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Mr. Wiggin: My hon. Friend makes a valid and useful point. [Interruption.] The Minister says that the Bill covers it. However, my hon. Friend is right that if we judge everything with hindsight, as time goes on and people are allowed to move away from their effective plans, the potential for disaster is obvious. That aspect of the Bill is especially bizarre, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. We are united in acknowledging the Government's good intentions, but they have added a bizarre twist to the measure that may run counter to what they want to achieve.
My hon. Friends' most important points in interventions related to the quantity of recycling. The United Kingdom recycled 13.5 per cent. of its household waste last year, incinerated 9 per cent. of household waste and 3 per cent. of hazardous waste. It is hardly surprising that some authorities are expected to increase their performance dramatically, especially given their political colour. Eight out of 10 of the best councils at recycling are run by the Conservative party and seven out of 10 of the worst are run by the Labour party. I am therefore delighted that the party of Government is improving its act, but it is easy to do that from a low base.
We must ensure that the Bill makes a proper distinction between the responsibilities of the disposal and collection authorities so that we get the best possible co-operation. We want money to go into recycling and the re-use and recovery process rather than taken out in fines. Later, we shall perhaps debate whether the fines should go to the Chancellor or back into the process to continue the positive activity that hon. Members support.
I am sure that the Minister has read details of our Committee proceedings in Hansard as part of his preparation. The subject of our discussion was considered at length in Committee by all members, including the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed). There was agreement, which the Government acknowledged, that we needed a guarantee that waste collection and disposal authorities would work together. It was also agreed that we should not place too many burdens on local authorities and that it was right to deal with recalcitrant authorities, not those that perform well. The Government try to do that in the new clause. So far, so good. My residual worries relate to cases of disagreement between waste collection and disposal authorities, and their resolution. The hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and for Mid-Bedfordshire also asked about that.
I want to refer to East SussexI am not obsessed by it but I know it best. Waste collection authorities there, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat, pursue high recycling levels. Indeed, parts of Wealden district council, which is run by the Conservatives, are recycling more than 50 per cent. as a consequence of doorstep collection. There is also a phenomenal uptake in Liberal Democrat Lewes district in my constituency. Those collection authorities will achieve recycling levels that exceed the Government's targets. That is important, because the waste disposal authority will calculate on a lower recycling rate. That means that it will agree an incinerator contractwhich has not yet been drawn up, by the wayfor a guaranteed throughput of waste to be delivered to the incinerator company, which in this case is Onyx. I hope that the Minister is taking in this complicated argument.
If the waste disposal authority then wished to have a guaranteed throughput, that would necessarily depress the amount of material available for recycling, particularly if the Government are successful in reducing the overall amount of waste. In those circumstances, the only guaranteed set figure would be the amount required for the incinerator, and everything else would have to go in order for that target to be met. There is therefore a real danger that, in these two-tier areasI think that this could arise in East Sussexthe waste disposal authority could issue an instruction to the waste collection authority effectively to cap or even reduce its recycling capacity.
Norman Baker: The Minister is shaking his head, but that could happen if the authority were recycling an amount in excess of the Government target, and had to reduce its recycling capacity so as to ensure that there was a sufficient amount for the incinerator throughput.
Mr. Morley: I understand the case that the hon. Gentleman is making in relation to those who exceed the Government's recycling targets. If there is incinerationparticularly if it involves a heat-from-waste recovery systema contract might be needed in
Norman Baker: We shall debate incineration in due course. I am arguing that incineration has a role in specific circumstances, such as the destruction of medical or other special waste, so I accept the Minister's point on that. I was talking about mass-burn household waste, but we will come to that later.
It is conceivable that a waste disposal authority could issue an instruction to a waste collection authority, to which the latter did not want to agree but to which it would be obliged to agree. Carrying out the instruction would involve decreasing the amount of material recycled. That is a real possibility that is not being addressed, and there is no dispute resolution system in place to deal with such situations. Because the penalties relate to landfilling as well, the only objective of the waste disposal authorities, in terms of avoiding fines, will be to meet the landfill targets. They can do that either by incinerating or by recycling, and they will not be particularly bothered about which way they achieve that target. They will simply want to meet the target. The primary goal of the waste disposal authorities will be to avoid paying a fine, and they will say, "It doesn't matter how we get there. We'll incinerate, we'll do anything that we have to do, provided that we can avoid a fine."
The Minister is effectively creating a system in which waste disposal authorities will seek to avoid landfill at any cost, but he is not putting in place the waste hierarchy that he advocates to achieve the solutions that we all wish to see. I said in CommitteeI repeat the point for the Minister, who I hope has now finished his conversation with his Parliamentary Private Secretarythat this is not a waste hierarchy implementation Bill, but an EU landfill directive implementation Bill. It has been brought before us solely to achieve the EU landfill reduction target. That is all that it is about.
Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is making a good case, but it is worse than that. This is actually a fine-avoiding Bill, and not even a very good one, because I believe that we are going to be in line to receive fines of £180 million a year for failing to minimise waste.
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. This is about money, and the paucity of the Government's forward planning is illustrated by the fact that they are continually running after EU directives, rather than anticipating them and putting in place structures to deal with them. We should be in the lead in these circumstances, rather than having to chase after Europe to catch up.
The Minister is saying that the disposal authority will always have the decision-making powers when push comes to shove, but I do not think that that is right, for the reasons that I have given. I hope that he will be able to deal with this point when he replies. If a waste collection authority believes that the direction from the disposal authority is unreasonable, either because it runs counter to the Government's waste hierarchy or because it could undermine the collection authority's targets, what redress will it have? What power of appeal exists? What could the authority do in those circumstances? As I read the strategy, that arrangement is open-ended. It is not clear what powers apply to the waste collection authority in those circumstances. It seems to me that it would have to comply, whatever the environmental and financial consequences. We could be faced with a situation in which a disposal authority required a course of action to be followed which would cost the collection authority an unreasonable amount because it would have to dismantle certain things that had been put in place. What would the consequences be in those circumstances?
Has the Minister considered whether the continuation of the arrangement whereby responsibility is split between the collection and disposal authorities is actually sensible? There is a case for merging the two into one authority. One answer might be to have a regional light-touch waste plan, and to have the collection authorities dealing with the bulk of the work. Although the Minister has done his best to get the balance right in the new clauseI accept that he has listened, and that his colleagues have listened in Committeethere will be a minority of cases in which there will be a dispute between collection and disposal authorities and in which they are following entirely different paths, as some are at the moment. There is going to be trouble as a result of this.