Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend won more brownie points in that short time than in the rest of the Committee's proceedings. He is right that the ''Best Practicable Environmental Option'', the phrase that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire uses in the amendment, is a means of devising a systematic procedure to emphasise the protection and conservation of the environment across land and water—as explained in amendment No. 76. It should apply to Scotland and Wales, as well as to England. It would be a useful additional catch-all provision, an opportunity for us to say that the Bill is targeted at a range of objectives, but that the Bill's wider impact needs to be tested. This useful summary amendment would allow us to do precisely that.

The procedure would establish a given set of objectives. The option would provide the most benefits for the least damage to the environment as a whole, with an acceptable cost in the long term as well as the short term. It is broad and deep; it would give us an opportunity to measure the overall impact of the Bill across a range of areas and over time. It is a strategic amendment, as suggested in previous discussions. The Opposition believe that it is important that the signals that we transmit should be part of a wider strategy. In that, we are close to the Liberal Democrats—as close as I ever want to be, but they take the same view.

I do not want to labour the point yet again, because, time and again, the Minister returns us to the ''Waste Strategy 2000'' and ''Waste Not, Want Not''. I assure him that we are aware of those documents and that we understand them. We do not argue that the Bill should replace either of them, and certainly not the strategy, but that it should interlock with them.

The Minister underestimates the need to telegraph or signal that message. I am concerned that the Bill

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will be seen as excessively narrow. I hesitate to use the term again, but I will—I do not want the Bill to be seen as legislative cover. It should be seen as something of importance—in itself and in terms of its relationship with the bigger picture and the wider strategy. By allowing a procedure that facilitates a deeper and broader analysis, the amendment would help us achieve that bigger objective. To that end, I am delighted to commend the amendment.

Sue Doughty: I shall speak briefly. As the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said, his party and mine are close on this matter. The ''Best Practicable Environmental Option'' is increasingly being adopted by councillors as a way of looking at their waste strategies. Clause 18 strengthens the tools that are available to them. We spoke earlier about many of the problems with the waste hierarchy, and incineration's place in that hierarchy. There are deep fears that large incinerators will be dotted across the country as a means to solve the problem of biodegradable municipal waste. If one considers the Bill without this clause, some of the strategies will seem more attractive than asking, ''What is the 'Best Practicable Environmental Option'?''

4.15 pm

The Conservative amendment strengthens the proximity principle and the holistic approach to waste management, which is better than saying, ''Shall we send this waste to landfill or to incineration?'' The amendment is useful, as is the fact that the party has picked up on the royal commission's definition of environmental pollution. We are happy to support the amendment. I have not seen where the BPEO definition is included in the English legislation; however, having seen it included for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I may have missed the point at which the hon. Member for South Holland and the Deepings mentioned it. I stand corrected if it has been included elsewhere.

Mr. Wiggin: What a delight it is to be called, Mr. Amess. As the hon. Member for Guildford said, the ''Best Practicable Environmental Option'' will add some weight to the Bill. I add my support for the amendment, although I cannot do so as eloquently as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire would have done had he not had a damaged foot. The amendment would help the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will agree that to introduce these now widely accepted terms would be thoroughly constructive, and it would add tremendously to his gravitas.

Mr. Meacher: I do not wish to encourage the hon. Member for Leominster too much.

The BPEO is defined in amendment No. 76, so I need not repeat it. The definition derives from the 12th report of the royal commission on environmental pollution. It is a published and well recognised tool to aid decision making in areas that will affect our environment.

I strongly agree with the amendment, but there is no need to codify the definition of the BPEO in legislation. That would be disadvantageous, because it is a working definition in the same way as I said that the waste strategy is a working document. The BPEO

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definition is not an authoritative exposition that is set in stone. It can change through experience or due to a change in the state of the natural environment. It is a way to think about issues that could be subject to change. None of that detracts from the definition's value. I understand the intention behind amendments Nos. 73 to 75, which would require the measures for achieving targets mentioned in strategies for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to be in accordance with the BPEO.

The BPEO procedure was the guiding principle in the development of those strategies, and that tool continues to be used to inform their delivery. In England, ''Waste Strategy 2000'' uses the same definition as that used in the amendment. It gives specific advice on how decision makers can identify the BPEO. The Department's guidance for local authorities on municipal waste management strategies specifically mentions the need for what happens locally to be determined on the basis of the BPEO. ''Wise about Waste—National Strategy for Wales'' also uses the definition contained in the amendment, and that document identifies that BPEO methodology should be used in specific circumstances, such as when local authorities are preparing municipal waste management strategies or when local planning authorities are considering planning applications for waste facilities.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have yet to prepare their strategies to comply with the requirements of the landfill directive, although Scotland's current national waste plan and the Northern Ireland waste management strategy 2000 are both explicitly based on BPEO methodology. I assure the Committee that their strategies, as required under the Bill, will do the same. Used in the right way, BPEO methodology can be useful and effective. Each part of the UK has already recognised that fact and is using it to inform its strategy. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the amendments are not necessary.

Mr. Wiggin: I rise to my feet and thank the Minister. Does my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings agree with the Minister's conclusions? If he does, I shall sit down quickly. I am grateful to the Minister for his comments, and I am glad that those matters have been taken into consideration. I am not sure whether we should be pressing this to a vote at this stage.

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend is seeking a quid pro quo for an earlier intervention. My judgment is that the Minister has made helpful remarks, to which I referred when my hon. Friend sat down, but my inclination is that if my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire were here, he would be unlikely to put it to a vote.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful for that intervention. In order to hear the rest of the comments that my hon. Friend is likely to make, I shall sit down.

Mr. Hayes: That was most dextrous of my hon. Friend. The key point is the reference to the well accepted approach. The Minister properly acknowledged, that the BPEO is a well established

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and well respected means of assessing wider impact. My hon. Friend is anxious to insert it in the Bill, but, in a sense, it would be too demanding and it would constrain the Government and the Bill too tightly. We can debate the issue in the later stages of the Bill, and we may now seek a compromise—an acceptance that the BPEO should be taken into account or borne in mind—although I understand the Minister's reluctance to make a definitive commitment.

If we were to gain from the Minister a suggestion—and I think that he has half-given it—that the Bill and its measures would be subject to such independent scrutiny but would not be constrained by it, that would be extremely positive and it would confirm my instinct not to press the matter to a vote. I do not know whether or not I am making myself clear. I understand why he would not want the BPEO included in the Bill, but we should not detach it entirely from our consideration of the Bill's implications and legislative requirements. The Minister may come back on that point or intervene, but on that basis, I do not want to press the matter to a vote.

Mr. Meacher: I should be surprised if the hon. Gentleman pressed such a matter to the vote because the BPEO, as I indicated, is already widely used. It is used by two of the four countries within the UK, and the other two are expected to start using it this year. It follows a practice that was set down as a procedure by the royal commission and is exhaustively used by the Environment Agency. There is no dispute about it. The only issue is that including in legislation would not be wise because it would encase too rigidly in stone what is meant to be a dynamic concept. The BPEO is relative to the exact circumstances of the case. It cannot be described in a generality that applies whatever the circumstances. So long as it is widely, if not universally, accepted—there are no problems with its application so far as I know—it is best to leave it as it is and not to include it in the Bill.

 
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