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5.30 pm

Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 would not undermine those provisions; they would address the two little, specific issues to which I referred. We will not want to press the amendments to a vote, because they are not of fundamental importance, but I wish to tell the Paymaster General that, although the provision itself was done and dusted last year, certain things have changed, and in particular the way in which the ECJ has responded, which may render it inoperative. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 148 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 184

Rate of Landfill Tax

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Flight: The Chancellor announced in his 1999 Budget that

The increases made this year are the last under the £1 a tonne annual duty escalator. From 2005, the annual duty escalator will increase to £3 a tonne, with a view to reaching a rate of £35 a tonne in the medium to long term.

The United Kingdom has one of the lowest levels of recycling in Europe, with only 11 per cent. of waste recycled—well below that of many European countries, some of which recycle as much as 40 per cent. of household waste. The Government have failed to provide a coherent strategy for sustainable waste management, and we have seen an ad hoc approach, with a tax increase here, a complicated and failing tax credit scheme there and, meanwhile, landfill usage is increasing.

The Government have little hope of complying with the 1999 European landfill directive, under which the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going into landfill sites would be reduced to 75 per cent. of 1995 levels by 2006. The amount of municipal waste sent to landfill sites has increased from 21.9 million tonnes in 1999, to 22.1 million tonnes in 2000–01.

The Environmental Audit Committee recently criticised the Government's strategy, saying:

I am afraid that the phrase, "not proven effective in delivery" is rather familiar in virtually all areas of this Government's activity.

The last Conservative Government introduced the landfill tax in 1996—the first tax with an environmental purpose. We understand the need to encourage a comprehensive sustainable waste management system by promoting more recycling and less landfill. The long-term use of landfill is clearly unsustainable, and we believe that the Government should be more effective in promoting the alternatives.

The response to this measure has been mixed. The Engineering Employers Federation commented:

The CBI said that businesses "remain to be convinced" of the need to raise the tax by £3 per tonne per year. Can the Economic Secretary confirm that the £140 million increase in landfill tax revenue scheduled for 2005–06 will go towards promoting sustainable

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waste management and recycling programmes? Given that the rationale behind increasing landfill tax is to ensure that the UK complies with EU legislation, surely it is vital that that money goes towards increasing recycling and improving markets for recycled materials.

The arguments against the landfill tax increase are that the increasing rate of tax could act as an incentive to move over to other forms of waste disposal, which end up being more damaging to the environment and in some cases illegal. The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee cited

First, there is a danger that the use of incinerators may increase as landfill becomes a more expensive option, together with the problem of illegal fly tipping. How do the Government plan to avoid simply shifting the problem elsewhere and making things worse? Secondly, the increase in the tax will hit local authorities hardest. The Government's 2002 strategy unit publication, "Waste Not, Want Not" says:

My concern is that local authorities that cannot claim under the landfill tax credit scheme are struggling hard enough as it is. If the landfill tax trebles over the next eight years, matters will be made worse and the council tax driven still higher.

Finally, the landfill tax credit scheme, which was introduced along with the tax in 1996 and enabled landfill sites to direct part of their landfill tax liability towards funding local environment projects in return for a tax credit, has encountered high administrative costs. Overall, the scheme was deemed to be a success, but the Public Accounts Committee report identified the following problems:

as well as high overhead costs. Following that, the Government announced reforms in the November pre-Budget report, with the new scheme starting on 1 April, but many waste management groups have expressed concern about the new scheme. Two thirds of the money from the scheme—some £100 million—will go towards public spending to encourage sustainable waste management, but the remaining third will continue to go to local projects. I understand that local waste reduction and recycling campaigns have expressed concerns that they may lose out on funding under the new scheme.

Do the Government remember the pledges that they made in "Waste Strategy 2000", proposing to use the landfill tax credit scheme to help deliver an increase in recycling, particularly of household waste? Are WasteAware and other such schemes not recycling projects? We would contend that "Waste Strategy 2000" is in a shambles. It has failed in its piecemeal approach to sustainable waste management. According to the European Environment Agency, to meet the requirements of the landfill directive alone, the UK must divert 27 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste away from landfill sites. The UK will therefore need to deliver the equivalent of one new management facility, capable of processing 40,000 tonnes of waste, per week, for the next 14 years.

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We have a huge problem, and the EU targets are unrealistic. Instead of working together towards the short-term goal of meeting those EU targets, the Government should embrace a long-term programme to promote recycling, the use of biodegradable materials and sustainable management systems. We would not rule out the use of economic instruments, but we remain unconvinced that increases in the landfill tax will create a sustainable waste policy and promote recycling programmes.

Like most of the Government's environment policies, the tax stems from a panic to meet the targets laid down by Europe and from the primary motivation of raising revenue. I remind the Economic Secretary of the fridge mountains, the problem of abandoned cars and the disastrous climate change levy, all of which are a result of rushed and ill-thought-out legislation. They fail to take account of the bigger picture or to address the long-term environment issues and deliver the objectives that were claimed.

We urge the Government to reconsider their policy. They should not base the tax increases on fiscal and short-term considerations, but consider them in the light of an effective long-term waste policy.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I support the clause. Despite pertinent points made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), I am not sure what Conservative policy is on waste minimisation, waste reduction and recycling. However, he was right that the landfill tax is one of the longest running pieces of environmental taxation in the UK. Its relevance to the waste mountain is important, so it is vital to spend a couple of minutes examining why we need a landfill tax, the rate at which it should be set and whether it will help us to meet the Government's aims and the wider European aims to which we have all subscribed.

The landfill tax is one of the few taxes that businesses recently asked the Government to raise, and at a greater rate than proposed in the Bill. Although the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs prayed in aid the CBI, the Economic Secretary will be aware that the waste companies wanted an accelerated increase in the economic drivers towards waste minimisation and a reduction in landfill in favour of recycling. In fact, they were a little disappointed that the Bill did not impose a greater level to reach the Government's eventual target of £35 per tonne for the landfill tax.

Those companies see clearly that we will not meet our recycling obligations and our more important European obligations to reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfill without a much stronger driver in the economic market. I would have expected the Conservatives at least to be in favour of strong economic drivers, because that is how markets work. Sometimes it is necessary to regulate markets so that they take the right direction for the greater aims of the public good.

I want the Economic Secretary to address some of the concerns of the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I serve and which recently produced a report on waste. As the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs rightly reminded the House, that report makes it clear that the Committee thinks that the Government's approach is a knee-jerk reaction to the demands of the

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European Union. We did not think that their approach was anti-European. The reality is that the Government reacted to demands for which they had not properly prepared. They had not properly engaged with the EU legislation and had not thought through how it would work domestically. As a result, they have been forced to rely on a landfill tax and very little else to achieve their waste minimisation and recycling aims.

In that context, we have the unhappy news from MEPs who have served on the European Parliament's environment committee that the Government are already missing their EU targets and will fail miserably in implementing EU legislation. I hope that the Economic Secretary can give us assurances tonight that that will not happen and that the landfill tax, increasing at a set rate of progression, will achieve the aims of the 2000 waste strategy throughout the United Kingdom, not just England. The obligation to represent the UK in negotiations on EU targets involves not just Westminster but the devolved Administrations.

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