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Waste Services (Efficiency Gains)

9. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): What steps her Department plans to take to help local authorities deliver efficiency gains in waste services. [207852]
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The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): DEFRA will provide support for stronger local authority procurement skills and for greater joint working between tiers of local authorities and among adjacent local authorities, and work with the waste market to ensure effective delivery of new facilities as landfill diminishes in importance.

Tim Loughton: Will the Minister therefore pay tribute to the two councils in my constituency, Adur and Worthing—both Conservative controlled—working in partnership and with West Sussex county council, which have been innovatory in improving recycling levels? They have returned to weekly blue box collections, which were slashed to fortnightly by the previous Liberal administration, supported innovative programmes such as the Alchemist store, which I shall reopen on a new and improved site tomorrow and which provides recycling facilities for local schoolchildren, and have now merged their waste disposal fleets and used joint depots to maximise efficiency gains for local council tax payers. If he will pay tribute to them, why does his Government reward my councils in Sussex with some of the meanest local government grant settlements anywhere in the country?

Mr. Morley: I have written to all local authorities to congratulate those of all parties who have performed well on waste collection and recycling, to encourage those who are not performing as well to do better, and to offer the support available through the waste implementation programme and Waste and Resources Action Programme. I very much welcome the innovation of local councils, including the hon. Gentleman's, and the example of joint procurement is exactly the kind of initiative that the Government want to encourage. On financing, this Government have made £1.3 billion available through core funding to local authorities over the spending review period, as well as about £275 million in additional funds through private finance initiative credits, which is a significant amount. Incidentally, that funding would be slashed to the bone were the Conservative party's James review ever implemented.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Minister subscribe to the spending review commitment to cut further efficiency savings by £300 million? How can he meet that target when one of the most effective tools for achieving efficiency gains has been the contracting out of waste disposal functions under the Environmental Protection Act 1990? How can he marry these two proposals? How can he increase efficiency savings by ending the contracting out that has worked so well, especially in Conservative-controlled councils?

Mr. Morley: We believe that local authorities should be respected and that authorities that perform well should be encouraged and supported. We do not believe in the principle that everything in the private sector is automatically good or bad, or in the principle that everything in the public sector is automatically good or bad. We believe that there should be flexibility and choice and that the 1990 approach is far too restrictive for local authorities.

We believe in the £300 million savings, which represent part of our objective—securing good value for money and efficient delivery of services, while
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implementing the strategies that we have devised to reduce reliance on landfill and increase recycling. As I said earlier, what is different about our Gershon approach is that it seeks to make efficiency savings while protecting the delivery of public services, whereas implementing the James report, published by the Conservative party, would slash services to the bone.

Kyoto Protocol

10. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What steps she is taking to ensure that the UK meets its obligations under the Kyoto protocol. [207854]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The UK has a range of obligations under the Kyoto protocol, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the impacts of climate change and assisting developing countries in tackling climate change. We are making excellent progress on all of them, and are well on track to meet our target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent. by 2012.

Tony Lloyd: I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's role in ensuring that we have done so well with the Kyoto objectives, but may I ask her specifically about our failure so far to make the same progress with carbon dioxide emissions? We are still some way from our domestic target of a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010. I know that it is both my right hon. Friend's and the Prime Minister's ambition to concentrate on that during our G8 presidency. Would it not give the Prime Minister great moral authority, and also make practical sense to British business and society, if we were to get ahead of the game in respect of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide? Would it not be sensible to introduce sectoral carbon budgets, so that industry and the country would know how we intended to achieve the 20 per cent. reduction? Everyone would be clear about what was expected of them and we would have something against which to measure our progress.

Margaret Beckett: Issues of exactly that kind are being discussed, and will continue to be discussed over the next few weeks and months, in our climate change programme review. As my hon. Friend says, although we have made very good progress with our overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, we have made less progress with the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. That is, of course, against the background of a period during which, as was recently shown by the result of monitoring from Hawaii, carbon dioxide levels have risen throughout the northern hemisphere. It may well be that only the many steps taken by the Government to reduce emissions have enabled us to remain where we are at present. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is right in saying that if we continue as we are we will not be on track to meet our much more stringent domestic target of 20 per cent.

As it happens, a review of the climate change programme, to begin in 2004, was built into the current agreement. The review has begun and part of its task will be to consider what steps we can take to put ourselves
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back on track. My hon. Friend's suggestion is one that people will consider and we are open to advice and input from all sources.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I accept that the Government's declared target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010 goes beyond the Kyoto agreement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that in 2002–03 carbon dioxide emissions actually increased by 1.5 per cent.? Can she give last year's figure? Perhaps more importantly, when will she announce initiatives to get us back on track for the 20 per cent. reduction by 2010?

Margaret Beckett: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right. There was a 1.5 per cent. increase in 2002–03, but of course, we are still below the emission levels of 2001. However, he and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) were right to point out that that is not good enough. I cannot give the precise date on which the outcome of the climate change programme review will be published, but we hope that it will appear a little later this year.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab): I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and her Ministers for their magnificent work in delivering on the Kyoto protocol. However, can she confirm that, at the recent COP 10 meeting in Buenos Aires, the oil-producing nations, led most notably by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States of America, demanded that, if they are to deliver on Kyoto in future, such nations should receive billions of dollars in compensation for producing and selling less oil? Can she assure the House that that is not a path that the United Kingdom Government will traverse?

Margaret Beckett: I certainly can, and my hon. Friend's description of what happened in Buenos Aires is entirely right. Indeed, those who follow these matters will know that that was only one of many occasions on which some oil producers have sought to put the interests of their economies above—and in the queue for compensation before—those of some of the most vulnerable states in the world, which are likely to be most affected by climate change. I can assure him that, in conducting these negotiations, it is no part of the United Kingdom Government's goal to support such steps and he will be as conscious as I am of the fact that, when the next climate change talks are held in December, the UK will be the lead negotiator on the European Union's behalf.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): The Secretary of State's tone is self-congratulatory, given that the Government have not continued the progress that was made before 1997 in steadily reducing CO 2 emissions. How can they claim to be taking seriously their obligations under the Kyoto protocol, given that they have failed to ensure Britain's timely participation in the European emissions trading scheme? Is she not ashamed of the fact that, despite years of notice being given of the start date for this scheme, Britain is one of only five European countries that were not ready to take part?
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Does not that failure completely undermine the Prime Minister's attempt to put climate change at the heart of Britain's presidency of the EU?

Margaret Beckett: It is very much a goal of the British Government's approach and policy to spread the message, which we believe to be true, that it is perfectly possible to cut emissions and to grow the economy. I am afraid that one reason for the success that the Conservatives claim in cutting emissions during their time in office is that they flattened the economy. This Government's achievement has been to grow our economy by a figure for 2002–03 of, I think, more than 30 per cent., while cutting emissions by 14 to 15 per cent., so we need no lectures from the Conservatives; and, of course, the overall level of greenhouse gas emissions is down from the level that we inherited from them.

There is some misunderstanding about the emissions trading scheme. The position in the UK is not particularly different from that elsewhere in Europe. The scheme operates on precisely the same basis in most member states exactly because most have yet to sort out and finalise their allocations, and although people cannot sell on the spot market, for example, they can participate in the forward market. My understanding is that virtually every member state is in more or less the same position. As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment pointed out in answer to an earlier question, the Government submitted to the European Commission amended figures for the level of allocations in the emissions trading scheme precisely because the review and analysis of existing information suggested that our previous figures needed substantial adjustment. It was the Conservatives—and, indeed, players throughout British industry—who were demanding that we take account of British industry's representations concerning the claimed potential impact on competitiveness, so it is a bit rich for them now to complain about our having done so.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Are the Government still absolutely committed to a 6 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and can the Secretary of State confirm that there is no question of watering it down or abandoning it? Can she also confirm that, during the British presidency of the EU and the G8, we will actively encourage other countries to adopt that target?

Margaret Beckett: There is certainly no question of the Government resiling from the long-term target that we set. During our G8 presidency, there will be several events through which we shall try to promote discussion about what happens in the longer term across the globe. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) referred to the discussions that took place in Buenos Aires, and in the early part of February, we will host a scientific conference to consider the latest information and establish whether there could be more of an emerging consensus about the sort of targets that could achieve stability and avoid further dangerous impacts on climate change. In the middle of March, we will host a meeting of energy and environment Ministers from some 20 states, including those with particularly substantial and massively growing energy needs, such as
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China, India and Brazil. We are indeed using the opportunity of our G8 presidency to do what we can to promote more thoughtful discussion.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be among the first to acknowledge that, while it is absolutely right for the British Government to identify where we think—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is far too long a reply.

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