Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)


  180. I was not talking about landfill, actually, I was talking about waste in its entirety, as covered in the waste summit.
  (Mr Boateng) I shall come back to my preoccupations about landfill, because that has a very important role to play in terms of our determining what we do with waste as a whole; but officials attended the summit, PIU are now doing a study, and officials will have an input into that.

  181. But could you tell me what conclusions you have drawn from the summit?
  (Mr Boateng) That I am going to resist doing, generally, in terms of waste. I am quite happy to share with you some conclusions I am reaching tentatively in relation to landfill, but, in relation to the subject matter of the summit and the study, I do not think it will be helpful for me to come to a view about that.

  182. Can you enlighten us as to any contribution that you made to the summit?
  (Mr Boateng) I did not attend; officials did.

  183. Or any contributions that the Treasury made to the summit?
  (Mr Boateng) Yes; if you would, Mr Collins.
  (Mr Collins) The principal objective of the summit, I think, was for DEFRA Ministers, in particular, to hear views from outside stakeholders, so, I think, quite deliberately, officials from other Government Departments sat and listened. The day was designed very much to provide local authorities, NGOs, those in the environmental management sector, to offer views about the nature of the waste problem and possible solutions, so that DEFRA Ministers, in particular, but Government generally, could take away some of these ideas and think about them and develop them, as we consider how we are going to take waste policy forward. So I think we used this very consciously and very deliberately as a listening event rather than as an event to put forward particular views from particular bits of Government.

  184. In the Secretary of State's own words, waste policy appeared to have ground to a halt, or the implementation of strategy appeared to have ground to a halt; do you have any view on the role that the Treasury can play, in terms of reinvigorating that strategy?
  (Mr Boateng) We are always looking for opportunities to make a contribution to the development of environmental policy through the machinery available to us; so I am looking forward enormously to the outcome of the PIU study. You can be absolutely sure, and I am sorry to go back, well, I am not sorry, because I do actually think it is very important, if you look at the issue of waste and landfill, I think you will agree that the challenging targets that we have set, in Waste Strategy 2000, to increase recycling, are assisted by the approach we have taken to Landfill Tax, which is to increase the rate on active waste by £1 a tonne each year to 2004. And all the evidence that we have, in relation to the impact of fiscal policy on landfill, is that it does cause people to change their behaviour, and that is why we are committed to reviewing the Landfill Tax after 2004, that was why we set out a long-term strategy of rate increases, and the environmental effectiveness of the tax is reinforced thereby, and waste producers and managers get a clear message of the importance of their planning ahead.

  185. That is right; but, on the whole, most people seem to think that the current landfill taxation regime is inadequate.
  (Mr Boateng) They are likely to be higher; do you agree with them?

  186. I am saying that a lot of people think it should be higher, and I want to know what your view is on that, and if you have commissioned research that would inform that view?
  (Mr Boateng) My view is that it is working, and that all the evidence is that increasing it, in the way that we have, has a positive effect on producers and managers planning in the way that they need to in order to look at alternatives. My view is that it is one of a range of instruments, economic and regulatory, that help us meet these challenging recycling targets, and the review of the rate after 2004 will cause us to see whether or not we need to increase it yet again, and increase it in the light of the evaluation we make at the time of its success.

  187. And you are going to wait till 2004?
  (Mr Boateng) No, because we keep taxes under constant review, obviously, but we have committed ourselves specifically to reviewing the rate after 2004, and DEFRA have taken forward their consultation on a £140 million Waste Challenge fund, and so that is all part of an approach, as I say, that uses both economic and regulatory instruments.

  188. Now landfill is one cause for concern, but another, equal cause for concern, in some people's minds, is that of incineration, and, obviously, if you are going to raise Landfill Tax, either in 2004 or, if I am correct in understanding what you said before,—
  (Mr Boateng) No; that would not be correct, Mr Barker. What we do is constantly to keep the level of taxation under review. We are committed, we are committed to reviewing the rate in the run-up to 2004.

  189. Right; but if, at some point in the future, there is a rise in the Landfill Tax, what view do you take on an Incineration Tax, in order to preserve differentials?
  (Mr Boateng) That is a very interesting idea, and the PIU will be incorporating that in their study, and that too will inform our decisions.

  190. But do you, Minister, not have any thoughts on incineration?
  (Mr Boateng) I have got lots of thoughts on waste, but what I have to do is to contain my enthusiasms in a way that does not cause me to trespass on the Chancellor's prerogatives and on programmes of work.

  Chairman: You are not alone in that, Minister.

Sue Doughty

  191. Can I just come in on the line of questioning here about Landfill Tax, because we are in a strange position, where we pay rather less Landfill Tax than other European countries, households pay only about 90 pence a week, in fact, for waste management services that they receive, compared with quite a lot more for, say, water and other things that they receive, and we have an industry where, in fact, the leading players in the industry, the waste management industry, all say, `yes, we want an increase in taxes.' You are faced with a situation where you have got a large amount of unanimity, saying, `we want to increase this tax,' and, on the other hand, `we also want to really force the public into ramping up their recycling and waste minimisation and materials recovery activity,' and so you are sitting there with a very rare thing for anybody in the Treasury of actually saying, `you're being too good.' And when you are talking to us about easing up on the "goods" and taxing the "bads", you have got some lovely opportunity here, and you seem to be really wanting to say, `well, hold on four years.' And my feeling is that the plan, actually, in growing mountains of waste, you could actually afford to go a little bit faster on this.
  (Mr Boateng) If I may say so, I think that is a perfectly legitimate and widely-held view; that is certainly the message that we receive, and it is a very powerful message. What I would say, in response to it, is that it is a message, of course, that we have heard, in one sense, because we have pre-announced a five-year programme of increasing, we have sought to balance the need for a strong economic signal to reduce reliance on landfill, with the need for those affected to develop alternatives, and it is important that people are given an opportunity to develop those alternatives.

  192. And you have a source of income to help them to do just that, if you are prepared to use it?
  (Mr Boateng) We do, and we are consulting on how best to use it. The message I get from you, Mrs Doughty, and from those who put this case, in the way that you have, is that they would like us to move faster, and I hear that. But I do think we will have to make an evaluation of the pace of the development of the alternatives.

  193. I accept that point, and we are in a very difficult time for waste disposal. I have a bit of an interest, in that my constituency will be facing a planning meeting about its incinerator over the next two days, and I am very sensitive to the fact that we need to be getting rid of the waste and having strategies in place. And my view is that, if we are going to avoid large incinerators, alternate methods of material recovery and really priming that market with the income would have to be a good thing, so we have got to bring this technology along. And really we find already over fridges, where we knew early on that we would have to do this with fridges, we have not brought the technology in place, and to my way of thinking the only way you are going to do that really is to put more money into developing and assisting those who want to bring those technologies along to enable us to change the behaviour, and some of that needs to be done at the Treasury.
  (Mr Boateng) We need to make sure, which is one of the reasons why we are looking at the Landfill Tax credit scheme that that work is done and that we do develop effective alternatives, at a pace that will enable us to keep the pressure on, in relation to landfill.

  194. Because, I guess that Europe will not stop sending some environmentally helpful Directives to us, which would be nice if we were actually ready for them, instead of rather surprised and not having the technology there.
  (Mr Boateng) I do think it is important, whilst accepting much of what you have said, to realise the progress that we have made in this area over the years and the lessons that we have learned, not least through the activities of Committees such as this. My first experience in this House was on the Environment Select Committee when it was chaired by Sir Hugh Rossi, whom a number of colleagues will recall. And, when you look at the history of activity in this area, it has invariably been as a result of the work done by Select Committees that steps have been taken to help us down the road to where we are now, and I think that continuing work and pressure will be needed; that is my assessment. I think this is something that we need to do, in partnership, building a consensus, and there is an increasing consensus in this area.

  195. And I hope we will continue giving you the pressure you need. Thank you.
  (Mr Boateng) I am sure you will.

Mr Francois

  196. Minister, everyone knows the Treasury is keen on tax credits. We have the Landfill Tax credit scheme, and, as I think we understand it, that scheme is currently under review at the moment. Now those people that are advocates of the scheme, as it were, as was and still as is, make the point that, because it provides funding for environmental trusts, one of the reasons that people like this scheme is that they find it very unbureaucratic and simple to operate, and that if they are looking for funding from it, from those trusts, generally they can get that money fairly promptly and without a great deal of form-filling bureaucracy. So, in that sense, it has been user-friendly, I think there is a consensus on that. Is that being taken into account in the Government's review, and, because it is a tax credit, is there any specific angle that the Treasury has on that review?
  (Mr Boateng) It is very much being taken into account. That is what I find attractive about it, it is empowering and enabling of local communities, and we must make absolutely sure that whilst it is important to direct more resources towards sustainable waste management, and the discussion we have just had indicates that very clearly, we do not want to lose that, and I am very clear about that, in my own mind. And that is why we need to consult with interested parties to ensure that worthwhile projects continue to attract funding during the transition to any replacement programme, and the replacement programme is such as to contain and to replicate those qualities that you have rightly outlined.

  197. Is that one way of saying, `if it aint broke, don't fix it,' and this scheme does not seem to be broken?
  (Mr Boateng) It is not broken, but it is not delivering as I think the Committee and ourselves would want it to deliver on the issue of sustainable waste management, it just is not; it is doing some good, worthy work, in exactly the way that you have described, but they are areas where we need to find a way of doing better. I had, I think, a very useful meeting with those who administer the scheme, just a few weeks ago, where we shared some of these concerns.

Mr Barker

  198. Finally, before we leave this subject, I wondered if I could just touch on landfill of inert waste, where, given that actually at only £2 a tonne on construction and demolition waste, is not there actually a perverse incentive now not to recycle construction and demolition waste, and have you considered actually addressing this particular issue?
  (Mr Boateng) That is a very interesting point. I am not aware of any work having been done on that.
  (Mr Maxwell) The escalator does not apply to the inert waste.
  (Mr Boateng) No. I think it is a very interesting point, and some work does need to be done on this.

  199. So you will look at it?
  (Mr Boateng) We will do some work on it and I will inform the Committee of the outcome.

  Mr Barker: Thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 18 January 2002