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However, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North will be aware that the Mayor of London has called for a single waste authority for London to be established, with a view to it taking over the waste functions currently carried out by Greater London’s local authorities and existing consortium arrangements. Perversely, that single authority would
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have the greatest impact on those London waste authorities that have the strongest performance.

Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) said that Bexley had been a great success story, but the proposed arrangements would cause it to suffer something of a double whammy: having made the expenditure to set up a new incineration site at Belvedere, it would lose responsibility for it to the single waste authority.

I share some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North about incineration, which is a terribly carcinogenic process. We must reduce the amount of stuff that we burn, and simply burying rubbish in the ground is in no sense a realistic solution in environmental terms. The fundamental point is that the London boroughs are closest to their communities, which makes them the best placed bodies to devise and promote arrangements to meet the many and varied needs of their populations.

A single body would mean an end to the income that individual authorities can expect from the Government’s landfill allowance trading schemes, which are an important way forward. There would also be increased costs for council tax payers, passed on through higher GLA costs and a precept higher than the cost of authorities’ own, often highly advantageous, waste disposal contracts. It has been suggested that the increase in overall waste costs might be as much as 5 per cent. In addition, there would be a risk of creating a monopoly service that reduced the end benefits that authorities can obtain for residents and council tax payers in a competitive marketplace.

5.15 pm

Even if the powers of a single waste authority were confined to disposal only, the separation of disposal from collection would be enormously disruptive to the entire waste management chain—at least as it is organised in some central London boroughs. The ability of the authority to specify the types of material it would accept and the methods of transfer from collection to disposal could in practice lead to the imposition of a one-size-fits-all waste collection method. That is not the right way forward. Such a system is likely to suit the Mayor’s priorities, but it would fail to recognise the huge differences between London boroughs in terms of their population. For example, about 90 per cent. of Westminster residents live in flats or apartments—a great contrast with the situation in many outer London boroughs, which all have individual needs. Their ability to collect and dispose of waste in particular ways would be ruined under that one-size-fits-all proposal.

Ms Buck: Is not it the case that the proportion of residents of many European and American cities living in flats is at least as high, if not higher, yet those cities have a far better recycling record than London?

Mr. Field: I am not aware of all the overseas comparators, although I confess that I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling), who was a member of the Committee, whether there was a single waste authority in New York. He said that there had been one for quite some years, but I am not
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proposing that we should take the direct comparator route because I do not know enough about the New York situation, although clearly there is a large number of flats in Manhattan and one or two other New York boroughs. My concern about the one-size-fits-all idea is that it would go against the grain of many of the important initiatives that have taken place over the past decade.

There is no doubt that the UK has had a terrible recycling record for many years. The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North rather excitably referred to a 19th-century recycling scheme. However, tens of thousands of people in London died from cholera every decade during that century, so whatever one thinks of the scheme she mentioned, we shall not be taking that recycling and waste disposal route in the years ahead.

Our record has improved significantly, so it is incumbent on anyone proposing a new system to recognise those improvements and ensure that any new arrangements bring about a step change. That would not be the case under the proposed authority. There is little justification for the Mayor taking over local waste collection and recycling services that already operate successfully in line with, or exceeding, national targets and strategies, as is the case in Westminster, where I hope there will be rapid improvements in the years ahead.

The Mayor has argued that a single waste authority is necessary in the light of both London’s relatively poor performance in diverting waste from landfill and the scale of the task the capital faces in meeting future targets. One accepts that there has been a relatively poor record, but it has been much improved. Collection and recycling arrangements have much wider implications for the quality of the local street scene. The development and roll-out of new services needs to be closely integrated with highway design, street furniture and cleansing policies, all of which should be pre-eminently local. Indeed, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North accepted earlier that such matters should remain local. Although it is recognised that there are a significant number of underperforming London boroughs and that they require assistance, I strongly oppose any form of Mayor-controlled, single waste management authority for London. It would remove vital borough powers and produce an undemocratic structure that would be imposed on London’s residents.

Most importantly, no business case has yet been made for the Mayor’s preferred option of a single waste authority. I therefore urge the Government to await the conclusion of the ongoing discussions taking place on the issue between the boroughs under the guidance of London Councils, the umbrella organisation for London local authorities, before considering any future waste management structure for London. I am very grateful for the assurances that have been given by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said that he felt that a single waste authority for London would not be the right solution.

I hope that if the new clause goes to a vote, an overwhelming majority of Members in all parts of the House will defeat it. I accept the heartfelt way in which the proposal was made, but a single waste authority is not right for London, or Londoners, now.

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Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I do not support the new clause, although I fully understand the concerns that led my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) to table it. I do not support it for two reasons, and I shall speak very briefly but I think it important that those two reasons are fully understood.

The first is that the approach proposed by the new clause would be in conflict with the principles that underpin the architecture of the Greater London authority. When we were creating the new strategic authority for London, it was very much the Government’s concern at the time to avoid a return to the situation that existed under the previous arrangement with the Greater London council, where there was often a confusion of responsibilities and, frankly, frequent conflict between the GLC and the boroughs. Conflict was, in many respects, endemic.

In devising the architecture and structure for the new system of government in London it was very much our priority to ensure that the Mayor and the Greater London authority should focus on strategic matters that had to be dealt with at a London-wide level, while the boroughs should continue to be responsible for day-to-day service delivery and matters of local impact. That translated into strategic powers for the Mayor to set the overarching parameters but not to interfere in the detailed running of services by the London boroughs.

I fear that my hon. Friend’s proposal is a serious shift in favour of giving the Mayor direct powers to intervene in day-to-day service delivery that should remain with the boroughs. It is more or less impossible to argue that the position should rest at that point and not extend to a single, city-wide waste authority. Indeed, the advocates point to other cities around the world that have single waste authorities. That may be appropriate in those locations, but that was not the architecture that was regarded as appropriate for the structure of government in London, and the new clause would involve a serious break from the principles that underpinned the structure of the Greater London authority. I do not believe that the proposal is conceptually right.

The second reason for my opposition is that it sends absolutely the wrong message to the London boroughs which, over the last few years, have been working very hard to improve their admittedly poor performance on recycling. I can speak about my own local authority, Greenwich, which started from a very low base. The major change that began a process that is already leading to a very considerable improvement in recycling and will go further was the investment in equipment that enables people to throw all their recyclables, whether glass, plastic, paper, card or tin, into a single bin, with the materials then to be separated at the depot. That of course makes it very much easier for members of the public to do the right thing. One of the keys to improving recycling is to make it easy for the public. As a result of that substantial investment in equipment, there was a dramatic increase in the recycling rate in Greenwich.

Of course, we still face a problem, which is that the collection of recyclables is only fortnightly. I am already getting a number of complaints from constituents saying that their recycling bins are
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overfilled and the collection needs to be weekly. To be fair to the London borough of Greenwich, it recognises that, but the economics made the situation difficult. The borough had to maintain a weekly collection of non-recyclables for health and safety reasons, and it was not feasible initially to go to a weekly collection of both recyclables and non-recyclables without a significant increase in resources. The borough is tackling that in its budget proposals, despite the fact that it is, I am pleased to say, rightly seeking to maintain its low council tax increases in the coming year. It is budgeting for an extension that would allow us the benefit of weekly recycling collections, and if that is achieved, there will be a further improvement in recycling rates; that is my confident prediction.

I notice that the borough is dealing with the problem. It is responding in a sensible, cost-effective way, and it is trying to handle the matter responsibly. The worst possible message to send at this stage would be that the issue will be taken out of the borough’s hands, and that the Mayor will simply override the borough and decide how things would be done better in future. Not only does the proposal conflict with the principles that underpin the architecture of the Greater London authority, but it is a terrible disincentive for authorities that are working hard to improve their recycling rates. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North will recognise that that would not be appropriate, and will not press her new clause to a vote. If she does, I shall certainly support the Government and those Opposition Members who are opposed to the proposal.

Simon Hughes: A few months ago, I had an exchange with the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare in Question Time on the very issue that we are discussing. I had been approached by colleagues of mine who run our local authority, who, before the Bill came before the House, were in discussion with the Government about a scheme to build a good, significant new resource park just off the Old Kent road, which is just outside my constituency, but in my borough of Southwark. It was an innovative scheme, and there had been discussions with Government and other people. The Government were positive about the idea, and promised between £30 million and £40 million in private finance initiative credits to support the resource centre. That was part of a plan that would involve moving the current recycling depot, which is just off the Walworth road. It is old-fashioned and badly located, and it is adjacent to residential properties. The move would minimise journey time and disadvantage to others, and would maximise the benefits that occur when lots of different processes happen on the same site. That was a good plan.

To pick up on the point that the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) made, Southwark, like Greenwich, had started to make the effort that it needed to make to improve significantly recycling among residents and businesses. We started from a very low base, as the borough’s recycling history was poor, but we have started to improve significantly. We have trebled recycling in the past few years. That is still not good enough, and we are still at the bottom of
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the league table. If we compare ourselves to many other authorities, among which Bexley is pre-eminent, there is a huge way to go.

There are several specific and general advantages to sustaining the present arrangements, rather than changing them. That argument was made by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, too. He played a key role, as did I, in debates on the legislation that set up the Greater London authority, which my hon. Friends and I supported on the basis of what he calls the architecture. We supported it, but not absolutely; for example, there were other measures that we wanted to add, such as a strategic responsibility for health services, but we took the clear view that it was important to use the building blocks that we had to deal with waste and waste issues.

I want to put the case simply. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) will put the regional strategic case, as he has done throughout proceedings on the Bill. He represents a borough that is one of the best performers, in terms of the issues that we are discussing; it is certainly one of the best in Greater London, and it is recognised across the country that it follows good practice. The Southwark arguments are, in essence, that the borough has gone a long way down the road towards integrated service delivery. It wants to make sure that all the processes are part of a chain of events, starting with the collection at the doorstep, whether that is separate collections or one integrated collection, and going right through to the processing. They are trying to make sure that there is minimal transportation of waste, too.

One of the problems with a London-wide system is that it might result in more transportation of waste, and more transportation by road than by river. I have long argued for more transportation by river, as the river is out there waiting to be used. For a long time, I have had battles with Westminster city council, which transports its waste through Southwark on the way to landfill sites further away in the south-east. In this case, we are talking about sites that are not to the north of the city, but elsewhere. There is a strong argument for minimising journeys, to make sure that we keep activity as local as possible, rather than shipping things to a sub-regional or regional centre, or taking it to boroughs on the edge of London such as Bexley, where there are facilities for landfill, incineration and so on.

5.30 pm

We must allow good practice to prevail if the initiatives that have been taken are to succeed. Boroughs embarking on the process will look around the world, buy the best technology, and do different things with it. Some areas of London co-ordinate their waste disposal arrangements with those in other local authorities, but a one-solution-for-all approach may not be the best one, as it may fail to keep up with the best technology of other cities such as Berlin, New York and so on. In waiting for the best there is a big danger that we will encounter the enemy of the good. One argument against the Mayor’s proposal to take responsibility for such matters is that his interventions on making sure that we have the best proposals across London have not been helpful. I expect that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington will refer to London Councils. I am not naive, and I accept
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that that group reflects the view of the majority in setting out good, strategic reasons why the majority of London councils take the same view as the Government, my local authority, and many Members of Parliament.

May I make three further points? First, the issue was considered in detail by the Government, civil servants and the Government office for London. The Government rightly undertook an extensive consultation before the Bill was introduced in Parliament on changing the powers of the Greater London Authority. Democracy is not a static creation, and it is important to consider whether powers are appropriate at certain levels. The overwhelming evidence was that a London-wide strategic authority was not the right solution for the practical problems of increasing recycling and minimising waste and other disadvantages in London. We asked the Government to commission a body to look at the problem, and that body came up, not with a finely balanced opinion but a clear view, so it would be foolish to turn round at this late stage and say that we should reverse the advice that has been given.

My second point is connected to debates that we shall have later this evening. If we wish to engage local people and businesses, we will receive much more attention in a relatively small community, as we will feel the heat if our performance is not satisfactory. It is rather like the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about the water and wine. The contribution of a single Londoner to London’s waste and recycling project represents a very small percentage indeed, but in each borough or, in our area, community council, those contributions are noticeable. Big businesses in Southwark are important players, so boroughs can apply significant pressure. They can see how they are doing year on year, and, to put it bluntly, they can compete with one another. My borough, for example, could compare its performance with those of Lewisham, Lambeth, Westminster and Croydon, so the desire to do better is advantageous. Politicians, too, are under pressure to do better. It is no good thinking that it is always worth taking power away from people. If we wish people to lead environmentally sustainable lives, we must engage local politicians, community leaders, builders, developers, transport operatives and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington knows better than anyone, as BedZED is in his constituency, that we are most persuasive when we notice change locally. If we perceive improvement locally, one is more likely to encourage change.

Ms Buck: I am worried by the romantic picture that the hon. Gentleman has painted of localism, because it has not worked. Why have 18 authorities in London failed to reach their target, and why has London’s collective position, which includes all those localities, declined in relative terms?

Simon Hughes: I will try and give a short answer. I do not think that until relatively recently, many boroughs were seized of the importance of these matters. I shall be blunt. Environmental awareness and turning it into strategic policy priorities has happened in the past few years. Like other colleagues, I travel round the country. I now notice that waste, recycling and environmental
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issues are much more often on the agenda locally than they were three, four or five years ago, by miles. There has been a cultural shift. That has come about for all sorts of reasons, as we know—not least better education and greater awareness of the crisis that we face. The pressure is now on. If we were in the same relative position in four or five years, my argument would be much weaker. I think there has been an awakening to the issue.

The figures are not as black and white as the hon. Lady paints them in relation to London’s performance. I do not pretend to have seen all the figures, but I have seen the figures from the Mayor’s office and the GLA, and the figures from the London Councils group and others. London performance is improving. Yes, other comparable cities in the world may be improving more, but London is suddenly on the move and going in the right direction.

My final point is that there would be a major cost disadvantage in going down the proposed route. The figure that I have suggests that there might be a £5.5 million per year differential. In a period of relatively scarce resources in local or regional government, £5.5 million a year could reasonably be spent on many other things. We are desperately short of affordable housing. Colleagues were talking this morning about more energy efficient housing. There are all sorts of things that we could spend the money on. We cannot afford a luxury model that most people do not want and which is not proven to be likely to be more successful, when people are improving the situation locally.

We can always advance a nimbyish argument and say that we want to do it our way, however bad we are. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) makes a good point about London having a responsibility not to be a regular net exporter of waste to landfill sites. I understand that a third of the landfill is food waste, and the capital city probably produces more food waste because we are over-indulgent. There are all sorts of things that we need to do for ourselves and for everyone else to make sure that we reduce the waste that we produce. We need not be irresponsible neighbours.

In boroughs like mine, we are beginning to go in the right direction, and we are saying to the Government, “Please allow us to go on doing what we think we can show is rapidly improving the position, with innovative, modern, best practice schemes.” My borough is up for it. We are ready to set the best practice. We want to continue to be encouraged by Government and allowed to get on with that.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I shall speak to the new clauses, new schedules and amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and myself.

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