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14 Mar 2003 : Column 544—continued

10.42 am

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in favour of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). I was a sponsor of her Bill back in 1989. In those days, we had a Conservative Government who did not have the same commitment to environmental issues that the Opposition now say that they are going to make. That Bill made an enormous impact on environmental issues. The Bill that my hon. Friend has introduced today has strong support from many people on both sides of the House and across the country, including Friends of the Earth, which has played an important role in this campaign. It is vital that we do everything possible urgently to get the Bill through both Houses and on to the statute book, so that we can change behaviour. I am conscious that that same urgency applies to the way in which we make our speeches today, so that everyone has the opportunity to speak and the Bill can go through. I am delighted to support the Bill; I hope that we will see it on its way and that there will be ringing endorsements for it from all parties.

I am also pleased that the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am vice-chair—I see many of its members in the House this morning—is having such an impact on the development of environmental issues. The Minister is a member of that Committee and has made an enormous contribution to environmental policy, and I hope that his commitment will be matched by all

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Government Departments. I am conscious that, in getting this Bill on to the statute book, we will need the support of the Treasury, and I hope that we can make real progress on that.

My interest in the Bill stems from a long-standing interest in environmental health matters—I am a vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health—and from my concern about how we look after our resources, our climate, and the planet as a whole. Many people make the mistake of equating the environment with the countryside, or with unspoilt natural areas. I agree that such areas are important but, equally, the environment in which most of our constituents live is not like that; most people in this country live in towns and cities. That is why it is so important that we should have a sustainable development strategy.

I am passionate about ensuring that our urban environments are clean, healthy and pleasant to live in, as well as being concerned about protecting the green areas around our cities. I would like to mention a major national conference that is being organised by the Landscape Institute and which will take place at Vale Park in my constituency. National conferences of this kind give us all an opportunity to raise awareness of how we can build our green spaces and have environmental policies to match.

The Bill has a great deal to offer people right across the country. I cannot be the only one who notices the difference between the streets in this country—with their litter, graffiti and dog mess—and those in many European cities that we occasionally have the opportunity to visit. I hope that the Bill will move us closer to some of our European counterparts whose policies have had a real impact on keeping their streets healthy and clean. Rubbish collection in this country originated as a solution to the public health problems caused by hugely unhygienic piles of rubbish. The famous urban myth that we are never further than 10 ft from a rat in London was certainly a lot closer to the truth before regular collections of waste got our streets even to the relative state of cleanliness that we enjoy now. What I want to see is progress from a scheme that protects human health to a scheme that also protects the health of the planet that we live on. For many years, we have known that we have to keep our homes free of rubbish and waste to protect our health. Now, we also know that we need to recycle and reuse to protect the planet's health, and our law needs updating to reflect this. We have an opportunity to do that today.

What I find hugely encouraging is the evidence that providing people with recycling facilities encourages them to think beyond simply recycling. The Environmental Audit Committee has seen that on visits that it has made, including those that it made last week to parts of Essex and Kent. I am also delighted that some local authority leaders are assisting my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford, through the Local Government Association, with the detail of getting the Bill on to the statute book. As people get used to separating recyclable rubbish from the stuff that has to be thrown away, there is evidence that broader environmental awareness is encouraged. We have a sub-committee on the Environmental Audit Committee that

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is examining how we can raise awareness of these issues, and it is clear that if we get the Bill on to the statute book, more people will recycle their rubbish, which will lead to greater environmental awareness.

If we are to persuade people to respond to this, we must provide the facilities for them so that they can make the right choices. We must also foster a spirit of environmental responsibility. That means that we must also do our bit here in this place, and the Government have to do their bit. The MORI evidence has been referred to. We must ensure that people can do what we want them to do in terms of recycling. A huge number of people from my constituency have made representations asking that the Bill should go through the House today, and I am sure that other hon. Members from Staffordshire and elsewhere will have received similar requests.

There are two local authorities in my constituency. Staffordshire Moorlands district council should be congratulated on its record. Its targets for recycling for next year are 11 per cent. of household waste and 15 per cent. of composting. That is 26 per cent. overall, which is well above the national level. Similarly, in Stoke-on-Trent, the local authority has huge ambitions and I would like to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that we are hoping that there might be a shortfall in his waste minimisation budget that could be used to help Stoke-on-Trent to match Staffordshire Moorlands in regard to the amount of recycling that is carried out.

I know that we are short of time, but I want to say that recycling offers enormous opportunities for business and for innovation. Already, there are huge budgets for regeneration, and that money—we would not even have to have more—could be used for recycling. I hope that there is support for the Bill across the House today.

10.50 am

Norman Baker (Lewes): I am pleased to support the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) and to be a sponsor of it. I recognise, as the hon. Lady said, that it has cross-party support in the House, with Members from all parties appearing in the list of sponsors. That, and the nature of the hon. Lady's contribution, makes the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), who is no longer in his seat, somewhat churlish.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Pathetic.

Norman Baker: Conservative Members are saying, "Pathetic." The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire left his seat, although he is now returning. He spent his time criticising the Government, but the Bill is about cross-party initiatives to improve recycling.

Mr. Wiggin: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Gentleman in order? He is making a rather unpleasant point while my hon. Friend is simply delivering his speaking notes to the Official Report.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I really do not think that that is a point of order for the Chair.

Norman Baker: I am grateful.

Madam Deputy Speaker: This country starts from the position of having a mountain to climb—a mountain of

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tyres, a mountain of cars, a mountain of fridges and a mountain of other household waste. There is perhaps a mountain to climb in persuading the Government to support the Bill, but I hope not. We have with us the Minister for the Environment, who I am sure is absolutely committed to the Bill and the premise behind it. We do not, of course, have with us Treasury Ministers or Ministers from other Departments, who may play a key role behind the scenes. Nevertheless, I hope that their attention is drawn to comments made by Members on both sides of the House.

We have a mountain to climb in that we have a recycling rate of 11 or 12 per cent., which is very low, as the Minister has readily admitted on a number of occasions. It compares with 64 per cent. in Austria, 52 per cent. in Belgium and more than 50 per cent. in some local authority areas. In my constituency, a good scheme is run by Wealden district council, which I am happy to concede is run by the Conservatives. It runs a scheme entitled CROWN—composting and recycling our waste now—which recycles more than 50 per cent. of household waste in Polegate in my constituency. There are good practices up and down the country, and we should emulate and build on those.

The Government recycling target of 30 per cent. by 2010 has already been pushed back from what those of us who are in favour of recycling wanted and what was in place in the 1990s. We must ensure that it slips no further. It is entirely reasonable to include in legislation—perhaps this Bill—a target of 50 per cent. That is achievable. If any Ministers are balking at that figure, I hope that this Minister will do his best to persuade them that it is achievable, because it certainly is for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford.

There is no dispute about the waste hierarchy. We all agree on it, on both sides of the Chamber. The dispute is as to how much is achievable within each strand of that hierarchy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has correctly said, we need to do more on waste minimisation. We are not tackling that, and waste is still increasing by 3 or 4 per cent. per annum. I find packaging, for food in particular, excessive. My hon. Friend has told us that, on a bad day, it took him seven minutes to remove the cellophane packaging from one of his shirts. When I go to a supermarket to buy a packet of croissants, I find it offensive to find numerous layers of plastic. If I go to a baker's shop in my constituency, I pay more for four croissants loosely in a paper bag than for four in plastic packaging, as there is a reduction for purchasing four in that way. That point has to be made and we must do something about it.

I recently visited Brussels to talk to those involved with environmental matters in the Commission, which is keen to do something. There is a packaging directive, of course, but it can require only the recycling of existing packaging. We need an incentive across Europe to reduce the production of packaging. One reason for not having that is that the European Union has no competence to introduce the fiscal measures that would achieve it. That is an example of member states' reluctance to give fiscal power to the EU having a detrimental environmental impact. The requirement on producers to recycle existing packaging is better than nothing, but it does nothing to reduce the amount of

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packaging in the first place. That is one example of the challenge that we must deal with in terms of minimisation—we must do more.

We can do more on reuse. I am happy to tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I still have my milk delivered in glass bottles on my doorstep, although that option is sadly not available to everyone in the country these days. An average milk bottle is used for 17 trips while the average plastic carton is used for one and is then thrown away. We need to do more to encourage the use of milk bottles. To give a quick plug for Harvey's brewery in my constituency, which produces excellent beer, it uses beer bottles for which there is a deposit. People can buy their beer, return the bottles and get some money back. That was common practice 30 years ago, but it has been lost. However, it remains common practice in countries such as Denmark and we should be considering deposit schemes for bottles whether they are glass or plastic. If supermarkets were faced with paying a deposit on returned glass bottles, they would soon put the pressure on the producers and the Government to do something.

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