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14 Mar 2003 : Column 560—continued

11.47 am

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I too congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on this private Member's Bill. I am pleased to note the cross-party consensus and I want to add my party's support as well. I wish the Bill Godspeed and ask the hon. Lady to thank, on behalf of us all, as I am sure that she will, those who have assisted her in preparing this Bill. It is a worthy piece of legislation. It deserves to be passed—albeit with one or two amendments that I shall come to in a moment.

In response to the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), I have to urge her not to do down the Welsh mineral water industry too much. Ty Nant, which is the best and best known mineral water—from my constituency, of course—is available in glass bottles, both blue and pink.

Norman Baker: Is there a deposit?

Mr. Thomas: There is no deposit on them, but they are easily recyclable. The only way I can get my children to drink water is by giving it to them in a bottle. If it comes out of a tap, they will not drink it. There are obviously health issues to be dealt with as well.

Like the Welsh preachers of old, I want to take a text for my remarks over the next few minutes, and examine the Bill from the point of view of that text. The text, which is a quote, is as follows:

The author of those words is sitting on the Government Front Bench, namely the Minister for the Environment. He was speaking at a public meeting at Caxton house, Archway, London on 7 November 2002.

The right hon. Gentleman posed the crucial question: how can we bring doorstep recycling to every local authority and within every area of every local authority? If that is not done through this Bill, how will it be done? That is the question that the Government will have to ask if they cannot fully support the Bill during

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consideration in Committee and thereafter. I hope that we shall not see again what happened to an earlier conservation Bill that was given its Second Reading, was considered in Committee and then, somehow, became lost in the ways and means of things in this place. I hope that we shall see the Bill come fully into effect.

I want to address how we achieve the aims of both the Minister for the Environment and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford from the perspective of Wales. There are some differences between Wales, England and Scotland. This is a UK Bill that would set a UK target. We must work out how that is done in the constituent parts of the UK. It is worth bearing in mind how we might achieve the target.

Last November, the Wales Consumer Council produced a useful report entitled: "Waste not, Want not: recycling and Welsh consumers." We can gather from the report how important recycling is for people in Wales. Seventy per cent. of people said that it was a priority for them, citing it as "very important" or "important". Interestingly, the respondents were more enthusiastic in the rural parts of Wales. In Cardiff, 61 per cent. were strongly committed to recycling, whereas in mid and west Wales, in the area I represent, the figure was 80 per cent. I do not know whether that reflects the old tradition of reusing every piece of material on the farm, and therefore of having a different attitude to recycling. Perhaps those who live in the countryside have a certain feeling for the environment that is around them. These figures go against the tendency to think that recycling is for urban areas, not rural areas. One of the challenges is to get doorstep recycling to every household, even in the most rural of our areas.

The report tells us that doorstep recycling was seen to be the key factor that would encourage more people to recycle. That chimes in with earlier facts and figures that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford adduced. Eighty-four per cent. of those surveyed—consumers in Wales—said that a kerbside scheme would encourage them to recycle. Again, those in rural areas came out more strongly in favour, with 72 per cent. saying that more facilities would encourage them. About 90 per cent. of parents thought that a kerbside scheme would encourage them to recycle.

The opportunity is there. There is no doubt that there is public support for the Bill, and for the aims that lie behind it. The question is, how can we make it work? In Wales, we start from a low basis. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), who is no longer in his place, said that the UK is the dirty man of Europe. Unfortunately, Wales is the dirty part of the United Kingdom. We have the lowest rates of recycling in the UK as a whole. It is the country in the UK that is most dependent on landfill sites. As I mentioned earlier in my intervention on the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, that is creating a great deal of public dissatisfaction, particularly in respect of health issues. A petition was presented today to the National Assembly for Wales, containing 2,000 names, against the landfill site in Trecatti, in Merthyr Tydfil. We have also had difficulties with the Nantygwyddon landfill site in the Rhondda. Incidentally, it was built with European money that was meant to be used for tourism. That is the

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bind that we got ourselves into 10 years ago about landfill in this country. It seems that we were prepared to use any scrap of money to build landfill and not to move on to more environmentally sustainable methods.

In a Welsh context, we have ended up with recycling of waste being as low as 8 per cent. In England, I understand that it is running at between 12 and 15 per cent. Wales is heavily dependent on landfill sites, which the population is rejecting. It is also rejecting incineration. Those who have come forward to propose incineration in Wales have been heavily rejected by public opinion.

The more positive side is that the National Assembly, with all-party support, has produced a waste strategy for Wales that is more ambitious than that for England. The target for 2009–10 is to achieve 40 per cent. recycling and composting of municipal waste. I understand that the target in England is 30 per cent. The programme for Wales is more ambitious, but there is a greater gap to overcome. We must focus on how we can achieve the target.

We need to set in motion the right fiscal methods throughout the UK, as hon. Members have said. For example, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford is wearing recycled jewellery. I do not know what the VAT on such jewellery is, but perhaps it should be less than VAT on new jewellery. We may need to look at reducing the tax burden on fully recycled products or at encouraging other ways of getting recycled products on to the market. We certainly need to look at the landfill tax. All those things are UK fiscal matters which need to be dealt with by the UK Government in line with the obligations put on them by the Bill, but they will have an enormously beneficial effect in Wales.

My only regret is that we are not yet ready politically to talk about a zero waste strategy, and to look at our waste stream as a resource for reuse and reinvestment. More progressive parts of the developed world are looking at that. New Zealand, for example, is thinking about a zero waste strategy for the whole country—the aim is to create jobs dealing with the waste stream, not just in recycling and composting but in reuse. We have not developed such a programme to any great extent in the United Kingdom. I accept that such thinking is a little way off, but the Bill is the best opportunity that we will have this Session to progress towards a reasonable target of 50 per cent. recycling and composting throughout the United Kingdom.

As I mentioned earlier, the National Assembly has made it clear to local authorities in Wales that it expects them to avoid long-term contracts with guaranteed minimum tonnages and so on which in the past tied them to landfill, but now tend to tie them to the newfangled option of incineration. That advice is specifically designed to encourage authorities to be flexible enough to move over to the new recycling target. The Assembly has pressured the Government to make those plans mandatory for local authorities. Perhaps we can look at that in Committee, and consider how the whole United Kingdom can do something similar to what has been done in Wales so that we can help local authorities to avoid the double-bind by which they commit themselves to incineration for 15 or 20 years.

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We should help them to leave such methods behind so that they can support a more fruitful pattern of recycling and composting.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, as he referred to the report on what needs to be done in Wales. I cannot recall from the report how much money the Welsh Assembly is putting into the project. Local authorities obviously need support—can the hon. Gentleman recall the figure and say whether it is sufficient for local authorities to carry out the Assembly's proposals? Which authorities are in a position to get the programme under way fairly soon?

Mr. Thomas: Thankfully, I wrote the figure down earlier—it is £79 million for the initial period, and is generally seen as sufficient to get local authorities moving on the project. Local authorities' records, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are varied. I am afraid that his own area of Bridgend recycles 6.1 per cent. of materials; it is not the worst, but it is not the best either. The better authorities include, I am happy to say, my own authority, Ceredigion, as well as Conwy and Powys. Again, rural areas seem to be doing better than urban areas, which is a curious anomaly—one would expect recycling to be a bit easier in urban areas.

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