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Mr. Morley: On that last point, the hon. Lady made an important, very technical argument. She could have simply asked, "Can biodigestion be part of the process?" That would have been a bit quicker, but she was making a serious point and I shall deal with it in detail in a moment.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 27 would vastly extend the scope of the landfill allowances scheme established by the Bill to include not only biodegradable municipal waste, but municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial waste and construction and demolition waste. Amendment No. 10 would require the Secretary of State to specify the maximum amount of each of the waste streams that can be landfilled in each target year. Amendment No. 27 would place a duty on waste disposal authorities not to landfill more of any of those waste streams than the allowance they hold for that year.
I appreciate the need to tackle the wider issue of sustainable waste management but, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) knows, it is not the purpose of the Bill to go as wide as that. All those wastes are covered by Waste Strategy 2000we will not ignore them, because they are importantand that is the starting point for those streams.
The Bill is designed to provide the United Kingdom with an innovative and workable system that will allow it to meet the reduction targets in the landfill directive. There is a lot of interest in the Bill and in that concept, arising from the Bill. The EU has taken a particular
Each country in the UK has already put in place a comprehensive strategy covering all waste streams. In England, we have Waste Strategy 2000, which has set a target to reduce by 2005 the amount of commercial and industrial waste sent to landfill to 85 per cent. of that landfilled in 1998. The landfill tax has had an impact on commercial and industrial waste. The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 have also had an effect on commercial waste. Those policies are not lying dormant. The Chancellor announced in the Budget that the landfill tax escalator would increase to a minimum of £3 per tonne from 200506, increasing the tax to £35 per tonne no later than 201011. The packaging directive is also under review.
Provisional Environment Agency data, based on returns from licensed landfill sites, suggest that the amount of industrial and commercial waste going to landfill may have decreased by about 8 per cent. between 199899 and 200001. The Environment Agency is carrying out a new survey and we should get the results in 2004. We shall see then which way the trend is going. However, the trend on the commercial side is encouraging.
A large proportion of municipal solid waste is already covered in the Bill because the bulk of that is biodegradable municipal waste. Much municipal solid waste is also household waste, which is targeted through statutory household waste recycling and composting targets for local authorities. Those have been backed up by an increase in funding to local authorities for recycling, both through the block that local authorities getthe environmental protection and cultural services blockand the national waste minimisation and recycling fund. That is another way of encouraging waste minimisation, incidentally.
I have briefly outlined how we are dealing with this part of the Bill. My comments go broader than the provisions of the Bill, but I want to assure the hon. Member for Leominster that these are important issues; we take them seriously and are trying to address them as part of our strategy.
Amendment No. 60 would alter the definition of "biodegradable waste". The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) explained in some detail the definitions involved. The amendment would exclude from that definition waste that has had its biological activity significantly reduced through accelerated decomposition technologies or other non-incineration technologies that the Secretary of State may specify by regulation, and if it is within the limits of biological activity specified by the Secretary of State.
I understand the intention behind this amendment. The hon. Member for Guildford made it clear that she seeks clarification that mechanical and biological treatments are acceptable alternative ways to deal with waste. She has also written to me, and I will make sure
The Department has held a series of roadshows nationwide to brief local authority officials and others. During the roadshows, it was made absolutely clear that mechanical and biological treatment is a perfectly legitimate operation in respect of meeting the requirements of the directive, when it reduces the biodegradable activity in the waste. We must be a little careful in this regard, as operations that merely reduce the water content of the waste but leave the biodegradable activity unaltered would not be legitimate, as that would still result in methane emissions, whether or not the waste was landfilled.
It has also been made clear that when legitimate mechanical and biological treatments have been carried out, the waste disposal authorities should get the benefits of any reduction in biodegradable content of the waste in landfills. That would count in respect of reduction. Although such treatments may not result in zero biodegradable activity, they can make a considerable reduction. The mass balance monitoring system that we intend to implement will be designed to pick up that reduction. The extent of any reduction will be determined on the basis of a research project that will set out the reduction in biodegradable content achieved by each treatment type.
That information will be very useful. If a waste disposal authority can then demonstrate that its residual waste was subject to a particular treatment, it will be credited with the biodegradable content reduction assigned to the treatment. I know that local authorities are very interested in biodigestion, for example, and that one or two schemes are being put in place that would use it on quite a large scale. We think that that is perfectly legitimate in respect of meeting the target. I hope that that reassurance will meet some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Guildford.
Sue Doughty: I am very interested to know how standards will be set. How will the Government determine what has been happening? The Minister told me what I wanted to hear, in the sense that merely removing liquid will not be sufficient. Will a specific body be established to set the necessary standards?
Mr. Morley: The guidelines will be set by DEFRA. As I mentioned, we are setting up a research programme to look at the reduction in biodegradable content achieved by each treatment type. We lack that information at present, and we need to have it. That is why we are setting in hand research to address that matter.
Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. As I noted in my opening remarks, I thought that the Government would be unlikely to accept my amendment, but I think that the Minister has accepted its spirit. He certainly made it clear that the Government are mindful of the importance of reducing the quantity
I am also grateful that the Minister took on board the very serious point made by the House of Lords. If we have achieved nothing more today, then ensuring that there is never another outbreak of foot and mouth disease will represent a genuine service to the nation.
I was also interested in the points made by the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). Just outside my constituency, at Wooferton, there is a plant where it is proposed to carry out biological and mechanical waste disposal of the type that has been mentioned.
Mr. Morley: I hope that I shall not have to detain the House too long, as these amendments are largely technical. I shall deal with them only briefly, but if hon. Members want to question me on the detail, I shall be happy to try to answer.
Amendment No. 38 makes a similar amendment to clause 3 in respect of the requirement to consult the devolved Administrations about the amount of biodegradable municipal waste allowed to be landfilled for the "notional target year" ending on 16 July 2004.
Amendment No. 43 allows a requirement on the allocating authority to consult bodies or persons who may be affected by regulations before making them. As hon. Members know, it is the Government's view that allocating authorities should have the ability to begin their allowance schemes as soon as possible. For that reason, substantial work has already been undertaken with the aim of achieving a 2004 start date. That has involved considerable consultation with the devolved Administrations, local authorities and waste facility operators. The amendments will allow those consultations to "count" in respect of the Bill's provisions.
Amendment No. 37 is merely technical. The remaining Government amendments are also technical and mainly relate to changes in the schemes and the target years. If hon. Members have any questions, I shall be happy to try to answer them.