Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

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Gregory Barker: I heard what the Minister said, but the Select Committee on Environmental Audit Committee has just come to the end of its investigation into the Government's waste policy. If it is true that the Government have a strategy, as the Minister says, why did almost every witness that we called, bar the Secretary of State, bemoan the lack of a strategy and the singular lack of political leadership on such a strategy?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman should ask those who formed that judgment. There may have been political considerations, but that is a ridiculous conclusion to draw about the objective and technical assessment of the landscape. We made it clear that we believe in waste minimisation at the top of the hierarchy. This is not necessarily the moment to set out in detail the ways in which we are trying to incentivise it. We are trying to incentivise it, and we are open to any suggestions about how that can be strengthened or indulged further. The cost of

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disposal is likely to be the greatest driver in ensuring that waste minimisation is incentivised. We are incentivising it through the landfill tax and will also incentivise it through the Bill by limiting the amount going to landfill. That does mean that alternatives must be produced and paid for.

The second requirement is to recover, reuse and recycle—to compost. We set three requirements to deliver that strategy. One was to set mandatory recycling targets, which I set in 1998–99, for every local authority to double recycling by 2003–04 and to treble it by 2005–06. I have already outlined to the Committee the money that we provided to enable local authorities to do that, which I believe is adequate. We also required recyclates to be marketed: there is no point in collecting them and sending them off to landfill sites. We set up the Waste and Resources Action Programme with a budget of £40 million to find innovative uses for recycled goods. It is doing quite a good job, of which there are many good examples. At the same time, we are trying to ensure through a range of measures that incineration does not become the next cheapest option to landfill. Again, I shall elaborate on that in the next debate.

I insist that there is a clear strategy. It is not perfect. One can always argue about whether the delivery mechanisms are doing as well as they could in every part of the country. One could say—this is the point of the private Member's Bill currently going through the House—that kerbside recycling is not as universal or effective as it should be. I would agree. However, that practice is expanding fast, and although we are still not where we want to be, there is a strategy.

One cannot honestly, fairly and objectively say that there is no strategy. It was set out in ''Waste Strategy 2000''. Nothing will have as massive an impact as a strategy for the whole country, with its 60 million people. The growth rate for the waste that we are discussing is 3 per cent. a year; 400 million tonnes are wasted—enough to fill the Albert hall every hour. Dealing with that is a massive task, but there is a strategy.

As for political leadership, that is for others to judge, but I believe that there is strong political leadership. If people think that it is not as vigorous as it should be, I would like to know in which respects they think so—[Interruption.] I am not inviting detailed comment on that, but the hon. Member for Lewes has been trying to intervene.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Everyone recognises that he has a hierarchy, to which he adheres in his mind, as we do. At issue is whether the economic instruments and other measures will ensure that the hierarchy is implemented in order. I want to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle. I know that the Minister is committed to, and understands, these issues more than almost anyone else in Government, so I hope that he will not take this personally; it is not intended that way. Why does someone as elevated as the chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathon Porritt, single out the waste policy and transport as

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the two areas in which the Government are failing? Why would he do that if things were hunky-dory?

Mr. Meacher: They are not hunky-dory, for the reasons that I have given. The waste situation is not only not hunky-dory, but is going seriously and fast in the wrong direction. It must be pulled round dramatically, vigorously and forcibly, which is exactly what the waste strategy is designed to do—[Interruption.] I will not be drawn on transport, but everyone knows that that is another extraordinarily difficult issue. No one in government will say that waste and transport policy is currently producing the results that we all want; it is not.

My responsibility is waste, not transport, and I am arguing that we are putting in place measures that will deliver on that. There are delivery mechanisms apart from the higher level targets. Reference has been made to the packaging waste directive and the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive. There are also the end of life vehicles directive and the batteries directive. Much of that is Brussels-driven. I am trying to take firm action on junk mail, which outrages me. Other delivery measures are necessary, and we are contemplating them.

I insist that, although the problem is bad and getting worse, as we bring to bear those forces—I am almost tempted to refer to the overwhelming firepower that we have been hearing about in recent weeks—we will begin to batten the defences and to overcome.

Mr. Hayes: I think that the Minister is being slightly over-sensitive, certainly about my criticisms. I do doubt neither that there is determination, nor his personal knowledge of, and commitment to, the subject. I do not even doubt that a strategy may be in place. ''Waste Not, Want Not'' is a good document from the strategy unit. There is also the Government's ''Waste Strategy 2000'', and a number of other legislative measures have been adopted.

My anxiety is to ensure that those measures knit together consistently, and that that is well known and understood. My particular anxiety about the Bill is that there are not sufficient hooks—sufficient points of contact between it and the other matters to which the amendments refer—to broadcast such a message to the wider public. That may be why Mr. Porritt and others are critical of the strategy. Perhaps the Minister does not sell it well enough. Our job is to ensure that the Bill makes the necessary links and suggests an interlocking programme of measures of the type that he assures us are in place.

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there should be interlocking measures and engagement between the various levers and mechanisms to ensure that the whole machine works in a compatible and effective manner. The only difference between us is that I do not believe that one has to do that all in one Bill. Indeed, it is inappropriate to do so if those measures are set down in other legislative mechanisms, such as EU directives.

The hon. Member for Lewes thought that he had scored the winning point when he said that clause 17(1) begins:

    ''The Secretary of State must have a strategy''.

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However, he did not go on to quote the rest of the sentence, which adds

    ''for reducing—

    (a) the amount of biodegradable waste . . . and

    (b) the amount of biodegradable waste from outside England that goes to landfills in England.''

It is not the Bill's purpose to have a strategy that is composite and comprehensive over all waste matters; it has one specific purpose. That is what it says, and that is what it delivers. As one advances a strategy, one does not extract all its ingredients from previous legislation and put it all in one Bill, unless one has a consolidating measure, as the Treasury occasionally does, but which we do not have here.

5 pm

It is 5 o'clock, so I will turn to the amendment. [Hon. Members: ''Carry on.''] I should carry on.

Norman Baker: The Minister misunderstands my point. A waste stream is one unified whole, so it is impossible to say that there is a strategy for one bit of it and to pretend that it will not have consequences elsewhere; it will. There will be consequences for incineration, which I believe will be adverse. There will be consequences for waste minimisation, which I hope will be beneficial. The Minister believes that the strategy can be regarded in isolation, but it cannot.

Mr. Meacher: I am not suggesting that it should be regarded in isolation. Of course it has implications elsewhere. If any hon. Members think that the impact in other areas is inconsistent, weakening or irrelevant or that it does not go in the right direction, of course it is highly relevant and they should point it out.

One should not take just one particular element. I do not believe that my use of the term ''legislative cover'' was a slip of the tongue. It was accurate because we will have the power to deal with the amounts going to landfill, which we did not have. The Bill will give us legislative cover to enforce a steady reduction in the materials going to landfill, in accordance with the EU landfill directive. That is its purpose.

Of course landfill links in with incineration, recycling and waste minimisation, and that is what we are discussing. All I would say is that those links are perfectly consistent and proper. If that is not the case, we should be debating that, rather than the fact that this Bill is not a compendium.

Mr. Hayes: This is a real disagreement. We have reached such a point despite the good will that has permeated the Committee and the high regard that all of the Committee members have, I hope, for the proceedings. One cannot argue that this is legislative cover to deal reactively with something that has originated elsewhere—as the Minister rightly says, we need to fulfil our obligations under the EU directive—while claiming that it is part of an ambitious, proactive strategy with long-term vision.

I hope that it is the latter, and at least that it will not impair the latter, but that it will fit in. I hope that there will be significant signals in the Bill—interlocking points, references and arguments, such as those raised by the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster—which broadcast that fact

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and facilitate the relationship between this legislation and other measures that might form part of that strategy. That is the simple difference between us.

 
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