Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Norman Baker: I broadly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the general administrative burden—of the Bill, rather than of the clause. We have a common cause on that. Will he say how much that administrative burden will cost the waste disposal authorities, particularly providing information on the acquisition and disposal of land?

Mr. Sayeed: No; I will not tell the hon. Gentleman because I cannot assess it, and I do not have an army of civil servants to make the calculations. However, I can say that all the way through the Bill, extra duties are being imposed on local authorities and that they have costs. I stress the fact that the local government settlements for rural authorities have been extremely poor. Although they were dressed up to look much better as percentage figures, the extra burdens imposed on those local authorities are, in some cases, less than inflation—let alone the inflation in salaries, national insurance and other such things.

My first question is, where is the money coming from? Secondly, this part of the Bill does not contain adequate recognition of the two-tier system of local government in the management of waste. It is unclear how the waste disposal authority will pass to the waste collection authority the moneys that the collection

Column Number: 082

authority needs to fulfil its duty to provide waste in such a form that the disposal authority can make best use of it. Unless the Minister and the Bill give us a degree of clarity, the Bill is likely to fail in its execution.

Mr. Meacher: I have sympathy with some of the concerns that have been raised. However, let me first express my gratitude to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings for undertaking my role. He saved me the trouble of cross-examining the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), although I shall not intrude too much on private grief.

Obviously, this is an important issue. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire opened it up a little more, and I shall try to respond to his points, too. Central Government give local authorities a significant number of duties, and it is important that authorities have sufficient resources to carry them out when we add to them. I should tell the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings—I am sure that there is a way of rendering the name of his constituency more incisively, although I should probably keep to the proper title—

Mr. Hayes: It is rather elegant.

Mr. Meacher: Yes.

The truth, however, is that the Government have tried to introduce a rule stipulating that local authorities on which we place extra burdens—I do not like that word, so perhaps I should call them functions—should be properly funded. That was not always the case under a previous Administration, but that is what we are trying to do. We are certainly not piling on new regulatory instruments without ensuring that they are properly funded. As I shall make clear, authorities are certainly fully covered in the case of waste.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): It is important to clarify that that is not the experience of countless administrations, including Rother district council in my area. Its leader has said that the new constraints mean zero provision for the cost of setting up a new system. He added that the Minister cannot simply

    ''will the end without willing the means.''

Eastbourne, in East Sussex, is introducing a new recycling system, but council tax has had to go up by 39 per cent. to fund it. The Minister talks about new resources being commensurate with the responsibilities that are being piled on local government, but his comments fly in the face of the reality.

Mr. Meacher: I do not agree with that, and I shall explain why I am convinced that the hon. Gentleman is wrong when the point arises logically in my comments.

The amendment would not be consistent with the way in which money is allocated to authorities. As hon. Members know, that is done through the block environmental, protective and cultural services grant element of the revenue support grant, which is set every three years in the spending review. It would not be consistent to provide funding outside the block grant, as proposed.

Column Number: 083

In any case, the duty to provide information under the Bill—here, I do agree with the hon. Member for Lewes—should not prove terribly onerous. The amendment relates to providing extra information, but the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is hyping it a bit when he says that there will be fairly extensive new burdens. That will not be the case.

The system that the Environment Agency proposes to use in England and Wales to calculate the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill will require WDAs to use only the records that they already keep. For the necessary calculations to be made, WDAs will need to tell the monitoring authority—we will discuss who that is in later clauses—only the quantities of municipal waste arisings and of waste that is diverted through recycling, composting, incineration or mechanical-biological treatment. As most WDAs are already collecting such information, the additional burden will be only one of reporting it to the monitoring authority. That cannot be construed as anything other than a fairly minor extra cost. Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to take a similar approach.

9.45 am

As I said at Second Reading, I am aware that there will be some costs involved, but the Government already provide waste disposal authorities with significant extra resources for waste management to enable them to carry out the duties to which the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) referred. For example, in the last two spending reviews we substantially increased the provision for environmental, protective and cultural services, including waste. Spending review 2000 increased provision in this block by £1.1 billion over three years, and spending review 2002 increased provision by a further £671 million over the three years to 2005–06. Over those five years—the third year of the first review period is the first year of the second review period—the extra sum in this part of the revenue support grant, which is predominately although not entirely about waste, is being increased by slightly more than £1.75 billion. That is a very substantial sum. Expenditure in the three financial years 2005–06 to 2007–08 will be dealt with in spending review 2004, which we have already begun to examine.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred to the Friends of the Earth calculation about separate collection, and that is the subject of a private Member's Bill. Friends of the Earth's calculation—these are its figures; I am not confirming them—is that it could cost £17 per household and up to nearly £400 million for the whole country. Even if those figures are correct, the extra provision more than adequately covers them. I give the same answer to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle. He should ask the leader of the council what extra amount the council received in the spending review periods for EPCS. That is the critical consideration. I would like to know how the amount that his council received compares with the figures that he quoted.

Norman Baker: If the Minister believes that the money from central Government more than covers the

Column Number: 084

duties of local government, why is he opposing the private Member's Bill that is going through the House?

Mr. Meacher: First, I am not opposing it; I said that I was content for it to proceed to Second Reading. There was no Division in the House because there was general agreement on all sides. There were two issues in the Bill that I would have to consider further. One is the 50 per cent. recycling rate; the other is the mandatory waste management strategy. I will return to those when the Committee discusses that Bill. We may reach the latter of those much earlier in this Bill when I make clear the Government's view.

Gregory Barker: I note the Minister's comments, and I will write to him with details of the Rother situation. However, I must say that the experience in the country is that the distribution of the grants is not fair and is not uniform. I am sure that the sum that the Minister quotes is correct, but the deep concern of people in the south-east is that the grants are not being equitably distributed.

Mr. Meacher: The overall distribution of the revenue support grant raises a much wider issue. For years under successive Governments it has become a party political issue because there are allegations that one section of the population is being favoured over another. All Governments firmly, vigorously and, in the case of my Government, correctly, deny that that is the case.

EPCS are important, but local authority waste management has also benefited substantially from the private finance initiative. Two hundred and twenty million pounds of private finance initiative credits was provided for in spending review 2000 for waste projects. That was increased to £355 million in spending review 2002; that is a 60 per cent. increase for the present review period. It is a substantial uplift in the provision of funding for major infrastructure projects.

Mr. Sayeed rose—

Mr. Meacher: I shall give way in a moment, but first I wish to complete the trio of goodies about which I am sure hon. Members will be delighted to hear. We have also provided additional funding, from which many of their local authorities gained, for 2002–03 through the waste minimisation and recycling challenge fund, which was ring-fenced and provided an additional £140 million.

Mr. Sayeed: The figures that the Minister talks about are cash figures. Although I have no doubt that he is quoting them accurately, it would be convenient for the Committee if the Department could at some stage say what the real-term funding is and set that against the extra burdens that have been imposed on local authorities and have those costed as well. It would be interesting to know whether local authorities are worrying their constituent members and others unduly when they complain that the Government have underfunded the burdens that they have imposed. If the Minister is convinced of the rightness of his case, I hope that the Department can produce the figures that back up the real increases, vis-à-vis the extra burdens that have been imposed on local authorities. At a time of local elections no local authority introduces a

Column Number: 085

massive hike in council taxes unless it has to; there must be a reason behind that.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 8 April 2003