Sixth Environmental Action Programme

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Matthew Green: There is a danger that the UK Government are attempting to meet those recycling targets in a way that puts the onus on councils. Those councils that started early in building up their recycling percentage have been rewarded, shall we say, by the Government with significantly higher targets to reach than those that were less diligent earlier. In my constituency, a rural area, South Shropshire district council did well earlier on but, being rural, perhaps faces more difficulties. The other district councils in Shropshire now have lower targets and it is easier for them to achieve them, owing to both their geography and the fact that they were less diligent earlier. Perhaps the Minister would comment.

Mr. Meacher: Yes, I am glad to. We have taken account of that point. I was referring to the averages across the country. We accept that some local authorities already have recycling rates of 15 per cent or more—25 per cent in some cases, and in a few cases even above that. They cannot be expected to double and treble their rates in the same way. Let me be honest: Oldham has 5 per cent recycling, which is very low. We have accepted that the figures we have published for all local authorities will be lower for the high-performing local authorities for exactly the reason given by the hon. Gentleman. The low-performing authorities have to do rather better than doubling and trebling their rates. We have compressed both the bottom and the top to take account of his point.

Regarding waste management, first, there are statutory recycling targets. Secondly, we have put in place the institution WRAP—Waste Resources Action Programme—as a body to assist in providing markets for recyclers. Thirdly, we have put in place the funding. Those are the three requirements: the targets, the markets and the funding. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred to the £140 million recycling fund for local authorities on which we are now consulting. He ignored the fact that the main

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component is in the rate support grant. There is an item for environmental protection and cultural services—a rather odd combination, it seems to me, but that is traditionally how it has been included and categorised—at £1.172 billion over the next three years. That is a substantial sum. It will go to cultural services, which is a rather panjandrum title. I believe that about half of it will go to improving waste management.

The hon. Gentleman also ignored the £220 million provision for private finance initiative contracts for providing waste infrastructure and £50 million under the new opportunities fund for community recycling. The funding is on a substantial scale. It is not fair to say that the Government have not moved on all the key areas.

I accept that the title ''sustainable development'' does not send people into a frisson of excitement in the Dog and Duck in Oldham. The hon. Gentleman said that he favours 50 per cent. household waste recycling and composting within a time scale, and kerbside collection for all local authorities. I repeat that when in opposition it is easy to give high-sounding and ambitious targets. I am in favour of pressing targets as far as they are practicable to achieve. We believe that kerbside collection will be a necessary component in every local authority because of the targets of doubling or trebling. Those targets will not be achieved without it.

In respect of the hon. Gentleman's question about targets, the truth is that other member states had greater difficulty than the United Kingdom in meeting the deadline for phasing out subsidies. Perhaps the most significant issue is coal subsidies, which are used at a high level in Germany. That is well understood and has been much discussed. As regards the renegotiation of EU coal state aid regulations, the Government have no plans for further subsidies. However, we have accepted that continuing state aid for the coal industry should be permitted, because of the exceptional circumstances in places that are over-dependent on coal, providing that appropriate limiting conditions exist, including subsidised coal not undercutting international prices.

I think that I have responded to the question of targets and sanctions in the document. The hon. Gentleman asked what can happen if member states do not supply the information; the answer is that they can be fined. I do not think that that has yet happened, nor that such defiance would occur. However, if there is a failure within the time scale, the Commission has an effective mechanism that all other member states support.

The failure of the United States to comply with Kyoto was also raised. The hon. Gentleman said that without the United States, Kyoto is just an aspiration, but I do not agree. The United States is an important country, and not only in terms of its economics and power. However, it is only one of around 179 countries in the world. Every one, without exception, signed up to Kyoto and all, with the United States as the only

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exception, agreed at Bonn and Marrakesh to the measures to embed and implement what was agreed to in Kyoto in 1997.

The United States is important because it has 4.5 or 5 per cent. of the world population and produces 25 per cent. of total greenhouse gas emissions. However, we should not neglect the other 75 per cent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not suggesting that, because the US is not complying, none of the rest of us should. That would be a nonsense policy and would mean that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is slowly but steadily rising, would go up faster. All of us, without exception, would suffer from the floods, hurricanes, rising sea levels and many other consequences.

The right policy is to try to bring the United States back on side, and all of us have made it clear, publicly and privately, that that is what should happen. President Bush has said that in his view the Kyoto protocol is flawed, and he gave two reasons for that: the impact on the US economy and the fact that developing countries—read China—have not yet accepted targets. We dispute both those arguments for non-compliance. He has also said that the United States does recognise the problem of global warming and will come up with its own proposals.

I believe that the right way forward is to press the United States, as 11 September gradually fades—in the sense that time has now moved on, normal politics resumes and the State Department and other United States Departments can give this issue their full attention—to make its proposals at the earliest possible moment. We will examine those proposals with great care to see how far they go towards meeting the targets, and if we consider that they are inadequate, we shall tell them. That is a far better way to proceed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the delivery of goals. We remain committed to delivering them. It is helpful to have a more focused, strategic and integrative framework. The Environment Council cannot achieve environmental goals itself. It depends on the other directorates—transport, industry, energy and agriculture—and on ECOFIN: the financial side is extremely important. They all need to be integrated in a framework with a commitment to sustainable development.

This is a useful document. I am grateful for all the comments made in the Committee in general support of it. We must now ensure that it is properly and fully implemented. The United Kingdom Government will play a full part in doing that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 5771/01, a Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Sixth Environmental Action Programme of the European Community: 'Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice', and a Proposal for a draft Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the Community Environmental Action Programme 2001-2010; considers that co-ordinated action at a Community level is the most effective way of addressing the main environmental objectives of the programme; welcomes the

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    strategic approach; agrees with the objectives, particularly the identification of the four priority areas; endorses the emphasis on climate change as an outstanding challenge of the next 10 years and beyond; supports the Government's efforts to ensure that policy is developed on the basis of full analysis of the issues with consideration of the full range of instruments; endorses the Government's position that the programme should be ambitious

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    yet achievable, and that where analysis has not yet been completed detailed targets should be set out in thematic strategies to be developed later; and supports the Government's aim that the programme should give a clear steer on improved and consistent implementation and enforcement.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes past Twelve o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Dean, Mrs.
Dobbin, Jim
Gibson, Dr.
Green, Matthew

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Hoban, Mr.
Lamb, Norman
Viggers, Mr.
Vis, Dr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):

Meacher, Mr. Michael (Minister for the Environment)

Sayeed, Mr. Jonathan (Mid-Bedfordshire)

 
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Prepared 16 January 2002