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14 Mar 2003 : Column 540—continued

Norman Baker: Does the hon. Gentleman also believe that the Conservative Government were painfully slow in the 1990s, which meant that the target had to be reset?

Mr. Sayeed: Yes, but not as slow as the Liberals.

The Bill presents us with an opportunity to prove that hon. Members care sincerely about the environment and the wishes of our electors. It is undoubtedly true that Conservative councils do a sight better at recycling and collecting source-separated waste than Labour or Liberal councils.

Survey results that were published on Tuesday revealed that only 19 per cent. of Members of Parliament rank the environment in their top two priorities. The environment rates behind the economy, health, education and crime. However, a MORI poll that was conducted last year showed that 61 per cent. of householders rated waste collection, disposal and recycling as the most important services provided by their councils—above schools, parks and open spaces and support services for the disabled. The Environment Agency survey in August 2002, which was cited by the hon. Lady, showed that 90 per cent. of people interviewed said that they would sort their rubbish if the council provided containers. What further evidence do we need to prove the existence of the gap between the national interests of Members of Parliament and the local priorities of those who elect them? There could scarcely be a better opportunity than the Bill for us to close that gap.

Despite the Government's laudable rhetoric on sustainable waste management, the amount of municipal household waste is rising by 3 per cent. every year. In 2000–01, just over 78 per cent. of the 29 million tonnes collected in England and Wales was disposed of in landfill. At present, 51 per cent. of all households are served by kerbside recycling collection schemes—I might add that 80 per cent. of those are in Conservative-controlled councils. However, in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions last week, the Minister for the Environment said:

He also said, in a somewhat plaintive tone:

That lament was more than justified. By 2016, the weight of biodegradable municipal solid waste disposed of to landfill must be no more than 35 per cent. of the

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amount produced in 1995. At the current rate of growth, that would require the diversion of 33 million tonnes a year to other waste management methods.

Why do the Government find the targets so hard to meet? I believe that it is because they have pursued a disjointed policy of serial reaction to European Union directives without real investment in, or a commitment to, a comprehensive and far-sighted waste management infrastructure. We have lacked a regulatory framework to provide price signals and incentives to industry and households, and to stimulate the much-needed market for recyclates. According to a review of the UK landfill tax commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and published in October 2002, 25 per cent. of local authorities are likely to miss their statutory recycling targets in 2005–06.

Hon. Members will remember last year's fridge mountains and are all too aware of increased fly tipping of building waste, the dumping and incineration of cars and the lack of real preparation to enable local authorities to deal with the collection of waste electrical and electronic equipment, tyres and batteries. We are being bombarded by environmentally progressive regulation from Brussels, but we are left defenceless by a Government who are simply digging themselves into deep trenches of mismanagement and neglect.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was tackled on Government inaction and complaints from the industry at a hearing of the Environmental Audit Committee on 12 February. In an extraordinary display of petulance, she rounded on the Committee with the words:

Perhaps she should take note of the chief of the Environment Agency, Baroness Young—she is, after all, a Labour appointee—who said last week:

The role of the Secretary of State is to lead, but I am sorry to say that it seems the Government would prefer to do nothing and then blame everyone else, when we are constantly outstripped by European states which, some years ago, took steps that we are considering only today—and only by way of a private Member's Bill. This should have been a Government Bill.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): It is easy to be critical, but much better to be positive. The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, is currently considering waste, and has just visited Denmark. We should not get too hung up on comparisons between ourselves and other European states, because it all depends on what we put into our calculations and, dare I say, what we leave out.

Mr. Sayeed: As the hon. Gentleman says, there must be clear comparators. There must also be clear standards, and, as I have said for some years, they must

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be common standards. He rightly implies that the definition of recycling is different in different countries, and that common definitions would allow clearer comparators. As he may acknowledge, however, I have not compared us with the rest of Europe. What I have said is that much more needs to be done, could have been done and should have been done by past Governments, and certainly should have been done by this Government.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): We have heard no reference to Northern Ireland so far, but I assure the House that we in Northern Ireland face the same problems and take the matter very seriously. Could not the Minister, even at this late stage, redeem the failures of past Governments by allowing the Bill a speedy passage?

Mr. Sayeed: I agree with that helpful intervention.

Waste should not be seen as a nuisance to be dumped in cheap holes in the ground. It should be seen as a resource giving us a new form of energy, and new materials for more eco-friendly product design and green procurement. To date, however, local authorities, householders and businesses have been given no incentives either to reduce the volume of waste produced or to increase the level of recycling at source. Failure to tackle those problems is having grave implications for our international competitiveness in what promises to be, according to Biffa,

The Department of Trade and Industry has estimated that the worldwide market in environmental technology is currently worth no less than $515 billion, and is forecast to grow to $618 billion by 2010. The United Kingdom's share of that market is less than 5 per cent.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): Some of the incentives that currently exist are ill suited to encourage plastic recycling, for instance. Local authorities wishing to stimulate plastic recycling know that it will do little to solve the landfill problem, while the landfill tax is a crude instrument to make them recycle materials that do not take much space in landfill.

Mr. Sayeed: That is a good point. If the hon. Gentleman stays a little longer, he will hear my proposals for dealing with the problem.

We must recognise that our historic reliance on a linear flow of raw materials into products, consumption and waste that goes into landfill must change. We must move into a brave new world of resource efficiency. It has taken a private Member's Bill to propose what is right for both the environment and the nation. It requires the Secretary of State to ensure that by 31 December 2010, 50 per cent. of municipal waste in the United Kingdom is recycled or composted. That is the level recommended by the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs in a report published in March 2001. It also places a duty on waste disposal and waste collection authorities to publish a sustainable waste strategy promoting minimisation, reuse and recycling, and enabling all householders to dispose of their waste sustainably. The

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waste disposal authority's role will be to direct the waste collection authority to collect waste in a manner that will facilitate reprocessing or recycling.

I assume that that implies the collection of source-separated waste, as that would deliver household waste in the most resource-efficient way. It is in legislative harmony with the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill, as amended in the other place, which requires the waste disposal and waste collection authorities in a given area to produce and publish a joint municipal waste strategy.

It would be difficult for anyone not to support the principle of the Bill. As Friends of the Earth has commented, it

That may be slightly over-egging the pudding, but the sentiment is correct. However, the Local Government Association, my colleagues and I have some reservations about the Bill, and I therefore suggest that it should be given time in Committee for thoughtful amendment. How, for instance, can we ensure the necessary flexibility for local government, taking account of the division of labour and resources between the waste collection and waste disposal authorities? I welcome the interdependence of the two tiers in the provision of a joint sustainable waste strategy, but we must ensure that one tier is not penalised for the other's failure to discharge its duties.

How will local authorities be given adequate resources to research and fund recycling projects? If recycling targets are to have any real meaning, local authorities need reassurance that they will have the capacity to carry out the recycling, and that there will be an end use for the materials collected. The Government should provide more measures to stimulate the demand for recyclates. We cannot risk defrauding the public by encouraging them to separate waste, only for it to end up mixed again and dumped in landfill owing to the lack of a viable market. We must also ensure that the transport of waste outside the boundaries of the areas for which waste disposal authorities are responsible is kept to a minimum. Transporting rubbish is simply a waste of resources and energy, and is in any case in defiance of the proximity principle which we all support and which is not mentioned in the Bill.

As the promoter of the Bill said, however, the main issue requiring much more debate is undoubtedly funding. Citing my amendment to early-day motion 333 in support of doorstep recycling, I urge the Government to quantify the expenditure implications and to state explicitly how local authorities will be supported in implementing the Bill. The Treasury remains unpersuaded as to the end use of the landfill tax increase announced by the Chancellor in lasts November's pre-Budget statement. If that entire increased revenue constituted another stealth gain for the Treasury, that would be yet another fraudulent green tax with little environmental benefit.

The proposed reforms to the landfill tax credit scheme allow for only 20 per cent. of the tax—about £100 million—to be given to waste management. If the Government intend to increase landfill tax significantly, as we have been told, they must demonstrate a direct and transparent transfer of resources to fund

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environmental improvements. One such way might be to fund local authorities that establish the collection of source-separated waste and build recycling plants. Currently, 54 per cent. of the revenue from the landfill tax is money from local authorities. It would not be unreasonable if a similar proportion were recycled back to them to use for further recycling, the enhanced policing of fly tipping, and campaigns to raise public awareness of waste. What is more, if the measurement of waste were to incorporate volume as well as weight—this deals with the point raised by the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh)—we might raise further revenue and simultaneously discourage the use of lightweight but non-biodegradable packaging.

The Government's own strategy unit reported in November last year that unless action was taken, the volume of waste generated would double by 2010 and the cost of disposal would increase by £1.6 billion. The Secretary of State responded to the report with the determined words:

However, when asked by the Environmental Audit Committee on 12 February whether she would support the Bill, she replied more cautiously, saying:

Perhaps she would like to change her ways and recognise that, although it may not have been the Government's idea, this Bill—this step—is essential if the UK is not to be left far behind as the rest of Europe marches on ahead along the road of strategic environmental thinking and economic and social progress. We will support the Bill from these Benches.

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