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20 Mar 2003 : Column 1167—continued

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): My hon. Friend is making a very strong case. I have known about the character he mentioned for many years at different sites. Such people are prepared to pop in and out of prison every year or so as the price that they are prepared to pay for the vast profits that they are making on the back of the tax. My hon. Friend is right. The legislation must be enforced.

Mr. Luff: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is a shared problem, but I do not believe that we are unique in the country in facing it. Such businesses exist entirely because of the landfill tax. That is what makes them viable. They can undercut legitimate operators and offer lower rates for the disposal of waste, which they then tip in the most irresponsible way.

About two years ago, there was an impressive police operation, together with the other agencies, about which I could bore the House at great length, but it did not have the required effect. John Bruce is out of prison. I quote from a letter from Wychavon district council's legal officer, Clare Flanagan, who states:

that is the one who gets the regular fines—

The failure of the Government to adopt a proper comprehensive approach to waste management has had many undesirable consequences, which other hon. Members have set out in their speeches. The

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consequence that I described is intolerable for my constituents, and the increase in landfill tax will make matters worse still. Will the Government please consider urgently a more comprehensive approach, at least to enforcement issues? A huge burden is being placed on local authorities and the constabulary in my constituency, and it is created by the landfill tax. They have to pay the price of cleaning up the mess.

I assure the Minister that this is not a cheap party point; it is a serious plea. There is a real problem. I wish the Bill would also deal with the enforcement of measures to tackle fly tipping and other such issues. Then we could give it an unreserved welcome, instead of merely a qualified welcome.

5.27 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I am delighted to speak in the Second Reading debate, and I shall do so briefly, so that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) can also speak briefly. The problems described by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) are replicated in all our constituencies. There are people everywhere who abuse the system for disposing of their waste and misuse their land. However, I would add a rider to that. In a previous incarnation the hon. Gentleman chaired the Agriculture Committee, to which the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is the successor. We are taking evidence on waste. It was interesting that yesterday the Environmental Services Association emphasised how vital it was that the landfill tax was increased dramatically so that we become serious not just in our language, but in our intentions and actions with respect to waste. There is a debate to be had, although there are not necessarily easy answers.

I have just returned from Denmark. I shall not rehearse what I said on Friday in the Second Reading debate on the excellent Bill on municipal waste recycling, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). In Denmark we learned how people respond to both the carrot and the stick. The authorities there are not afraid to use fierce regulation, along with fiscal measures, to provide penalties as well as incentives. People there also respond very well to exhortation. It is a very different country, in terms of how people respond to what they see as their environmental responsibilities. So this can be done, and I hope that the Bill represents one small measure that will help to see it through.

I would like to make three quick points. The first is the one that concerns me most, although I am sure that it will become manifest in Committee where those concerns might be diluted, if not completely washed away. It relates to the transparency of what we are asking individual householders to do in relation to what the Bill offers. I shall make a point here that is probably a little more detailed than one might expect on Second Reading. I hope that when the Bill is in Committee—if I am on the Committee—we can get someone to explain clause 3, which covers "Non-target years: default rules". I do not understand the formula that has been used. It looks as though the person who came up with the latest local government funding settlement formula has been on a day trip to my right hon. Friend's Department.

Such is the legacy of the way in which those formulae were derived that we are reminded of the old saying that there are only three people who can understand local

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government funding: one is mad, one is bad, and the other is regularly on tap to the Minister, while the rest of us never get to see and talk to him. I just hope that we can get some clarification on this matter. The whole point of the Bill is that we have to change people's attitudes, and if it is seen to be too arcane or as something esoteric with which only parliamentarians will get involved, it will, unfortunately, be lost. It is an important Bill that could actually be seen to be moving things along.

My second point relates whether these measures are opening the door for incineration. I do not want to say much more than to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) on his particularly lucid explanation of the danger of giving a certain signal to people but ending up with them responding in the wrong way, out of sheer necessity, to deal with the target setting. We are all in favour of imposing better standards of behaviour, initially on local authorities but, through them, on the public. Unless we are clear, however, about how we are going to see that through, the danger is that people will look for the easy option. I am afraid that incineration is the easy option, as was landfill. For most people, if something is out of sight, it is not their problem. Unfortunately, it is a problem for those who have to live near the sites, and we all know that that is not a good way for the environment to operate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test also mentioned variable charging, and putting the responsibility on the householder to see the waste, weigh it and add up the cost. That would not be easy. I do not know whether other hon. Members have had the same responses as I have, following the council tax bills going out this week. This is not a party political point; in the main, council tax bills have gone up quite steeply this year, and there are all sorts of reasons for that. If we are going to tackle these problems seriously, I would argue that we need to disaggregate waste from these calculations. It is one of the most important functions carried out by local government, but often one of the most underrated, and we need to bring home its importance to people.

Norman Baker: I have heard the hon. Gentleman's point about the weighing of waste. That might encourage more glass recycling, but what would he do to encourage the recycling of plastic?

Mr. Drew: We have had this debate already, and I do not want to detain the House further. I want to give the hon. Member for Leominster a chance to speak. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) can read what was said in last Friday's debate. It is important, however, that we look at recycling and at ways of putting it in place at convenient centres.

My last point relates to how we can ensure that the supply and demand for emissions trading operates at a level that will provide more than just a short-term solution. It really needs to be able to operate over the long term. I can imagine some authorities being keen to supply trading certificates while others will constantly demand them. That would not be good for the environment. I am a great believer in decentralised

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decision making and placing the responsibility on the people, because only when they see things happening at local level will they respond in the way that we want.

I hope that we shall be able to give the Bill detailed consideration later, but, notwithstanding my reservations, I think it is a good Bill. I will support it in the hope that it will set the standards that we should be observing.

5.35 pm

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I thank the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) for speaking briefly. I shall try to do the same. I too spoke about this important subject on Friday, and I am one of those who signed early-day motion 333A.

In general I support the theme of the Bill, and welcome the progress towards greater environmental sustainability, a reduction in the amount of waste dumped in this country, and the promotion of better environmental management and practices. In its report of April 2002, the World Economic Forum branded the United Kingdom one of the dirtiest countries in the world. After six years of Labour government, the UK is ranked 98th in the list of 142 countries on the 2002 environmental sustainability index. The Secretary of State herself has admitted that each person in the UK produces about seven times his or her own weight in waste every year. We produce more waste per head than most other EU nations, and recycle less. Municipal waste is increasing at a rate of between 3 and 4 per cent. per annum, and the volume of waste could be double the 1995 level by 2020 if the trend continues.

I welcome moves to reduce the amount of municipal waste, and to help the UK clean up its act, but I feel that the Government have not addressed a number of issues adequately. I will be brief, so that the Minister will have a chance to comment on them.

The Local Government Association has explicitly stated that if local authorities fail to meet the new landfill waste targets in the Bill and are penalised financially as a consequence, that may only make the situation worse. It could result in a self-perpetuating vicious circle, whereby local authorities suffering the financial burden of fines and other penalties will find it even harder to meet their prescribed targets. Have the Government taken that into account? How do they intend to reconcile an apparent contradiction with the Bill's overall purpose? According to the DEFRA-commissioned review of the UK landfill tax, published last October, 25 per cent. of local authorities are likely to miss their statutory recycling targets in 2005–06.

The move away from a traditional reliance on landfill cannot be achieved overnight, and the introduction of a system of penalties will make it more difficult for waste disposal authorities to comply with landfill targets by diverting funds from the task of addressing the real challenges of providing alternatives to landfill. For the sake of local authorities, the Government must bear at least some responsibility for the Bill's implications. They must, for example, play their part in changing public attitudes to household waste in order to achieve significantly higher rates of recycling and composting, and encourage greater public understanding of the need to build new waste treatment plants.

There is also the possibility that, in trying to move away from landfill, and fearing a failure to meet targets and hence a penalty, local authorities will move to a

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greater use of incinerators. The amount of municipal waste incinerated without some form of energy recovery rose from 10,000 tonnes in 1999–2000 to 20,000 in 2000–01. We are all aware of the danger that, when local authorities introduce schemes for recycling and reuse of rubbish, they will be forced to use incineration exclusively. Friends of the Earth, for instance, fears that incineration rather than recycling or composting will become the norm. What do the Government plan to do to ensure that authorities do not move too far towards incineration? That is particularly important when they are not recovering energy.

There is also concern about the possibility that the UK and EU emissions trading schemes will not be compatible. Whereas the UK scheme concerns only industry, the EU approach specifically includes power generation.

The UK scheme is voluntary and awards allowances by auction, but the EU system is mandatory and issues allowances for free, according to past emissions.

The other great shame is that the Bill concentrates on target setting, one of the Government's peculiar propensities, instead of addressing the underlying problem, which is the amount of waste generated in the first place. The Minister will be aware of the waste hierarchy, but where are the measures to reduce waste production in the first place and then to encourage the reuse, recycling and composting of waste? Where is the pressure to recover energy from waste? Apart from the penalties related to emissions trading, the Bill is predominantly about landfill.

It is of concern that the Bill does not envisage a more comprehensive approach to the problem of waste, addressing merely the issue of biodegradable waste, but failing to focus on issues such as plastics, the ever-increasing fridge mountain—to which the Minister will be especially sensitive—or indeed of old and worn-out cars. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) pointed out, any green reward/penalty scheme should allow for the volume and not just the weight of waste, so that it targets lighter waste such as plastic bags, and should have waste minimisation as its ultimate objective.

Another issue that seems to have been largely overlooked is fly tipping. It was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) whose constituency borders mine, and we share concerns about it. It is an evil and unsavoury practice that is likely to increase as the landfill tax rises. He expressed those concerns well.

My final concern is the potentially damaging effects that the increase in the landfill tax will have on the British manufacturing sector. The CBI, for example, has said:

That was backed up by the Engineering Employers Federation, which has cautioned the Government about raising the landfill tax and suggested that if it doubled, small firms could face an increase of between £1,000 and £7,000 tax a year, while larger companies could pay up to £200,000 more a year.

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Along with other trade bodies representing 10,000 employers, the EEF warned against adding to manufacturing costs at a time when profitability is already at its lowest level for nearly 20 years. The EEF has said:

The bottom line is that, while it is undoubtedly imperative to consider ways to address the growing problem of waste, that must not mean that environmental issues should be used as an excuse for the Government simply to raise taxes. Although I broadly welcome the Bill, we must be careful in its implementation.

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