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Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is widely considered that in many circumstances fly-tipping is a direct result of people attempting to enforce better recycling and what goes with it, rather than not enforcing better recycling? Given what he has just said, does it make any sense at all for his party to vote against the Bill?
Mr. Yeo: I am not sure that I understood what point the hon. Gentleman was trying to make. If our recycling performance were better, the problem of waste would diminish and some of the adverse consequences that we are debating would take care of themselves. If there were less waste to be disposed of, because more was being recycled, the challenge we face would be at least partly addressed.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab):
The hon. Gentleman will recall that when his party was in power he got the country to reach the position in which 7 per cent. of waste was being recycled. The figure is up to 17 per cent.more than doubleand we are on track to get it up to 25 per cent. Will he not at least acknowledge that under a Labour Government and with the measures that we have brought in to assist local authorities, the situation has got a great deal better than it was when his party was in power?
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Mr. Yeo: I would be horrified if we had not continued to make progress as a country in raising the recycling rates, and what is absolutely clear is that that improved performance is almost entirely the result of Conservative local government. Conservative authorities are consistently achieving recycling rates above the national average, and the national average is consistently being held down by Labour local authorities. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that point even clearer than I had already done.
Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is describing who is responsible for the better recycling rates. Worcester city council, which is Conservative controlled, has improved the rate of recycling from about 6 or 7 per cent. to 17 per cent. as a direct result of a £400,000 grant from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to recycle household waste. Who does the hon. Gentleman view as being responsible for that improvementthe Conservative-controlled council or the Labour Government?
Mr. Yeo: Clearly, what happens locally is the direct responsibility of the council. The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point, however: he suggests that funding from central Government is one means of achieving better waste management. I wonder if he can recall a single reference to any such link in the Secretary of State's half-hour speechI think that that was how long she spoke for. The Government are giving significant extra powers to local authorities in the Bill, but they are not providing a single penny to assist those authorities to make use of those powers.
Margaret Beckett: May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that considerable resources have been made available through the spending review and various Budgets by the Government? This Bill is not the vehicle for that major source of funding. May I also point out to him that, in relation to his litany of who is and is not doing wellI accept that some councils are not doing well, although they are of every political partyone of the principal reasons for improvement in a local authority's performance, apart from the kind of funding to which my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) has just referred, is the targets set by the Government, which authorities are required to try to reach?
Let me correct the Secretary of State. As I pointed out, but as I will repeat, not one of the worst performing councils is Conservative. Nine of the 10 worst are Labour, and one is Liberal Democrat. She has made a further interesting point, however, by drawing attention to the resources provided by the Government. We all know that funding for local government has now been grossly distorted for political reasons by the Labour Government, to provide more funding for their friends in urban, traditional Labour areasthe very authorities that are falling down on the job in relation to recycling.
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Mr. Blizzard : May I try to spell out the issue to the hon. Gentleman even more clearly? Conservative-controlled Waveney district council would definitely have been at the bottom of that league, up until about a year ago. It is not at the bottom now, but what made the difference was the £400,000 grant given by my right hon. Friend's Department specifically for a recycling scheme. That money was not part of a funding formula. It was the Government grant that made the difference.
Mr. Yeo: I congratulate the Secretary of State on her wisdom in holding back such a grant until Waveney district council was under Conservative control. At least at that point she could be sure that the resources would be effectively used.
I want to return to the resourcing issue so that we are absolutely clear on it. The Secretary of State said that previous spending rounds had provided extra money for local authorities, which, of course, I accept. Is she saying, however, that the settlements already made reflect the extra costs that local authorities will incur if they choose to exercise the powers under the Bill, or are they expected to rebalance their budgets to use those powers?
Margaret Beckett: We do not accept that local authorities will face substantial extra costs, for a number of reasons. First, we are talking about powers for local authorities, not dutiesthey are not required to exercise them, and I have little doubt that unless they believe that the exercise of such powers will be cost-effective, they will not choose to do so. Secondly, as I pointed out earlier, they will be able to retain fine income, so that if there are serious problems, they will have resources available to deal with them. In many cases, we are simplifying and providing greater flexibility, so that powers, which in some cases already exist, can be more effectively exercised. In those cases, local authorities are already resourced to carry out such activity. In many cases, there may be a net saving to local authorities. Certainly, we do not anticipate substantial extra burdens.
We are teasing out some interesting information. First, the Secretary of State has just admitted that some of the powers in the Bill are not really needed, as local authorities already have powers to deal with the problems. Secondly, it was widely suggested by Labour Members that achieving better performance was linked to extra money. Now the Secretary of State is saying that there will be no extra money, and no substantial extra costs to bear. I think, however, that that statement acknowledges that there will be some extra costs involved, and it will be interesting to see what the Local Government Association says about that. Then, most tellingly, she said that there would not be duties, only powers. That seems to lead us directly to the conclusion that if local authorities are merely to be given extra powers but no extra money, it is widely assumed on the Government Benches that they will be able to do no more than they
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did before, so the benefits that may flow from the legislation seem, even in the Government's eyes, rapidly to be growing smaller and smaller.
I can understand the point that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) was making about the Government's tendency to give local authorities extra duties and responsibilities, but not to fund them. I agree with him wholeheartedly on that, although it is not something that would make me vote against the Bill, which addresses a series of problems. Does he have concerns that his local authority, or others, are spending much time and energy chasing around dealing with abandoned cars and fly-tipping and sorting out with the Environment Agency who is responsible for whatwhether it is major fly-tipping and thus the Environment Agency's responsibility or minor and thus the authority's? At least the Bill helps to sort out who is responsible for what, although it does not follow through on the funding responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman is right about that, but does he at least agree that the Bill brings a clarity that is lacking at present?
Mr. Yeo: Yes, I broadly agree. That is a fair point and, in view of the fact that there are some positive elements in the Bill, if my advocacy at the Dispatch Box does not succeed in persuading the House to vote for the Opposition's amendment, it will proceed to a Standing Committee next weeka fairly reasonable assumptionwhen we can explore further some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made.
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