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Mr. Sayeed: If, as we all assume, the Bill's purpose is to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, why does the strategy not encompass waste minimisation? Moreover, the Bill makes no mention of a duty to consult local businesses. Why not? After all, supermarkets and other businesses could be extremely useful in reducing the amount of waste that is produced in the first place.

Mr. Morley: The Bill does do that. We presented our waste strategy in 2000, and it has been followed by "Waste not, Want not" and the 2002 strategy unit report. What we have established is a clear waste hierarchy, at the top of which is waste minimisation. That is our No. 1 policy. Next come recycling, the reuse of waste as compost, incineration and, finally, landfill. We expect local authorities to adhere to our strategy, and indeed they are doing so.

I agree that businesses have an important role to play in waste minimisation. We are involving them in, for instance, the Advisory Committee on Packaging, which is focused very much on industry, although not hitherto on the industry that we are discussing. We are also involving them in the waste implementation programme and the waste and resources action plan, which means not just encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to take advantage of new opportunities and technologies in recycling and minimisation, but giving financial support for the establishment of new businesses and enabling them to explore new markets. We have a sophisticated range of measures to encourage waste minimisation, which includes industry along with other stakeholders.

Gregory Barker: I am pleased to hear about the waste hierarchy and the emphasis on minimisation, but what troubles me and many others is that little in the Bill will stop waste that currently goes to landfill being booted up to the next level of the hierarchy, namely incineration. There is nothing to prevent a considerable increase in incineration as a result of the clampdown on landfill. One bad thing is being replaced by another.

Mr. Morley: I do not accept that. We shall be able to discuss this in more detail later, but I will say now that

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I do not see the Bill in itself as a driver for more incineration. The Government have set clear targets for recycling and re-use, and the Bill does not remove the obligation that local authorities will have. This year's target is 17 per cent., and all the indications are that we will meet it. That is a considerable improvement on the beginning of the year, when I feared that we might not.

There has been an enormous increase in recycling and re-use, for which authorities deserve much credit. Some poor performers have improved dramatically in the last 18 months to two years. The target for 2005–06 will be 25 per cent., and the targets will be driven up to about 33 per cent. Furthermore, there will be a review. It should not be thought that 33 per cent. is necessarily the highest figure for which we are aiming.

Local authorities are constantly having to address their strategies to meet the waste and recycling targets. That is removing a great deal of material from the waste streams and reducing the amount of biological waste, thereby reducing the need for both landfill and incineration. Nevertheless, we should all be honest about the fact that there may well be a case for incineration in certain circumstances. It is neither true nor reasonable to say that it can never be part of the waste hierarchy. We have a lower level of incineration than any European country of similar size. Denmark, often cited as a country with a good recycling record, has a 55 per cent. level. We need not go that far, but it would be wrong to mislead people by saying that there is no case for incineration—although nothing in the Bill impels further incineration.

Norman Baker: I have just been to Copenhagen and looked around an incinerator. I was told that Denmark was placing a cap on incineration, and that the instruction was to move towards recycling. The difference between this country and countries such as Denmark is our huge reliance on landfill, which must be got rid of if the landfill directive is to be met. Without real measures to encourage minimisation, re-use and recycling, beyond those already introduced by the Government, the landfill that is removed will simply be replaced by incineration. That is the point that Members are making, and, with respect, I think that the Minister has failed to grasp it.

Mr. Morley: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has produced evidence to support his statement, although he will have an opportunity to do so later, and we shall all have further opportunities to discuss the issue. It does not surprise me, however, that any country whose incineration rate is about 50 per cent. should want a cap. It would want to increase the amount of recycling and re-use, as we are doing.

Let me say something about potential disputes. New clauses 18 and 19 set a regulatory framework for the development of the joint strategy that we have discussed. It is for authorities in each area to decide together how to develop the strategy on the basis of local conditions, working towards targets that they all need and are required to meet.

My Department can help all authorities to meet their objectives. Members of the Department have spent a lot of time going around the country and talking to authorities about the strategies they need to adopt in

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order to minimise waste and increase recycling and reuse. They have done a good job, which I think is one reason for the surge in the number of authorities meeting our requirements in a comparatively short time.

The Government's new clauses and amendments will, I believe, give sufficient encouragement to joint working without imposing further requirements on authorities that already discharge their responsibilities satisfactorily. Along with clause 31, they provide the right framework for a positive relationship between authorities in two-tier areas working towards a common goal. I do not feel that amendments Nos. 16 and 31 are consistent with that approach.

We believe that our new clauses and amendments offer an appropriate balance between the desire for an integrated approach to waste management and the rights and needs of different authorities at local, regional and national level. I hope that Members will recognise that and support the Government's proposals.

2 pm

Mr. Wiggin: We do not wholly disagree with the gist of the Minister's comments. The amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and I tabled try to ensure that different sorts of local authority and waste disposal and collection authorities are held together. We want top quality co-operation between both sides of waste management at unitary, district and country level. We therefore need to ensure that they have every incentive to work as a team and that, if one half lets the side down, it is not only in its interest but in that of the other half to bring it up to the required standard. That is important because the Bill provides for fines and a range of penalties culminating in imprisonment to ensure that waste management is done properly. We must therefore make sure that it contains no loopholes that would allow a waste disposer to play off against a waste collector.

Any fine should relate to both bodies. There is probably a weakness in the amendment because there could be a case in which one authority was clearly out of line and it was not the fault of another. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) was right to ask the reason for the lack of a proper process to identify those responsible for a breakdown in the system. That is one of many glaring omissions from the Bill.

My first question to the Minister is about the term "statement" in new clause 18. How legally binding are such statements? In the worst case, one waste authority could sue another to try to apportion blame. I agree with the Minister that waste collection and disposal authorities will not be at each other's throats. However, if we are legislating to ensure that that does not happen, we must cover every eventuality.

Earlier, I asked the Minister to define the differences and he referred to new clause 19 and exemptions. As I understand it, an excellent council that performs in the way in which the Government wish no longer has to have a plan. However, to get to that stage, such a council would first have to have a good plan to which it stuck.

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It is especially bizarre that once a council has a good plan that works, it is allowed to ignore it. Surely there is a lack of logic in that.

Mr. Morley: The concept of the excellent authority means removing some of the directions from it on the basis that it has demonstrated that it delivers excellent standards, including in waste strategies. Those authorities probably have their plans, strategies and joint working, and that is fine. The difference between them and other authorities is that they will no longer be under direction, because we acknowledge that high-quality authorities will continue to act without it.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister is right to want greater freedom and flexibility for top councils and to remove the cold, dead hand of Whitehall from them.

Mr. Sayeed: The Minister's answer is fair, but it misses the point that although a local authority might start out with the best intentions and the best plan, and put it into effect, it is judged by the past. If there is a budgetary constraint or change in council leadership, the future may not be as rosy as the past. Perhaps it would therefore be better for a local authority that wants to move away from the plan on which it has operated to be required to report that.

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