Previous SectionIndexHome Page

6.26 pm

Mr. Sayeed: I would call this a two-cheers Bill—one cheer for the fact that it is right in principle, and another cheer because it goes some way in the direction in which we all want to proceed, but it lacks the third cheer because it is rather incoherent. It does not link up with all the other levers of action that are essential if we are to enhance the environmental protection of our country and start dealing with waste as it should be dealt with.

The real problem is that the Bill is far too narrowly drawn. It does not provide a comprehensive strategy for all forms of waste. I know the Minister said that he intends to introduce legislation later to do that. I regret that, during the exhaustive consideration in Committee, the Government seemed incapable of understanding that a single portfolio Bill would send out signals to local authorities that were much more coherent, much easier to follow and far more powerful. I hope that we can all agree that legislation is at its best when it is formulated as a vehicle to drive forward a vision that is long term, holistic and sustainable. The Bill gets only two cheers because it is a singular, isolated and panic-stricken reaction to a European demand that the UK is unlikely to meet.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Does my hon. Friend agree that one omission from the Bill is that it does not

28 Oct 2003 : Column 267

deal with developing uses for recycled materials? Would it not be easier for local authorities to encourage people to recycle more if they knew what would be done with the material and could see that there was some point to recycling—that there was an end-product? The markets need to be developed.

Mr. Sayeed: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is one of the points that I made on Report, which is why I think it is such an excellent one.

The Bill could have, first, established a system for collecting waste that makes it easier and cheaper to recycle, but it does not. Secondly, the Bill could have included incentives to assist those who use recyclates. There could have been tax incentives or demands that certain products contain a specific percentage of recyclates. The Bill does not contain any such incentives. It makes demands of local authorities and imposes penalties on them, but it does not give them the means to undertake all the expensive work that will be necessary. It also fails to encourage local authorities to take the most environmentally friendly option.

I am sure that the Minister will have read the record of what occurred in Committee, where I proposed that money that the Government raised through penalties should be hypothecated back to local authorities to enable them to invest in the recycling plants that they would need. The Government ignored that proposal. I also proposed that, instead of going to the Chancellor to assist him in filling part of the £9 billion, £12 billion or £17 billion hole that he and his policies have created, part of the considerable increase in landfill tax should go to local authorities to enable them to do what we want them to do—deal with waste in the most environmentally friendly manner. They also ignored that proposal. That is profoundly regrettable, because we all agree on what we are trying to achieve. We all agree that we produce too much waste, that we do not deal with it properly and that the waste that we produce is poisoning us. The Bill does not give local authorities incentives to deal with the problem, to ensure that we leave behind us a cleaner society and country than we inherited.

The Minister tried to persuade us that the Government have a thoroughly coherent strategy, but he certainly failed to persuade Opposition Members and probably failed to convince some of his colleagues. There is no doubt in my mind that the effect of the Bill—we have exhaustively explored the reasons why—will be more incineration. I suggest that he read the Friends of the Earth briefing about Norfolk having voted for residual waste treatment for 64 per cent. of its waste. Together with the example in Sussex that I cited, that pamphlet demonstrates that local authorities will not be able to deal with their waste except by incineration.

As the Minister believes that the Government are operating in a coherent fashion, perhaps he can assist me. The Government have imposed tens of thousands more houses on Bedfordshire. Bedfordshire intends to build some of them on a brownfield site.

Mr. Morley: Excellent.

Mr. Sayeed: I agree. The houses will be built at a place called Elstow. However, the intention is to locate a

28 Oct 2003 : Column 268

landfill site alongside them. The Minister believes that the Government are coherent, the Government have said that they want all these new houses, and he says that he does not like landfill—and I agree. In that case, can I be assured that, when I come to see the Government and complain about the landfill site that is being established next door to a brand-new development of many thousands of houses, they will say no to that site?

Mr. Morley: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the decision on the landfill site and, indeed, the houses, will be taken by the local planning authority.

Mr. Sayeed: But the Minister knows that a Secretary of State can, if he wishes, take such a decision if it is sent up the system. I trust that the Minister, who tells us that the Government are so coherent, will ensure that we do not have a landfill site that we do not want next to houses that the Government do want. That would be extremely helpful and a genuine example of coherent government.

The Bill does deserve two cheers. Ministers have, on occasion, been helpful—the Minister's remarks at the start of Third Reading were particularly so. He clearly recognises that this extremely narrowly drawn Bill might have been better had it had been drawn rather wider, although I realise that he cannot admit that. I hope that, in the near future, the ends of the strings will be tied together and we will get a series of measures that send the right signals to local authorities in dealing with waste—namely, that they should follow the hierarchy and encourage less waste to be produced, then deal with it in the most effective, environmentally friendly manner, provided that that is commercially sustainable. If the Minister can promise the House that that is the Government's aim and that they will fulfil it in the very near future, I shall be a happy man.

6.37 pm

Gregory Barker : It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), particularly as he made such an important contribution in Committee. I, too, served on the Committee and found its proceedings instructive, good-humoured and valuable. Although, sadly, few of the amendments that we discussed found their way into the Bill, our discourse was extremely worthwhile. There was a fair degree of unanimity on the importance of the subject matter, and we heard some remarkably eloquent speeches. It proved to be the swan song of the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who will be greatly missed following his departure from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Nevertheless, the Bill is a missed opportunity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said, it is welcome as far as it goes, but simply does not go far enough. That stores up real problems for the future. Every month, all over the country, serious decisions are being taken on waste, particularly with regard to incineration. Those decisions cannot be lightly reversed in the future. Often, they result in council tax payers or the local community that is responsible for feeding the incinerators being saddled with long-term contracts of up to 20 years.

I am disappointed that the Government, who, especially in their early years, did a significant amount for the environment, should throw away this

28 Oct 2003 : Column 269

opportunity because they have lost their interest in, or appetite for, the wider environmental agenda. Having made progress early on, they are willing to rest on their laurels.

That has been borne out by my experience on the Environmental Audit Committee. We have a Secretary of State who, when she last appeared before us to discuss this subject, seemed at best complacent and at worst unwilling to address the issue. The one bright spot on the horizon is that since the Committee sat the Government have reconsidered, and have accepted a private Member's Bill piloted through the House by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). It is not to the Government's credit that they fought that Bill to the end, and that only all-party pressure—including pressure from Labour Back Benchers—forced them to accept it, albeit in a much watered-down form. Unfortunately, that Bill plugs just one of the holes that are apparent in the Bill that we are discussing.

This Bill singularly lacks ambition, and a holistic approach to an issue that really does require big thinking. It is ironic that so few of us are in the Chamber tonight, given that waste is an issue guaranteed to fill a village hall or community centre anywhere in the country. Go to a constituency, threaten to put an incinerator there, offer to install a landfill site in an inappropriate place, and you will see the public thronging in. The issue is not obscure, or unrelated to people's everyday lives. In my constituency we are fighting tooth and nail against an incinerator and against an inappropriate landfill site, in order to improve recycling and the waste hierarchy.

I am pleased that the Minister, in his new role, has grasped the importance of the waste priority. I was encouraged by his reference to the need to minimise and to re-use. That, however, is empty rhetoric if it is not matched in the Bill, not just by a strategy, but by a strategy that is properly resourced and backed up—a strategy with real teeth. What we see in the Bill is no more than a wish list. The Bill has no guts: it is not equipped to ensure that we make the improvements that are so desperately needed. England currently recycles 13.5 per cent. of its household waste, which is one of the lowest rates in Europe. The United States recycles 31 per cent., while just across the channel Germany and Austria recycle 48 per cent. The Government have set targets requiring our rate to rise to 25 per cent. by 2005 and 30 per cent. by 2010—and, rather unambitiously, to 33 per cent. by 2015.

Next Section

IndexHome Page