Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Meacher: Having listened to the hon. Gentleman, I am immensely relieved that the strong, robust relationship that we have formed during the proceedings is not to be shattered, because I agree that we need interlocking points and points of connection between the Bill and the rest of the strategy.

I believe that we have a strategy that is broadly acceptable. Does the Bill in any way undermine that strategy, weaken it or send it off in the wrong direction? If the answer is yes, that is what we should be talking about in the Committee.

Gregory Barker: But does the Minister accept that there is one huge, glaring omission in the Bill? The Bill will not merely add to what has gone before; it will actively displace waste into incineration by introducing fiscal measures that will distort the market and incentivise waste disposal authorities to send waste to incinerators. The Minister has accepted the need for a review, but we see no signs of fiscal measures to redress the balance.

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. I insist point blank that there is nothing in the Bill that incentivises incineration. I hate to impose on your good will, Mr. Amess, because we are about to discuss, no doubt at length, the role of incineration in legislation and how that relates to the Bill. I will give very good reasons for believing that such incentivisation will not happen. There are very powerful levers operating in the other direction, and I will discuss those when we debate the next clause.

Norman Baker: The Minister talks about the hierarchy and the framework, which he says is only an element, rather than the whole, of the strategy. Can he explain why there is no reference to a waste hierarchy in the Bill? In fact, clause 17(3) says that

    ''recycling, composting, biogas production, materials recovery or energy recovery.''

are to be treated equally.

Mr. Meacher: We can debate that part of the Bill, although it is not what we are debating now. I dispute the hon. Gentleman's claim. One does not need to mention the waste hierarchy in every Bill to show that one believes in it. The Government have published their ''Waste Strategy 2000'', and until they publish one that supersedes it, it remains, rightly or wrongly, the Government strategy. It may be open to criticism, but that is the strategy, and we are operating in accordance with it.

I shall try to make some rapid progress on amendments Nos. 54, 55 and 56, which are consequential to amendment No. 57, which is rather more substantial. Amendment No. 57 would require the strategy to reduce, by 2010, waste arisings from households from 2002 levels, and that is a very important driver. The amendment seeks to provide every household with a separate collection of dry recyclables and either a home composter or a separate

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collection of biodegradable waste. The hon. Member for Guildford waxed eloquent on all of those.

I agree that those are important issues. However, we are already looking at ways in which we can achieve waste minimisation, which is central to reducing the growth in waste. The strategy unit recommended a package of measures to reduce waste, with a target of cutting waste growth from 3 per cent. to 2 per cent. That might seem modest, and I think that it is, but if we can achieve that we will start, for the first time, to go in the other direction. Waste growth has to come down to nought and to minus 1 or minus 2, but we are a long, long way from achieving that. Let us first get from 3 per cent. to 2 per cent. We will be looking at that extremely seriously.

Norman Baker: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Meacher: Yes, but I hope to get through this before 6 o'clock.

Norman Baker: Honestly, to say that we are going to reduce growth from 3 per cent. to 2 per cent. is an admission of failure before we even start. That is like the Government's road traffic reduction targets, which are not about reducing traffic at all but about reducing the growth in traffic. The Minister is saying that growth will continue, whereas we must do something to get into minus figures. I hope that the Minister will not accept the plus figure as a halfway house.

Mr. Meacher: I am the first to say that it is a modest target. However, the occupational hazard of activists like the hon. Gentleman, and I respect his enthusiasm and commitment, is that they set very stretching but unrealistic targets. We do not achieve them, and everyone loses heart and thinks that nothing can be done. It is important to set more difficult but relatively modest targets, and then we can cut them further. It would be easy to say that we were aiming for minus 1 per cent. by 2006—that is the sort of easy target that some indulge in—but I would much prefer a more modest target. Even so, it will not be easy to achieve 2 per cent.

Mr. Hayes: I want to wrap the matter up as much as the Minister does, but although he is right about targets, we have to be cautious. Targets should be ambitious but achievable. The Minister needs to be picked up once more on the relationship between the Bill and other legislation. The point is not legitimisation and perhaps not even an incentive—I may even disagree with my hon. Friends about that—but a possible by-product of the Bill is that it would certainly encourage incineration. That will have an impact on waste hierarchy, because people will have nowhere else to go, unless we simultaneously press for reuse, recovery and recycling, as suggested in the amendments. The point about the amendment is that it would give local authorities another method apart from incineration. The Minister must surely agree.

Mr. Meacher: Of course I do; I am absolutely and totally at one with the hon. Gentleman. I have done everything possible to set ambitious but achievable targets for recycling. I shall not make a political point—perhaps I will—by saying that we inherited a recycling figure of 6 per cent. The figure is now 13 per cent.—[Interruption.] The hon.

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Gentleman is too sensitive. We aim to get to 17 per cent. nationally in 2003–04, and to 25 per cent. by 2005–06—those are really stretching targets, and we have provided the money to strive for them. They are powerful drivers.

I do not want to get involved in a debate on incineration, but one of the guidelines that I laid down in September 2000 was that there should be no approval for proposals for incineration plants that pre-empted or discouraged the maximum performance of recycling. There may be cases in which incineration could be the best practical environmental option, and we shall come to that later. However, I am determined to drive the optimal, if not maximum, increase in recovery, reuse, recycling and composting, in addition to waste minimisation. That is the heart of the strategy.

We discussed in another context provisions similar to the other two subsections. I agree that it is important to give as many householders as possible the opportunity to participate in recycling. That secures good participation rates, especially for those who do not have access to a car or who are elderly or disabled. It also secures a clean and regular source of recyclate for the market. However, we want to look at these issues in the round.

In some areas, collection will not be appropriate to the housing type, and dense ''bring'' sites would be better. Which recyclate should be collected—dry or compostable—depends on what market can be secured for the product. I hope that that is agreed. We are requiring output, in terms of reduction in landfill, and in recycling and composting targets, rather than process, in terms of collection. We agree that that will mean a substantial roll-out of doorstep collection, but that is not an aim in itself. We shall return to that subject in a private Member's Bill. The hon. Member for Lewes should allow the Government the opportunity to pursue what I said on Second Reading rather than threatening me with the possible consequences.

Amendment No. 58 would add ''waste minimisation'' and ''reuse of waste products'' to the list of measures to be included in a landfill strategy. The amendment is unnecessary because the national waste strategy is already required to set out policies to encourage the reduction or prevention of waste production. That is the key point; it is already there and we are committed to it. If we fail to deliver, we can be held to account because we have given a very public commitment. The landfill strategy then deals with how to divert waste from landfill once it has arisen.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Leominster seeks to achieve, but the outputs are already covered in ''Waste Strategy 2000''. The White Paper, like Banquo's ghost, hovers over us all even if it receives little mention. I hear what hon. Members have said. I say, not plaintively, but vigorously and robustly, that I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn on the basis of the reassurances that I have given.

Mr. Wiggin: Absolutely not.

Mr. Meacher: I am surprised.

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5.15 pm

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister should not be surprised because, apart from himself and the Government Whip, none of the Committee members is a member of the Government. Every time that he tells us that the Government have a strategy, we are supposed to take his word for it. Quite honestly, we would not have a Committee stage and there would be no need for Members of Parliament, such as myself and my hon. Friends, if all we needed to do was to take the Government's word for it.

The amendments are reasonable and uncontentious. They do not undermine the spirit of the Bill and do nothing more than add a few very small but important steps to help the Government achieve their target. I am disappointed that the Minister took such a ''heli view'' of what is required. He did not need to be so holistic. Had he wished to, he could have taken a more detailed approach and picked to pieces the details in the amendments. He failed to address amendment No. 58, which covers waste minimisation and reuse of waste products. Such a critical acknowledgement of the waste hierarchy would have been welcome and would have set out the real way to achieve the targets that we all want to see achieved.

The amendments, for which Friends of the Earth deserves a great deal of credit, would have been exceptionally helpful, not only to the Bill and to people who agree about what the Bill stands for, but in reducing the amount of biodegradable municipal waste. We have moved one rung up the ladder by attempting to deal with landfill, but we should be aiming for the top of the ladder. The fact that eight out of 10 people would like to see a great deal more recycling makes it incumbent on all of us to support small but important steps. That is what the people want and we, who are not members of the Government, have the opportunity to bring about a positive step. I hope that hon. Members from all parties will support the amendments. They could be proud of doing so because they do not have to take the Government's word for it that the strategy will be sufficient. The Government strategy may need to be amended at a later date, but we will not have missed our opportunity here today.

I hope that Labour Members will support the amendment. There is no reason why the Minister could not continue with his strategy if the amendment were included in the Bill. It does not undermine his position in any way, and unless there is some secret code of ministerial machismo, which makes it impossible for him to accept at least one amendment—[Interruption.] Yes, I know that the Minister does not appear to be macho, but he could strut his stuff at a later date, suggesting that he did not give in on a single amendment to the Bill. If he is to give in, however, now is the time to do it. That is why I urge him not to oppose the amendment. [Interruption.] He may well be in the minority, and I hope that he will be when I press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

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The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 4]

AYES
Baker, Norman Barker, Gregory Doughty, Sue Hayes, Mr. John
Robertson, Hugh Sayeed, Mr. Jonathan Wiggin, Mr. Bill

NOES
Ainger, Mr. Nick Dobbin, Jim Havard, Mr. Dai Kidney, Mr. David Meacher, Mr. Michael
Thomas, Gareth Tipping, Paddy Whitehead, Dr. Alan Wright, Mr. Anthony D.

Question accordingly negatived.

 
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