Clause 23 - ''Scheme year'' and ''target year''

Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 29th April 2003.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:00 am, 29th April 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 67, in

clause 23, page 15, line 37, leave out '2019' and insert '2015'.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 68, in

clause 23, page 15, line 38, leave out '2010, 2013' and insert '2009, 2010'.

No. 69, in

clause 23, page 15, line 39, leave out '2020' and insert '2016'.

No. 89, in

clause 23, page 15, line 40, after 'may', insert

', after a consultation following the guidelines laid out by the Cabinet Office in the code of practice on written consultation of November 2000'.

No. 90, in

clause 23, page 15, leave out line 43.

No. 91, in

clause 23, page 15, leave out line 44.

No. 92, in

clause 23, page 16, leave out line 1.

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

The amendments return us to the derogations, which we debated earlier, which the Government can take advantage of in meeting the tough targets under the Bill. It is a matter of debate whether we should apply for those derogations, and we held such a debate during the Committee's first sitting. I fully acknowledge what the Minister said about the targets being testing. It may be appropriate again to consider the change of culture that will be required to meet those targets. In some respects, that will be a significant hurdle for local authorities that are not yet up to speed in terms of dealing properly and effectively with waste. I suspect that the Bill, as a legislative instrument, will not simply be a stick for local authorities but will stimulate creative thinking. In the end, it may be quite a positive force and may make authorities think again about how they deal with such matters, about the rules that they draw up and about the culture that they adopt. I am therefore rather optimistic about its repercussions.

Notwithstanding that optimism, it is important to emphasise that the targets are onerous. There must be absolute clarity about whether we shall be forward thinking and ambitious, and about taking the necessary steps in the time set down for us or apply for extra time. When the Committee first met, the Minister said that we would probably need to apply for more time in the early stages because of where we were starting from. Our 1995 levels—our historical position in this regard—are not as good as they might be; they certainly do not compare favourably with those in the rest of Europe. We landfill more waste than other European countries do. As we heard at the beginning of today's discussions, the problem is exacerbated by the growth in the number of households and in the amount of waste generated. Those are separate issues, but both are relevant to our discussions. The problem, therefore, is not simply that we are starting from a level at which we do not want to start, but that the trend when it comes to changing the culture in the way that I described is not a healthy one.

None the less, we need clarity, which is why we are probing the issue of derogations once again. The Committee should be under no illusion that Opposition Members are looking to wreck the Bill or to undermine its intent. I assure hon. Members that the amendments are not designed to do that, even though they might be taken as a political attempt to do so. They are intended to probe the Minister on precisely where he stands as regards the dates and deadlines. He has been frank with us about the targets and about the likelihood of achieving them. As he said, however, we must achieve them; we have no choice about that. The penalties for not meeting them are extremely significant.

Our mutual aim is to be rigorous and demanding when it comes to those whose culture needs to change. That is why we need to have clarity, to send the right signals and to be absolutely straight about when and

how people must reach the destination that we all want them to reach. That is why we have once again probed the issue of derogations and asked the Minister to be absolutely firm and clear about where he sees us going and about the time scale.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I think that the motivation of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and myself in tabling amendments Nos. 90, 91 and 92 is not dissimilar from that of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings. We all seek clarity.

The Minister said that one reason why he would resist amendments Nos. 84 to 87 was that he had to stick rigidly to EU legislation and the EU directive. That leads me to look with gentle surprise at clause 23, which allows the Secretary of State to change quite a lot of the framework by regulation. It refers to him adding different scheme years,

''changing the target years or any of them''

and

''adding or omitting one or more target years.''

That gives him a wide degree of flexibility, which appears to be inconsistent—I put it no more strongly than that—with article 5 of the directive. I do not know why the Minister wants that flexibility. If he says, ''Well, that flexibility is there because European legislation may be amended and we want to be able to deal with it without the need for primary legislation,'' that argument is the opposite to the one that he deployed earlier, on amendment No. 84. I suggested that the flexibility that we proposed was necessary, but the Minister said that he would resist the amendment because of the EU directive. The Government cannot on one hand argue that they have to stick to the EU directive when it comes to Opposition amendments and on the other give the Bill the flexibility to change matters when it suits their purposes.

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

The hon. Gentleman is a bit of a terrier and he is being unkind to the Minister, who is not so much guilty of inconsistency as uncertainty. The Minister seeks flexibility because he is not absolutely sure that we can achieve what he hopes, because he is not sure of the local authorities. My worry, with which the hon. Gentleman may agree, is that if that is the signal we send out, it may exacerbate the very problem that he fears.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I agree that we must be careful about the signals we send out and there are one or two unhelpful signals in later amendments. I hope that the Minister does not regard me as a terrier; I usually chase different targets from him.

The Bill lacks clarity and there are some—doubtless unconscious—double standards being applied on how the directive is implemented. The Minister should respond to that point and specify why there is flexibility in clause 23 that was resisted in respect of Opposition amendments.

Amendment No. 89 is out of line with the other amendments in the group, and it relates to a consultation process. Clause 23 states:

''The Secretary of State may by regulations amend subsection (1)''.

That could have profound implications for waste disposal and collection authorities and we want an undertaking that it will be subject to proper consultation. I may have missed it, but that commitment to consultation does not appear in the clause, other than in a narrow reference to Scottish Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. Many others—local authorities and the industry—are affected, yet it appears from the wording of the clause that they will not be consulted.

The matter is given added impetus in the written answer to a parliamentary question. I asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

''whether the length of consultation provided on the consultation documents on partial regulatory impact assessments published on 17 February meets the requirements laid out in the code of practice on written consultation published by the Cabinet Office in November 2000; and if she will make a statement.''

The Minister replied:

''No, the deadline we gave for comments on partial regulatory assessments was not in line with the criteria laid out in the Code of Practice on Written Consultation published by the Cabinet Office.''——[Official Report, 11 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 138W.]

The Minister's Department appears sanguine about bypassing the good practice on consultation set out by the Cabinet Office. I do not know why the Department feels that it can bypass those guidelines. I do not want to be too hard on the Minister—I am happy that his Department is standing up to the Cabinet Office and having some departmental independence rather than being dictated to by No. 10, as is too often the case these days—but as the Cabinet Office is doing something sensible in requiring consultation and the Department is not following it, we need to know why. If it is not following the good practice mentioned in the written answer, we need to be assured that there will be proper consultation if the wide-reaching changes that can be implemented by the clause take place.

I want to know why the Minister is not following the Cabinet Office recommendations on consultation as set out in the November 2000 document. What confidence can we have that he will have proper consultation if these changes, which could be far-reaching for waste disposal authorities, are made? Will he therefore accept the logic of amendment No. 89, which would insert the requirement for consultation with affected parties?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment) 10:15 am, 29th April 2003

As the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said, we discussed an amendment introduced by the hon. Member for Leominster that sought to force me to take advantage of the full four-year derogation. We now have three amendments that go a long way towards doing exactly the opposite. I know that these are probing amendments, but that point can be fairly made.

These amendments would amend the clause so that the definition of scheme and target years would not

take advantage of the four-year derogation available to the UK. Amendment No. 67 would mean that scheme years in subsection (1) would run from 17 July in each year from 2004 to 2015. Amendment No. 68 would result in the second target year ending on 16 July 2009. Amendment No. 69 would change the third target year to that ending 16 July 2016.

As I explained, I would like the UK not to have to take advantage of the full four-year derogation. That would clearly be preferable. However, it is much too soon to say whether we will have to do so. The hon. Member for Leominster is entirely right: it depends on local authority performance over the next particularly critical three years. I hope that they will meet the targets. I will be down on them like a ton of bricks if they do not, but I cannot guarantee it.

To give waste disposal authorities some form of planning certainty, we have set the scheme year period to last until 2020, taking advantage of the full derogation and, in England, we will allocate annual allowances up to and including that year. That will give the clarity and the certainty that the hon. Gentleman seeks. However, we also retain the option to change the target year should circumstances require it, and that may include making greater progress than expected in reducing the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill. There is certainty, but if we do better, as I hope we will, we have the option to change it.

Gregory Barker rose—

Mr. Hayes rose—

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Although certainty is desirable for politicians and waste disposal authorities, it is absolutely vital for businesses. What representations has the Minister received from the private sector about the need for business to have absolute certainty in the near term about when the targets will be met? They will have to make investment decisions, and such decisions will be vital to the success of the Minister's plans.

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

I entirely recognise that businesses always want certainty. Governments should always, wherever possible, provide that certainty for long-term investment signals to ensure security in planning. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Bill and the landfill directive are about biodegradable municipal waste. The Bill is not about industrial, commercial or construction and demolition waste, although those are significant parts of the total waste stream. Indeed, biodegradable and municipal waste represents only 6.5 per cent. of the total waste stream in this country, so 93.5 per cent. is not biodegradable and municipal waste. It so happens that the biodegradable and municipal waste stream is the area where we have by far the highest level of landfilling and where the level of recycling up to now has been so low. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that certainty is needed, but he should not forget the scope of the Bill.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

When I refer to business, I am thinking not about businesses that create waste, but about businesses in the waste sector that want to make investments to develop the markets that this country desperately needs if recycling, minimisation and the waste hierarchy markets are to grow. Those businesses need certainty. What representations about those distant target dates has the Minister had from businesses that want to invest in the waste sector?

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

I apologise; I misunderstood the thrust of the question. I do not know the answer to the question, although I can find out. There would undoubtedly have been the wish for the derogation to apply—at least, I would assume so, although I might stand corrected. I had better return to the question because I do not know what representations have been made by the waste industry and the Environmental Services Association, which I hope to meet shortly. I shall return with a more accurate answer. However, those in the industry know—we have told them—that the Government will exercise the four-year derogation for each of the three target years unless there is evidence that we can do better. That is a fair measure of certainty.

Under the changes that these amendments would introduce, we would have to plan to take advantage of the derogation for the first target year, but not for the second and the final target year. Although I would not wish to rule out the possibility that we shall make good progress and not need to take advantage of the derogation, given the parlous state of affairs whereby the level of landfilling continues to increase, these amendments presume too early about our progress. That is particularly so as an odd consequence of not taking advantage of the derogation for the second and third target years but of doing so for the first year would be that the second target year, 2009, would fall before the first derogated target year, 2010. That would be a little irrational and I am sure that it was not intended, but that point shows the consequences of trying to adjust or manipulate the target years in the way that these amendments suggest.

Amendments Nos. 90 to 92 were tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes, who, terrier-like or otherwise, chided me about the supposed inconsistency that the Government have shown in not accepting flexibility on the earlier clause while proposing that it is needed in this clause. However, the directive allows the flexibility of a four-year derogation. The Opposition amendment that we discussed in clause 22 concerned the definition of landfill. However, the directive does not allow flexibility on that definition, so I am not being inconsistent in saying that we are happy to accept the flexibility that is provided with regard to the target years, but that there is no flexibility in connection with the definition.

Mr. Hayes rose—

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

I have strayed on without allowing the hon. Gentleman to return to an earlier point.

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

The only point that I wish to make is that flexibility is important. We all acknowledge that. However, there is a difference between the signal that setting the target at the long end of the game sends out

and the positive signal that setting the target at the short end of the game sends. We might need to take advantage of the longer period, but does one ask for extra time at the beginning of the match or when one realises what the result might be?

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

Given the waste situation in the UK, I do not think that there is any question of our needing the derogation for the first period; indeed, the amendment accepts that. As I have said, I should like not to have to exercise the derogation for the later period. However, it is much better to leave that option open—and it is left open in the Government's position—rather than to close it but then have to go to the Commission later and say, ''Well, we do need to exercise this derogation after all.''

Our approach is better. People in the industry have no doubt that the Government will not laxly accept the derogation as inevitable. We have made it clear that that is not our position, but we need hard evidence that we will be able to do better and not use the derogation in the second or third target years before we can say that we will definitely not exercise it.

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

As the Minister did not like my football metaphor, I will switch to another sport. The Government are setting the bar very low on the grounds that they do not think that we will be able to jump higher. Surely we should set the bar high, see whether we can jump it and lower it if necessary. The Minister's legislative argument is good—the flexibility in the Bill is helpful because it allows for such a rethink—and I can understand why he would not want to amend the legislation. However, local authorities will assume that they have a longer time to meet the targets, which will lead to a laxer approach than if he set the bar higher. I am worried about that signal. Legislatively, the Minister is right, but in terms of how the intent will be perceived, he may be wrong.

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

I am tempted to say that all Oppositions are only too happy for Governments to take on targets that are unlikely to be met and then chastise them for failing to meet them, but I would not attribute such a dishonourable motive to the hon. Gentleman.

There are pressures on local authorities other than whether the derogation will be exercised in the target years, and the obvious ones are our targets for 2003–04 and 2005–06, which will help us to achieve 25 per cent. national average recycling by 2005–06. Once we have achieved that, the Government intend to go further. We have a modest target for 2010 to 2015, which we can probably exceed if we meet the earlier targets. However, that is the real driver on local authorities, not whether derogation is exercised.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Is not the heart of the problem the fact that the Minister admits to having modest targets after 2010? Is that not a huge watering down of the aims of a Government who claimed to be the greenest ever and said that the Minister would ensure that the environment was at the heart of all policies? Is there not a distinct lack of ambition and, having been in office for five years, are they not becoming distinctly jaded on the environment? I do not know the hyperbolic opposite of throwing caution to the wind,

but the Government appear to be reining in as fast as they can, which is disappointing to those who want to see faster, not slower, progress.

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

I am entitled to say that the targets are modest because we have made considerable strides, but I am still not satisfied. I find it difficult to accept such strictures from a member of a party that had a level of recycling of 2 per cent. when in government in 1992 and that left office in 1997 with a rate of 6 per cent. We have more than doubled the rate since then, and we will more than double it again by 2005–06.

I talked about modest targets because I believe that, if we achieve 25 per cent. recycling by 2005–06, it will be a modest step to go only to 30 per cent. by 2010. The waste strategy, rather surprisingly in my view, aims for 33 per cent. by 2015, but I am certain that we can go higher. However, those are hugely higher figures than we inherited from the previous Administration, so the hon. Gentleman should not chastise us. I do not want to introduce too partisan an element into what has been a good-natured Committee, but we must be fair.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 10:30 am, 29th April 2003

I do not want to start making partisan points, but throughout our proceedings, the Committee has been marked by a forward-looking agenda. We are trying to anticipate changes, so talking about 1992 is about as relevant as my chiding the Minister about the winter of discontent. Those of us who entered the House at the previous general election are concerned about the future. We all see the problems piling up in our constituencies. The Minister told us that progress towards waste minimisation was zero, and that waste was continuing to increase year on year. We must be concerned with those matters and not hark back to what happened 10 years ago. We are addressing the next 10 years, about which the Minister must be more ambitious.

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

I am perfectly prepared to accept that, and I fully recognise that the hon. Gentleman is genuinely concerned about the problem, as we all are. My point was only that it is unfair to say that the Government are unduly modest in setting their objectives or not very successful in achieving them. Achieving a turnaround in the culture of waste management is profoundly difficult, and we have not made as much progress as we would like, but there are signs of significant improvement. In any case, we have probably taken that issue as far as we need to.

Let me turn to amendments Nos. 90 to 92, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes. There are several reasons why we may need to make changes to scheme years or target years. Not least among those is the fact that it is too early to tell whether we will need to take account of the derogation for every scheme year. However, the amendments would force us to use the derogation every year, which is not desirable.

In addition, we need flexibility to take account of the fact that article 5(2) of the landfill directive makes provision for reviewing the final target year. In other words, the Commission, not us, could bring forward that target year, or set it back, and that would require

us to add extra scheme years. Clause 23(2) simply provides the flexibility to adapt the structure of the landfill allowance scheme accordingly. We would not want to have to amend the Bill so that we could do that.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

The Minister has raised a point of which I was not aware. He says that the Commission could change the final date. What would be the role of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament in that process?

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

There is no question of the Commission doing that unilaterally; it would bring a resolution to the Council. The Commission does not operate unilaterally, but if it did as I have described, it would have good reason for doing so, and the Council would probably go along with that. However, the measure could not be imposed. I am simply saying that there is flexibility at the EC end of the system; this is not just about the UK.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that amendment No. 89 comes marginally within this group. It would require the Secretary of State to carry out a written public consultation in line with Cabinet Office guidance. However, subsection (3) already provides for consultation with the devolved Administrations where it is proposed to make regulations under subsection (2) to amend target or scheme years. It would then be for each country to take the views of waste disposal authorities and other interested parties in the country as appropriate and in accordance with guidance. The hon. Gentleman made a point of bypassing Cabinet Office guidance and prayed in aid my answer to his parliamentary question, but with regard to the amendment, the situation is as I have described it.

I apologise for this slightly long-winded speech. I was perhaps deflected from my remarks by a number of slightly extraneous exchanges. I hope that, following my explanation, hon. Members will not pursue their amendments.

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

I have some reservations, but I believe this to be a matter of discretion. I agree with the Minister that the targets are tough, and that we must use every resource in meeting them. I am therefore concerned about the signal that we send to local authorities.

I also accept the Minister's argument that we need to retain flexibility. However, in seeing how things go, we must never give the impression that we are unambitious about what must be done, or underestimate the scale of the change of culture described during the Committee's discussions. I know that the Minister will not give that impression, as he has given us a clear assurance on the matter.

I am sure that the Minister has that commitment and determination, and that he shares the concerns expressed by Members on both sides of the Committee, so although I have reservations about sending out the wrong signal, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.