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Norman Baker: The hon. Lady seems to agree with me and I noticed the Minister nodding helpfully. What seems to have happened is that the Government, with the best of intentions, have driven councils down the recycling route—we are all in favour of recycling—but not down the minimisation road. Councils now often actively recycle to get their figures up, instead of minimising in order to get the waste down.

Mrs. Campbell: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. There is some good sense in what he says and I began by observing that I agreed with much of what had already been said in the debate. Given the importance of waste minimisation and given that the hon. Member for Guildford mentioned plastic bags a few moments ago, I
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am surprised that she did not mention—perhaps it is inappropriate in the context of the particular provisions that we are debating now—the idea of having a plastic bag tax, as in Ireland, where it has proved to be a sensible measure. I must say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I find it infuriating when I go into a supermarket with my rucksack—of course, I cycle there—and I am immediately offered plastic bags to put all my shopping into. As well as being infuriating, it is completely unnecessary.

Sue Doughty: I appreciate the hon. Lady's comments and I believe that we are of one mind on the issue. She will be pleased to hear that what she suggests will, subject to a full environmental impact assessment, become Liberal Democrat policy.

Mrs. Campbell: I am pleased to hear it. At the national policy forum, which I attended in July, a resolution was passed to include in our relevant policy documents the need for a review of the plastic bag tax. I am pleased that Ministers felt able to accept that proposal.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): In taking that argument forward, is my hon. Friend aware that the Department is now investigating the environmental cycle of plastic bags and that there may be a downside as well as an upside? Does she agree that placing a tax on plastic bags would raise the profile of waste management? Should we not now get on with it?

6.45 pm

Mrs. Campbell: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an excellent point. Yes, let us get on and do that.

I want to deal with the recycling of plastics generally, which has been a hot issue in my own constituency. I carried out a survey, based on a form that was sent to every household. I received more than 600 responses—not bad considering that people had to pay to post them back to me. What people wanted more than anything else was kerbside collection of plastics. I believe that it is a very good idea; I know that my waste bin is full of plastic, partly because I am reduced to buying convenience foods that all come neatly wrapped in rather rigid plastic containers.

I discovered, however, that it is difficult to carry out kerbside recycling of plastics, largely because of the bulk, which the hon. Member for Guildford mentioned. When plastics are collected, it is probably necessary to have a crusher to reduce the volume. Cambridge city council has proposed kerbside recycling of plastics and collecting them separately from other products such as tins, papers, glass bottles and so forth. I understand that most of the energy saved by recycling the plastic will be used in oil when the material is taken to China, melted down and re-used. I cannot believe that that is a sensible use of council tax payers' money. If the hon. Lady had some fresh ideas and could offer them to her Liberal Democrat colleagues on the council, I would be most grateful. I understand that that policy will increase council tax in Cambridge by about 10 per cent.—a horrendous amount for people to pay. I am advised that
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it will cost about 20p per plastic bottle recycled. That cannot be a sensible way forward, though it may appear to be so on the surface.

Sue Doughty: I think that we are both of one mind on the need to recycle plastics. The fact remains that, if more were done to stimulate the market for plastic recycling in this country, it would not be necessary for materials to go over to China. I looked into the problem and I am concerned about boats coming over full and going back to China, so—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must not go on making mini-speeches in her interventions. There is only a relatively small amount of time left for debate.

Mrs. Campbell: I do not want to add anything further to what I have said and I know that we are all interested in hearing what the Minister has to say in response.

Miss McIntosh: I rise to support amendment No. 28—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I suspect that the hon. Lady means to speak to amendment No. 29.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I mean amendment No. 29, which relates to clause 50. I draw the Minister's attention to the instructions in the briefing sent by the Environment Agency to all right hon. and hon. Members. It deals with how to apply section 59 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The amendment would remove "may" and insert "shall", thereby requiring the relevant authority—the Environment Agency—to clear fly-tipped material or rubbish from all land. Once the landowner has proved that the material was fly-tipped—namely, dumped without his knowledge, consent or permission—we believe that that should be enough to qualify for removal: not at the landowner's expense, I hasten to add, but at the expense of the local authority.

Sue Doughty: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss McIntosh: No, we have heard quite enough from the hon. Lady about this group of amendments.

The briefing says that we must stamp out all forms of fly-tipping. It is a form of environmental crime which is increasing. It has an element of cowboy activities with a strong criminal undertone, and we must remove the results from private land as well as public land. Why should landowners have to put up with what could be hazardous, noxious and very unpleasant waste on their land?

The purpose of the amendment is to require the relevant authority to clear fly-tipped material from all land. That would occur only when the occupier had established his defence that the material was fly-tipped. Without the amendment, authorities will continue not to clear waste from land in their areas, so the true scale of fly-tipping will never be ascertained and the necessary resources to deal with the problem will never be allocated.

I shall not speak at length on the note from the Environment Agency, but I wanted to draw the Minister's attention to it before he responds. It states
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clearly on page 1 that the agency cannot and would not want to require an occupier or landowner to remove waste or remediate against the deposit if there was no evidence that they were responsible. It also states that the agency does not have the power to require any other person, including the culprit, to remove waste unless they are the occupier or landowner. Again, the agency cites the background data to the effect that in 2003 it served 131 notices under section 59.

In conclusion, I humbly submit to the Minister that the Environment Agency is not empowered to require an occupier or landowner to remove waste or remediate against its deposit if there is no evidence that they are responsible. Clearly, it believes that illegally dumped waste on privately owned land is a more difficult issue than that on public land. Neither the local authority nor the Environment Agency is under any legal obligation to remove the waste. However, the agency states that in some circumstances it will remove illegally deposited waste to mitigate an imminent risk of pollution or harm, and then seek to recover its costs. That is unacceptable. Fly-tipped waste should be removed from all land regardless of whether ownership of that land is private or public.

Alun Michael: It is interesting how much ground has been covered during this short debate and I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have taken part.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) acknowledged some of the actions that we are taking to improve our performance on waste disposal. I accept that the matter is fraught with difficult decisions and challenges. Indeed, so much could be said on the issues that have been raised that I will write to hon. Members who have taken part in the debate and will place a copy of my letter in the Library.

The impact on existing contracts, which are often—but not always—long term, is a serious issue. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) complained that recycling and composting targets do not reflect waste minimisation. That is true at the moment. We have focused on recycling and composting in current targets, but another best value performance indicator—the number of kilos of household waste per head—takes account of waste minimisation. We are reviewing the local authority recycling targets this year, along with a review of waste strategy 2000, and we will consider further levers to encourage waste minimisation as part of that. There are some points on which we can have a meeting of minds in attempting to deal with the issues.

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge for her helpful contribution on the whole range of issues before us.

New clause 15 is resisted because Government policy seeks to drive the management of waste up the waste hierarchy. Waste minimisation sits at the top of that hierarchy so, when planning for waste management, the potential for minimisation must be evaluated before consideration of any alternatives.

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