Climate Change Bill [Lords]


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Joan Ruddock: Indeed; the hon. Gentleman has made a sensible comment. We know that the schemes are operating in many other countries that clearly have a spectrum of household composition and home types, just as we have in this country. It would be for the local authority that sought to pilot the scheme to look at all of that and at their own demographics. It would perhaps choose one part of the authority where it would do the pilot and decide that other parts were not suitable. All of that is possible, and we expect the authorities that come forward to take all those issues into account.
I want to complete what I was saying on revenue neutrality. A further protection for residents exists, as authorities will need to keep a separate account of charges and rebates under the scheme, which will allow residents to assure themselves that the revenue neutrality requirement is being kept, which is enormously important. A huge amount of hostile press has been generated, I am sorry to say, by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who speaks for the Opposition on communities and local government. He has suggested that this is some form of stealth tax and that people could be subject to huge payments—I have ever seen a figure of £1,000 a year quoted, which is absolutely ludicrous. We have made it clear that we want the schemes to be revenue neutral and transparent, that it is essential that residents buy into them and that there will be a communications strategy. That is all very clear. Also, the indicative amounts that we have mentioned for such schemes have been of the order of £50, which is nothing like what has been suggested.
As I have said, local authorities would have to take account of groups that could be unduly disadvantaged, provide a good kerbside recycling service, implement a fly-tipping prevention strategy and communicate with local people. While providing a good level of protection for householders, we are also keen to provide authorities with flexibility and options to ensure that schemes are efficient and effective on the ground, as I have indicated. Local authorities will be free to design schemes that suit local circumstances and integrate rebates or charges with the administration of a council tax system, if they so choose.
We have really gone past the point when we can simply sit back and watch landfill sites fill up and belch out methane emissions. We have to try new measures, and it is only responsible for us to respond to the wishes of local authorities that have proposed, like other countries in continental Europe, that they should have the opportunity to have such schemes. It is a matter of extreme regret that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar has warned local authorities in a letter that councils that introduce “bin taxes” will be vilified in the popular press and punished at the polls. He stated:
“Nationally, we will not hesitate to criticise any supposedly-Conservative council which collaborates with the Labour Ministers”.
I hope that Opposition Front Benchers in Committee will disassociate themselves from that threat to local authorities, which is nothing but bullying and undermining democratic accountability.
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Piloting is a sensible way of trying out these new measures and testing them in a UK context, as it will add to our understanding and that of the public and local authorities. After the pilots, we will be able to make a well-founded decision on whether to make the powers available to more local authorities.
I thought I had answered all the questions, but it has been suggested that perhaps I have not—helpful notes are being passed to me, but I think I have dealt with the matter. However, I am told—this is a useful point—that the packaging directive targets will save more than 8 million tonnes of CO2 this year alone. I should also say something that I did not mention before: earlier this year, I increased the recovery rates from forms of packaging in this country.
Miss McIntosh: As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle has just said from a sedentary position, this is a technical amendment—unless I am confusing it with an earlier one. This has been a timely and helpful debate. The Government got it wrong—not in signing up to the EU landfill directive, but in signing up and committing the United Kingdom to the landfill directive before we had alternative waste disposal schemes in place. That is something that is going to cost all of us dearly.
The Minister’s response to the debate is a little bit unfair and disingenuous on the householder, because the householder is not in control of how products reach them—I accept that they are in control of the amount of food that they waste. However, when a consumer is shopping in a supermarket, they do not have control over the packaging or what will ultimately be waste. Let us consider unsolicited mail, which is a growing curse. Of course, I do not mean our election leaflets, but, for example, the free newspaper that comes around or other things that one does not wish to see cross one’s door.
Joan Ruddock: I assure the hon. Lady that we are trying to work across every front on that issue. She is right, and we are discussing that matter with the direct mail organisation. We hope to have new agreements on that, and we are trying to discourage the proliferation of material. The householder does have some control. Some people choose to shop and buy loose goods rather than heavily packaged goods. Clearly, we should boycott those goods that are most heavily packaged.
Miss McIntosh: To a large extent, we are in broad agreement. I remember visiting a direct mail factory during one of my election campaigns, which caused some consternation apropos my earlier remarks. We all want less waste to go to landfill, but the Government have wasted an opportunity, because they could have educated the public on alternative means of waste disposal, particularly incineration, energy from waste, combined heat and power, or anaerobic digestion—I do not care what we call it. The public seem to go into freefall whenever a local council comes out with a policy that involves smoke or burning, whether it is in Guildford, where bizarrely the Liberal Democrats opposed an incinerator, or in Sheffield, where they proposed one.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Lady is right; there is a need for public education. It is now accepted that no serious health effects result from incineration. That has been dealt with—not least, by Government. In addition, £2 billion of PFI credits are available for waste infrastructure and there is no prohibition on any form of scheme. Some are coming forward as incinerators, and £10 million is available for anaerobic digesters.
Miss McIntosh: I have recently received a briefing from North Yorkshire county council, and councils seem to be well apprised. The Minister has referred to the need to guard against fly-tipping, which causes great concern in rural areas.
The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we are talking about waste reduction, not waste disposal, either through incineration or fly-tipping.
Miss McIntosh: I hate to say, “I told you so”, to the Minister. There were two warnings about the problems that clause 60 could bring, which the Government do not seem to have heeded. One warning was in the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government report on refuse collection, which was issued on 16 July 2007. The Committee was
“not convinced that enough work has been done or guidance given to local authorities on how to prevent such risks from blighting areas and causing disputes.”
The same Committee’s second special report on “Refuse Collection: Waste Reduction Pilots” in February this year recommended that
“the Government withdraw its financial incentive pilot proposals from the Climate Change Bill and reconsider devolving the power to introduce schemes to local authorities themselves.”
Would the Minister like to comment on why she did not follow their advice?
Joan Ruddock: What we saw in the CLG Committee reports was far greater ambition than has come from local government. The suggestion that there should be a specific waste-charging system, analogous to a utility, is not one that has found favour with local government. That is why local government, in presenting suggestions to central Government about what might be done, has looked to do something that is clearly much more of a halfway house than the CLG Committee would have wished.
Miss McIntosh: Finally, just for the record, I believe that the Government’s approach of having a limited trial and a limited pilot project—I think that five are ongoing—for which the Government have been criticised, has allowed hostile media coverage.
Joan Walley: Despite the recommendations in the CLG Committee report, is there not a real sense of urgency about not only carbon but the availability of landfill sites? It is important that we make a start and see how those pilots can inform what is needed.
Miss McIntosh: That is a helpful intervention. As I said at the outset, the problem is that the Government signed up to impossible targets. I am in total agreement about reducing waste going to landfill, but it is impossible to ask councils to meet those targets, if there are not alternative sites. If we look at what is happening in Naples, I can only assume that the Italian Government are having exactly the same difficulty as our own.
Joan Ruddock: We are on target for the reduction in waste going to landfill from households for 2010, and we are entirely optimistic about 2013. The reason why we are making so much money available to encourage much greater provision of waste disposal infrastructure is because the 2020 target is challenging. However, we are content that we know what we are doing, and we certainly have no expectation of ending up in a Naples situation.
Miss McIntosh: The Minister will be aware that my colleague, whom I now refer to as David Davis, called his by-election, which will take place on Thursday one week hence, precisely on issues such as intrusion by inspectors, which relates to these proposals. I hope that the powers given to local council inspectors for policing the arrangement will not come back to haunt the Government.
Joan Ruddock: There is no suggestion that this scheme will be a massive intrusion into people’s lives. There is no suggestion that this scheme will be a massive intrusion into people’s lives. As I have stressed, it has been done across Europe and north America. Residents have accepted such schemes perfectly well in other countries. When the proposals were put to people in a poll, we found that about 60 per cent. of people felt them to be entirely fair.
I bring the hon. Lady back to the purpose of this measure: people who do their duty by recycling and reducing their residual waste should be rewarded, and those who do not subscribe to the law could have a charge placed on them, if the local authority so chooses.
Miss McIntosh: We are grateful to have had the opportunity to place our concerns on the record, and I am grateful to the Minister for her response.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 69, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5

Waste reduction schemes
The Chairman: I note that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border is not available to move amendment No. 108. Does another member of the Committee wish to move it?
Gregory Barker: I beg to move amendment No. 108, in schedule 5, page 69, line 3, at end insert—
‘(d) the authority proposes to collect residual domestic waste at least once in every seven days, and
(e) the authority proposes to collect all recyclable material, including tetrapak materials, polystyrene and all plastics.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 109, in schedule 5, page 69, line 32, at end insert
‘but no charges for residual domestic waste can be imposed unless the authority has made provision to collect all other materials not less than once every 14 days, including, (i) all plastics of whatever type, (ii) polystyrene, (iii) paper and card of all descriptions including tetrapak, (iv) glass and (v) metal and aluminium.’.
Amendment No. 107, in clause 70, page 33, line 19, at end insert—
‘(c) does not include a power to create a criminal penalty on any householder for non-compliance with any aspect of a waste reduction scheme.’.
New clause 18—Waste authority’s power to reduce amount of council tax payable—
‘After section 13A of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 (c. 14) there is inserted—
“13B Power to reduce amount of tax payable in relation to household waste
Gregory Barker: My right hon. Friend has been delayed in the main Chamber, but this is an issue that he feels strongly about. I am sure that he would want some discussion of it in the Committee.
There is little doubt outside the Committee that waste is an issue that always seizes the public interest—my constituents certainly talk about it. Locally, there is still concern about the regularity of collections, about what one can and cannot put in the recycling bin and about the ever-increasing amount of waste that our homes seem to produce. Overall, I am always struck by how genuinely enthusiastic most people are about recycling. People like to do it. Parents enjoy showing their children what they can put in the compost, the recycling bin and the waste bin. There is a certain generation that never lost the recycling habit, having grown up in the thrifty post-war years. It makes people feel that they can do something tangible and practical to lead towards a greener lifestyle. They feel that recycling is an inherently good thing, leaving aside the climate change agenda.
The enthusiasm for recycling is something that we must encourage and nurture in every way we can. We must help people to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do. Additionally, as the Minister has said, we still send far too much waste to landfill. The UK currently produces 28 million tonnes of municipal waste every year, a whopping 83 per cent. of which ends up in landfill. We signed up to the EU landfill directive to try to get that figure down, and it sets targets for the reduction of biodegradable waste sent to landfill. We must achieve 75 per cent. of the 1995 level by 2010, 50 per cent. of that level by 2013 and 35 per cent. of it by 2020. We have some considerable work yet to do in this country, which is why we need a clear collaboration between Government, local government and the public.
In that spirit, I welcome the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border. His proposals go right to the heart of many of the issues that my constituents find most frustrating about waste. They say that they want to recycle as much as they can, but not if it means that their residual domestic waste will be collected less frequently than once a week. They are happy to recycle, but they ask why they cannot add so many plastics and waste products. For example, only in a few places, and none that I know of, can one recycle Tetra Pak cartons. So many of the juices and liquids that we buy are packaged in such containers, and they all go to landfill. Why is it that so many people cannot include polystyrene and other kinds of plastics in their recycling bins?
If we are going to ask people to increase their recycling rates and, more importantly, if we are going to threaten them with financial penalties if they do not do so, we must make it as easy as possible to recycle, which is the objective of amendments Nos. 108 and 109. In the interests of public participation and acceptance, we must not threaten to criminalise people who do not yet have the recycling habit or fail to comply with their local—
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