Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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Clause 49

Payments for waste recycling and disposal

Mr. Ruffley: I beg to move amendment No. 67, in clause 49, page 46, line 26, at end insert—

    '(13) In this section reusing waste means any operation by which end of life products and equipment or its components are used for the same purpose for which they were conceived for a period of longer than 12 months.'.

Mr. Ruffley: I think that this will be a short debate. The amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York seeks to give a slightly better and fuller definition than the one in the Bill. It reads:

    ''In this section 're-using waste' means any operation by which end-of-life products and equipment or its components are used for the same purpose for which they were conceived for a period of longer than 12 months.''

I hope that the Minister agrees that that is a slight improvement on the deathless prose set out in the Bill by the parliamentary draftsmen. I hope also that he will accept the amendment, and if not, explain why the redrafted definition is deficient.

3 pm

Matthew Green: I oppose the amendment, because I want to speak in defence of modern art. The amendment would mean that people would be unable
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to re-use an item, such as turning a kettle into some bizarre sculpture, as often happens. It would rule that out because it would be the re-use of a material. If someone took down a garden shed, they could not turn the wooden components into furniture, as that would count as re-use. It seems completely illogical.

Mr. Ruffley: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on supporting my argument and making my argument for me.

Matthew Green: I am not at all. The definition of re-use in the amendment is ''used for the same purpose''. I am arguing that re-use does not necessarily mean used for the same purpose. There are many products and materials that can be re-used, but for a different purpose than the one for which they were originally intended.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Member for Ludlow makes some relevant points. I understand what is behind the amendment. It is understandable that credits should reward only genuine and worthwhile re-use activity by preventing waste attracting a credit payment when it is disposed of shortly after being re-used or when it is re-presented for re-use a number of times over a short period. Theoretically, it could be available for a credit on education. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is possible that materials could be re-used on a number of occasions, and it may be appropriate that they attract a credit. It is also difficult to link the definition of a waste item as re-used to a certain period. Monitoring and enforcing that would present real challenges.

For the purposes of recycling credit, there are practical reasons why waste should be regarded as re-used regardless of the period for which the re-used issues remain in use. The essential point is that re-use reduces the amount of waste that has to be disposed of, and that is the principal objective. That is the case every time an item is re-used: it is prevented from being thrown away. It is therefore right that recycling credit should be available each time an item is re-used rather than discarded. In some ways, it does not really matter how long it is re-used for, as long as the item is kept in use, and refurbished if appropriate.

Local authorities have expressed concerns that the provision could lead to authorities paying for re-use of the same item several times, and then paying for disposal anyway. I am not sure that that would be the case, but it is no different to recycling in which a material will be recycled several times but ultimately disposed of. Incentive payments remain worthwhile if an item is diverted from landfill by being re-used, as the item takes the place of a new item that would otherwise also be presented for disposal in due course.

There is a problem with the workability of the amendment. There is also a problem with the definition. There is a real issue about ensuring value from the payment of credits, so that they incentivise only genuine and worthwhile re-use that contributes to the sustainable management of waste. That is best achieved by local authorities operating and funding
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the right re-use schemes. I have visited several of those schemes, which are run by very committed people. They are often linked to training, they provide an important social function and are responsible and respectable. Local authorities can choose whether to enter into an arrangement with the various re-use schemes, and they would not do so unless they were confident that they were run by a respectable organisation. Those that I have seen are certainly that.

There is already a duty to deliver best value, which requires local authorities to be satisfied that the schemes provide value for money in terms of environmental, economic and social benefits, to ensure that they are verifiable and not open to fraud before they are undertaken, and that they are supported through the payments that they may give to third parties. That is in the hands of local authorities, so they have some control over what they do and what standards they want.

The Government are planning to consult and to publish guidance to ensure that local authorities that wish to introduce re-use schemes or to support them through credit payments can ensure best value through access to information about established good practice. As I said, many schemes have been established throughout the country and they provide a very good service. They refurbish a lot of electrical goods, which provide low-cost options for low-income families and, most importantly, they divert those products from landfill and waste and extend their useful life. It is therefore important to encourage such schemes, which is what the clause sets out to do.

Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful for the Minister's explanation, although I am not entirely convinced by the Liberal Democrat spokesman's logic. I should have thought that stopping more modern art being created was probably a good thing, rather than the reverse, especially when one thinks of unmade beds and so on. I am more of an impressionist man—the sort of thing that ordinary blokes can understand. The Tories are ordinary blokes on occasion.

The Minister's points are well made. I understand what he said about the possible deficiency in the definition, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 50 to 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 54

Site waste management plans

Matthew Green: I beg to move amendment No. 97, in clause 54, page 49, line 20, at end insert


    (i) targets for diversion of site waste to landfill'.

This quick amendment is designed to test whether the Government intend to do what it proposes anyway. If so, perhaps the Minister will tell us. The issue is whether the site waste management plans will contain targets for the diversion of site waste to
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landfill. It is a serious issue, especially in relation to the construction of houses, given that for every 15 new houses built, an entire house goes to landfill because of the waste that results. We want a considerable reduction in the amount going to landfill, and it would be helpful to set targets for such a reduction. I am sure that the Minister will say that it is not appropriate for that to be in the Bill, and I have sympathy with that view, but the amendment gives him an opportunity to say how the Government intend to drive down the percentage of site waste that goes to landfill, and what targets they intend to set.

Mr. Morley: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's position. He will be aware that the framework of waste management has already brought about a big change and that there is now a financial incentive—with the regulatory framework and the fiscal incentives in relation to landfill tax—for developers to recycle building waste. A value is beginning to be attached to it. I have noticed that many waste companies have invested in grading machinery for separating the different categories of construction waste so that it can be re-used.

I think that there is a role for targets. The hon. Gentleman pre-empted what I was going to say: I am not sure that it is appropriate to put that role in primary legislation. We are working on the sustainable buildings code, for example, within which there is a target for homes built under the code to contain 10 per cent. of recycled materials. It is not quite relevant to what he was saying, but that is one way in which targets can be used.

Further details about the preparation and content of plans will be a matter for regulations, which will be brought before the House in due course. They will cover such matters as the application of the provision, what matters plans should cover, and how they should be constructed. I am not altogether sure that it would be appropriate to include targets in that material either, but I am willing to give some thought to it in preparing the regulations.

Matthew Green: I suspected that the Minister would not want targets included in the Bill, and I accept his reasons, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ruffley: I have one question about red tape, about which I hope all hon. Members on either side of the party divide are concerned. I am mindful of the fact that one would not normally want too much detail about the length and type of regulations that will dictate how site waste management plans should be produced. I do not expect the issue to be dealt with in the Bill, but it would nevertheless be useful if the Minister could share some of his thinking about paragraphs 171 and 172 of the explanatory notes.

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The clause contains an order-making power enabling regulations to be made to require developers and contractors of construction and demolition projects to prepare site waste management plans. My first question is what size of plan is envisaged. Does the Minister or do his officials have any idea whether it will be a long document? Will it be a side of A4, or a booklet? I ask because I am concerned—and I think that hon. Members on both sides are concerned—about small businesses.

Small businesses play a large role in the vibrancy of wealth creation, certainly in my constituency. People running small businesses—and, incidentally, there are a lot of building and contracting small businesses in my area—consistently tell me that the amount of time that they spend on paperwork and form-filling that they consider unnecessary is time not spent on creating jobs, employing people and growing their business.

A phrase in paragraph 172 of the explanatory notes really does require explanation by way of an example. It states that the regulations that will arise from the clause

    ''may be restricted to projects over a specified value''.

That is music to my ears, because it prefigures some caveat or exemption for small businesses. Will the Minister suggest the specified value below which the regulations would not apply?

3.15 am

The regulations seem rather detailed, because they may specify when the plans must be prepared, the contents of such plans, the enforcement regulations, the offences and penalties that may apply and the possibility for discharge of liability for an offence by payment of a fixed penalty. Alarm bells ring when one sees a description of what may be included in a site management plan, because of the tendency of officials at local and national level to gold-plate regulations.

We should have a better understanding as to whether small businesses will be protected and what specified value officials have in mind. They must have something in mind, otherwise they would not have used the phrase ''over a specified value'' in the explanatory notes. Will the Minister assure me that the reference will, in due course, protect small businesses, and if so, what size of small business?

As the departmental Minister, will he also assure us that he will do what he can to ensure that the regulations, which will bring into life site waste management plans, will not be another example of useless red tape and will be only as long as is absolutely necessary? They should not be so long as to incommode small business men and women who want nothing more than to run and expand their businesses in Britain and employ more people?

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Prepared 25 January 2005