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6.12 pm

Mr. Wiggin: I associate myself with the Minister's remarks on the work of the Committee and extend my thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and, of course, for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who led us in Committee. The Minister made some important points, especially on how we found ourselves in agreement on much of the Bill. He has been extremely agreeable and it is always a pleasure to debate such important issues with him.

I do not oppose the Bill's content, but its potential impact on the whole waste policy is a huge wasted opportunity. It does not provide a strategy for all types of waste, which is what the UK really needs. The Government have failed to piece the waste issue together despite their move to commit us to numerous EU waste-related directives. We are fast on our way to missing all our immediate waste targets. We are supposed to reduce landfill to 75 per cent. of the 1995 levels by 2010, but last year approximately 91 per cent. of our waste still went to landfill. The target to recycle 25 per cent. of municipal solid waste by 2005 will not only cause us embarrassment but is likely to cost us more than £180 million a year in fines.

The Bill is a step in the right direction to compliance with the landfill directive, but it does not begin to address how we can deliver on the waste electrical and electronic equipment, end-of-life vehicles, and packaging waste directives, not to mention the encroaching hazardous waste disaster.

The fundamental flaw in the Bill is its narrow, inadequate scope. I think that the Minister recognises that; he touched on it in his comments. There is no connection between all waste legislation, so the Bill is an inadequate response to all the EU directives that influence different waste streams. Our priority should be the minimisation of waste as well as its final disposal.

In a letter to me dated 29 April, the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) wrote:

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The amount of waste produced is growing, which, combined with the fact that the amount sent to landfill is massively more than the amount allowed, makes the reality of fulfilling the landfill directive a mere dream.

Rather than aiding local authorities in minimising their waste at source, the Bill will penalise them in their disposal. Again, a broader context to waste management and landfilling is needed to come to terms with the complexity of waste policy. The Bill's penalty system will not encourage best environmental practice, but may instead drive local authorities to concentrate on avoiding fines for breaches.

There is no freedom in the Bill for local authorities to offer households incentives to recycle more and to minimise waste in the first place, and that is a great shame. Exactly the opposite will happen: a system of penalties will prevent local authorities from concentrating on diverting waste from landfill to recycling, as they will have to meet statutory targets in non-target years. Incentives work better, and the Bill neither encourages nor allows for best environmental practice.

Any money from fines or landfill tax must go straight back to local authorities to finance recycling schemes instead of lining the Chancellor's pocket. Waste disposal authorities need all the assistance they can get. If the Government insist on waste disposal authorities achieving set targets, even in non-target years, they need capital to afford the required waste management infrastructure. Available funding for local authorities and the necessary expenditure for compliance with waste objectives is unbalanced. The Government must recognise in legislation that the current funding is inadequate.

Another point of contention is that although there is no attempt in the Bill to deal with the energy from waste, fly tipping or planning procedures, it will inevitably have a knock-on effect on all those issues. Ignoring them by exclusion will not mean that they disappear. We must come to a point in the very near future when the Government have to deal with all waste legislation in a comprehensive way; we have not seen that in the Bill.

Incineration is undoubtedly unpopular with local people, but is not the reality that it offers the only way for local authorities to meet their stringent targets on time? The Government cannot have it both ways—setting such targets with penalties but not giving any support or assistance to the local authorities that have to achieve them. Sweden and the Netherlands are examples of countries with large-scale incineration policies, yet both have a serious commitment to the environment. They use only incinerators that recover energy from waste. The Minister knows how strongly I feel about that. A decision in legislation must be made on incineration soon, and I suggest that we take into account the experience and lessons of other European countries with far better waste management track records than our own rather dismal one.

The Bill fails to consider landfill, recycling and incineration together. Fly tipping should possibly be made a criminal offence, as I suggested to the Minister in Committee. That matter is important, and we need not only to deal with the fly tipper but to introduce a

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duty of ownership of fly-tipped waste. There would then be a duty on people to behave responsibly in dealing with their waste.

Why does the Bill deal only with biodegradable waste allowances when such waste makes up only 7 per cent. of the total? What about hazardous waste? When will the Government get round to dealing with the end of co-disposal of hazardous waste, which is supposed to happen by 16 July 2004—in nine months? I shall not mention the failure to transpose the new EU hazardous waste list into national legislation. That, along with the WEEE, end-of-life vehicles and packaging waste directives, will add to the duties of local authorities. The Bill does not, in its landfill targets, account for the further costs, rules and penalties that will result from those. Consequently, the assessed regulatory impact is an underestimate.

Mention of the impact of removing the very high temperature necessary to kill pathogens in composted food was also removed from the Bill, and if another foot and mouth crisis is to be avoided, the Government must realise that they have created a serious risk of food waste harbouring disease being spread on our fields as compost. I hope that if there is any further evidence that suggests that such waste carries a risk, the Government will review that gamble very carefully.

The implications of the borrowing and banking of landfill allowances in clause 6 are also a concern as they may act as a disincentive for local authorities to make the immediate decisions and improvements necessary. That will reduce the inclination to trade. A longer-term vision is necessary, and a realistic assessment of the cost of implementing the Bill is essential.

We are concerned about what is omitted from the Bill. The landfill directive is treated in isolation, and other waste management directives and problems are ignored. The chance to provide the best overall waste management policy in the Bill has been lost, leaving waste management as vulnerable, uncertain and unconnected as it was before. Thanks to the Government's piecemeal approach to EU legislation and targets, the Bill is a potential environmental, legal and financial catastrophe.

6.20 pm

Norman Baker: I am not quite as downbeat as the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), although I do not disagree with the thrust of his comments. It was interesting to see how much common ground there was between Conservative, Liberal Democrat and, indeed, Labour Members in Committee, although they voted different ways on amendments and new clauses.

I thank the Minister for his conciliatory, helpful and courteous summary, a welcome approach that he nearly always takes. I thank his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who tried to engage with serious issues in the Bill. It struck me that he always wanted to go slightly further than the civil servants wanted, which may be one reason why he is no longer in a ministerial position. I thank the plethora of Conservative spokesmen who have shared Opposition responsibilities with me, including the hon. Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr.

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Sayeed). There may have been one or two others, but we certainly got through a few during our proceedings. I thank other Committee members who made the Bill worth while and approached our discussions in a serious but friendly way.

I will not claim that the Bill is much improved, but it has been helpfully tweaked at the end of its progress. It still has a big fault, which I shall not labour, as it has been referred to by other Members today. It deals with only one strand of the waste hierarchy, and was introduced for no purpose other than to fulfil an EU directive on the implementation of the landfill directive. Another of the Bill's failures concerns the fact that is not possible to change one bit of the hierarchy without considering the effect on the rest of the hierarchy. It gets landfill provisions right in line with the EU directive but goes wrong by failing to ask what will happen to waste that is not landfilled, and whether we should try to encourage particular schemes. The Bill does not discourage incineration, which is now officially a disposal technique. Unfortunately, for reasons that have been given today, it encourages it.

To return to comments that I made on Second Reading, we shall not oppose the Bill. In fact, we welcome it as far as it goes. It is innovative and right to use financial instruments to achieve environmental ends. The Liberal Democrats are keen on that, and we want to see more of it. The scheme created by the Bill is innovative—let us be honest about that—and the environment will be marginally better as a consequence. We shall therefore support the Bill as we did on Second Reading. However, our criticism is the same as criticism levelled at the Water Bill—as the hon. Member for Leominster rightly said, it is not what is in the Bill but what is not that is of concern to Members. It has been argued that we cannot discuss the Water Bill without looking in parallel at the water framework directive. Similarly, it could be argued that we cannot discuss the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill without considering, in parallel, effects on all parts of the hierarchy. I am afraid that the Government have not undertaken such a consideration.

The Minister said that the environment remains a high priority for DEFRA, and I believe that. However, in the period of just over a year in which I have been an environment spokesman, there has not been a single oral statement by the Secretary of State on an environmental issue. There has been one on hunting, but not on environmental issues. The Minister may therefore need to think about DEFRA's priorities. He does not need to convince Opposition Members of the need to take action but his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury. My honest judgment, as I have told the Secretary of State, is that DEFRA's instincts are, by and large, right, and it tries to do the right thing. However, it is a small player compared with the DTI and the Treasury, which will not play ball. I am keen not to attack DEFRA, which I genuinely want to help, but the Minister must punch above his weight when dealing with some of his colleagues in the DTI.

Earlier, I discussed printer cartridges in relation to the WEEE directive. All the evidence that I am getting from all sides of industry and elsewhere, and from my contacts in the European Union, suggests that DEFRA is making the right noises, the DTI is making the wrong noises, and the DTI is going to win. That is one small

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example. The Minister must make sure that DEFRA starts winning some of the battles in which the environment should come first, and he must put the DTI and the Treasury in their place, if he can do that, to some extent at least. I say that to the Minister in all sincerity; I want to see him and his colleagues in DEFRA doing it.

There are a number of omissions from the Bill, but I will not run through them. The hon. Member for Leominster touched on those. Fly tipping is a serious issue and I am not convinced that the Government have got hold of it. The Minister will recall that in Committee we tabled a new clause to deal with that, which the Government did not accept. However, the Home Secretary is to introduce some proposals to deal with part of the problem, and there have been improvements in the sentencing guidelines. I hope that will help. As the Minister knows, 600,000 tonnes of material was fly-tipped in the country in the last year for which figures were given in a parliamentary answer to me, so fly tipping is a big issue.

I hope that the Minister will—I think that he will—take away the comments made not just on Report and Third Reading, but in Committee. Even if the Government do not want to accept amendments from the Opposition, it is important that they understand why they were tabled and try to find ways of ensuring that the Government's own waste hierarchy is delivered. That is what we all want. We want the Government to succeed with their waste hierarchy. The amendments that we tabled, and those of the Conservatives too, I think, have been designed to achieve just that. They were not wrecking amendments, but supporting amendments.

I thank the Minister for his summing-up. I hope that he will take these comments on board, that the measures that the Government have implemented will bring about the waste hierarchy that he wants, and that he will consider further measures, hopefully in a holistic way.

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