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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw):
Levels of recycling by local authorities have improved dramatically on the record under the last Conservative Government. In 1997, only 8 per cent. of household waste was recycled. This year we expect local authorities to achieve the target of 25 per cent. that we set themmore than a trebling of recycling since Labour came to power.
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Philip Davies: I thank the Minister for his reply, although he failed to mention that Conservative councils have a much better recycling record than Labour and Liberal Democrat councils. Can he tell us what help his Department gives communities to support local recycling initiatives, especially those run by the voluntary sector?
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I can. The hon. Gentleman raised the same issue at Question Time recently, after which I contacted the local re-use and recycling network. We recently approved a new system of credits for re-use and recycling, in addition to the help that is already given to those groups. I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that, as part of the waste review that is currently being consulted on, we envisage a more significant role for local voluntary and community groups.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): To what extent does my hon. Friend consider that the reduction in the amount of municipal waste going to landfill is a result of the implementation of the landfill allowance trading scheme? Does he intend to monitor the scheme's progress, and does he intend to review its long-term future after 2009 as part of the waste review process?
Mr. Bradshaw: Everything, to an extent, is up for review as part of the process. It is still too early to judge how well the landfill allowance trading scheme has worked, but the initial signs are encouraging. Of course, the landfill tax escalator is a much more significant driver for local authorities and businesses to reduce the amount of waste that they produce and send to landfill. The level of that escalator and its steepness are also being considered as part of the waste strategy review.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): There is no doubt that local authorities take recycling increasingly seriously, and I commend them for that. Obviously, we want to monitor their performance, but have the Minister and the Government any plans to try to reduce the amount of material presented for recycling, particularly the massive amount of packaging on practically everything that we buy in the shops? Is there any Government policy on the issue, and what contact does the Minister have with the huge superstores that generate that massive amount of material for recycling?
Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. It is important for us to minimise the amount of waste that we produce in the first place, and minimisation is at the top of the Government's so-called waste hierarchy.
We have had some success. Last year, for the first time ever, we reduced by 1 per cent. the overall amount of municipal waste that we produced as a country. There are packaging waste regulations, which make challenging requirements of the businesses and supermarkets to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We are also considering carefully, as part of the waste review, what further measures could be introduced to encourage waste reduction and minimisation.
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Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is looking at community recycling. Will he pay particular attention to Wastesavers in my constituency, which is an award-winning project? Community enterprise is much cheaper than many private schemes. The level of participation is high, and residents separate material at source so that less is contaminated and ends up as landfill. Will my hon. Friend examine that project as an example of good practice?
10. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What recent discussions she has had with the Department of Trade and Industry on the cost-effectiveness of (a) nuclear power and (b) other measures in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. 
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): There are regular discussions at ministerial and official level on energy and climate change, including discussions on the relative costs of different means of generating power.
Jo Swinson: Now that the bill for clearing up nuclear waste is approaching £70 billion, of which £5.2 billion is for the three Scottish sites, does the Secretary of State agree that money spent on new nuclear power would be better spent on energy efficiency and renewables? Has her Department undertaken any work internally to assess the cost benefit of various energy options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions? If so, what conclusions has it reached?
Margaret Beckett: It was a feature of the energy White Paper that we published together with the Department of Trade and Industry in 2003 that the prime emphasis was initially on energy efficiency and renewables. That was precisely because they were seen as the most speedy and effective way to begin to tackle some of these issues, and also the most cost-effective, so I can certainly tell the hon. Lady that that has been a high priority and that the issue is being looked at afresh in the energy review.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Despite what my right hon. Friend has just said, does she agree that it is unfortunate that the energy review has become so focused on nuclear power when nuclear power is only 8 per cent. of the total UK energy mix that gives rise to emissions? Will she ensure that any outcomes of the energy review are fully integrated with the climate change review to achieve a major reduction in energy demand, an improvement in energy efficiency and maximum development of renewable technologies?
It is my understanding that the review is not focused only on nuclear energy, although I appreciate that the media coverage is. It is the intention of both the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and myselfand, indeed, the Governmentthat the issues should be fully integrated with those that concerned us in the climate change review, including reduction in demandnot least through energy efficiencyand an increase in renewables.
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My hon. Friend may recall that when we announced the climate change review we were careful to point out that that specific review was not the last word, not least because the energy review is under way.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Whatever decision the Government eventually make on the matter, at a time when consumers already face increases in their energy bills will the Government ensure that they are not faced with an additional nuclear levy to make nuclear power attractive to investors in a way that it would not otherwise be?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend rightly makes a point about increased energy prices. There are immense gains to be made in terms of energy efficiency because it is not only beneficial for the climate, but beneficial for the pocket of the customer. The review will include whatever issues would have to be taken into account were there to be a recommendation for further nuclear build.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Some 25 per cent. of applicants had been paid by the end of March, and 15 per cent. of the fund disbursed. This unacceptably slow progress was, as the hon. Lady knows, the reason why the chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency was replaced on 16 March.
Ann Winterton: I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State of substantial part paymentapproximately 80 per cent.of entitlements under the single farm payment scheme. It will help to ameliorate the disastrous financial situation in which many in the farming community find themselves. Will the Secretary of State go even further and suspend cross-compliance inspection until the payment process is complete? Will she waive penalties for late claims in 2006 because, as she knows, the system is completely inflexible?
Margaret Beckett: I do not think that I can undertake to waive cross-compliance considerations, but we fully recognise the concerns about all these issues. I assure the hon. Lady and the House that we are trying to look sensitively at a number of specific issues, such as the one that the hon. Lady raised of differences and difficulties with particular payments.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon)
(Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the premium that her Department places on stakeholder engagement and discussions in this important area. I was pleased to welcome the Minister with responsibility for rural communities to my constituency in the recess for a rural conference. I welcome yesterday's statement on partial payments. How did stakeholder discussions with Lord Bach inform the decision?
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Margaret Beckett: As my hon. Friend will be aware, Lord Bach and the acting chief executive Mark Addison have been having weekly meetings with stakeholder representatives, which have included opportunities for stakeholders to raise any concerns and to discuss issues with the technical experts dealing with the issues on a day-to-day basis. As I think the stakeholders recognised in their press release of yesterday, it was very much as a consequence of the discussions as well as the exploration of what can be done within the RPA that we made the announcement that we did yesterday. We are grateful to the stakeholders for their input.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)
(Con): The Secretary of State's approach to this whole fiasco smacks of complacency. Her own figures show that in the first four weeks the RPA paid 23 per cent. of the
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claims. In the last three weeks it has paid a further 16 per cent. How can she possibly claim that there is a significant improvement when the rate has slowed?
Margaret Beckett: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that some work, not least to prepare for 2006, had to be done on the IT system over the past couple of weeks. That inevitably and regrettably led to a slowdown. A reason why I offered the House a technical briefing with the acting chief executive and those who are dealing with those issues was so that Members, all of whom will have particular concerns brought to them by particular constituents, have the opportunity to raise those issues with the RPA, as we are doing, and have a full discussion on a more sustained basis than is possible across the Floor of the House.
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