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House of Commons

Thursday 2 November 2006

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control

1. Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): If he will make a statement on the operation of the integrated pollution prevention and control regulations. [98800]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The pollution prevention and control regulations, which implement the integrated pollution prevention and control directive, form an important part of our legal framework to prevent pollution and protect the environment. They cover 4,200 installations in England and Wales and are administered by the Environment Agency and local authorities through permits. Regulatory costs are required by law to be recovered.

Mr. Williams: The Minister will be aware that United Kingdom pig and poultry producers are among the most environmentally compliant in the European Union—and, indeed, the world—but they are rewarded by having to face the highest EU charges. In Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium, no charges at all are planned, and in Denmark the charges will be very modest. At this late stage, will the Minister intervene on the Environment Agency to ensure that the process is risk-driven, so that the best producers have the least hassle? Secondly, will he ensure that the Environment Agency drives down the—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Only one supplementary question is allowed.

Mr. Bradshaw: We are still looking into ways of reducing the costs for producers in this country. My noble Friend Lord Rooker met the head of the National Farmers Union last week and is meeting him again today to try to find a way of achieving that. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that what other countries do is up to them. They have to recover the costs in some way either from the producers—as many, like us, do—or through general taxation. We have a long tradition in this country of cost recovery
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for the Environment Agency and I believe that that is the right policy. I am somewhat surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s raising this issue with me, as he recently wrote to complain to me that the Government were not implementing the rules stringently enough and could be damaging the environment. Is it yet another case of the Liberal Democrats pointing both ways at once?

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Although it is certainly true that it is up to other Governments to decide how they levy charges and how they set the regulatory burden, it is still up to us to be aware of the competitive impact of such policies. I would welcome some assurance from the Minister that an attempt has been made to examine the competitive impact on what are—as they are not subsidised and have to compete in the real world—trading, farm businesses.

Mr. Bradshaw: I accept absolutely my hon. Friend’s latter point and I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams): my noble Friend Lord Rooker is actively looking into ways of reducing the costs to our farming sectors. The rules have been in force for many years and the industry has had plenty of time to prepare for them. The charges of the Environment Agency—incidentally, it was judged by the Hampton review as having good, light-touch regulation—are less for poultry and pig farmers than for any other sectors.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Although I understand the need for cost recovery, it would help poultry farmers in my constituency—I met Mr. Crawley last week—to have more transparency about how the costs are arrived at. The costs seem much larger than in other countries, but if that can be justified, a clear explanation would be welcomed. The Minister should look into providing greater transparency and also more certainty about exactly what will be covered for the period up to 2020.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure that my noble Friend Lord Rooker will do precisely that in his discussions with the Environment Agency as he seeks to find ways of reducing costs. It is worth reminding the House that the regime will apply only to the larger poultry and pig producers. Furthermore, as I explained a moment ago, the charges levied by the Environment Agency on them are less than on any other sector covered by the regime.


2. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Whether the Government are meeting their recycling targets for local authorities; and what his plans are to increase further the level of recycling carried out by local authorities. [98801]

7. Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): What progress local authorities have made in meeting Government targets for improved recycling rates. [98806]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Provisional figures for 2005-06 show that English households recycled or composted 27 per cent.
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of their waste. That exceeds the Government target of 25 per cent. and means that recycling has almost quadrupled under Labour. The landfill tax escalator and allowance trading scheme are also acting as strong incentives to local authorities and businesses to increase recycling. Another effective incentive might be the tabloid press, or the prospect of the tabloid press rifling through one’s bins.

Andrew Gwynne: In my constituency, Tameside council has recorded an 8.3 per cent. increase in its recycling rate to 20.79 per cent. and Stockport has maintained its rate at 30 per cent. That means that, even with older facilities for recycling, many people are still either not using them as much as they could or not using them at all. What else can be done to encourage people to use the recycling facilities available and make the necessary environmental step change, particularly when the Waste and Resources Action Programme estimates that households could recycle up to 60 per cent. of their waste?

Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend is right and I congratulate his local authorities on their achievements. Recycling is often wrongly perceived as a peripheral environmental issue when it is essential to our fight against dangerous climate change. The emissions that are saved by recycling are equivalent to taking 3.5 million cars off our roads. Good education and good information for residents are important, because some systems in parts of the country are confusing and people do not always know exactly what should go into which bin. It is important to make it easier for people, and we have done that by rollingout kerbside recycling services to 94 per cent. of households—a 50 per cent. increase in only one year.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Hull has historically low recycling rates, partly due to a complicated calendar of different collections for black boxes, blue bins and so on. Does my hon. Friend agree that Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull city council needs to make it as easy as possible for people to develop good recycling habits before moving to fortnightly collections of household waste?

Mr. Bradshaw: It is certainly important that all local authorities that are considering moving to alternate weekly collections do that carefully, provide good information to residents and do not use them as the only means of increasing their recycling rates.

Information is important. There are confusing systems around the country, and I am often asked why we cannot have a uniform system. The problem is that different technologies have developed over the years in different local authorities and it would be hugely expensive for central Government to impose a uniform system. It is important that local authorities, wherever they are, use their systems to increase recycling.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): The Minister is right that good progress has been made with recycling in some areas, especially Conservative-controlled local authorities. However, nowhere is the chasm between ministerial rhetoric and practical action wider than in our schools. In too many cases, young people learn about the environment and respond with
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genuine passion, yet the waste that is generated in their schools is incinerated or sent to landfill. Not only do the Government not set targets for school waste, but Ministers cannot even tell the House how much school waste is produced. Funding for school recycling is confused, and the rules are opaque and interpreted differently across the country. The pupils and staff whom I meet are exasperated by the clear lack of action. Will the Government stop tinkering with—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should ask a question, not make a speech.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am pleased when any local authority, whatever its political colour, does well on recycling. It is interesting to note that those that have traditionally performed worst are improving quickest.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about recycling in schools. He is right to say that there is a variety of practice throughout the country, depending on local authority policy. When we publish our new waste strategy in the new year, we want to try to break down the Berlin wall that has existed between municipal and non-municipal waste collection and disposal. That will go a long way towards helping schools and businesses that would like to do more but find barriers in the way.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Bournemouth borough council has introduced microchip technology into the recycling wheelie bins throughout the borough. How might that technology be used? How can financial punishments be used to encourage people to meet the targets that the Minister mentioned?

Mr. Bradshaw: The technology has the potential to measure the amount of non-recyclable waste that householders produce. It is used with other systems in other countries that have a differential charging system. Such a system has been shown to increase recycling and reduce overall waste, thus reducing costs to councils and council tax payers. However, no decisions have been made on that in this country. Local authorities that have introduced those bins have done so because they constitute the common technology. Only two local authorities that have used them to measure or weigh the waste have done so to gain better data on how well they are doing on the positive incentives that they have introduced to encourage householders to recycle.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Middlesbrough council has along-term contract to take waste to an incinerator, which generates energy and therefore benefits the environment. Does my hon. Friend agree that incineration is also an environmentally friendly method of waste disposal?

Mr. Bradshaw: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it has a role to play. Countries across the channel that have a much better record than we do on waste management and the environment more generally also have much higher levels of waste-to-energy capacity. We have a very low waste-to-energy capacity in this country: it is about 9 per cent. We still send far too much of our waste to landfill and we think that there
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will be a need for more waste-to-energy capacity as part of our new policy when it is published in the new year. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: in climate change terms, it is far better to create energy from waste than to put waste in landfill, where it creates methane, which has a greenhouse gas effect that is21 times more potent than CO2.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Willthe Minister congratulate Conservative-controlled Kettering borough council, which has increased its kerbside recycling rate from 4 per cent. in 2003 to more than 45 per cent. just three years on and which recently won a prestigious award for having the best kerbside recycling team in the country?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am ashamed to have to say that, at 17 per cent. waste recycling, Birmingham city council came 286th in the league tables. Hopefully that will improve with the recent garden waste doorstep collection, but doorstep collection of glass and plastic still takes place only on a pilot basis and there is still no collection point to which people can take their waste plastics. The council has attributed that to the lack of a plastics processor in Birmingham and the need to feed the Tyseley energy-from-waste incinerator. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the existence of energy-from-waste plants is discouraging councils from recycling or from setting up facilities that allow—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not accept my hon. Friend’s point, although I hope that Birmingham city council—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): It is Tory.

Mr. Bradshaw: As my hon. Friend reminds the House, it is a Conservative council. I hope that it makes more of an effort to provide the sort of facilities that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) describes. Plastics and glass are collected by many local authorities around the country. There is a good price for plastics at the moment because of the high oil price. As many hon. Members will know, we export quite a lot of our waste for recycling in other countries. I am not quite sure why there is a particular problem in her region, but I will certainly look into the matter and write to her. She is right to say that it is important that, as we move towards more energy from waste, we do not take the pressure off increased recycling. Recycling is still a much better environmental option than incineration—she is right to say that—but incineration is better than landfill.

Marine Bill

3. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): When he plans to publish the draft marine Bill. [98802]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): We recently concluded the consultation on the marine Bill and we are
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considering the responses before taking a decision on the timing of further consultation. The consultation produced widespread support for a marine Bill—more than 1,000 respondents. The Government are committed to putting into practice their 2005 manifesto commitment to introduce a marine Bill in this Parliament.

Paddy Tipping: On the manifesto commitment and the consultation, does the Secretary of State accept that this is a complex area and that the best way forward would be to produce a draft Bill in the next Session so that the competing interests and difficulties can be worked through?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks with considerable expertise in this area, not least because of his membership of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. He raises exactly the right point: this is a complex area. The relationship between sea and land planning is obviously part of that, as is the relationship between UK legislation and the devolved Administrations. We are committed to having real interrogation and examination of the proposals. Whether that takes place by means of a draft Bill or through a further round of consultation is something that we should leave open at this stage.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Like others, I am looking forward to the long-anticipated publication of the marine Bill, but what will the Government do to protect wildlife beyond the 6 and 12 mile limits—particularly in the case of cetaceans, where international agreements will clearly be required—and, within those limits, to modernise the archaic regulations with regard to sea fisheries committees?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and I recognise his constituency interest in this area. I do not know whether he responded to the consultation on the marine Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) has been very active in the international arena on some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about—notably this week in respect of whaling. There is probably universal support across the House for the ban, and universal condemnation, and certainly disappointment, at the decisions recently in Iceland. The 24 European countries—I think that I am right in saying—internationally issued what is known as a démarche in Iceland. The Icelandic ambassador met my hon. Friend this week for a free and frank exchange of views about the whaling issue. One piece of good news is the announcement by Ireland this week. I am seeing the Irish Agriculture Minister and I will obviously want to congratulate her on her announcement in respect of salmon fishing.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend assure me that when the marine Bill is brought before the House there will have been close collaboration with the devolved Administrations? We cannot have a parting of the Red sea, whereby the seas are expected suddenly to stop when they come to the areas that are the responsibility of the devolved
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Administrations. The Bill must be implemented across the different areas of the United Kingdom at the same time.

David Miliband: I am sad to say that my geography lessons ended in my third year at secondary school, but I think that the Red sea to which my hon. Friend is referring is metaphorical rather than literal. I assure her not only that there will be consultation with the devolved Administrations but that there is such consultation. We want to make sure that the Bill will harness the strength of the UK at a national level and, through the devolved Administrations, the local expertise that exists.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Why has the Secretary of State not been able to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping)? We were promised this complex Bill by the Prime Minister in 2004; we were promised it again in a Labour party conference document; the Government promised it again as part of DEFRA’s five-year strategy; and in the 2005 legislative programme we were promised a draft Bill in this Session. Yes, it may be complex, but the climate change Bill will also be complex. Why will we not see the draft marine Bill? When will the Secretary of State promise the House that we will see it? Will it even be in the coming Queen’s Speech?

David Miliband: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has taken that attitude, because most Members realise that in this complex area—this is the first legislation to have to engage with devolutionary issues—it is important that we get things right. The consultation has received serious responses from a range of organisations. I do not know whether the Conservative party— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that we have been thinking about it. We have been not only thinking about it but talking to experts in the field and making sure that we build a durable consensus on what the legislation should contain. I make no apology for taking the time to get this right. It is important that the legislation stands the test of time. It is right that we are proceeding carefully, on the basis of consultation, because that means that we will have better legislation. I should have thought that the sensible thing for the Opposition to do was to congratulate us on that.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): I presume that any marine Bill would have to take into account the London convention and the OSPAR treaty. What progress has been made in discussions with other European countries about the compatibility of carbon capture and storage with those international agreements, because surely the lesson from Monday’s Stern report is that we have to get on with carbon capture and storage?

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