Clause 69

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 3rd July 2008.

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Waste reduction schemes

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I beg to move amendment No. 103, in clause 69, page 32, line 40, leave out ‘may only be brought’ and insert ‘come’.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 104.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I assure the Committee that the amendments are small and technical. Perhaps it is unfortunate that we have not yet had the debate on waste incentives as it might not be entirely clear why we have tabled these amendments. We have done so to remove the link that exists between regulation-making powers relating to waste reduction schemes and the orders that will designate authorities as pilot areas. Within the proposals of this part of the Bill, we wish to see pilots undertaken by local authorities on waste reduction incentive schemes. For example, the regulations might be needed to allow local authorities to show waste charges and rebates on the council tax bill, or to enable them to collect outstanding charges more effectively through the county court and in relation to appeals processes. Under the existing drafting, the legislation prevents any such regulations being laid in Parliament until orders are made designating pilot authorities.

The amendments will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations using the relevant powers before the pilot authorities are formally designated. That will ensure that authorities interested in piloting a waste reduction scheme can be provided with a clear legislative framework by the time they are formally designated as pilots. As is the position at the moment, the regulations will not have any effect until the pilots are designated, and the amendments do not change the scope of the existing regulation-making powers set out in schedule 5.

I hope that I can assure the Committee that these are minor and technical amendments that will ensure that the Government can provide certainty for the pilot authorities, rather than them having to wait for the making of the designation orders.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have taken what the Minister said on board. These are tidying-up amendments and they are relevant only in light of our debate on the Government and Opposition amendments that follow. I do not propose to delay our discussion. We will deal with the more substantive changes to schedule 5 in the next group of amendments. [Interruption.]

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is good to note, Mr. Atkinson, that even those in the highest echelons can sometimes be caught unawares by electronic devices.

This is our first opportunity to discuss this part of the Bill. I do not wish to take issue with what the Government are proposing, but this is a Bill on climate change. It is interesting to see that this part has been added to the Bill, so I wonder whether the Minister will explain why that has happened. This part of the Bill—clause 69 onwards—does not seem relevant to climate change.  That does not mean that matters to do with waste disposal and energy from waste cannot help to reduce emissions, but the measure seems very heavily geared towards the domestic household.

In a few moments we will move on to schedule 5, but the issue is more about what is not in clause 69. I would like to have seen some review and emphasis of the EU packaging directive to show that the Government are on course to reduce packaging. I am concerned that, in respect of Government approaches to things, we seem to penalise the end user every time yet, in many instances, the end user has no control over the packaging, particularly in respect of supermarkets and food. I should like to have seen some reference in clause 69 and related clauses to other waste issues, including food waste and anaerobic digestion. Many other issues could have been dealt with under this part of the Bill, especially in clause 69, so why did the Government not do so?

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I agree with what the hon. Member for Vale of York says. Inevitably, as we discuss the succeeding clauses, we will dwell in great detail on the sorts of schemes that local authorities might run with regard to residual domestic waste, incentives on householders, and the things that councils can do to penalise or reward people. This is probably the right place, under the general heading of waste reduction schemes, to probe the Minister on the thing that our constituents say to all hon. Members: “We’d throw less away if, when we left the supermarket, there was less in our trolleys and shopping bags.”

It is unfortunate that the scope of the waste reduction schemes covered by clause 69 is limited, under schedule 5, to just domestic schemes. Householders have limited control over a lot of the residual waste that we will be talking about. They can do something about it, but are often lumbered with it. We should now be asking the Government what their part of the bargain is regarding the duties that they are placing on manufacturers and retailers to minimise packaging and waste generally.

We will be focusing overwhelmingly on what the householder can do and what sticks and carrots councils can apply to them, but this is the right point in the Bill to ask the Government what they are going to do to make it easier for householders to avoid the sticks and to benefit from the carrots.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Opposition Whip (Commons)

I add my voice to those expressing disappointment that the Government have chosen to bolt this on to the Bill. This is an enormously important and groundbreaking Bill. It only has one value and that is as a framework Bill designed to put in place a much better process for setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, revising those targets and holding the Government of the day to account for performance on meeting those targets. We hope that the Bill will be scrutinised around the world. It would have been much better to have kept it pure in purpose, but the Government have not been able to resist the urge to add a few more baubles on to the Christmas tree, which dilutes the value of the Bill.

I am interested in why it was necessary to add this provision to the Bill and whether there was consideration of other mechanisms to introduce legislation that would have enabled what are, in effect, some pilot projects in local authority areas. The measures dilute the Bill, so why were they necessary?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I shall respond to the last point first. I am asked why it is necessary to add to the Bill. I am surprised that Opposition Members do not see the connection between reducing waste and climate change. Waste in this country has, historically, gone to landfill, thus causing an immense problem with the production of methane, which Committee members have drawn to our attention as a more potent gas than even CO2.

The problem involving huge quantities of waste and methane is of enormous concern in relation to mitigation. There is an absolute necessity to reduce what goes into landfill, and that is why the proposals are in the Bill.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:15 pm, 3rd July 2008

With the greatest respect, I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood doubted that for a minute. He was simply saying, “Why pick on waste?” Why is there no provision in the Bill for carbon capture and storage? Why is there no provision in the Bill for microgeneration and feed-in tariffs? Why is there nothing in the Bill to promote combined heat and power? Why does the Bill not address the expansion of Heathrow airport? Why does the Bill not address energy efficiency? The list goes on and on, so my hon. Friend made a good point.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

The hon. Gentleman has just given a list of all the things that are bound to be considered when the Government seek to mitigate emissions from the various sectors that he has just described. The measure is being proposed because it does not exist elsewhere. We are the only country in the EU15 that does not allow local authorities to charge for some aspects of waste removal. There is a strong reason behind the measure. It comes before us because local government asked central Government to make such powers available to local government.

As Conservative Members know, their party controls a significant number of local authorities, and the Local Government Association, which is Conservative-controlled, has an environment committee, the chair of which is Paul Bettison, who is well known to us all. He said in response to a Communities and Local Government Committee report:

“This report rightly points out that it is only councils, in consultation with local people, who can decide the best system for collecting waste and boosting recycling rates. Although pilot schemes are a step in the right direction, the power should be there for all councillors to reward hard working families who do their bit for the environment...The Government should bring forward amendments to the Climate Change Bill to give councils the power to introduce incentive schemes as the Committee has recommended.”

It seems that the chair of the Local Government Association’s environment committee is enthusiastic that such measures should be in the Bill.

As I said at the outset, waste in landfill is a major problem. It is not sustainable, and 3 per cent. of all UK greenhouse gas emissions come from methane from biodegradable waste in landfill. Waste reduction schemes may have an important role to play in encouraging people to throw away less and to recycle more.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked why there was concentration on domestic households and what the Government were doing to try to persuade those who produce so much packaging waste to produce less  and to decrease what I acknowledge is enormous frustration among householders about the packaging waste issue. First, she mentioned the EU packaging directive. As she is aware, there are two: one is concerned with the recycling of the waste that is produced, and the other is concerned with minimisation of waste. In Brussels, we have pressed very hard for more to be done on the minimisation of waste. We do not believe that that directive has worked well, and we have pressed for action on it. That has not been forthcoming to date, but we always hope.

In the meantime, we have tried to agree voluntary arrangements with major retailers, and I am pleased to record that those who have entered into the voluntary Courtauld agreement have done so on the basis that there will be at least an end to the growth in packaging waste by the end of this year, and a reduction by 2010. In the meantime, on the advice of the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which is funded by the Government, there has been the lightweighting of packaging and a reduction in its amount in ways that, unfortunately, consumers often cannot see. In defence of retailers, some packaging is necessary, and some good work has been done, but there is a great deal more to do. We are pursuing that in every way.

The hon. Member for Vale of York also asked about food waste, which is one of the most extraordinary aspects of our society. We throw into the waste stream a third of all the food that we purchase, and that is costing UK citizens £10 billion a year. That is a horrific waste at this time. We want to do more about that across Government. We are making considerable inroads with the “Love Food Hate Waste” programme, which was launched by myself and the Waste and Resources Action Programme. We are aware that the public are particularly sensitive to the issue at this time, and they are receiving these messages about reducing food waste and the necessity of doing so.

As I have dealt with all the questions, I will return to what we are trying to do in the Bill. Local authorities asked for such opportunities. We know that they have made progress, but they want to do more, and we need them to do more. Over the past 10 years, recycling rates have quadrupled and they now stand at around 33 per cent. As hon. Members will know, we still lag far behind much of Europe and that is why we need to do more. Householders have a vital role to play. Municipal waste accounts for more than a quarter of the waste sent to landfill in England, and household waste forms a large part of that.

To enable us to do more, we need to try out new possibilities. We cannot afford to sit back and say that things will never work, especially when research shows that waste reduction schemes really help. We know that from other countries. A particularly good example is Sweden where, in one of its municipalities, residual waste as a result of such schemes fell by 45 per cent. in the first year of the scheme, and waste separated for recycling or composting rose by 49 per cent.

Likewise, in Seattle, where householders pay according to the size of their bin, recycling tonnages have increased by 60 per cent., and participation in recycling has increased by 80 per cent. That is undoubtedly why local authorities have proposed to Government that they should have the opportunity to incentivise householders to reduce the amount of waste that they produce and to  recycle more. The Bill proposes that we allow up to five local authorities to pilot schemes. However, those schemes will not have been tried in this country before, which is why this is a very modest proposal.

We want to learn from the pilots and from the response of both the authorities and the public. Once we have evaluated the impact of the pilots, we will be in a position to decide whether or not to roll out the powers more widely.

Clause 69 introduces schedule 5, which provides the legislative framework for waste collection authorities to set up a waste reduction—or a waste incentive—scheme. Householders who throw away the least will receive a rebate from the local authority and, under some schemes, but not necessarily all, householders who throw away the most will pay more.

Under the schemes, many people will be better off. That is because any money that is received by the councils in charges will have to be paid back to residents. That is on the basis of the condition called revenue-neutrality. Overall, residents do not pay any more to the authority.

Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks PPS (Rt Hon James Purnell, Secretary of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I wonder whether the Minister will explain her point about some householders paying more and some paying less. Is it based on how many people inhabit a house? A house with two occupants would have a different “budget” to houses with four or five occupants.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The whole point of having pilots is to try to work out a fair system. Concern has been expressed that larger households will produce more waste than smaller ones. Strangely enough, research shows that proportionately, smaller households produce as much waste, and occasionally more. It is quite complicated, because we have a lot of research under way, which WRAP has undertaken. In the case of those schemes, the pilot authorities must have regard to vulnerable households, which could include larger households. It is quite possible, whatever the design of the scheme, that there would be an allowance for larger households.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not arguing against permissive powers, and in general we favour the freedom of local authorities to experiment with the consent of their electors. As well as larger households—in other words, families with children—there is also the issue of small households that might not have the space to compost organic waste or put it in relatively smelly wormeries. In one case, they do not have sufficient space in a small flat, and in the other they would almost certainly break their tenancy agreement and act against the interests of public health. Does she accept that that is also an issue and that the guidelines on social justice in that respect need to be drawn pretty broadly?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

Indeed; the hon. Gentleman has made a sensible comment. We know that the schemes are operating in many other countries that clearly have a spectrum of household composition and home types, just as we have in this country. It would be for the local authority that sought to pilot the scheme to look at all of that and at their own demographics. It would perhaps  choose one part of the authority where it would do the pilot and decide that other parts were not suitable. All of that is possible, and we expect the authorities that come forward to take all those issues into account.

I want to complete what I was saying on revenue neutrality. A further protection for residents exists, as authorities will need to keep a separate account of charges and rebates under the scheme, which will allow residents to assure themselves that the revenue neutrality requirement is being kept, which is enormously important. A huge amount of hostile press has been generated, I am sorry to say, by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who speaks for the Opposition on communities and local government. He has suggested that this is some form of stealth tax and that people could be subject to huge payments—I have ever seen a figure of £1,000 a year quoted, which is absolutely ludicrous. We have made it clear that we want the schemes to be revenue neutral and transparent, that it is essential that residents buy into them and that there will be a communications strategy. That is all very clear. Also, the indicative amounts that we have mentioned for such schemes have been of the order of £50, which is nothing like what has been suggested.

As I have said, local authorities would have to take account of groups that could be unduly disadvantaged, provide a good kerbside recycling service, implement a fly-tipping prevention strategy and communicate with local people. While providing a good level of protection for householders, we are also keen to provide authorities with flexibility and options to ensure that schemes are efficient and effective on the ground, as I have indicated. Local authorities will be free to design schemes that suit local circumstances and integrate rebates or charges with the administration of a council tax system, if they so choose.

We have really gone past the point when we can simply sit back and watch landfill sites fill up and belch out methane emissions. We have to try new measures, and it is only responsible for us to respond to the wishes of local authorities that have proposed, like other countries in continental Europe, that they should have the opportunity to have such schemes. It is a matter of extreme regret that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar has warned local authorities in a letter that councils that introduce “bin taxes” will be vilified in the popular press and punished at the polls. He stated:

“Nationally, we will not hesitate to criticise any supposedly-Conservative council which collaborates with the Labour Ministers”.

I hope that Opposition Front Benchers in Committee will disassociate themselves from that threat to local authorities, which is nothing but bullying and undermining democratic accountability.

Piloting is a sensible way of trying out these new measures and testing them in a UK context, as it will add to our understanding and that of the public and local authorities. After the pilots, we will be able to make a well-founded decision on whether to make the powers available to more local authorities.

I thought I had answered all the questions, but it has been suggested that perhaps I have not—helpful notes are being passed to me, but I think I have dealt with the matter. However, I am told—this is a useful point—that  the packaging directive targets will save more than 8 million tonnes of CO2 this year alone. I should also say something that I did not mention before: earlier this year, I increased the recovery rates from forms of packaging in this country.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30 pm, 3rd July 2008

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle has just said from a sedentary position, this is a technical amendment—unless I am confusing it with an earlier one. This has been a timely and helpful debate. The Government got it wrong—not in signing up to the EU landfill directive, but in signing up and committing the United Kingdom to the landfill directive before we had alternative waste disposal schemes in place. That is something that is going to cost all of us dearly.

The Minister’s response to the debate is a little bit unfair and disingenuous on the householder, because the householder is not in control of how products reach them—I accept that they are in control of the amount of food that they waste. However, when a consumer is shopping in a supermarket, they do not have control over the packaging or what will ultimately be waste. Let us consider unsolicited mail, which is a growing curse. Of course, I do not mean our election leaflets, but, for example, the free newspaper that comes around or other things that one does not wish to see cross one’s door.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I assure the hon. Lady that we are trying to work across every front on that issue. She is right, and we are discussing that matter with the direct mail organisation. We hope to have new agreements on that, and we are trying to discourage the proliferation of material. The householder does have some control. Some people choose to shop and buy loose goods rather than heavily packaged goods. Clearly, we should boycott those goods that are most heavily packaged.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To a large extent, we are in broad agreement. I remember visiting a direct mail factory during one of my election campaigns, which caused some consternation apropos my earlier remarks. We all want less waste to go to landfill, but the Government have wasted an opportunity, because they could have educated the public on alternative means of waste disposal, particularly incineration, energy from waste, combined heat and power, or anaerobic digestion—I do not care what we call it. The public seem to go into freefall whenever a local council comes out with a policy that involves smoke or burning, whether it is in Guildford, where bizarrely the Liberal Democrats opposed an incinerator, or in Sheffield, where they proposed one.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

The hon. Lady is right; there is a need for public education. It is now accepted that no serious health effects result from incineration. That has been dealt with—not least, by Government. In addition, £2 billion of PFI credits are available for waste infrastructure and there is no prohibition on any form of scheme. Some are coming forward as incinerators, and £10 million is available for anaerobic digesters.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have recently received a briefing from North Yorkshire county council, and councils seem to be well apprised. The Minister has referred to the need to guard against fly-tipping, which causes great concern in rural areas.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

Order. I remind the Committee that we are talking about waste reduction, not waste disposal, either through incineration or fly-tipping.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hate to say, “I told you so”, to the Minister. There were two warnings about the problems that clause 60 could bring, which the Government do not seem to have heeded. One warning was in the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government report on refuse collection, which was issued on 16 July 2007. The Committee was

“not convinced that enough work has been done or guidance given to local authorities on how to prevent such risks from blighting areas and causing disputes.”

The same Committee’s second special report on “Refuse Collection: Waste Reduction Pilots” in February this year recommended that

“the Government withdraw its financial incentive pilot proposals from the Climate Change Bill and reconsider devolving the power to introduce schemes to local authorities themselves.”

Would the Minister like to comment on why she did not follow their advice?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

What we saw in the CLG Committee reports was far greater ambition than has come from local government. The suggestion that there should be a specific waste-charging system, analogous to a utility, is not one that has found favour with local government. That is why local government, in presenting suggestions to central Government about what might be done, has looked to do something that is clearly much more of a halfway house than the CLG Committee would have wished.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Finally, just for the record, I believe that the Government’s approach of having a limited trial and a limited pilot project—I think that five are ongoing—for which the Government have been criticised, has allowed hostile media coverage.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

Despite the recommendations in the CLG Committee report, is there not a real sense of urgency about not only carbon but the availability of landfill sites? It is important that we make a start and see how those pilots can inform what is needed.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a helpful intervention. As I said at the outset, the problem is that the Government signed up to impossible targets. I am in total agreement about reducing waste going to landfill, but it is impossible to ask councils to meet those targets, if there are not alternative sites. If we look at what is happening in Naples, I can only assume that the Italian Government are having exactly the same difficulty as our own.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

We are on target for the reduction in waste going to landfill from households for 2010, and we are entirely optimistic about 2013. The reason why we are making so much money available to encourage much greater provision of waste disposal infrastructure is because the 2020 target is challenging. However, we are content that we know what we are doing, and we certainly have no expectation of ending up in a Naples situation.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister will be aware that my colleague, whom I now refer to as David Davis, called his by-election, which will take place on Thursday one week hence, precisely on issues such as intrusion by inspectors, which relates to these proposals. I hope that the powers given to local council inspectors for policing the arrangement will not come back to haunt the Government.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

There is no suggestion that this scheme will be a massive intrusion into people’s lives. There is no suggestion that this scheme will be a massive intrusion into people’s lives. As I have stressed, it has been done across Europe and north America. Residents have accepted such schemes perfectly well in other countries. When the proposals were put to people in a poll, we found that about 60 per cent. of people felt them to be entirely fair.

I bring the hon. Lady back to the purpose of this measure: people who do their duty by recycling and reducing their residual waste should be rewarded, and those who do not subscribe to the law could have a charge placed on them, if the local authority so chooses.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to place our concerns on the record, and I am grateful to the Minister for her response.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 69, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.