THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER 2000



Members present:



EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES

RT HON MICHAEL MEACHER, a Member of the House, Minister for the Environment, MS SUE ELLIS, Divisional Manager, Waste Management Policy, and MR TONY ANDERSON, Team Leader, Waste Strategy Division, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, examined.

Chairman

1198.    Minister, can I welcome you back to complete the session on Delivering Sustainable Waste Management. I see you have changed your team. I wonder whether you could introduce them for the record.

(Mr Meacher)  Indeed, like those adverts where you go behind the tree and when you come out it is different. This is on my left Tony Anderson, who is Team Leader, Waste Strategy Division, and on my right Sue Ellis, Divisional Manager, Waste Policy Division.

Mrs Dunwoody

1199.    What is the difference between strategy and policy?

(Mr Meacher)  I knew someone would ask that and I had a very good idea it would be you, Mrs Dunwoody!

1200.    I am sorry! But I am not getting an answer.

(Mr Meacher)  I am trying to evade ­­­

1201.    We did agree there would only be fair questions today. What is the difference between strategy and policy?

(Mr Meacher)  It is a very good question and I wonder if the Divisional Manager can tells u how she sees this distinction.

(Ms Ellis)  The Waste Strategy Division is charged with delivering the Government's Waste Strategy 2000 which was published earlier in the year. My division deals with more general waste management issues.

1202.    I see, which have very little relationship to what the Government is doing. Thank you very much; so long as we know.

(Mr Meacher)  Thank you for your helpful interventions; I am learning about my Department. Clearly waste strategy is about the actual delivery on the ground of the targets and waste policy is looking at the wider issues of policy as regards waste.

Chairman

1203.    I wonder since this is a continuation of last week whether you wanted to say anything further about any of the questions we asked last week, whether "soon" is now sooner than it was?

(Mr Meacher)  "Soon" is indeed soon but not that soon! I have to say, Mr Chairman ­­­

Mrs Dunwoody

1204.    Who decided that, strategy or policy?

(Mr Meacher)  I have considered whether in the last week there have been any changes that I could announce at this point; there are not, but, as you will recall, there were some items pending and I genuinely hope very early in the new year we will be able to make announcements.

Chairman:  Thank you very much. Hilary Benn?

Mr Benn

1205.    Can you tell us why you decided not to include household and community composting within the statutory recycling targets?

(Mr Meacher)  We did think about this. Household composting, which is clearly an important part of dealing with the waste stream, has been excluded from the targets because there are no reliable ways of measuring either quantities or standards, that is basically the problem, although I have to say that community recycling does count and, of course, it is easier in terms of community recycling to have some control over quantities and standards. I think that is right in my view. We estimate that something like 200,000 to 300,000 tonnes is dealt with through household composting compared to the half million tonnes which is collected for disposal centrally and, of course ­ and maybe this is your next question ­ the EU Commission is trying to deal with this problem. The Waste Management Unit of the EU Commission is bringing forward draft proposals for promoting composting including the development of standards and we in general would support that.

Chairman

1206.    Can I just be clear, I thought community composting was excluded?

(Mr Meacher)  No, it is included.

Mr Benn

1207.    You mentioned the work the Commission is doing on a draft Directive. When one of your officials gave evidence earlier in the inquiry in answer to our question he did not seem to be very keen on the EU bringing forward a Directive on this issue. Do I take it from what you have just said that you feel more positive towards it now?

(Mr Meacher)  Our view is that we do need standards. My first answer clearly implies there is a lack of standards and therefore those who try to produce standards are engaged in a useful exercise. We do think that the way in which those standards is being approached at the EU level is a bit narrow. We think that "fitness for the purpose" of recycling or taking account of end use is just as important as the soil protection measure, and therefore we have a slightly different approach to it. But basically I think it is helpful. We obviously wait to see exactly what they produce, but we are not waiting for that, and WRAP and the Composting Association are aiming at producing standards for a composting programme themselves.

Mrs Dunwoody

1208.    How many other countries are doing anything like that, approximately?

(Mr Meacher)  About a third, I am told.

(Mr Anderson)  Of the EU members.

1209.    So when you talk about their aims being narrow, this is based on the gap between what we already do and what they are proposing?

(Mr Meacher)  It is based on what they have informed us as the basis on which they are preparing standards.

1210.    Instead of arguing today, could we have a little note not only on the general tenor but where the gaps lie because it seems to me that although you are saying we need standards, there also seems to be some doubt as to whether the Commission are coming at it from the same angle. The last thing we need is a set of standards that are rubbish. How appropriate!

(Mr Meacher)  We almost missed it! Of course we will provide you with a note. I do not think there is a great division.

1211.    Then it needs to be short note.

(Mr Meacher)  We can clarify where are the points of difference.

Chairman

1212.    It seems to me fairly fundamental as there is a lot of compost material being produced by some local authorities now which they are finding difficult to sell that there are some clear standards, although I am a bit sceptical about how you can have a standard for composting produced in January with a lot of Christmas trees in it compared to something in the summer with a lot of lawn cuttings.

(Mr Meacher)  A very good question.

1213.    I was hoping you were going to answer it for me.

(Mr Meacher)  That is indeed the kind of problem in trying to produce round­the­year standards which are applicable. Standards will relate to feedstock, is the note that is being passed to me, and clearly one does need to take account of the different products which form part of the composting in order to achieve the standards. Let us see what the EU comes up with.

Mr Benn

1214.    In the Waste Strategy you reported that you thought that the growth in municipal waste arisings had been about three per cent per year in the period to which you refer. Many of the witnesses who have come and given evidence have contested that and said that some of this is diversion particularly because of the Landfill Tax. Do you have a view of by what percentage you think municipal waste arisings are going to increase between now and the fundamental review of the Waste Strategy in 2010?

(Mr Meacher)  We are going to put in place measures to try and bring that three per cent down. I am well aware that it is a contested figure. I have raised this with the Department and my officials believe that that does represent the best evidence to date. It is approximately in line with the rate of economic growth but we have got to change that. We have fundamentally got to alter it. We have to decouple economic growth from waste production. I cannot make predictions because I do not know how far a waste minimisation policy, which is certainly part of the strategy, will succeed, but the intention is to reduce it to naught and preferable a minus figure.

1215.    Which of the instruments in the Waste Strategy will make the biggest contribution to achieving that aim?

(Mr Meacher)  In terms of waste minimisation there is a difference, of course, between industrial/commercial waste and domestic waste. In terms of industrial and commercial waste, there is the best practice programme, which I think is called Enviro­Wise, there is the Landfill Tax, there is the IPPC, which includes a requirement to minimise waste, there are producer responsibility obligations, the waste reporting guidelines which we are putting in place, and, of course, the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP). On the domestic sector it is much more difficult ---

1216.    Indeed it is because a householder may say, "I have paid my council tax so whether I have one bag or 50 bags, it does not make any difference to me." Where is the incentive to change behaviour there?

(Mr Meacher)  That is a very good question to which I do not think we have yet a very convincing answer. We have looked at the question of variable charging. There are real difficulties with that and we are not at this moment minded to proceed with that until we can overcome those problems. There is, of course, awareness and one can pooh­pooh this as being rather small beer, but in the end it is making people aware that you cannot just chuck everything under the kitchen sink and it gets taken away and nobody pays any attention to it. There is the Going For Green programme of advertisements. There is the Are You Doing Your bit? television advertising, which we put a lot of resources into. The latest research shows that nine out of ten people recognise the programme when they are asked about it and seven out of ten say, in answer to interviewers, that it has had sufficient impression on them to make them think that they need to do something about it in terms of their behaviour.

Chairman:  How many have actually done anything about it?

Mr Benn

1217.    To take a very practical question, what percentage of households currently have access to a separated doorstep collection scheme, roughly?

(Mr Meacher)  It is small. Certainly we can give you that answer. I cannot off the top of my head. I would have said it is less than 20 per cent.

1218.    Does the Waste Strategy have a target for that to increase? Is that one of the measures that you are going to use? I know there is encouragement to local authorities to develop separated domestic collection schemes but is there in the strategy a target?

(Mr Meacher)  The target is implicit because I think it is impossible to triple the level of recycling of household waste, and 25 per cent on average, by 2005 without kerb side collection schemes. You simply would not reach that level. There are also performance indicators on access to recycling facilities. The other point which I would draw attention to is there is a Waste Minimisation Act which has recently been put through which does allow local authorities to take any initiatives they feel would reduce waste, for example subsidising a nappy-washing service. I do not want to go into the details of whether that is the right way to dispose of nappies, but it is the sort of issue in regard to household waste collection which I know in some boroughs has caused a lot of problems.

Mrs Dunwoody

1219.    You are using the English language very precisely. You are saying that they have the right to subsidise it but you are not giving them a positive incentive in terms of cash. My local authority has recycling bins in all the obvious places but they do not go to the extent of having things sorted out, and unless you get the markets right I do not think they are going to. Do you give them positive incentives in terms or cash or do you just give them responsibilities?

(Mr Meacher)  The drivers are the recycling targets.

1220.    What does that mean, Minister? Do you give them cash that is specific or not? I am not very clever, you see, I have to have it spelt out.

(Mr Meacher)  No, we do not give them resources specifically for that purpose, but we have under the spending review - and I think I did mention this last time - provided an extra £140 million to local authorities.

1221.    Across all of them.

(Mr Meacher)  Which is ring-fenced. We are providing £1.127 billion ­ I think we had this discussion before ­ which is for environmental and cultural services.

1222.    We had that one before. We know that one.

(Mr Meacher)  And £50 million also under the New Opportunities Fund for the promotion of community recycling. So there are extra resources, but it is not geared for particular parts of the exercise that local authorities will have to go through. It is for them to decide the best way to use that money to achieve the targets.

Mr Blunt

1223.    Let us be clear, the £140 million extra you are giving through the central Challenge Fund is about the same amount of money that local authorities are going to pay extra in terms of the Landfill Tax. You give with one hand and take away with the other.

(Mr Meacher)  But, Mr Blunt, what you do not seem to take into account is that the two absolutely operate together in a reinforcing and not contradictory manner. What we are saying to people is if you stick with chucking it into landfill, you are going to have to pay a lot of money. If you take advantage of what the Government is providing to provide alternative collection and recycling facilities then you do not have to pay the Landfill Tax, and government is going it assist to provide this infrastructure.

1224.    You have evidence coming out, for example from the Consortium of Essex Waste Collection Authorities, that the main reason why there is slow progress on recycling undertaken by United Kingdom local authorities is a basic lack of adequate investment. How much of that £1.127 billion is actually going to get spent on waste rather than other environmental protection issues or cultural services?

(Mr Meacher)  That is absolutely a matter for the local authorities themselves.

Chairman

1225.    There is no penalty if the local authorities do nothing about your strategy?

(Mr Meacher)  I repeat ­ they have to meet the targets. There are penalties if they do not meet the targets.

1226.    What happens if they do not meet the targets?

(Mr Meacher)  First of all, we shall be monitoring progress on a year-by-year basis. I am starting weak and going stronger so do not despair! I want evidence year­by­year of the action they are taking. We certainly can provide through WRAP management support in terms of providing the kind of infrastructure and advice that they need. We can certainly hold them to account by directives ultimately from the Secretary of State and as a last resort we can remove the local authority waste management service from the local authority and give it to another body. That is an extreme case ---

Mrs Dunwoody

1227.    What are you going to do if all of them are in the same situation? How many local authorities do you seriously think are going to meet those sorts of targets?

(Mr Meacher)  I see no reason why they should not all meet those targets. We believe it is practical. Many local authorities are producing targets far in excess of what we are asking to be done nationally. Local authorities abroad are well in excess of this level.

1228.    We are involved in the United Kingdom. It is nice to be cultured and be interested in abroad, but I am very boring and only interested in, say, Cheshire.

(Mr Meacher)  I am sure Cheshire, which I think already has a good record ­­­

1229.    --- In my constituency four and a half miles is abroad.

(Mr Meacher)  Of course, the problems arise in the inner centre, highly urbanised areas. That is where the greatest difficulties will come and the more suburban or rural authorities are already producing high figures. We have to check on the progress that is being made. We have to offer them advice and support. We are providing what we believe is the extra money necessary to achieve these targets. If there is evidence that it is inadequate, we would have to look at it again, but we believe it is adequate. We believe the three requirements - targets, money and markets for recycled goods - via WRAP are being put in place and there is no reason why those targets should not be met.

Mr Blunt:  I want to go back to this issue of money because all the money is so vague. If it is capital resources that are required in terms of recycling sites in order to get the infrastructure in place to make recycling serious to the local authorities, the £1.127 billion then comes to local authorities with an array of different things that they can spend the money on. The £140 million is part of the Challenge Fund and the New Opportunities Fund is £50 million. If this really is a serious government priority, then if all local authorities find themselves in the position that mine is in, which in Reigate and Banstead has a successful record on recycling, where the market for recycled newsprint has collapsed so they are now finding the costs of their scheme are starting to make the thing uneconomic, and if that support does not exist for them, they are under such tremendous pressure from your Department in terms of the Standard Spending Assessments, particularly those authorities in the South East who now have the fear that things are going to go pretty rum for them when we finally get round to readjusting the formula ---

Mrs Dunwoody:  Only those with Conservative MPs!

Mr Blunt

1230.    That is rather my concern. These are the parts of the country doing the best in terms of recycling and they are not going to be in a position to do so if the markets do not exist for the goods they are producing and they simply cannot find the money to put into investment in the infrastructure. I realise you cannot give an answer now and in the end you will have to get the money out of the Treasury, but can you give an undertaking that if in the course of the next two or three years, if you are unfortunately still in office, that you will put the resources in to deliver the Waste Strategy 2000 if that is what is required?

(Mr Meacher)  I insist that that is what we are doing. I have given the figures ­ I will not repeat them. £1.1 billion is a very substantial sum of money. I repeat, it is up to local authorities who have to meet these targets as to how they distribute that money. I would be very surprised if at least half of that did not go specifically into waste management. I cannot predict it because it is a matter of local authority decision. I would expect that given the pressures on them to meet those targets that at least half will be put to those purposes. The other point you make is on markets. I absolutely agree with you; it is essential that there should be markets for recycling, otherwise the whole object of the exercise is lost. You pay money to collect it and then in the end you have to landfill it because there is no other alternative to dispose of it and you have to pay for that and the whole exercise is completely otiose. That is exactly why we have set up the Waste Resources Action Programme. It is a private sector body at arm's length from government. We have given it a clear remit, put £30 million behind it, and it is headed by a key private sector executive. It is a small tight team. I know you have had discussions about the business plan, which I am told is not a business plan. They are producing a business plan in April and we have confidence in them. So I think we are trying to deal with markets as well.

Mrs Ellman

1231.    I would like to turn to the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. Would it be right to say that the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme was designed to meet the needs of the Treasury in terms of wanting private rather than public sector control rather than to meet the needs of sustainable waste management?

(Mr Meacher)  I am aware that the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme would not have been introduced in its current form by a Labour administration; we inherited it. It has merit, but it is not ideal for our purposes. We have tried to adjust it to make it more appropriate to our purposes. Insofar as the landfill operator does have the opportunity to decide how that tax rebate shall be spent, we cannot, unless we make it into a private sector scheme, foreclose on that discretion in the hands of the landfill operator. We are trying to put down indicative guidelines to ensure that more of the money goes into recycling. Again, consistent with the structure of the scheme we inherited, we cannot require that to happen. So we are doing whatever we can to improve local authority community recycling consistent with the choice which remains ultimately in the hands of the landfill operator.

1232.    Do you believe that the scheme can work effectively in the interests of sustainable waste management within its present structure?

(Mr Meacher)  That is a question that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. We are trying, as I say, to adapt it to our purposes and I think we can go a considerable way in that direction, and are doing so. There are issues which were, for example, raised by The Guardian and by the Channel 4 Despatches programme about the whole question of exemptions. We are looking at that because clearly they do have to be tightened, and I am determined that they shall be to ensure they used for waste recovery not for disposal. There are other aspects of the scheme which do perhaps require more fundamental change. All that I can say to you at this moment is that I am seeking to come to a conclusion on exactly that issue that you have raised.

Chairman:  When?

Mr Blunt:  Soon.

Mrs Dunwoody

1233.    We are going to have a jolly Christmas.

(Mr Meacher)  It will certainly be within a few months of the new year. I do have to consult colleagues, of course. The point is the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme is ultimately the responsibility of Customs and Excise, it is not my ultimate responsibility, I do have to persuade them. The Treasury has a real interest in changing a scheme to giving it public expenditure under-pinning, of course, when we have just had a full scale Spending Review and those totals are set. It is not just a simple matter of making a policy change, there are wider implications and they are not all in my hands.

Mrs Ellman

1234.    Do you believe that it is possible to change it sufficiently within its current structure?

(Mr Meacher)  I am doubtful of that.

Christine Butler

1235.    Could part of those considerations include changing it to come under public control?

(Mr Meacher)  As I have said, Mrs Butler, the problem with it coming under public control is that it requires a public expenditure stream to underpin it. The Treasury, and I entirely understand this point, has fixed the public expenditure totals, which I am sure the Chancellor will rigidly wish to keep to. There are of course considerable increases but they are fixed. I think the view of Treasury colleagues, which I entirely understand, will be that if you want to make a change you are going to have to find the public expenditure elsewhere, so it does present problems.

Mr Blunt

1236.    But this really is public expenditure, is it not? It is just a scam really to have this Tax Credit instead of a tax that is then spent as public expenditure, that is what it is.

(Mr Meacher)  I thought for a moment, Mr Blunt, that you were referring to the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme as being a scam, which was actually introduced by your Government. There are many people who think it is a bit of a scam.

1237.    It was set up in order not to lift the total of public expenditure. Perhaps this was the early days of stealth taxes and all the methods that unfortunately the Government have taken to extremes.

(Mr Meacher)  What we are seeing under the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, which I do not wish to knock too hard because, as I say, I do think it has merit, is that it has led to significant sums of money going into community and voluntary schemes ----

1238.    That is accepted but the real issue here is that this, in fact, is public expenditure in reality. It has been done at arm's length so far to try to set up a scheme as though it is not. Let us be honest about this, this is, in effect, taxation that is then being spent and it ought to be publicly accountable. If we are actually being honest with ourselves as a country this is tax and public expenditure rather than this rather clever mechanism in order to deflate the public expenditure totals.

(Mr Meacher)  I have to say, Chairman, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth than over 99 just men. Of all the people on the Committee who I expected to advance that I think, Mr Blunt, you were the last, but I am very glad to have your support.

1239.    I am glad to have surprised you.

(Mr Meacher)  I think that is probably basically correct.

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 have done, 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 wish.

Chairman

1242.    Can I just remind everybody that we have got limits on time.

(Mr Meacher)  I am sorry, I am doing it again.

Mrs Ellman

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 beyond that.

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 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 policy.

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?

Mrs Dunwoody

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.

1247.    When?

(Mr Anderson)  Can I let you have a note on that?

(Mr Meacher)  Soon.

Mrs Dunwoody

1248.    That is an alternative to soon?

(Mr Meacher)  No, we are letting you have a note soon.

Mr Blunt

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 landfilling. There is a fly-tipping forum which has been set up ---

Mrs Dunwoody

1250.    A fly-tipping forum.

(Mr Meacher)  We could call it a committee.

Mr Brake

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 imposed.

Mr Blunt

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 county 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.

Chairman

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.

Mr Brake

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 possible.

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.

Mr Blunt

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 than soon.

(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.

1260.    Before Sue Ellis comes in, can you deal with the other point at the same time because it is a departmental process. What has happened to the draft changes to the waste management licensing regulation put forward by the Environment Agency over a year ago?

(Ms Ellis)  We are still looking at the details of changes to the exemption. They will be going to ministers to look at shortly. I hesitate to use that word again. The intention is to get the consultation paper out.

1261.    Tell us when they are going to ministers?

(Ms Ellis)  We are expecting to put them out in the next few weeks. The intention is to get the consultation paper out. I have spoken recently to the Community Composters. I understand their concerns at the delay because the intention of revising the composting exemption is to actually encourage further small Community Composting exercises. We are very conscious of the fact if we are going to deliver the type of targets which are in the Waste Strategy we must hurry up.

Mr Blunt:  You have emoted nicely on the need to do it, when is it going to happen?

Chairman

1262.    It is a pity for us to put in our report that we are appalled at the slowness of the Department's working if you have actually by then done it.

(Ms Ellis)  As I said, we are intending to put detailed proposals to ministers in the next few weeks.

(Mr Meacher)  I take the point that the Committee is making fairly that this has taken too long, and on behalf of the Department I apologise. We will try to deal with this very rapidly.

Mrs Ellman

1263.    Why are there no statutory targets for the reduction of commercial and industrial waste to landfill?

(Mr Meacher)  The figures suggest that overwhelmingly the problem is municipal waste, which is about 28 million tonnes a year, 83 per cent of which is landfilled and only 17 per cent recovered, recycled or composted. In the case of industrial waste the figures are very different: 48 million tonnes, it is a much larger amount, but 47 per cent only is landfilled - I say "only" by comparison with 83 - and 45 per cent is recovered, recycled or composted. The Waste Strategy has concentrated on the waste stream which is most seriously at variance with the objectives of the Waste Strategy, which is to reduce landfill massively and to increase recycling dramatically. I agree with you that we do need to have increased pressures. In answer to Mr Benn at the beginning I did spell out the pressures that there are on industrial and commercial waste and by and large those are operating more effectively. We have seen, for example, a reduction in inorganic waste, inert waste, going to landfill in the last four years down from ten million tonnes to six million tonnes a year.

1264.    Are you satisfied with the current pressures on industrial and commercial waste disposal?

(Mr Meacher)  I am not satisfied until those figures do dramatically begin to turn round. We are at the cusp of where I think that is beginning to happen. As I say, in terms of inert waste that is changing already. In the case of the great majority of other waste, organic, biodegradable waste, this is not yet apparent in the figures. I do believe that the combination of all those drivers, plus the trading permits system that we are introducing with regard to landfill, are sufficient. In other words, if it is X million tonnes this year, next year it is going to be X million minus five per cent or whatever and the trading permits will be issued in order to ensure that minus five per cent is achieved because they are the only permits which will be available. If you achieve a ten per cent reduction then you can sell the five per cent in excess of what you need to other companies who are not so good, so it is a market oriented way of achieving an environmental objective and I think that is going to work.

1265.    What about producer responsibility measures?

(Mr Meacher)  I am extremely keen on producer responsibility measures, mostly they have come from the EU, I have to say. Packaging Waste is the most obvious one but also ---

Chairman

1266.    It does not work, does it?

(Mr Meacher)  It is only next year that the 50 per cent target comes into force in April 2001. It is touch and go whether we shall meet it, it is a statutory EU target and there will be consequences if we do not. I have increased the targets to 56 per cent in order to provide any leeway against failure at the last moment to achieve. I believe if we do not achieve them we will get very close. I believe the momentum is building up where those figures should climb. There are also end of life vehicles and the issue which we discussed at the beginning of this week in the Environment Council, waste electrical and electronic equipment and hazardous electrical and electronic equipment, batteries. There are many of these measures and I am sure there will be more still. I am strongly in favour of producer responsibility.

Christine Butler

1267.    What obstacles, apart from some intransigence, are there to green procurement by the Government and in what main areas are there scope for this apart from paper?

(Mr Meacher)  We did say in the Waste Strategy that we in DETR would pilot a scheme to require Government departments to purchase recycled products. Initially, of course, we concentrated on paper, that is the most obvious one, and we said if the results were positive then we would extend that to other products, and that is exactly what we will do. I have to say, however, just as one caveat, that even when you take account of whole life costs as opposed to short-term costs, and I am talking about acceptance to the Treasury because recycling can cost more, the difference in the cost is reduced. Even when you take account of that in some cases there is still a green premium and it is a question as to how far it is value for money. We want to press that as far as we can get agreement with Treasury about costs.

1268.    There is a big question about setting a good example in resource efficiency for the sustainable world.

(Mr Meacher)  Yes.

1269.    The Government must lead on that.

(Mr Meacher)  Yes.

1270.    I am hoping it might take note of that. Because of time I will have to move on Minister. Can I just put this to you. Would it be better to increase the costs of incineration and landfill in order to meet the objectives of a truly sustainable Waste Strategy management?

(Mr Meacher)  We are increasing the costs of landfill.

1271.    To a lot more, a bigger factor?

(Mr Meacher)  Well a lot more. It is £12 per tonne and there are many people who think it does need to be significantly increased.

1272    20 or more.

(Mr Meacher)  I accept that. We agreed when it was £10 that there would be, as you know, a £1 per year increase up to 2004 and the matter would then be reviewed. I have a lot of sympathy with what I think is the thrust of your question that if it is going to achieve that major reduction in landfill - and do not forget that 2020 is the end of the derogation period we have got under the Landfill EU Directive - we have to shift, if we have continuing three per cent growth per year, an amount of around 40 million a year away from landfill.

Chairman

1273    What does that look like, 40 million tonnes a year?

(Mr Meacher)  It is a hypothetical figure based on saying if landfill levels remain where they are, if we have three per cent growth in arisings, then something like 52 million tonnes on that basis will be landfill in 2020. The target we have to reach, which is no more than 35 per cent of 1995 levels by 2020 is about 11 million tonnes. There is about a 41 million tonne gap. When you say what does it look like, those are all the things which are currently being landfilled but it will be on a far bigger scale.

Chairman:  I just wondered how much of London would be covered by landfill.

Christine Butler

1274    All of it.

(Mr Meacher)  Well, that is a very good question, Chairman, because, of course, it is nearly all taken by lorry or by barge down to the Essex Marshes and the Essex Marshes now are filling up. There is not much further room. So it cannot actually continue physically, let alone in regard to EU targets.

1275    Do you not think much higher costs to landfill would actually improve the competitiveness in terms of - going back to it - resource efficiency and long term sustainability? These are watch words of Government. Do you think that actually would help as a driver?

(Mr Meacher)  I think it would help as a driver. As I say I have a lot of sympathy with what you say and we have, however, agreed in Government that we would have this one pound per year increase and review that in 2004 but I think the pressure is building up for a more significant increase if we are going to achieve that massive shift away from landfill that we need. In one sentence in answer to your question about incineration, I have always said, and I repeat again, that the overwhelming thrust of the Waste Strategy is a dramatic increase in recycling but it cannot exclusively be carried out through recycling, given the totals and give the fact that there are some elements in the wastestream which cannot properly be recycled. Therefore there is a place for incineration and I do not believe it would be right for Government itself deliberately to increase those costs.

Mr Brake

1276    Could I just ask the Minister for an assurance on one very specific point that you will not allow a significant shift of waste to be incinerated in cement kilns, particularly hazardous waste, as opposed to being properly incinerated in incinerator plans?

(Mr Meacher)  This is a major issue because the discharge of the emissions from cement kilns, particularly where there is hazardous waste, is of course a matter for the Environment Agency. It is a matter of acute concern. This is secondary liquid fuels.

Chairman:  Is there not a very simple principle that it should be the same if it is coming out of an industrial process as if it is coming out of an incinerator, the emissions?

Mr Brake

1277    Indeed.

(Mr Meacher)  That seems reasonable to me.

1278    It is not appropriate.

(Mr Meacher)  It is the sort of highly technical question which I think may have a lot of --- What a relief, I am told it is the same.

Chairman

1279    I am not sure that it is the same, perhaps you would like to send us a note on that.

(Mr Meacher)  I will, yes. I would be much happier to do that.

1280    On my promise that we would not go on beyond 45 minutes this morning I think we ought to finish there. I am assured that this rubbish that we were just talking about would be a four and a half mile column on top of Oldham Athletic football ground. That would be a pretty frightening sight. On that note, can I wish you all the best for the Christmas season and hope you have a peaceful Christmas and a well earned rest. Can I thank everybody else.

(Mr Meacher)  That is really very kind of you and I reciprocate that. I just have to tell you, Chairman, you have made the front page of the Oldham Chronicle yet again.