New clause 30 - Zero waste strategy

Part of Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 10th April 2003.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:45 pm, 10th April 2003

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.