Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Sayeed: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and I would disagree with very little that he has said. The Minister is competent and courteous, but he was not in Committee with the hon. Member for Lewes and me. Those sittings were very time-consuming, and one of the problems that the hon. Member for Lewes, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) and I talked about all the way through was that the Bill is extremely narrowly drawn. It fails to provide a comprehensive strategy for all forms of waste, because its prime aim is to save the Government money.

We have here a Bill whose scope is narrow, whose vision is extremely small-minded and whose provisions are inadequate. I have always believed that legislation is best formulated when it is a vehicle that is used to drive forward a long-term, holistic and sustainable vision. Bad legislation is nearly always reactive, singular and isolated, and a panic-stricken reaction to a European

28 Oct 2003 : Column 192

demand. That is what we have here. Although I support the Bill's overall environmental objectives, it is still a legislative response, rather than a driver designed to send out policy signals to local government and industry for the purposes of long-term security and investment.

Legislation about the environment should be driven by the overriding objective of carbon emission reduction, and the development of a market that rewards sustainable consumption of primary resources and recycled materials. We need a Bill that encourages environmentally sensitive forms of product design and that frowns on unnecessary waste, but the present Bill does none of that.

I asked the Minister whether he believes that there is an adequate system of dispute resolution, and I have to tell him that he has not answered that question adequately. I realise that the issue applies to provisions that we shall debate later, but one of my main concerns is where long-term contracts have been entered into by one authority—for an incineration plant, for instance—and another authority wants to reduce the amount going for incineration and has a better, more environmentally sensible proposal, which is in greater accord with the waste hierarchy. If that authority tried to implement that plan, it could be penalised for the losses of the other authority. There is a potentially profound dislocation between the two authorities and unless an appeal procedure that permits a Minister to make a judgment is in place, the Bill may cause as many problems as it solves.

Another concern is that the Bill is so narrowly drawn that it does not allow all the other interested parties to share in its implementation. Much household waste is produced in supermarkets—we all know that—yet there is no incentive for local authorities to involve supermarkets and other producers of waste packaging in the process. There is an incentive not to send material to landfill, which is good, but there is an almost equal incentive to send it to the next cheapest option of incineration. We shall deal more fully with incineration in a later group of amendments, but unless the Minister can demonstrate that the Bill will fulfil the Government's objectives on waste hierarchy, it will amount to a lost opportunity.

Mr. Morley: I shall attempt to deal with some of the points that have been raised.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) asked what was meant by the term "statements", and the answer is statements of policy. Those amount to guidance to the authorities and joint committees that determine the strategy. It is guidance by its very nature, because we are trying to avoid a too rigid or straitjacket approach in respect of what can and cannot be done. We want to give local authorities some flexibility. There may well be different solutions in different areas, and local authorities are probably best placed to determine what they should be. Where there are two-tier collection agencies, we want a joint strategy so that agreement can be reached. Hon. Members have referred to problems that might potentially arise in that regard, and I shall attempt to deal with those.

On the subject of scrutiny and whether there should be positive or negative resolution, I want to make it clear that the procedure that I outlined earlier was correct.

28 Oct 2003 : Column 193

However, these new clauses have, of course, just been tabled, so they will have to go through that scrutiny. The Lords Committee will have an opportunity to scrutinise the provisions and a supplementary memorandum will be prepared to deal with the question of these powers and other matters raised during this stage of the Bill. The process will be put in place as I have outlined.

Mr. Wiggin: Before the Minister moves on from his point about flexibility, will he clarify for the record whether the same flexibility will apply to authorities that are being fined? There are good and excellent authorities, but we also need to take account of the ones that begin to fail. When a fine begins to be apportioned, will it be the authority that decides on the most appropriate way of dividing the fine, or will there be a more rigid process? There could be a significant danger here and I would appreciate the Minister's guidance.

Mr. Morley: The fines in the Bill apply to the disposal authority. I understand the difficulties that hon. Members have mentioned, but in the end it is necessary to have a line of accountability. I have some sympathy with the argument that a disposal authority could find itself in trouble because of the failures of a collection authority, but taking responsibility away from the disposal authority also means removing some of the incentives and controls. There are pros and cons to the issue, but I believe that it is right to concentrate on the disposal authority.

Norman Baker: Before the Minister moves on from that point, will he consider the mechanism that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) and I suggested—an appeal to a Minister in extreme circumstances where the two authorities cannot agree?

Mr. Morley: I was going to deal with that point later, because it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed). I do not want to have to go over the issue in my hand-written notes again. Ministers are sometimes asked to intervene on a range of issues, and we debated that matter in the Committee considering the Water Bill, on which several Members present served. The formal process is appeal to the Secretary of State, but, in reality, the Secretary of State sets up a mechanism for dealing with the appeal. In the case of major disagreement between the collection authority and the disposal authority—we are talking extremes here—the collection authority could refuse the direction from the disposal authority. That would mean going to court for the matter to be resolved. If the collection authority believed that it had a genuine case, it could put its case through the legal process. Due process exists for those extreme circumstances.

Norman Baker: With respect to the Minister, that is no solution at all. The waste disposal authority would simply point to legislation saying that it had the right to issue a direction—end of case.

Mr. Morley: No, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the legislation. He has completely disrupted my nice linear flow as I have to jump around from note to note. If I am completely confused by the end, he will understand why.

28 Oct 2003 : Column 194

Hon. Members' main concern in respect of clause 31 seems to be a dispute over incineration. That is the most frequently mentioned example. The hon. Member for Lewes mentioned the specific example of a collection authority that believed that it had better solutions for waste minimisation—the object of the Bill—than incineration. However, clause 31 does not give the waste disposal authority powers of direction for incineration. Directions can relate only to legal obligations on the waste disposal authority and there are none specifically for incineration. The waste disposal authority therefore has to consult the waste collection authority before it issues a direction, and the waste disposal authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

That brings us back to the waste hierarchy and the fact that waste minimisation, re-use and recycling are at the top of the hierarchy. Those are the Secretary of State's directions and I do not go along with the argument that the Bill necessarily gives an impetus to incineration. I simply do not accept that, because in no way does it cut across the policy framework. The authorities must work within the hierarchy of disposal and take into account the various regulations.

2.30 pm

With respect to the hon. Member for Lewes, who does not normally duck the question, I did ask him whether he was arguing that incineration could not be used in any circumstances. [Interruption.] No. The hon. Gentleman said that he accepted incineration for clinical waste, but that is a bit of a cop-out, because clinical waste must be incinerated. However, in every area there will be an element of waste that is not biodegradable, so the choice for that waste residue will be landfill or incineration. In some circumstances, it may be decided that incineration—particularly where there is heat recovery, energy recovery or combined heat and power—may be the best option. That is for local authorities, through their joint strategies, to decide. I should like to know whether Liberal Democrat Members believe that we should never have that facility in any circumstances.

Next Section

IndexHome Page