Clause 47 - Abolition of requirement to contract out waste disposal functions

Part of Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 25th January 2005.

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Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:45 pm, 25th January 2005

I shall not detain the Committee on this point, as we need to make progress. The hon. Gentleman can talk about the control of dogma when we come to part 6, if he wishes, but I want to get to the meat of this clause.

The explanatory notes attempt to give an explanation for the clause. They say that

''Waste disposal authorities must carry out their waste disposal functions by means of letting contracts. The contract-letting procedures for waste disposal authorities required by the 1990 Act lack flexibility or the opportunity for waste disposal authorities to carry out their functions in other ways to secure continuous improvement in the way in which their functions are exercised, having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.''

I am none the wiser after reading that. I would be grateful if the Minister said where and why the lack of flexibility occurs.

I am not sure which bodies have made complaints or representations to the Government which have led them to repeal the relevant provision of the 1990 Act. Indeed, the information that I have received is that those working in the industry believe that the decision to repeal the Act's divestment provisions does not send a positive signal to private sector investment in new waste management infrastructure. I hope that the Minister will also respond to that point.

There are plenty of examples of private sector companies that have made long-term capital and other investment in securing some of these let contracts. What assessment did the Department make of the effect of that on some of those businesses? Will some of them that have to work out notice periods find that the investment that they have undertaken in good faith is now threatened? Will any contracts be prematurely terminated as a result of the change? What   consultation did the Department have with the private sector parties to the let contracts before going ahead with this reversal of policy?

The Government rightly celebrate private sector involvement. I know that a bit of a private spat is going on between No. 11 and No. 10 about the extent to which market forces should be allowed into the delivery of public services, and that is a private unhappiness on which I do not want to intrude, but we hear about it all the time. For people in my party, the market is an invaluable mechanism for driving up standards, efficiency, economy and value for money for taxpayers. In light of that, I should be grateful for an explanation of the rather opaque explanatory note and of what consultation the Department conducted and what soundings it took in judging what effect the clause would have on private sector investors.

The public and private sectors in the part of the economy that we are discussing have worked together to develop much more integrated approaches to waste management. I have been told that Project Integra in Hampshire is an exemplar of its kind. I fear, although perhaps the Minister can allay my fears, that in making the change, the Government are jeopardising the involvement of the private sector at the margin. I am not suggesting that the private sector will run away from the contracts. That would be a ridiculous caricature of my position. However, it seems to me that at the margin, some private sector companies—small and medium-sized enterprises—may be disadvantaged by the operation of the clause. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.