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Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. A number of companies in this country want to get into the business of recycling printer cartridges and other items, but they feel that they will be at a disadvantage if such cartridges are not included in the WEEE directive. Does he agree, therefore, that it is also a matter of allowing small businesses to grow in this sector?

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2.45 pm

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman is right—

Mr. Morley: No, the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) is not quite right on that matter. It is true that printer cartridges and other such items are not included in the WEEE directive, but there is nothing to preclude their re-use and refilling. The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) was right to say that the DTI took the lead in the negotiations, but the basis of the directive is that the electrical equipment that it covers should go back to the original manufacturers. The same logic would apply to printer cartridges: if covered by WEEE, they would go back to the manufacturers, even though many are refilled and reused. That will not be affected by the WEEE directive.

Norman Baker: The Minister is either being slightly disingenuous, or ill informed. The point is that we think that the WEEE directive should cover printer cartridges. The requirement should be that they are dealt with on a comprehensive, life-cycle basis, but the Government are resisting that.

Mr. Wiggin: Does not the hon. Gentleman think it extraordinary that the Minister did not say in his intervention that the real problem with printer cartridges is that they are being put in landfill? By including them in the WEEE directive, we would achieve what the whole Bill seeks to achieve.

Norman Baker: That is exactly right. In respect of the Minister's intervention, I should point out that many small businesses would benefit from the inclusion of printer cartridges and such items in the WEEE directive. All printer cartridges used in this country are imported, and some are recycled and re-used by British companies. So every time the Government stand up in Brussels—or sit down in smoke-filled rooms—and say that they cannot allow the WEEE directive to include printer cartridges, they are disarming small businesses in this country, and damaging the environment.

That is what the DTI is doing. It has created the mess, and DEFRA is left to pick up the pieces afterwards. That is how the Government are constructed. We need more effort on waste minimisation, and I have given the Minister one concrete example of something that he could do to help.

The Minister also needs to clarify the Government's position on variable charging. My party believes that the proposition has considerable merit, and that it at least deserves to be tried in pilot projects around the country.

The Minister referred to the strategy unit report entitled "Waste not, Want not", which grasped that nettle. However, I do not know the Government's intentions in the matter. I think that they have concluded that variable charging is too difficult in political terms, and that they will sweep it under the carpet, at least until after the next election. Will the Minister say what he intends to do in connection with variable charging for local authorities? Perhaps another system could be used, but there has to be some incentive for householders in particular to reduce the amount of

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waste that they create, and thereby to ensure that waste minimisation strategies work. So far, I have seen no evidence that that is happening.

Where are the Government strategies to encourage businesses to minimise waste? I used to be chair of economic development in East Sussex county council, before it adopted antediluvian incineration policies. We looked at a business estate in Newhaven and discovered that some businesses were paying to dispose of stuff that other companies on the same estate needed as virgin products. We not only saved some businesses' disposal costs, which was good for them, but produced virgin material—or, at least, ersatz virgin material—for other companies to use, in place of what they would have had to buy on the open market. Waste minimisation can therefore help business as well as the environment, but there is no evidence that the Government are helping British businesses in that regard.

Why do the Government not sign up to the concept of zero waste? No one pretends that it can be delivered overnight, or even in 20 years, but it must remain the ultimate aim. A zero-waste culture would not consider waste as something to be disposed of, but rather as something whose creation should be avoided. If waste were created, it would be regarded as a material with a potential use, rather than as a problem to be got rid of. That may not always be possible, but we should move in that direction. I have heard no encouragement from the Government for the concept of zero waste, although the Liberal Democrat party conference in Brighton this year officially adopted the zero-waste policy.

A number of councils around the country—Liberal Democrat councils and others—have adopted the zero-waste strategy. They include Lewes district council and Bath and North East Somerset unitary authority. Other councils of different political persuasions have also adopted the concept. Why are the Government not doing so? They pay lip service to the concept of waste minimisation but do nothing about it.

We have heard one or two examples of what the Government were, theoretically, doing but I have seen no evidence of it. The key point is that the waste stream is growing. It is rather like the Government's road traffic reduction policy. In 1997, the Deputy Prime Minister promised that there would be fewer vehicles on our roads and said that we should hold the Government to that promise. However, there are far more vehicles on our roads and road transport is increasing. We are told that the Government want waste minimisation, but a growing amount of waste is being produced. They cannot deliver their own rhetoric. That is part of the problem that we face.

We need a zero-waste strategy and key to that is the extension of producer responsibility. Yet again, the lead is coming from the EU, which is introducing measures such as the end of life vehicles directive. Such initiatives will ensure producer responsibility, which we all want, but they are not coming from the Government, who plan to implement the directive in such a slipshod manner that its effects will, in the short term, be the opposite of what is intended. The polluter must pay, but currently that is not happening.

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We have little evidence that the Government take these matters seriously. I refer the Minister to the comments of the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. It stated:


If the Minister does not like that, he could try looking at the report of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, which stated:


The Committee further noted that it agreed with the assessment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that UK measures to encourage waste minimisation were very weak.

That is interesting. Two Select Committees both used the phrase "very weak" to describe waste minimisation measures. Two cross-party Committees, specialists in their field, heavily criticised the Government—[Interruption.] The Minister mutters "Out of date". In that case, ""Waste Strategy 2000"" is out of date. He cannot claim that some documents are state of the art just because he happens to like them and dismiss others as out of date. Those Select Committee reports postdate "Waste Strategy 2000", so they are less out of date than the Government's strategy.

The Government have done nothing seriously to address the need to minimise waste, but have instead allowed it to grow. They recognised the need to deal with landfill, with consequences for incineration that we have already discussed. To be fair, they have also recognised the need to increase recycling and have introduced measures to encourage it. However, they have not dealt with the first two items in the waste hierarchy: waste minimisation and re-use. Until they do so, their waste strategy will not be worth the paper it is written on.

Will the Minister set out what the Government plan to do to minimise waste? A sensible way forward would be to accept new clauses 1 to 4.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): I have a problem with the hon. Gentleman's proposals, as would my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party and his hon. Friends with Welsh constituencies. The proposals state that the devolved Administrations must develop strategies and describe the regulations that should be included, but is not that inconsistent with the whole idea of devolution?

Norman Baker: That is a far better point than any of those made by the Minister—[Interruption.] I am sorry; that was a bit harsh. The Minister is a very nice chap and I apologise for being unduly rude to him—but it is still true.

Our new clauses are an attempt to deal with the Bill as it has been constructed by the Government. We have tried to be consistent with the existing terms of the Bill. The measure applies to the whole United Kingdom, so that is how we tried to deal with our proposals. If the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) is suggesting that there should be more devolution to

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Scotland and Wales, I should not oppose that—[Interruption.] I have tried to explain that it is a UK Bill and that is why we took that approach.


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