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Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Would those targets not be much easier to meet if the Government expressed the targets for local authorities in the same percentage terms, rather than in terms of weight? Authorities often go for the heaviest product, rather than that which is most valuably recycled.
Gregory Barker: My right hon. Friend is spot on. I would expect nothing less from him. Volume is also an important consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire mentioned in Committee that
Mr. Gummer: Is not it amazing that a Minister should consider it a bright new idea when it has been pressed on the Government for their entire period in office? It is simply a sensible idea that any sane person would implement.
The Government have set targets that are not especially ambitious. It is therefore troubling that it appears that those relatively unambitious targets will not be met. The Environmental Audit Committee stated in its most recent report that the UK "will not come close" to meeting any national targets for recycling. In its view, the targets for 2010 and 2015 will be missed by a "wide margin". Since that report was published, my colleagues on that Committee have seen little to change our minds. The Minister's fine words in the debate, encouraging though they are, are not matched by anything that could be described as a credible strategy backed with resources.
My greatest anxiety about the Bill is that it pushes waste from landfill to incineration. The Minister said that he does not believe that he is promoting incineration, but such an even-handed policy is not enough. Market intervention is needed to promote recycling and level the playing field because the renewables obligation and other tax breaks make incineration a more attractive commercial option than recycling. Unless we tackle that with market mechanisms to jump-start the recycling industry, we shall simply pour more rubbish into incinerators. The Minister may be equivocal about that, but I believe that it is a bad thing. There is no greater disincentive for local communities than knowing that they are doing their bit to recycle, compost and minimise while their local authorities are signing long-term contracts for huge new burners. The number of planning applications for new burners is disturbing.
It is not good enough for the Minister to say that he is open minded about fiscal incentives to redress the economic imbalance in the waste hierarchy. He needs to hold urgent talks with his Treasury colleagues and present a genuinely environmental solution that is not simply a back-door stealth tax to raise money for the
We urgently need the Minister to confer with his colleagues, because the Bill is not a response to a blank sheet of paper. Communities are already saddled with contracts and more are being prepared as we speak. That requires urgent action. If we are to make the progress that the public ask of us, we must deal with the whole subject and not simply cherry-pick the easy bits and leave the more difficult options for another day.
Today, we can support only the Bill, not items that it does not contain. It constitutes a wasted opportunity that speaks of a Government who have run out of ambition and ideas. We know that Governments who run out of those qualities are ultimately overtaken by events.
A few events have overtaken the House tonight. The competition outside the Chamber might explain why attendance has been a little thin. [Interruption.] I must admit that that applies to all partieswe are competing with other entertainment.
The entertainment does not detract from the fact that a range of sensible points has been made in the debate, and I do not accept that the Bill constitutes a wasted opportunity. It is important that the issues have been addressed in this way.
I would like to reply specifically to some of the points that have been raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), but first I shall deal with the concerns about incineration raised by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). I quite understand that if there is an application for an incinerator and a landfill site in his constituency, his constituents are bound to be concerned. As we have already discussed, incineration and landfill are not exactly popular measures. They are the kind of provisions that everyone understands we must have, but that everyone wants in some other place. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the way to reduce this problem is to concentrate on the waste hierarchy, on minimisation and on re-use and recycling. He is wrong, however, to say that there are no financial instruments in place to encourage that. The way in which we have re-allocated landfill tax credits through the waste minimisation fund is among a range of measures that have brought about changes in relation to the minimisation of waste. We hope to see further progress in that direction.
Mr. Gummer : Could not the Minister have done much more had the Chancellor not made sure that increases in the landfill tax did not count towards the Minister's environmental aims? Will he have a word with the Chancellor about stealing this money from the environment to pay for other things?
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire asked about fines. Subject to developing an acceptable system for applying this, the Government will recycle back to local authorities any civil penalties that are incurred as a result of a failure to meet the targets set in the Bill. There will, therefore, be a recycling of money. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) made a constructive speech, and I take the points that he made. We need to take a holistic approach to all these issues. I understand his point about printer cartridges, an issue that has come up a few times. One of the problems involved in applying the WEEE directive to printer cartridges is that they are not classified as electrical equipment. There might, however, be other ways of dealing with the issue in terms of European directives. Discussions are under way, and I am not unsympathetic to his point. If we can make some progress on this, I would be only too happy to do so.
I was a bit disappointed by the contribution from the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), who has been a diligent member of the Committee and Opposition spokesperson, along with the hon. Member for Lewes. He has generally been constructive and approached the issues in a useful way. I have to say that I think that the hon. Member for Lewes was a little evasive on the incineration issue, but we will not go too far down that road now, as we are in constructive mode at the moment.
I say sincerely to hon. Members who talk about wrapping everything up into one Bill that I genuinely understand the logic in what they are saying, but there are serious practical issues that I would ask them to consider. Much as I enjoyed my discussions with Opposition Members in Committee, their proposal to wrap up in one Bill the various packaging directives, the landfill measures that we are dealing with here, and all the other work streams that I have emphasised are in progress would produce a Bill that would put the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" in the shade and would lock us up in Committee together for the next two years. Much as I enjoyed our discussion, there is a limit, and there is also the practical issue of how to scrutinise particular issues. We have approached the various directives in different ways at different times, so that they gain the proper scrutiny that they deserve.