Charges for single use carrier bags
(1) Schedule [Charges for single use carrier bags] makes provision about charges for single use carrier bags.
(2) In that Schedule
Part 1 confers power on the relevant national authority to make regulations about charges for single use carrier bags;
Part 2 makes provision about civil sanctions;
Part 3 makes provision about the procedures applying to regulations under the Schedule.
(3) In that Schedule the relevant national authority means
(a) the Secretary of State in relation to England;
(b) the Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales;
(c) the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland in relation to Northern Ireland.
(4) Regulations under that Schedule are subject to affirmative resolution procedure if
(a) they are the first regulations to be made by the relevant national authority in question under the Schedule,
(b) they contain provision imposing or providing for the imposition of new civil sanctions, or
(c) they amend or repeal a provision of an enactment contained in primary legislation.
(5) Otherwise regulations under that Schedule are subject to negative resolution procedure..[Joan Ruddock.]
The amendments confer power on the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers and Northern Irish Department of the Environment to make regulations about charges for single-use carrier bags. The purpose of the amendments is to achieve a significant reduction in the number of single-use carrier bags distributed in the UK. More than 13 billion single-use carrier bags are distributed in the UK each year.
I am delighted to be able to respond to my hon. Friend. Although I will come on to explain how the bags will be defined, they are single-use carrier bags, so there is no distinction regarding the material from which they are made. I am sure that she will know that the environmental impact of paper bags can be even more detrimental than that of plastic bagsalthough people might think that that is counter-intuitive. I am happy to explain that when challenged.
I am not necessarily challenging the Ministers assumption that environmental damage can be derived from paper bags. Nevertheless, they are made from an entirely renewable resource. In terms of their impact on the environment at disposal, although there is some release of greenhouse gas emissions when they go to landfill, if they are recycled they are surely a more environmentally friendly option than plastic bags.
The hon. Gentleman is not correct, because the science is extremely complex in relation to that. However, I will say a number of things. On the production and transportation of paper bagswe are talking about billions of bagsthe greater the weight, the more CO2 emissions there are and so on. There is a difference between paper and plastic bags in relation to the carbon cycle. In terms of disposal, the vast majority of paper bags go to landfill, as does the vast majority of household waste. In landfill, a biodegradable item, such as a paper bag, will produce damaging methane gases, which is why this is a really complex science. It is possible to have a lower environmental impact if, for example, a paper bag is properly composted. It is impossible to say that there will be a less detrimental effect from paper bags overall because the chances are high that there will be a greater impact on the environment.
The Minister is right; if they are badly disposed of, there is potentially a greater environmental impact. However, surely we should be aiming to have a strategy of zero wastecertainly zero to landfillwhereby all paper bags are recycled. On transportation costs and weight, is she aware that the overwhelming majority of paper bags in use in the United Kingdom come from Somerset, and the overwhelming majority of plastic bags come from overseas? Therefore, I suspect that the carbon footprint may well be rather different from what she supposes. That may be why Ireland chose to make different arrangements for paper bags when it legislated on plastic bags.
The hon. Gentleman has illustrated the fact that there needs to be a whole life cycle analysis to predict what the carbon footprint is from any item or object. He has a point, but it is not a general point. It cannot be said that paper bags would be less environmentally damaging than plastic bags.
I apologise if I am telling my hon. Friend something that she already knows. Some of the colleagues of the hon. Member for Cheltenham tried to introduce a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to ban the use of plastic bags. However, as my hon. Friend was saying, it was discovered that a 40-tonne lorry would be required to transport the equivalent of one pallet of plastic bags. Therefore, the transportation alone undoubtedly has a major impact on CO2 emissions.
The Minister mentioned the number of plastic bags that are used, which is an important figure. Will she tell the Committee what has been the reduction in the number of plastic bags since the Governments welcome initiative to work with the industry for a voluntary reduction?
I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman definitively, because we have not fully assessed the plastic bags agreement, which is analogous to the Courtauld agreement. However, I can give a ballpark figure: there has been a 7 to 9 per cent. reduction in the number of bags in circulation as a result of the voluntary agreement on single-use bags.
Later, could the Minister give the Committee a breakdown of those figures, so that we can see the way in which a large number of companies have worked with the Department voluntarily? There is a deep feeling of frustration in the industry among competing businesses, which have gone out of their way to find different mechanisms and been very successful. They have more than met the agreed targets, and been willing to do more, but the Government have introduced legislation that has left them with the feeling that this is not the co-operative plan that they had been led to believe that it would be. Out of what appears to be little more than tokenism, the Government are moving to a different scheme, which has undermined businesses belief in their willingness to work with them. It is important that the Government take what they have done seriously
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have taken very seriously what has been done, and I shall describe later what has been happening. However, it would not be possible to say which companies have done what, because the agreement with the companies was that we would consider the overall picture of all participating businesses, and that we would publish all information on the overall achievement. Right hon. and hon. Members will already have heard from individual companies, which are more than entitled to, and do, make us aware of what they have achieved.
The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that there is a huge spectrum of achievement. For example, I am told that in one company the use of raw plastic has increased during the period of the agreement, but that many others have achieved significant reductions in the use of raw plastic through lightweighting and so on. We are not yet in a position to give all the information, but as I said, companies have been contacting Committee members setting out what they have achieved, and we appreciate what they have done.
I referred to the 13 billion single-use carrier bags distributed each year. That has a direct environmental effectas a particularly visible form of litter when discarded irresponsibly, through the risk that they present to marine life, and through the emissions that they generate from both transport and waste management. Their disposable and easily substituted nature makes them an iconic symbol of our throwaway society, but as a result of public pressure, thinking right across the board has changed since we concluded the voluntary agreement with retailers. By responding to increasing concerns about the availability and numbers of throwaway bags, we hope to promote further changes in environmental behaviour and greater participation in recycling and thinking about waste among consumers.
Public attitudes are central to this debate. At the beginning of our discussions, a number of right hon. and hon. Members referred to an Ipsos MORI poll that had appeared in The Observer. It was a poll that was quite depressing to all of us, because it was headlined:
Most Britons doubt cause of climate change.
I chose to get hold of the entire poll and look at the questions asked and the answers given, and frankly that headline was very misleading. For example, one of the findings was that 77 per cent. of people expressed their concern about climate change. Furthermore, only 4 per cent. of people agreed with the statement:
Individuals should not be expected to do anything, it is not their responsibility.
So, very clearly, that was a misleading headline about a poll that is much more in line than one would have thought with the tracking that we have done as a Department over four years, during which time we have seen a very high level of concern about climate change being maintained and a willingness to do something about it.
Indeed, on 2 July there was a Guardian/ICM poll that asked:
Bearing in mind growing global economic problems on the one hand and growing environmental problems including global warming on the other, where do you think the governments main priorities should now lie?
Fofty-four per cent. of people asked said that the priority should be:
On tackling economic problems.
Fifty-two per cent. of people asked said that the priority should be:
On tackling environment issues.
Given everything that is being said about the economy at the moment, it is extraordinary that a poll conducted as recently as 2 July should give that result.
Liberal Democrat Members have a lot of sympathy with tackling plastic bags. Surely, however, there is an issue here of scale, proportionality and priority. The Minister is arguing for a new schedule that adds 12 pages of legislation to a Climate Change Bill, when the issue is at least partly about litter. If the Government have legislative capacity to add 12 pages of legislation, is this issue of plastic bags really the top priority for tackling climate change? Why this rather than a whole shopping list of things that, presumably, have a bigger effect on climate change than plastic bags do?
You would not want me, Mr. Atkinson, to list all the activities that are going on across Government in every
What I was about to say to the hon. Gentleman is that legislation is not required for the myriad activities going on across the Government in every Department, which attempt to mitigate climate change, to adapt to it and to deal in the round with waste issues. So this measure is here, as indeed are the waste incentives, because a requirement exists to have legislation in this regard. We do not believe that it is very likely, although the opportunity will be there, that we will get the numbers of plastic bags down in the way that the public demand unless we make these powers available to us.
I would just like to say to the hon. Gentleman that this measure should not be a surprise; this needed to be done somewhere, because 18 months ago we published our waste strategy, in which we clearly stated that we wished to make the single-use carrier bag a thing of the past.
I do not dispute for a second that the Government are doing lots of other things that do not involve legislation, but that is not the point. The question is, now that we have a Climate Change Bill, is the Minister really saying that, of all the things that require legislation, carrier bags are the most important in terms of climate change?
I am not saying that at all. The Bill itself is making huge provision for a whole raft of policies and strategies to tackle climate change; this measure is one small addition. It is there; it may look odd to the hon. Gentleman to put it in the Bill, but it is there because it is something that we believe needs to be done and there is a requirement to legislate. However, it is not a matter of saying, This is more important. There have been many measures in this Bill that we have all properly debated, which clearly demonstrate the Governments commitment most of all to reducing carbon emissions across the whole of Government and in every aspect of our society, and also our commitment to adapting to climate change.
As was announced in the Budget, we wish to take enabling powers to require retailers to charge for single-use carrier bags. However, before these powers are exercised, we first want to give retailers the opportunity to pursue a sufficient reduction in the number of bags that they distribute on a voluntary basis. That is my response to the question put by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. There is in existence a voluntary agreement, which runs to the end of this year, but that was about reducing the environmental impact by 25 per cent. The environmental impact is different from just the numbers of bags.
Will the Minister expand on the 25 per cent. figure, because a large part of the impact of plastic bags is not made on climate change, but in terms of wildlife, litter and causes close to the heart of the Campaign to Protect Rural Englanda brief name-checkwith its Stop the drop campaign? In doing so, will she also pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon, which is that this may not be the most important consideration in relation to climate change?
Let me also name-check CPRE. I supported the Stop the drop campaign and I am working closely with the CPRE, which is promoting it.
Let me give the hon. Member for Cheltenham the figures. Plastic bags comprise between 0.1 per cent. and 1 per cent. of visible litter in the UK, 2 per cent. of total litter on UK beaches, which is substantial, and 0.3 per cent. of the domestic waste stream. Yes, those are visible, cause concern and need dealing with, and how better to deal with them than to reduce the circulation in the first place? Whatever the spectrum of reasons, plastic bags have environmental impacts associated with their disposal and produce emissions and are therefore relevant to climate change. However, other issues are involved. I do not dispute what the hon. Gentleman says. But plastic bags are important in respect of those other areas. We are getting more gain, potentially, than just simply that relating to climate changeand an important gain it is, because although plastic bags comprise quite a small percentage in terms of overall litter, they are so visible. When seeing those bags up in the trees, in the hedgerows and on the railway tracks, it makes a big impact and we want to see it ended. [Interruption.] I am reminded of something that might be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. In our partial impact assessment, single-use carrier bags were responsible for an estimated 790,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents each year. Again, that has an important climate change impact.
Let me give the Committee an idea of what might be achieved. At least a 70 per cent. reduction in the numbers of single-use bags distributed could be achieved if a charge were introduced. The Government are prepared to impose a charge if a similar reduction cannot be achieved through voluntary action by retailers. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal suggested that we were being unfair to retailers and that some were hurt and disappointed by what they perceive as a change. First, this is not a change: the proposal to bring about the end of the single-use carrier bag was included in the waste strategy 2007. I think he will acknowledge that, whereas public opinion has become vociferous and concerned about the numbersthey want them done away withat the same time a number of other countries have ended the use of these bags, not least China, where the vast majority of such bags were being produced. If other countries are doing it and the public demand is there, it is appropriate for the Government to respond. We have tried to explain to retailers that the argument has moved on: it is not a lack of appreciation for what they have achieved. Of course, we have learned a great deal from what they have achieved about ways in which we can reduce packaging.
The Government are prepared to impose a charge if we cannot achieve what we hope to achieve through voluntary action by retailers. The new clause would introduce a new schedule conferring powers on the relevant national authoritiescovering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland, as requested by the respective devolved Administrationsto make regulations about charges for single-use carrier bags. The specific powers are contained in the new schedule, which is split into three parts: powers to require a charge for bags, powers to create civil sanctions in respect of sellers who breach such regulations, and procedural matters. This is new material and part 1 of the new schedule provides powers to make regulations about charging for the supply of single-use carrier bags. Those regulations will require sellers of goods to charge for single-use carrier bags supplied either at the place where they are sold, or for the purpose of delivering goods. The measures will define sellers of goods and a single-use carrier bag, specify the minimum amount that sellers must charge for each single-use bag, appoint an administrator to administer the provisions made by the regulations, and confer appropriate powers and duties on them, including enforcement powers and duties. It will require records to be kept of the amounts raised by the charge, and the uses to which proceeds are put.
Obviously, we will consult formally on those points prior to the introduction of secondary legislation. The first set of regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Part 2 of the new schedule contains provisions about civil sanctions. They follow the model used in the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill. Of the sanctions in that Bill, we propose only fixed monetary penalties, variable monetary penalties and compliance notices. Administrators will be able to choose which sanction is applied on a case-by-case basis.
We are not creating any criminal offences and have proposed that any fixed penalty fines for breaches of the proposed bags regulations be kept to a maximum of £5,000. There is, however, provision to require retailers to publicise the fact that they have breached the regulations. Part 3 of the new schedule provides for the regulations to be made either by a single national authority, or by two or more national authorities as joint regulations.
As I understand it, part 3 disapplies the hybrid procedures that would allow parties named in legislation to make representations in relation to it. I do not speak on behalf of any retailers that might be affected, but surely if an individual retailer is named in legislation, they should have the right to make representations in the normal way on that kind of legislation or regulation.
I confirm that the hybrid procedures to any draft regulations made under the powers contained in the new schedule will be disapplied, as we provide for the power to name specific retailers who will be subject to the charge. The same approach is taken in relation to the waste reduction scheme provisions, which we discussed with the hon. Member for Vale of York, and the retailers so named will be able to make representations.
Amendments Nos. 86 to 101 are consequential to the new clause and schedule. By bringing forward the amendments, the Government are responding to strong public demands for action on single-use carrier bags. Those enabling powers will provide a powerful lever in our continuing efforts to phase out single-use carrier bags in favour of longer-lasting, more sustainable alternatives.
We agree with the Government that single-use plastic bags are a scourge on the landscape of our country. On a trip through the countryside, there are few things more infuriating to see than plastic bags blighting the landscape and stuck in our hedgerows and trees. The single-use carrier bag has become an icon of our throwaway society. They cause extensive environmental damage, endanger our wildlife and pollute our seas and waterways. As the Minister said, this country uses over 3 billion single-use carrier bags each year.
I am sorry, 13 billionthat is over 500 bags a year for every household in Britain. Action is needed to reduce that figure. I must ask the Minister why, as already raised, the Government feel it necessary to include regulations for what is, in effect, a litter prevention initiative in a Bill that is about serious carbon reduction. Much of the evidence shows that there is little if any carbon reduction benefitcertainly in the grand scheme of thingsfrom introducing such a charge. In the legislative precedent, set in the Republic of Ireland, there was never any suggestion that the policy was related to climate change. It was only ever mooted as a desirable litter prevention policyan extremely successful one it has been too.
Opposition members of the Committee have made the point at several stages throughout the debates that the Climate Change Bill is a framework document, a big-picture piece of ambitious policy making. The Bill is about the future of our planet and the sustainability of humankind. It seems inappropriate to us to be introducing a micro-measure, such as the enabling powers, into the Bill, particularly when those powers will have no discernable impact on our overall carbon reduction. While we are certainly in favour of the new clause in principle, we question how appropriate it is to this particular piece of legislation. Dare I say it, I cannot help suspecting that a modicum of political posturing from the Government is involved here. However, I hope that the Minister can persuade me otherwise, as we are intent on supporting the aspirations of the new clause.
There are a few other areas where I would appreciate the Ministers clarification about the new schedule. One issue is the voluntary agreements. Hon. Members know that my party believes in the necessity of keeping regulation to an absolute minimum. That is why we were pleased to see the Government engage positively with the retail industry, through WRAP, to agree a voluntary agreement to cut the environmental impact of single-use carrier bags by 25 per cent. by the end of 2008. The Prime Minister then said, in a speech last November, that
the Climate Change Bill will legislate so that, if there is not sufficient progress on a voluntary basis by the end of the year
the Government can exercise powers early next year to impose a charge on these bags.
Can the Minister please tell me how the Government define sufficient progress? The reports I have received from the retail associations involved seem to describe significant progress. The British Retail Consortium stated that
provisional figures released by WRAP in February 2008 showed that retailers gave out a billion less bags compared to this time last year and had already reduced the environmental impact of plastic bags by 14 per cent.
Does the Minister not consider that to be sufficient progress from the retailers towards meeting the voluntary commitment? Are there any definitive targets that constitute that sufficient progress that the Prime Minister mentioned? If the only definitive target is a 15 per cent. reduction, does that mean that the enabling powers in new schedule 1 will not be used if the voluntary agreement is met? Some clarification from the Minister would be welcome, as my partys belief is that, if Government enter into an agreement with a business sector and if that sector is on course to meet the requirements of the agreement, it is not good for the reputation of government to renege on that agreement for what could be perceived as reasons of short-term political grandstanding.
Another issue that greatly concerns us, which the Minister did not really go into in any detail, is the hypothecation of funds, particularly in the new schedule. What will happen to the revenues raised by the bag levy? Should it be introduced, the Prime Minister made it clear in his speech last November that any money raised would go to environmental charities. Yet I do not see any reference to hypothecation of the bag levy in the Governments new clauses. Can the Minister assure me that the Prime Ministers statement will be honoured? We have already discussed the public distrust that exists around green taxes. Sadly, it seems that the levy is slipping in that direction. We must do all we can, in the interests of encouraging positive public engagement with environmental issues, so that we do not give people any grounds for suspicion that the Government are yet again using a tax, the bag levy, as yet another means of stealth tax.
It is worth noting that Marks and Spencer, which introduced voluntarily a 5p plastic bag levy in its food stores nationwide in February, is donating all revenues from that levy to the environmental charity Groundwork, with which many members of the Committee will be familiar. It does excellent work. It creates and improves green living spaces such as parks and gardens in neighbourhoods, especially deprived neighbourhoods, throughout the United Kingdom. Can the Minister assure me that the levy will be truly green, not another revenue-raising initiativehowever smallfrom a cash-strapped Treasury?
Another issue that concerns me greatly is the ruling out of price absorption. There is not a stipulation under the new clause that would prevent large retailers from absorbing the single-use bag levy into their costs to prevent customers from having to pay it. That would, in effect, make the levy a new Government tax on retailers with no guaranteed environmental spend. If retailers could do that, it would give the big playersespecially the larger supermarketsan unfair advantage over their smaller and independent competitors, which would be far less capable financially of absorbing such a new cost. It would also negate entirely the purpose of the levy, which is to encourage behavioural change in the buying public. Can the Minister please clarify that it will not be possible for retailers, large or small, to absorb the cost of that levy?
I return to paper bag exemption. The Government have considered whether the levy should apply to paper bags as well as to plastic. As we are discussing a litter prevention policy not a carbon policy, is it not the case that paper bags biodegrade and do not pollute as plastic bags do? It is interesting to note that the levy on plastic bags in Ireland did not result in a rush to use paper. Instead, people have moved to reusable cloth bags. I should like to hear the Ministers views on whether there is a necessity for exempting paper bags on the grounds that they provide a service without the environmental externality of plastic. With those concerns in mind, we are inclined to support the new clause and hope that we can halt the appalling sight of plastic bags littering our cities, towns and countryside, but we await with interest her response to our very real worries.
The Liberal Democrats have an established party policy in favour of a levy on plastic bags, which was passed at our conference some years ago. We are broadly sympathetic with the new clause, new schedule and Government amendments and will not seek to obstruct them.
However, before the Committee approves the new measures, we should be slightly clearer about exactly what we are voting for. This is not exactly a pig in a plastic bag but it is something of that sort, because a great deal of detail still has to be established. I accept that the Minister says that we will pass primary legislation, that there will then be consultation and secondary legislation, and that we will have to return to some of the issues, but it would be helpful to know now what the Government are thinking about some of them.
My understanding of the principle is that there will be no requirement to place a levy if there is sufficient voluntary reductionI believe that that was the phrase that the Minister used. She mentioned a 25 per cent. figure, but it would be interesting to know whether the Government are now clear in their own mind how much progress must be made, over what time scale, and whether it will be reviewed annuallythe whole mechanism. How much is enough? I would hope that enough would be an ambitious target.
We have already heard about Ireland and other places where the reductions have been dramatic and fast. I hope that the Minister will set the bar high because if we are going to go through the process of putting the infrastructure in place, we might as well ensure that we get bang for our buck. I hope that the Minister will give us some idea of the Governments thinking on charges.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that there was an issue about the use of revenue. The Bill is not explicit about what the use of the revenue would be. I am also slightly unclear about the funding flow. Presumably, there will be lots of people levying the charges. Do they all hand over the money to some sort of clearing house that then gives out grants or something? It is not clear how this will work. Having been required to make a charge, it would seem a bit odd if the individual companies were allowed to pick and choose their good causes. Again, the measure is a bit hazy and I do not know how it will work. Some further clarification would be helpful.
The coverage of the levy is unclear, but perhaps the Government have not yet made a decision. For example, my village shop issues carrier bags and I am not sure whether the Government have a de minimis threshold in mind. Clearly, the village shops carrier bags are as littering as everyone elses. However, if my village shop had to keep a register of how many carrier bags it had handed out and how many 5ps it had charged customers, and if it would have to send in accounts on a form to DEFRA, it would make me wonder about the relative costs and benefits of the proposal. Is the measure aimed at the big supermarkets? Do the Government know where the cut-off point is? Those are very important questions.
I welcome the fact that the new schedule refers not only to carrier bags handed out in shops, but bags profligately used for home delivery. It is very important that those bags are within the scope of the legislation.
Although I agree with the basic approach, I have sneaking reservations about the switch from a voluntary to a statutory strategy. It is perfectly legitimate to try to do this on a voluntary basis. There is also a credible argument for saying, Let us just get on with it and make it happen. However, I am not sure about trying a voluntary approach, and then revoking it early on. When we intervened on the Minister to ask how the voluntary approach was working, she said that she had some ballpark figures. However, although she did not seem to have much idea, the decision to revoke the voluntary approach and put some stick in was taken months ago. Therefore, long before the Government knew how the voluntary approach was getting onthey cannot have had hard data on it months agothey decided to go for a statutory approach.
As the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, the only thing that can be assumed is that the Government were responding to newspaper pressure. While the Daily Mail has its merits, it should not be determining the law of the land in the way in which it seems to have done in this case. We did not intervene on the Minister to say that we do not think that action needs to be taken in this area. Clearly there is a case for action, as our party advocated some years before the Daily Mail. The concern is that we have either a big picture climate change Bill that is strategic and sets frameworks, or we have a systematic strategy of specific legislation to tackle big climate change issues. It seems to me that with this Bill we have neither fish nor foul. We have what is supposed to be a measure to establish global targets for decades to come, and then it addresses bin taxes and plastic bags. The worry is that we do not have the strategic approach from Government telling us where our legislative priorities are and where the big climate change impact isthe bang for our buck. We just have responses to the flavour of the moment. That does not seem to be a wholly satisfactory basis on which to legislate.
We have the Bill in front of us and we have got to form an opinion. Our judgment is that these powers need to be available. We hope that the bar will be set high so that we can be confident that drastic reductions in the numbers of plastic bags, which are clearly possible, as other countries have shown, will be achieved in this country.
Again, I would like to refer to my entry in the Register of Members Interests, not least because I chair a company that deals with a high proportion of requirements under packaging legislation. We have also advised a number of companies on how best to fulfil what I believe is the corporate responsibility to reduce the amount of waste that we use in this country.
Like other people, I am perfectly happy to say that we must do something about the nature of the society in which we live. This is a throw-away society, and we have gone through a period of time in which we have contravened all the rules that were previously part of our nature. We always used to refer to waste not, want not and I hear that idea coming back in relation to the Prime Ministers comments.
We always thought that people went shopping with a shopping bag, put the items in there and came back with them. That idea was thrown away because people thought it was terribly old-fashioned, but we have returned to seeing the value of that approach. I feel it is a much healthier society that takes the view that wastage is of itself wrong and damaging to the environment. I do not want to be in any way critical of the principles that lie behind the measure, but I still find the presence of this aspect of the Bill very difficult to accept. It is as if we are at some fantastic liturgy where everything is leading up to the great moment in which we really show the centre of what we are going to depend on for the rest of our lives, and then just as we come to the end, somebody gets up and says, Id just like to announce that therell be tea after the service in the parish roomssomehow or other that is not actually the best bit. I do not think that the Minister for the Environment is terribly happy with this addition to his important Bill.
The Minister and the Under-Secretary will no doubt deny this, but I have a feeling that they believe the Bill is about something bigger and that the measure is merely a convenient thing to put on the end. The measure is no more about climate change than a whole lot of other things. Of course, it contributes to the battle, but it is largely about litter and a new attitude to waste, with which most of us agree. It is therefore not something that I wish to destroy. However, in the whole battle against climate change, there is a need to elevate the issue so that people recognise that dealing with it demands something very considerable of us and is not merely a matter of bits and pieces.
Secondly, I have a concern about the distinction between our argument about how terribly important it is to give large businesses time to work out how they will measure their carbon footprint and how, after we have had a few months of a voluntary agreement, we immediately have to bring in a system to clobber them because we are not sure that they are going to deliver. In addition, we do not know in detail what has been done. There is a certain contrast between those two things. Does that have anything to do with the way in which the public view has been both influencing the press and influenced by the press?
That leads me to the third point. I am sorry that this bit about plastic and paper bags is so limited because I would have thought that this was the moment to push the boundaries. It is interesting that many of the newspapers that are keen on taxing plastic bags are themselves delivered in a plastic bag. Why have we not extended the measure to cover that? What about saying that the legislation should apply to a wide range of uses of plastic that manifestly contribute to litter and add to greenhouse gases?
I think, too, of the packets in which parliamentary papers are sent outthey no longer come in what was rather better packaging, but in plastic, which seems largely unnecessary. I do not know whether you have noticed, Mr. Atkinson, but in the old days, the bound volumes of parliamentary reports came in very useful boxes, in which most of my back papers are now filed. Somebody somewhere, without any discussion with anyone, decided that the parliamentary reports would be packaged differently, which has had two results: first, they come damaged; and, secondly, the packaging cannot be reused, which is a more important mechanism than recycling. I am sorry that that has happened, because I like to apply rules to ourselves first.
Perhaps the hon. Lady, who has so far voted against her conscience on a number of issues, could be a little more serious. During the short time that she has been, and will be, in Parliament[Hon. Members: Ooh!] Well, we have had a good conversation so far, but I do not think that her intervention was a very useful contribution. Our bound papers used to be delivered in perfectly reasonable boxes that we could reuse, but about nine months ago, there was a change to a new form of packaging that we cannot use again. We now have to throw it away, or at least recycle it, which is a pity. For those of us who try to address matters of recycling, that is just another complicated issue.
Above all, it is very dangerous for the Government to base legislation on a popular, but possibly momentary, concern. The measure would send out a warning, but I am not sure that when enacted it will prove to be so popular. It is the sort of legislation that people are keen on only for as long as it does not actually happenattitudes are always different before something actually happens. The Government should do one of two things: take no action, which I think would be wrong, or, preferably, say, We will make this our own. We will not simply respond to a newspaper campaign, but establish a basis for a much wider view of how to reduce waste in packaging.
Reducing waste in many parts of the packaging industry is a real operation. I declared an interest in this matter, and Valpak is very concerned about reducing the creation of packaging in the first place, which is what we try to do. However, we are not moving fast enough in certain areas where the Government might have provided some encouragement. I have given a couple of examples already: the increased use of unnecessary plastic packaging around other things simply because it happens to be convenient for the distribution of newspapers and the like, and the question of whether we ought to be using as many plastic coverings for materials that were previously covered in more easily recycled materials.
I see no indication in the new clause that those issues have been considered or that legislative opportunities have been taken to give powers to the Government to intervene. I am sorry that that opportunity has been missed. The Government ought to think very seriously about how to bring together the voluntary and the compulsory, and I think that the hon. Member for Northavon was on to something when he sought to distinguish between them. There is no doubt that some of the companies that have sought voluntarily to reduce the number of bags that they use have found it an interesting and valuable way of coming together with their customers and talking seriously about the issuesit has been a point of contact. The effect is that the whole concept of the collection of material for recycling and waste and such like has become important.
Reports from checkout girls and boys, store managers and others have been interesting, and that is true across most of the retail trade. The situation is different for different kinds of products. Interestingly, the stories that one hears from the suppliers of clothes are different from those from grocery suppliers. In all cases, however, there appears to be a real advantage in there being a degree of voluntarism because it might have a longer effect upon peoples general method of treating waste. We need to change attitudes, and doing that on a slightly longer trajectory might mean that more peoples attitudes will be changed for a longer time. I beg the Under-Secretary to make sure that in any change that she or her successors seek to make, serious consideration is given to not just the size of the reduction in the number of bags, but how much we have used that reduction to change habits and attitudes. Taking a bit longer might have a more lasting and broader effect than the immediate impact of getting rid of the one-trip plastic bag.
Lastly, I commend those companies that have produced a wonderful business in providing bags for life, which has much enlivened the differences between them. I have much enjoyed the reasonably good-hearted jokes as each of the supermarket chains has sought to show that its bags are better than those of the others. They have done all sorts of things to get at the bags of others. It seems that, in general, that has had a thoroughly good effect upon the manners and attitudes of shoppers.
I hope that we will ensure that, in so far as we can, we get the voluntary system to do as much as it can, because I suspect that it is changing more attitudes than almost anything else that we have done for some time. It might need to go on for a bit before we intervene to ensure that we get the full result, which, probably, we will not get without the use of some of the powers that the Minister has put forward today.
I seem to have an enormous number of questions to respond to, and I will try to do so as succinctly as I can. I was grateful for the support given by all those who have spoken, although they have given a critique of proposals. The general principle is well supported and we are delighted to have that support.
I begin with the issue of whether this is a litter scheme or a climate change scheme. I have made it clear that the scheme will have a number of positive results, if we able to achieve what we seek to achieve, but it is rooted in climate change. We are dealing with significant emissions, and that is why this is in the Bill. The Irish law was based on litterthat was the rationale. Ireland was trying to get rid of bags for litter reasons, not other reasons. That was why there was a lot of substitution of paper for plastic.
If the plastic bag reduction target is met, either by voluntary agreement or, if necessary, by the mandatory mechanism, what would be the CO2 impact?
I gave the Committee that figure earlier. I cannot calculate the result of a reduction, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our impact assessment found that single-use carrier bags were responsible for an estimated 790,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year. The other issue is what happens each year. Because the bags are thrown away, we have to produce more and more. That is important, and reducing the number of them will have valuable and welcome effects.
We were accused by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle of political posturing, and other members of the Committee suggested that we were responding to the agenda of the Daily Mail. Let me reiterate that the pledge to make single-use carrier bags a thing of the past was in the waste strategy for 2007. The Prime Minister also made the announcement last year, so when the Daily Mail set out with its campaign against what it termed plastic bags as opposed to all bags, it was responding to what the Government had said very clearly that they planned to do and something that the Prime Minister had already announced. We very much welcomed the campaign. We always welcome media support for our initiatives on both climate change and waste.
I am very, very sympathetic to what the right hon. Gentleman says. Most of us in the room would probably not have time to make use of those CDs, even if we had the inclination.
My hon. Friend has obviously tried them. Well, I do not know about that because I have not tried any. There is a facility within DEFRA for recycling CDs.
In response to what the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said about the House authorities, I agree that there is much that they ought to be doing to improve recycling rates and to reduce waste. I hope that we can join in a campaign to that end.
I am happy to give way, but I am worried that members of the Committee will be here literally until midnight if I go on like this.
I do not think that the hon. Lady is correct on that point, but I will have to take advice because I am not certain. The impact assessment had said that that was the current cost in CO2 equivalent of the use of 13 billion bags. If there was a reduction of 70 per cent. in the number of bags, the actual carbon reduction would be in the order of 553,000 tonnes. We cannot dispute that. It is the order of magnitude that we are talking about, and that is the calculation made in the impact assessment.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that 1 billion fewer bags had been put into circulation by the major retailers that were part of the voluntary agreement. He is correct. We believe that it is of that order. However, if the achievement in a year is a reduction of 1 billionwe have 12 billion bags left in circulationand that progress is maintained, it will take 12 years to make the bags a thing of the past.
I want to emphasise that we have appreciated the commitment made by retailers for the 25 per cent. reduction in environmental impact. Much has been learned from that work that is relevant to other forms of packagingparticularly in the light-weighting with the use of raw materials, the greater recycling and so on. It has been an extremely valuable exercise, with the reduction of a billion bags. However, as I said earlier, times have changed and we now believe that it is not just about environmental impact of that nature; we have to do much more. The agreement continues to run until the end of the year, and if retailers now apply themselves to numbers of bagsas many of them areand they are able to achieve the substantial reductions that we seek, there would be no need to introduce the secondary legislation, which would take this primary legislation forward and create the effect.
I was asked by a number of hon. Members about the substantial reduction that we seek. We are guided by two things The first is the situation in Ireland, where there was a 90 per cent. reduction in the number of plastic bags. As I said, there was substitution. There has not been a complete analysis by the Irish Government so we are not able to obtain much more detailed information. Nearer to home, the best example that we have is Marks and Spencer, which now charges 5p a bag throughout its stores, big and small. It has already achieved a 70 per cent. reduction. So 70 per cent. seems to be the bottom line. We would hope for morewe would like to be ambitiousbut if we think of that as a substantial reduction, it is clear that that is going to take us well beyond where the current voluntary agreement has taken us.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that there was nothing to indicate the hypothecation of the bag charges and asked what would happen to the moneys. He cited Marks and Spencer, which has given all the proceeds from the sale of bags to Groundwork. Obviously, retailers absorb the cost of the bags that they produce and distribute. Under the legislation, that would stop. If introduced in secondary legislation, there would be an absolute obligation on the retailer to charge for each bag at the point of sale. There is no question of them absorbing the cost or of the levy. They cannot do that, but must clearly act in that way.
The hon. Gentleman asked who was going to benefit and if it was just another revenue-raising initiative, implying that the Government were in need of revenue. However, the Government will not touch a single penny of the moneys raised by the charges on carrier bags. We would hope that the retailers would not wish to pick up the money that they raised by selling the bags, although they would clearly be entitled to do so. We seek to ensure that they do not give away, for free, those single-use bags. The retailers would have to charge, but, theoretically, they could keep the money. We, who know those retailers well and work with them consistently, believe that they are most likelyfor customer satisfaction and dialogueto want to see those moneys go to environmental causes. The hon. Member for Northavon asked why retailers should be able decide on anything at all. The retailers are now in constant dialogue with their customers about behaviour change and the environmenta point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. If the measure should come to pass, it is most likely that they would want to consult their customers about which environmental charities they would like to support. I would not be at all surprised if they did.
Is the Minister satisfied that the version of the scheme that she describedwhere the companies can keep the moneyis compatible with public assurances given in the past by senior Ministers about the scheme?
I am absolutely satisfied. That is desirable and is what we think will happen. We have made provisions for separate accounting. Should the measure go through, retailers will have to account and keep records on the proceeds of the sale of bags. That is a means of transparency and will enable customers to see how much revenue has been raised for the company through the sale of bags. The chances are that that will benefit environmental charities. The Government do not need to go further, and obviously we will not legislate to make that happen.
Will the Minister take the opportunity of returning to the Treasury and reminding it that it stole a great deal of money from the levy on the landfill tax that used to go to charity? It increased the rate, although there had been no original intention to do that, and perhaps the Minister could ask whether it would like to do exactly the same as it did before. That is why people were suspicious of what was said.
Secondly, will the Minister guarantee that this tax will not be reclaimed at some time in the future? I would not expect that from her, but the present Government did exactly that with the landfill levy, which was originally designed so that people could avoid the tax if they used the money directly for environmental purposes. A large number of environmental organisations lost out significantly when that was changed.
The right hon. Gentleman is clearly talking about a taxmonies that would normally be taken in by the Exchequer or could be excused by it. This is not the same. The Government are not involved in getting their hands on this money. They do not seek that and have no reason to want to do so in the future. This is a charge made by retailers, who will be responsible for accounting for it and explaining what they have done.
If this policy is successfuland we would not introduce it unless we had good grounds for believing that it will bethe moneys will disappear quickly.
I do not believe that the Government will get their hands on the money. I am a cynical old git and believe that supermarkets and multinationals will keep every penny. I will apologise to Marks and Spencer tomorrow if it currently ensures that the money goes to charity. I would like the Government to put all our retailers under maximum embarrassment and pressure if they do not use the money for other purposes. I am fed up with going to stay in hotelsoccasionallyand finding notices all over my towels telling me that 20 billion towels are unnecessarily washed every day, that the hotel believes in saving the planet and therefore it will not wash my towels. I always go to the reception and ask how much I will get off my bill for having to bathe with a dirty towel and what the hotel is doing with the money that it saves.
It is all very well haranguing us, and telling us that the world will be saved by charging for plastic bags or not washing towels, but what happens to the money? Is it invested in the environment, the rain forests perhaps?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must shop at one or other of the supermarkets. Should this measure come about, I suggest that he makes immediate representation to see that the moneys raised go to the rain forests. That would be a great public service, and I am sure that he will get a sympathetic hearing.
The hon. Member for Northavon asked me a raft of questions about transparency, records and what individual companies could do with the money, many of which I have covered already. He raised the question of his village shop and that is very important because the Government have no wish to see the small village shop burdened by new regulation. Of the 13 billion bags in circulation every year, 11 billion are produced by the major supermarkets. We need to catch the major supermarkets in the legislation, along with other significant retailers, but we do not wish to cause problems for the village shop, and the hon. Gentleman may be reassured about that.
I am greatly reassured by that.
I want to return to where the money goes, and I have the 2008 Budget speech in front of me. The Chancellor said that legislation could come into force in 2009 and could lead to a 90 per cent. reduction. He then said:
The money raised should go to environmental charities.[Official Report, 12 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 296.]
Anyone who listened to that speech will have assumed that that was where the money would go. How is that consistent with the Minister saying that companies may do what they like with the money?
I think should means that it is an aspiration. If the Chancellor had said would, the matter would be rather different. It is entirely consistent to say that that is where we think the money should go. The Chancellor was expressing that aspiration.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the profligate used of bags in home delivery, and we agree with him, which is why we drafted the clauses as we did. I believe that I have responded to everything that he asked, but if I have not, he can jump up. Looking at all the questions I recorded, I believe that I have dealt with them.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal spoke about bringing together voluntary and statutory arrangements, how important the process is to retailers and their customers, and the point of contact. I could not agree with him more. It is incredibly valuable, and we can all praise our retailers for the way in which they have engaged and educated their customers about waste. The fact that they have achieved so much does not mean that there is not even more to be done. We will continue to talk to them about changing their customers behaviour, and considering their own behaviour. Food waste has been a prevalent issue this week, and we need to talk to them about the amount of waste that is going out of the back of supermarkets, as well as that which is going into customers bags. There is much to be done, but good work has been done.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about plastic bags around newspapers, and I agree with him. We are in dialogue with the newspaper industry and direct mail organisations, and there is more work to be done.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that we should consider a reduction in packaging waste generally. The Committee will have heard my earlier slip of the tongue when I referred to this as Courtauld, but the Courtauld agreement covers packaging and packaging waste. Its members, who cover the vast majority of the grocery chains, have agreed that the growth in packaging waste will be ended this year. They have committed themselves to that, and to actual reductions by 2010. I shall be meeting them in the near future to assess what progress has been made. We believe that much more must be done. I have increased the recycling rates this year for packaging waste, and we will continue to keep that very much in our focus. Little else so annoys the public beyond plastic bags than packaging in general.
Finally, the hon. Member for Northavon and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal referred to what they believe is the global vision in the Bill, and I shall respond to their criticism about involving this measure alongside that huge vision. None of us wants to diminish that vision. We are deeply proud of the fact that we are the first country in the world to give ourselves this target for reduction, mitigation and adaptation, and nothing should take away from that. However, the fact is that 40 per cent. of our CO2 emissions come from the actions of individuals. If we are to persuade the public to work with us on the great vision and the global agenda, we must enable them to do what they can most easily do, and we must respond to what they say to us. They say that they want the Government to lead and to facilitate measures that can be taken, They also say that they want rid of single-use bags. It is appropriate for us to respond to that.
I hope that I have responded to all the questions that were raised.