Examination of witnesses (Questions 1240
THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER 2000
ELLIS and MR
1240. I would like to get public expenditure
down, I make no bones about that, but it is better that we should
be honest, surely, in making those decisions and judgments about
what is public expenditure and what should be publicly accountable
and what is not.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
1241. Doing things de facto in the private
sector when we as Government, you as Government, have set up all
these controls over it, we are just deluding ourselves really.
(Mr Meacher) I agree with you that we have to be clear
as to whether this is a public expenditure project or whether
it is a privately driven scheme, in which case the discretion
as to the direction of spend must remain with the landfill operator.
We have to decide which it is. I agree that we cannot, or should
not, seek to meddle or confuse those two objectives. What we are
doing, as I say, is to set up indicative guidelines. We would
like to see more going into the collection and recycling for local
authorities but we are limited to the extent to which we can secure
that. One of the concerns about the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme,
one of the inbuilt flaws, is that the last thing the landfill
operator really wants to do is to have his money used to promote
recycling which he is in competition with. Therefore, he is much
more likely to put the money into environmental projects, which
may be perfectly sound but which are designed to influence the
local community to accept landfilling, which is not what we would
1242. Can I just remind everybody that we have
got limits on time.
(Mr Meacher) I am sorry, I am doing it again.
1243. Would that not suggest that there is an
inherent conflict in the scheme? Would it be better abandoning
the Tax Credit Scheme and doing something different with the money?
(Mr Meacher) Mrs Ellman, you have raised that question
again. I have, I think, truthfully spelt out the latent conflict
which is within the scheme. As I say, I think there are inherent
difficulties in ensuring that it is used for the purpose that
we would wish, but there are also major problems about switching
it to an alternative funding base and at this point I cannot go
1244. I would like to move now to waste arisings
which we did touch on before. Are you satisfied with the quality
of the information on waste arisings?
(Mr Meacher) On the question of information I know
that there has been a lot of doubt about the projected aggregate
figures. We do work with the Environment Agency to improve the
range and reliability of data. The DETR Municipal Waste Survey
is now in its fifth year and I understand that we had virtually
a 100 per cent local authority response. I think the data is now
substantially more accurate. Of course, we do assist the Environment
Agency in terms of their Waste Production Survey. Our grant-in-aid
to them is £102 million in this next year, of which around
£30 million goes in waste programmes each year. The figures
may not yet be accurate to a decimal point but I think we are
getting much more accurate figures than we have had before and
I think the rounded figures are a perfectly adequate driver for
1245. The Head of Waste Regulation at the Environment
Agency told this Committee that he did not feel that the Environment
Agency had sufficient resources to do a follow-up survey. Would
you agree with that?
(Mr Meacher) I suppose it is the fate in Government
that whenever you meet anybody they want more money. I think the
Environment Agency, in my view, has had some pretty good conclusions
from the Spending Review. In the next year there is an extra in
real terms of £7 million, in the next year £15 million
and in the year after that £16 million.
Chairman: Is it not sad that when we try to
find out whether anyone has actually analysed what goes into the
dustbin and made a comparison one year with the previous year,
no-one has actually done that analysis. The most we can find is
that someone has looked at about 100 dustbins and analysed what
is in those, but there are no comparative studies. Surely in trying
to work out how much extra waste is being generated it would be
nice if we had some comparative studies between people's bins
from one year to the next?
1246. It sounds disgusting to me.
(Mr Meacher) Yes, I agree. I do not know whether Tony
Anderson could indicate the nature of the data. As I say, my understanding
is much fuller, much more detailed data is now being produced
than ever before. In answer to the Chairman's question, do we
make comparative analyses year by year?
(Mr Anderson) We do not, no. There are a number of
studies that have looked at this and we can track changes on that.
The difficulty is that actually looking at a household waste bin
is difficult because there are variations between regions, there
are variations between different housing types and so on and it
is very difficult, I am told anyway, statistically to track changes
like that. What we are looking at is trying to see what sort of
overall waste is arising and the nature of that. We have, for
example, a National Household Waste Analysis Programme that we
are hoping will give us some results.
(Mr Anderson) Can I let you have a note on that?
(Mr Meacher) Soon.
1248. That is an alternative to soon?
(Mr Meacher) No, we are letting you have a note soon.
1249. Minister, are you content that everything
possible is being done to prevent fly-tipping?
(Mr Meacher) I believe that it is an increasing problem
in particular areas. The evidence is largely anecdotal. Again,
I am afraid I do not think there is accurate detailed comparative
data across the country. However, what is significant is that
the Tidy Britain Group did find that actually domestic waste collected
by local authorities was most likely to be the waste which was
fly-tipped, which does suggest that it is not the Landfill Tax,
as many people think, that is driving any increase in fly-tipping
that may be occurring because, of course, local householders do
not pay a variable amount for local authority collection, they
pay indirectly through the Council Tax. It does suggest that if
there is an increase in fly-tipping, which obviously I deeply
deplore and I am very keen to try and suppress, it is not primarily
the consequence of landfill tax. There is a fly-tipping forum
which has been set up
1250. A fly-tipping forum.
(Mr Meacher) We could call it a committee.
1251. A task force.
(Mr Meacher) I am told the title is a forum. This
is a double F word. It includes Government, the Environment Agency,
local authorities, the NFU and the Country Landowners Association.
It has been particularly looking at fly-tipping on farms. I must
say in the visits I have made around the country I have seen that
there has been a very worrying increase in dumping on farms. If
we can catch those responsible, possibly from an analysis of what
is dumped, then I am in favour of the toughest penalties being
1252. What does that mean? Minister, you are
in a Government that yesterday announced that it was going to
lock up people indefinitely who had done something wrong. Yesterday
it put on the Statute Book legislation to criminalise over a quarter
of a million of our fellow citizens. What exactly are the sort
of tough penalties you have in mind for fly-tipping?
(Mr Meacher) I think, Chairman, I should, for the
sake of progress on this Committee, ignore that flagrantly provocative
diversionary question and concentrate on the question of issues
with regard to fly-tipping. I do not know immediately offhand
what is the maximum penalty. What I mean by that is that I would
hope that if that is an excess where there have been serious or
repeat offences, where the magistrates court can only fine up
to £20,000, that they would refer the matter to the crown
court where there is the option of imprisonment for up to two
years and an unlimited fine. Certainly I wish to give the message
that we are getting very serious about fly-tipping.
1253. In your constituency and mine there are
considerable numbers of people who put bins out early for collection.
The foxes and other creatures get at them and they get distributed
around the streets and they obviously look pretty horrible.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
1254. Are you seriously suggesting that people
should be prosecuted for putting out refuse early for collection?
(Mr Meacher) No, I am not suggesting that. Certainly
I think that is a separate issue. It would probably be very advisable
for local authorities, where there is evidence of that, in the
leaflets that they do put out to people in their area, to request
and advise them not to do it at a much earlier stage
1255. It does not work.
(Mr Meacher)or to do it the evening before
because it is at night time that foxes will do this damage.
1256. Minister, are you happy that the Environment
Agency have got the balance right in terms of the actions they
are taking in relation to the fly-tipping. I have a case in my
constituency where someone is operating a waste transit site illegally,
and he accepts that, but he is going through the planning application
process and the local authority has said he will get it. He has
received indications that he will receive a waste management licence
as well. He has been taken to court and fined and runs the risk
of his business having to be shut until this business is sorted
out. A hundred yards down the road an empty house and empty grounds
were taken over by what happened to be travellers who left leaving
tonnes of rubbish on the site. He has been through the courts
and has been fined, they have departed leaving the site a real
eyesore with no action.
(Mr Meacher) Well, I am not going to comment on particular
cases without knowing the full details. I accept you describe
fairly accurately what has happened and I am sure this is replicated
elsewhere. Travellers are notoriously difficult to prosecute although
I think they should be, largely because even if they are found
guilty it is very difficult, of course, to extract any significant
penalty in terms of a fine from them. I am very keen that should
be done. I would also be keen in travellers' sites being monitored,
not waiting until they leave with all their rubbish but dealt
with while they are still there. This is a difficult issue. There
are no simple answers and resources are limited for the authorities.
I am in favour of increased monitoring, better co-operation between
authorities and prosecutions with significant penalties wherever
1257. Have you had discussions with the Home
Office on this particular issue? In discussions I have had with
my own local authority certainly it is very, very difficult for
them to take any action swiftly against travellers because of
the due process that has to be followed.
(Mr Meacher) I have not discussed this with the Home
Office. I cannot comment on the difficulties of local authorities
in dealing with travellers. Travellers, of course, once they realise
trouble is brewing can move on. They can up and move overnight
and they are quite prepared to do so. Again it means collaboration
between local authorities. I am very anxious, as I say, that public
authorities do co-ordinate their activities. It is a real disfigurement
for the countryside and for the landscape, for the rest of the
population who do have decent standards.
1258. Can I ask you a couple of questions about
regulatory problems within your Department. There is one which
concerns Community Composting who have the irony of being exempt
from waste management licensing regulations for small composting
sites which then makes it impossible for them to sell their products.
I understand the Community Composting Network have received an
assurance from you in January 1999, I think, that the exemption
would be revised. They had an oral assurance from an official
in our Department in September 1999 that the consultation document
on exemption will be published in November 1999. That consultation
document remains to be published.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
1259. Can I press you to publish it rather sooner
(Mr Meacher) Yes. You make a fair point. I think we
have been slow in doing this. I will ask Sue Ellis in a moment
to speak about the process within the Department. We are reviewing
composting exemptions, as we said. I agree with you, I get concerned
when things take far longer than members of the public I think
have a right to expect. We do want to encourage small scale Community
Composting. There are problems, of course, about the question
of leachate and also harmful bio-aerosols and odours. It is not
a simple matter but I accept that the timescale that you have
referred to does seem unduly long.