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Standing Committee B
Thursday 3 April 2003
[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]
The Chairman: I shall start with some housekeeping rules. Although it may not be necessary, I remind hon. Members that the morning sittings start at 8.55 am, and finish at 11.25 am. The afternoon sittings will start at 2.30 pm and will usually finish at 5 o'clock, although they are open-ended. If anyone has complaints about this large and rather grand Room, please direct them to the attendants. Within reason, if hon. Members want to remove articles of clothing, they are most welcome to do so. Lastly, would those who have mobile phones kindly turn them off.
I call Mr. Meacher to move the programming motion.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I beg to move,
(1) during proceedings on the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords], the Standing Committee, in addition to its first sitting on Thursday 3rd April at 8.55 am, shall meet on that day at 2.30 pm and on Tuesday 8th April and Thursday 10th April at 8.55 am and 2.30 pm;
(2) the Committee shall consider the Bill in the following Order: Clauses 1 to 33; New Clauses relating to Part 1; New Schedules relating to Part 1; Clauses 34 and 35; remaining New Clauses; remaining New Schedules; Clauses 36 to 38; and remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) proceedings in the Committee on the Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 10th April 2003.
Let me explain the programming motion in a little more detail. We shall sit for only three days—today, and Tuesday and Thursday next week. We shall sit twice on each day, but as you said, Mr. Amess, we shall finish no later than 5 pm on Thursday, 10 April, when the Bill will be reported to the House. On each day, we shall start at 8.55 am, and finish at 11.25 am, which is convenient for me, as I have to answer the first question at parliamentary questions at 11.30 this morning; and we shall resume at 2.30 pm.
For the Committee's convenience, we have decided to separate consideration of the Bill into its main parts. We shall first consider all the waste aspects; we shall start with amendments to existing provisions, followed by new clauses and new schedules. Once we have finished discussing waste, we shall go on to emissions trading; again, we shall start with amendments to existing provisions, and then consider new clauses and new schedules. We shall finish with the general provisions on commencement, extent, short title and any remaining proceedings. I hope that that will be convenient for the Committee.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I do not have a great deal to add, Mr. Amess, apart from welcoming you to the Chair and
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saying how delighted we are to be serving under your benevolent leadership.
It is a great pleasure for me to lead for the Opposition. The Minister has an enormous reputation in this field and is widely respected, throughout the House and outside, for his knowledge of these matters. Indeed, as I look around the Room, I see that I am surrounded by expertise. I am impressed, not to say beguiled, by it; but I shall attempt, in my humble way, to match it.
It is appropriate that we give the Bill due consideration, but many of its provisions will receive support from across the Committee. I hope that we can deal with it in a thorough and diligent fashion in the time that has been made available. However, Mr. Amess, I know that you and the Minister both appreciate that if some areas need to be explored further, a certain degree of flexibility in timing will be necessary. Nevertheless, I do not think that this side of the Committee will be the cause of any unnecessary duplication or repetition—although that is a dangerous thing to say at the outset of proceedings on any Bill, as I am sure that all members of the Committee will acknowledge. I therefore support the programming motion. I hope that we can move ahead in a spirit of healthy co-operation, scrutinising the Bill as thoroughly as it deserves.
Norman Baker (Lewes): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Amess, and want to say how pleased I am to have such a colourful and exuberant character overseeing our proceedings. I have little to add, other than that there has been cross-party agreement and a lot of give and take on the programming motion, which we all welcome.
There were originally supposed to be 10 sittings, but our proceedings have been truncated. However, I welcome the fact that the Government said in the Programming Sub-Committee that if we run out of time, they are prepared to return for a further day if necessary.
Question put and agreed to.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution in connection with the Bill, and that copies of the resolutions are available in the Room.
I should also like to remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman, Mr. Win Griffiths, and I—a third Chairman will stand in temporarily this afternoon—do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendments that might be reached in the afternoon sitting of the Committee.
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 29, in
clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out 'must' and insert 'may'.
I am delighted to kick off our proceedings.
At first sight, the amendment might seem to weaken the Bill's provisions fundamentally because part 1 arguably sets the tone for our consideration of the Bill
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as a whole. In fact, the reason for the amendment is the uncertainty—to put it mildly—about the opportunities to exercise the derogation that the provisions make available to the Government.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Does exercising the derogation change the target dates?
The Bill deals with waste. Our record on the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that goes to landfill is lamentable—and among the worst in Europe—although I think that the Minister has said that in Greece the situation is worse, and he might be right. However, we are certainly not near the top of the league table of dealing with waste in an environmentally friendly manner, which is why our targets are stiff. That is acknowledged in all parts of the House, and in debates on the matter the Minister has said that the targets are demanding and challenging.
As we debate whether to put ''may'' instead of ''must'' in subsection (1), the question whether the derogation will be used arises. The matter will be debated again when we come to an amendment on the derogation, but it is important to consider how the Government intend to proceed in respect of the targets. ''Must'' suggests that the Government will not use the power to extend the timetable, whereas ''may'' would perhaps give greater flexibility to do so. That does not suggest in any shape or form that those in the Opposition who care about these matters deeply want to dilute the intent to move ahead. It is vital to make significant progress in dealing with waste, but I wonder whether the targets can be met. Does the Minister wonder the same thing? He has hinted that he is uncertain that the targets can be met, has talked of them as an enormous challenge, and has said how stiff they are. I do not doubt the Minister's resolve to try to meet those targets, but if we do not allow any flexibility or take account of the possible derogation—
Mr. Hayes: No. The point is that the Bill should give the Government extra flexibility. That would open up to the Government a range of options on how to proceed. I accept that we are under obligations, but we should not tie the hands of the country in that respect more than we have to—[Interruption.] I should like to move on; otherwise we shall be here all day.
Mr. Kidney: The last thing that I want to do is to be here all day. However, may I pursue one further point: should there not be compulsion? A trading scheme must have limits; otherwise, it cannot work.
Mr. Hayes: True. However, as the hon. Gentleman has a detailed knowledge of such matters, he will know that trading schemes operate in different ways in different places and he will be familiar with the American model. Investigations have been made into trading schemes, and there have been proposals to allow for varying degrees of flexibility. Suggestions have been made by Labour Members concerning the flexibility of the trading scheme and the way in which targets would be met—he might even have spoken on the matter. It would be wrong to suggest that we are in a straitjacket. It is important that we know that we have targets to meet, and understand the cost of not
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meeting them: the potential fines are some £150 million, which is not small beer.
There is a nobler objective. This is not simply about meeting targets or about the fear of fines; it is about a determination to have an integrated waste strategy that is sufficiently flexible for us to be able to implement it. It is no use aiming at targets that we cannot meet or pretending that we shall achieve things that cannot be achieved. We do need an ambitious plan, a strategy and a vision, but we also need to be flexible about how we meet the targets and realise the vision.
The object of the amendment is to probe the Minister as to how he sees the Government's obligations. I hope that the apparently minor semantic difference between ''may'' and ''must'' does that. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says and, in setting the tone for the debate, I might say that there is no lack of determination on this side of the Committee to do things that are sensible, wise and strategic in order to implement a waste management plan. However, we will accept only targets and objectives that can reasonably be met.