only derisory fines.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am reluctant to drag this up, but it is important. My constituents cannot understand why those organisations should pack their products in containers that are not disposable and biodegradable. Why cannot packaging be made of card or paper, which would degrade quickly even when discarded? Particular kinds of card or paper would degrade even more quickly, unlike plastic or polystyrene.

With your indulgence, Mr. Amess, I wish to say that the problem does not occur only within 100 m of shops. Drive-through restaurants are a worse problem. People collect the food in their cars and discard the packaging half a mile away, or even, as I know from my rural constituency, in lanes two or three miles away. We all know where it has come from because it has the company's badge and name printed all over it.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I accept that, and I share the hon. Gentleman's outrage. I am extremely keen for action to be taken. My view remains, however, that that will not happen without litter wardens or environmental wardens—call them what you like—on the ground. They can detect people dropping packaging, and they can follow up incidents, checking the source and taking appropriate action.

Of course, there is a cost problem associated with that, but the Government's policy is that the money from the penalties imposed on those who commit litter and, I think, dog-fouling offences can be recycled. For the life of me, I cannot see why more local authorities do not take up the opportunity that that policy would provide. We are piloting nine local projects to put people in such roles, and we are seeing what the consequences are. They remind me of parking wardens in Westminster; they are a source of considerable extra money and they deal extremely effectively with a serious social nuisance. The powers to take such steps are there, and we must ensure that they are used.

The Anti-social Behaviour Bill takes forward several important proposals to deal with fly tipping—believe it or not, that is where we started half an hour ago. They include extending to waste collection authorities—not the Environment Agency—the power to investigate incidents of unlawfully deposited waste. They also include the power to stop, search and seize vehicles that authorities suspect of being used unlawfully to deposit waste—a power currently available only to the Environment Agency. That is a modest but not insignificant extension of the powers of local authorities, which I welcome. We are considering what further measures

may be needed, and we intend to announce details later this year.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 3:45 pm, 10th April 2003

Does the Bill allow for an increase in fines for fly tipping, particularly for businesses? When the Minister talks to the Magistrates' Association, will he draw to its attention, if he has not done so already, the relative costs of a fine—where people are caught and successfully prosecuted—and of depositing waste legally? Some of the fines that are handed out are less than the landfill tax.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

The problem is not that the law reduces the potential for significant or big fines, but that the magistrates will not use them. The magistrates court can impose a fine of up to £20,000, although even I do not suggest that it should be more than that, except for very serious offences. I have asked how many £20,000 fines have been imposed in the past few years for littering or spreading waste on the highway, but I think that the figure is virtually nil. Magistrates are simply not using the powers that are available. If they think that the fine should be more than £20,000 for a very serious offence, they can find the offender guilty and pass him to the county court, which is allowed to impose up to two years' imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. The powers are there; the issue is the judiciary's commitment to use them.

I have examined various ways of dealing with the issue. I have been in regular touch with the Home Office about the work of the Sentencing Advisory Panel, which is studying guidelines on the appropriate penalty. I have had a meeting with the Magistrates' Association. We have issued new guidelines. I have written articles in the magistrates' journal. I am at a loss to know what more to do to push people.

The hon. Member for Lewes may be saying—he is reading my mind again—that we should have a minimum penalty in legislation. If I said so, I should immediately be told that the lawyers insist that that is not appropriate, because it does not take account of mitigating circumstances. One must therefore leave judges with some flexibility.

One can have a maximum penalty, but neither I nor the hon. Gentleman want that—I want higher penalties that act as a serious deterrent. I think that he will have to leave me to pursue the matter in the Government. I can give him an absolute assurance that I will not give up on it.

Photo of Anthony D Wright Anthony D Wright Labour, Great Yarmouth

May I just tell my hon. Friend that there might well already be opportunities for the local authorities to reduce the amount of fly tipping? For example, two years ago my local authority limited the free collection of bulky items to two from each household, which has led to a fivefold or sixfold increase in the incidence of fly tipping. That has created a massive problem in my constituency. There are already issues for local authorities to address outside the law and opportunities to take the initiative, rather than have requirements forced on them.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I very much agree with that. It is sensible to allow people some measure of flexibility so that they can get rid of bulky items, by refusing to collect them, for example. Alternatively, one could impose a charge of £10 for the removal of bulky items,

which is what the Liberal Democrats did one year ago in Oldham, where, for the time being, they have a majority of one. That was unwise, because despite the increase in income, which is difficult to measure, I suspect that there has been a disproportionate loss in terms of people leaving around large bulky items or fly tipping. One should work with the grain of people who wish to comply with the law, and not put too many obstacles in their path.

To conclude—hon. Members will be delighted—I agree on the importance of a strategy to deliver a more sustainable waste management system, which is why we have already developed a framework that is now in place and which we are trying to deliver. As hon. Members have heard me say—it is a boring record—the Bill is just one part of that delivery.

On the basis of that explanation and the interesting and valuable debate that we have had and on which I shall follow up, I hope that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will not press new clause 30.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

In respect of new clause 30, my answer is that I will press it, although I accept much of what the Minister said, and do not intend to speak for very long because we have had a long, wide-ranging, interesting and helpful debate.

The Minister's principal criticism of the amendments and new clauses was that they were too ambitious. However, if he reacquaints himself with new clause 30, he will have to agree that that is not so. That might be true of other new clauses and amendments—I will of course allow the hon. Member for Lewes to speak to his own new clauses. However, new clause 30 is not terribly ambitious, and is neither an insurmountable hill to climb nor an unreasonable target. To detach the Minister from his prepared text for a second, I remind him that new clause 30 says:

''The Secretary of State shall . . . within twelve months put before Parliament a strategy to deliver a year on year decrease in the volume of waste sent to landfill that shall be commensurate with statutory reductions in the weight and volume of waste sent to landfill as required by Clause One''.

That is, frankly, pretty sympathetic to the objectives of the Bill. Crumbs—requiring a ''year on year decrease'' is not asking the earth. Rather, it is asking for steady progress towards the targets that have been set for us and which are the driving factor behind the Bill. I see no great difficulty with that proposal—it is certainly not over-ambitious. Reporting progress to Parliament is simply a matter of proper scrutiny and an opportunity to debate the issues in the House and more widely.

The Minister talked about weight and volume and I take his point that there are difficulties and technical questions that one would need to examine closely. However, it would not be impossible to come to a sensible arrangement about volume, in which I should think a combination of technology and mathematics could be employed. I bear in mind the Minister's points on that subject, but I do not think that they are incompatible with the new clause because it is broad. It does not specify a ratio, as we did in earlier debate, but allows great flexibility; indeed, new clause 30 gives the

Secretary of State the opportunity to specify the formula that will accurately measure the significance of waste by volume against weight.

Although the vote will not take place right now, when the time comes we will press new clause 30 because it does not detract from the Bill one iota; in fact it adds to it. It would allow us to debate the matters more fully on Report. I am not sure that the Minister's principal criticisms of the other new clauses and amendments count as persuasively for new clause 30.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

Very briefly, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to press the clause to a Division, he will do so. However, I ask him two questions. First, does he have an answer to the methodological problems of measurement by volume? Secondly, the clause calls on the Secretary of State to specify a formula

''which accurately measures the significance of waste by volume against waste by weight.''

Why should that make any difference to the success of the strategy?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Those are very incisive questions, and I shall attempt to answer them. The first answer was given in my explanation: the clause specifies that the Secretary of State shall make the judgment about methodological issues. I accepted the Secretary of State's concerns about the methods, and he made some telling points. However, I find it difficult to believe that it is impossible; there must be a way through it, and it is important that we find it. If we abandon any consideration of volume by simply concentrating on weight—the Minister acknowledged the significance of the issue when it was first raised on Thursday—it will not receive the consideration that it is due.

The answer to the second question is that it may be a growing problem. We do not know the relationship between weight and volume and how, or if, it affects the increase in waste. Unless we have some measurement, we will not be able to reach a conclusion about whether the challenges that we face on increased waste are principally problems of volume or of weight or both. If both, how do they relate to each other? The measurement is an attempt to assess the trend and the nature of the problem so that we can build it into the strategy. I acknowledge that the methodology would have to be examined closely and decided upon after proper consultation, scrutiny and analysis. Therefore, although I accept that there are difficulties, it would be useful to press the new clause to a Division so that we can debate those matters further at later stages of the Bill.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

This has been a very good, if long, debate, so I shall try not to detain the Committee. However, I suspect that we shall make rather faster progress once clause 17 has been dealt with. I argue the merits of the clauses in my name and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). I shall not compare them with new clause 30, as that could be unduly divisive and inappropriate. The clauses on fly tipping cannot be called ambitious. Indeed, they are very unambitious; they are very

modest clauses, and I am surprised that the Minister has not grabbed them with both hands. They merely ask for a strategy.

Despite those frivolous comments, I thank the Minister for his comments on fly tipping. He has convinced me that he takes the matter seriously and that there could be restrictions for dealing with it elsewhere rather than in his Department. Therefore I shall not press our amendments to a Division, but I hope that in return the Minister might drop a line to all members of the Committee to let us know the progress on the points that I made and on those made by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings about the materials used in fast food. Perhaps he will let us know what contact he has had with the Magistrates' Association and others, as there are matters outside his remit that affect fly tipping. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us an update on progress so that we know how far we are likely to get. I shall certainly mention the issues that have been raised this afternoon to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), who is dealing with related matters on the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, so that he can raise them in that context, because it is important that an environmental impact assessment also takes place as part of that process.

The idea of zero waste is ambitious, but I make no apologies for tabling an amendment that is aspirational—a word that the Government use for targets that they do not intend to meet, such as those relating to renewable energy. It is right to put down a marker and say where we want to go. There is no harm in setting what might seem to be unrealistic targets, although I have no idea whether we will be able to meet them in 20 or 30 years. The other day I quoted Lenin, but I think it was Chairman Mao who said that a journey of 100 miles starts with a single step.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

How could I make such a mistake—well, it was someone Chinese.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I would not take away either of those two characters.

If we set aspirational targets, we may find that people respond in unexpected and helpful ways. For example, in California, a target was set for the use of petrol-free cars. Everyone said that it could not be done, but it was. Sometimes, it helps to set targets that look impossible, and in many ways, Californians have led the environmental movement.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford 4:00 pm, 10th April 2003

As those of us who, for our sins, have been involved with such programmes know, some of these ideas about aspirational targets are borrowed from quality management and total quality management programmes. In the case of quality, defects are driven out until one gets as close to zero as possible. We are trying to work towards zero waste. It is rare to get total quality, but the constant process of working to keep on identifying the next slice

of improvement is valuable. That is one of the original sources of the term zero waste.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes her point well and emphasises why aspirational targets are appropriate. No one has mentioned closed-link technology, except in passing, and I would like to see the Government pushing that, to ensure that industry creates no waste in the first place. If we could minimise the waste stream and minimise industry's costs, we would give this country a competitive edge. As we progress further into this century, environmental progress and environmental technology will be key drivers for the economy. We must be at the forefront of that. There are advantages all ways around from aspiring to a target of zero waste.

The Minister rightly referred to the need to decouple economic growth concepts from waste production. It is important that we start thinking along those lines in a way that we have not done hitherto.

The Minister was also right to mention local authorities, because they can do a lot to recycle litter. I would not wish to adopt the laissez-faire attitude of new Labour or the Stalinist attitude of the Conservative party with regard to dictating to local government. There is a middle way between the two. I hope that if the Minister has not done so, he will think about issuing guidance to local authorities, not in a prescriptive way, but setting out the facts and figures, the powers that they already have and those that the Government are now giving them through other legislation. There is value in telling local authorities what they can do because they do not always know.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is an extremely interesting suggestion. We have had a light-hearted but important debate. Given the strength of feeling on both sides of the Committee, regardless of party, I suggest that the Minister take that on board and once again issue guidance—I am sure that it is there already—to reinforce the message on the issues that have been raised.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I should be grateful if the Minister would do that. He has heard both Opposition spokesmen advocating it. He would find it helpful. Perhaps he and his officials will consider how it can be done as part of the process of education.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I am very happy to do that without a commitment, because it could be that I find that guidance was issued six months ago—I cannot recall whether that is the case. I would like to think seriously about the suggestion. It would be valuable to alert local authorities to their powers and responsibilities and to see how far we can stimulate greater use of them. I shall consider the matter with my officials and make a statement later.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

That is typically helpful of the Minister, who is much loved by all of us on the Committee and beyond. He is not an isolated figure—he is admired by Liberal Democrats if not in Government circles, even though, for reasons that escape me, he made an uncharacteristically partisan point about Orders in Council. However, to pick up

the point made by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, I would remind him that I tabled a parliamentary question some time ago asking why he was not in the Cabinet. That was when the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions was in place, with a Secretary of State in the Cabinet. The Transport Minister was then No. 2 in the DETR and to make a level playing field, the Environment Minister should have been put in the Cabinet, yet our Environment Minister was not. Apart from the qualities that he brings, it would indicate a wider respect for the environment by the Government. That is why I keep banging away about the fact that the Government's environmental record should be the Minister's environmental record. If I make a plea for him to be given a Cabinet position, I am sure that that will put the mochas on it once and for all.

Lastly, in terms of bring and buy, I refer the Minister to the comments that I made on Second Reading. We want local sustainability, minimum transport movements and reuse of materials. The best example that I can give him is Harvey's brewery in my constituency. It produces fantastic local beer in Lewes and sells it locally in glass bottles with deposits. They are all returned to Harvey's. I shall be happy to supply the Minister with a bottle of Harvey's beer—if he does not regard it as a bribe—so that he can enjoy it and return the bottle to me to return to the brewery in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.