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20 Mar 2003 : Column 1172—continued

5.40 pm

Mr. Meacher: With the permission of the House, I wish to respond briefly to the points that have been raised. We have had a thoughtful debate from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, with the exception of the last contributor—the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin)—who simply cannot resist making shallow political points, which is a pity. However, his contribution did not undermine the general tenor of the debate, which was of a high standard.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for a thoughtful and fair speech. I heard what he said about agreeing with the general purpose and contents of the Bill and I look forward to working with him in Committee. Several hon. Members mentioned the possibility that the scheme in the Bill was too limited or isolated as a part of the general waste management strategy. However, the Government introduced the waste strategy in 2000, and the strategy unit report, "Waste Not, Want Not" has also been produced, to which we shall reply shortly. The scheme is not isolated. The Bill introduces some key legislative requirements necessary to fill out those parts of the waste strategy that do not have legislative cover.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury raised a number of points, and I shall try to deal with them. He asked about the quantity of emissions saved by the emissions trading scheme. The 34 direct participants in the UK emissions trading scheme have committed themselves to achieving reductions of 4.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. That is a significant total. It equates to approximately 5 per cent. of the UK's emission reductions up to 2010. The scheme is therefore significant and important.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the baselines had been drawn correctly, so as not to allow some companies to take advantage through double counting. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) was also interested in the matter. The emission reductions in the UK emissions trading scheme are not covered by any other regulations—that is, a company is not allowed to include emission reductions that result from meeting targets set in other regulations. In addition, giving the scheme's direct participants—of which British Airways is a good example—absolute targets means that their production could decrease. However, all businesses want growth: if their production increases, as is their aim, their absolute target becomes tougher. That is sufficient protection.

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The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked about the lack of fit between the UK and EU schemes. That is a fair point, and the matter has caused the Government a lot of difficulty. Our scheme is voluntary: we thought it right to have flexibility in the early stages, to see how the scheme worked. In its wisdom, the EU has decided to have a mandatory scheme.

The current UK emissions trading scheme will finish at the end of 2006. The proposals in the Bill are designed to go beyond that date, but I am glad to say that we have managed to secure various provisions in the EU scheme. They include arrangements for opting out and opting in to the scheme, which will allow us to manage the transition in a way that we consider broadly acceptable.

The transition period is important to us. Our main aim is to ensure that the reductions of 4.4 million tonnes in carbon emissions under our UK scheme are achieved. We also want to minimise disruption to participants in our scheme.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about coal mine methane, a topic raised too by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). As I said, we of course recognise the benefits of capturing coal mine methane. We have secured climate change agreement for the industry, in terms of access to the emissions trading scheme, but I must make it clear that we are currently awaiting EU state aid approval.

With regard to entry to the emissions trading scheme, I repeat that there is uncertainty about what UK coal mine methane emissions actually are. That is the problem that the research that we have commissioned is designed to resolve. As a result, coal mine methane is not in the UK inventory.

The hon. Gentleman asked two other questions. The first had to do with passing penalties from the disposal authority to the collection authority. That is a fair point, and I can tell him that we are not attracted to legislating for that, although we could. We do not want to encourage the apportionment of blame, and we do not want that sort of culture to develop between authorities that must work together. We believe that the power of direction will encourage authorities to work together, and that it represents a better solution.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about penalties being passed between the four component parts of the UK. The UK as a whole is liable for the EU fine, but if that is due to a failure by a specific Administration, it will have to pay. That will be agreed through concordats between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) asked whether county councils were correct in their approach to incineration and recycling targets. They are, in the sense that incineration is not recycling and does not count towards the recycling targets. That is obvious. But incineration is a form of recovery and would be part of their non-statutory recovery targets. He also asked about the compatibility of the UK and EU emissions trading schemes. I tried to answer that. We believe that the opt-out and the opt-in system means that, on both sides of the transition date of 2008, we can get compatibility with the mandatory EU scheme that is satisfactory to us.

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The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman. Baker) raised a number of points, as is his wont. He and others referred to fly tipping, which the Government recognise is a serious problem. However, the idea that the landfill tax automatically makes that worse is wrong. There is nothing to stop anyone taking waste to a civil amenity site free of charge. One does not have to dump it in the countryside to escape paying the landfill tax.

We have done some more positive things—

Mr. Luff rose—

Mr. Meacher: I will come back to the hon. Gentleman, who raised a different point. The strategy unit has recommended more rigorous prosecution of fly tipping and we are considering that seriously. I attended a meeting of the fly tipping forum, which is chaired by a senior official of the Environment Agency, and I looked at a series of ideas, many of which I am keen to pursue, including a big increase in penalties, which I think is critical.

Norman Baker: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Meacher: I am unwilling to. The hon. Gentleman had a lot of time and I am trying to answer several of his points, but I must try to cover everyone else.

The Government White Paper on antisocial behaviour, issued on 11 March, included proposals to give local authorities a strategic role for dealing with fly tipping and ensuring that they have sufficient powers to do so. One objection has been that it is all left to the Environment Agency, which does not have the resources and manpower to do it. Local authorities will now have equivalent powers.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the derogation. We have a derogation at each of the trip points: 2006 to 2010, 2009 to 2013 and 2016 to 2020. My view is that we should try to meet the first of those dates and not use the derogation unless we have to. It is not infra dig to have to use the derogation, although there is no question but that, for 2006, we will have to use it. It is too early to say about 2016. I would hope that we will make sufficient progress and that we will not need to use it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to allowances for sale, and thought that so many local authorities would be off-track that the cost of licences would be high, and that, therefore, local authorities would prefer not to comply because it would be less expensive. First, I am chasing local authorities to make jolly sure that the number who do not comply is as small as conceivably possible. I wrote to 142 authorities last August and I am now pursuing those that we believe are not on-track. The real answer to his point is that the penalties will be set at a level that makes non-compliance the least attractive option.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the export of waste to the Republic of Ireland, but it is allowances that are traded, not the waste itself. Under the Basle convention, waste cannot be exported except for recovery, but it will be for the Northern Ireland Administration to decide the details of their scheme.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the waste hierarchy and he referred to clause 17(3). All the options that he quoted are, indeed, options, but they are not

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stated in terms of the hierarchy. I assure him that the waste hierarchy prevails. He asked whether incineration would have preference over recycling, and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) also drew a great deal of attention to that issue. We believe that we have given sufficient incentivisation to recycling to make the scenario that was outlined unlikely. I do not now have the time to argue the point, but I am sure that we will return to it in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) asked what would happen if a disposal authority received a penalty as a result of a fault committed by the collection authority. The point behind the power of direction is that a waste collection authority cannot prevent the targets from being met. As I have said, passing down penalties simply creates a blame culture and removes money from the system.

My hon. Friend also asked about penalties for authorities that have to continue to send material to landfill under a 25-year contract. He said that such penalties were unfair. The landfill directive was put in place in 1999, and it was the subject of negotiation for many years before that. The need to reduce the landfill of biodegradable municipal waste has been known for a long time, so that casts doubt on the point about there being a need to guarantee a particular quantity of waste for landfill.

My hon. Friend also asked about incentives. No one has drawn attention in the debate to the fact that the Government have increased the rate support grant in regard to waste management by £1.1 billion in the current spending review period and by a further £670 million in the next. We have provided a local authority waste minimisation and recycling fund of £140 million and increased by 60 per cent. the private finance initiative to £355 million. I do not think that local authorities can say that they are not adequately funded.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is no longer on the Opposition Front Bench, but he has not lost his critical edge. Among other things, he raised the issue of recycling and the landfill tax. The Government have certainly already agreed that any increase in landfill tax will be revenue-neutral and that it will be used to fund sustainable waste management programmes. We are currently discussing in government how that is best done, but we accept the principle.

The hon. Gentleman asked about composting and animal diseases. There is no such thing as zero risk, but independent risk assessment shows that catering waste can safely be composted. The place for controls is in the animal by-products regulations and not in this Bill. We take his point that this is not the appropriate place to deal with the issue. Composting at 98° C—the provision is the result of an amendment made in the other place—does not simply produce compost, because everything is killed and not just the harmful pathogens. That is why we object to the provision.

I have not had a chance to respond to all the points raised, but I will be glad to do so in correspondence. I look forward to working in Committee with those who have spoken in the debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

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Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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