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20 Mar 2003 : Column 1144—continued

3.57 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): This is a good little Bill. It provides for a trading scheme for local authorities that dispose of waste, so that they can trade allowances for the disposal of BMWs—biodegradable municipal waste, not the upmarket motor car. It also provides for penalties to support the existing voluntary scheme on trading in carbon emissions.

The Bill should not be mistaken for, nor misrepresented as, the sum total of the Government's strategy to reduce, reuse and recycle waste—it is but one

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part of a much larger whole. The Government's waste strategy, published in 2000, set out a number of other strategies, including the use of targets; the landfill tax; changes to the landfill tax credit scheme, which are about to be introduced; the waste minimisation fund, the first round of which has just been distributed; and public campaigns to raise awareness and support among the public, most noticeably the "Are you doing your bit?" campaign.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) for steering her private Member's Bill—the Municipal Waste Recycling Bill—through its Second Reading in the House last Friday. That Bill provides for greater kerbside collection of household waste by local authorities, thereby adding another element to the overall waste strategy that we ought to consider. I agreed with the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when it called for strong leadership, bearing it in mind that the Government's strategy has many complex elements. Strong leadership is clearly important to pull them all together, drive them forward and make sure that they are successful.

I am pleased to tell the House that I have been close enough to the Department to be able to assure it that the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Environment are ready, able and willing to provide that leadership. Indeed, the whole ministerial team and the top management at the Department show a deep and abiding commitment to making a success of the Government's waste strategy.

The new waste trading scheme in part 1 will probably be the first such scheme in the world. Trading in allowances can contribute to driving up the performance of waste disposal authorities. Currently, their performances show a surprisingly large degree of variation, by which I mean that some are pretty poor. The scheme will apply to biodegradable waste. Total UK waste is about 400 million tonnes a year. About 30 million tonnes is municipal solid waste, 60 per cent. of which is biodegradable. So although it is true that the Bill deals with a sizeable proportion of all municipal waste, it deals with only a modest proportion of the country's total waste, hence the need for an overall strategy. Of course, a much bigger proportion of our country's waste is produced in the private sector, although in fairness, the best in that sector are doing better than the best of our local authorities in their duties of reducing, reusing and recycling.

We could try to increase the proportion of municipal solid waste that is biodegradable. As the Minister knows, I have asked parliamentary questions about increasing the use of biodegradable materials in goods packaging, in place of the plastic packaging that we quickly remove and discard. For example, I am very interested in the use of a substitute for plastic bags that has been developed from potato starch. Our farmers are desperate for alternative uses for their land, and non-food crops are a very good way in which they can diversify and obtain new areas of business. Some supermarkets are already voluntarily trialling plastic bags made from biodegradable material. We should give every encouragement to such developments.

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As we have discussed, in many parts of the country—including shire counties such as Staffordshire—the waste disposal authority is different from the waste collection authority. In Staffordshire, the county council is the former, and the various district councils are the latter, so it is not surprising that the Local Government Association is asking what mechanisms are planned to ensure that co-operation between different councils actually happens. After all, a waste disposal authority that sends to landfill biodegradable municipal waste that is not covered by allowances will be fined. What will happen if Staffordshire county council is fined for behaviour that is the fault of a district council?

On co-operation between councils, I pay tribute to John Dutton, chief executive of the Staffordshire environmental fund, which is one of the funding bodies under the existing landfill tax credit scheme. He had the foresight to bring together all the councils in Staffordshire to look at the key issues in co-operation over waste disposal. Together, they have looked at stimulating markets for reusable and recycled goods—an issue raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)—and examined the scope for closer co-operation between councils, thereby presaging the amendment from the other place on joint municipal waste strategies. They have also considered developing waste parks, in which multi-activities such as sorting, recovering, reusing, recycling, processing and product development could all take place—in the same place, at the same time.

I have a constituency interest in knowing to what extent the Government intend that advanced conversion technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification will contribute to the policy of reducing landfill. This is not incineration—the process that gives rise to people's health fears—but an energy recovery method that is often associated with reducing biomass into a renewable energy source. I raise the point because a very enterprising company in my constituency, Talbotts Heating, is something of a world leader in this conversion technology. The Minister may remember that, during his recent visit to Yorkshire to give out awards for the Country Land and Business Association, Mr. Bob Talbott, of Talbotts Heating, bent his ear. He is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, and keen to help Staffordshire to reduce the waste that goes to landfill. But Staffordshire county council—the waste disposal authority—is under the impression that the Government favour recycling over conversion, so it is reluctant to co-operate with his company. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could clarify in his response to the debate, or later in a letter to me if that is more convenient, whether the county council's understanding is right.

I have a letter from the council on the matter, a crucial part of which explains its position and states:

Clearly, the council classifies even the kind of energy conversion that I am describing as a form of incineration. That is why I ask the Minister for his view.

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Part 2 relates to emissions trading. Surely all fair-minded people will give the Government great credit for that. Let us recall the background. The UK was a leading player in making the Kyoto process work. For the first time, the world's leading nations—well, most of them—agreed legally binding targets for reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change. Within the European Union, we took a good proportion of the EU's target reduction as our share of the obligation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Domestically, we went further and adopted an even more challenging target for ourselves. Not content to rest on our laurels, the Prime Minister made a most impressive speech recently, urging us on to an even more demanding target by the middle of the century.

In the follow-up to Kyoto at Marrakesh, the participating nations agreed that achievement of the targets for reductions in emissions could be aided by, among other initiatives, an emissions trading scheme. Once again, the UK has acted first. We have become the first state to introduce a trading scheme. It is a voluntary scheme, but it is being taken up by a wide variety of organisations.

For example, Barclays Bank was one of 34 companies, and the only financial services sector representative, to volunteer to become a direct participant in the scheme when it was launched last year. Barclays has taken on a commitment to reduce by 10,000 tonnes over five years CO2 emissions from a portfolio of 83 large properties bid into the scheme. That equates to a reduction of about 11 per cent. in emissions from its buildings.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked whether that was what the company had already planned to do. That is a good point. Quizzing Barclays Bank about its boastful claim, I was told that the company already had an environmental management strategy of its own, under which it had intended to achieve a reduction of 10 per cent. in the same period anyway, so we have bought an extra 1 per cent. That illustrates the difference between targets and aspirations. It is fair to say that in the past, Barclays Bank would have aspired to the 10 per cent. reduction, but because of the financial penalties, it intends to meet a rather tough commitment to 11 per cent. It is sharpening up its environmental management, as are all the other participants, I expect. That is important because carbon emissions from business activity are probably proportionately very big, as is the waste that I mentioned earlier.

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