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There are some striking inconsistencies in the Governments position. On the one hand, they tell us that everything is all right, and that in London and the rest of the country things are ticking along nicely. Landfill targets and recycling are a challenge, but no real change is needed in London or anywhere else. On the other hand, they acknowledge that London is not doing as well as it should, and that short, medium and
longer-term landfill targets are a real challenge to the current system. Consequently, London needs a strong regional approach through the Mayor. We are told that London boroughs and London as a whole need to improve their performance, stop talking and put strategic solutions in place to meet landfill and recycling targets. But we are told that the best way to achieve that is to sit around a table as part of a voluntary forum, drink coffee, eat biscuits and set Londons waste problems to rights by talking about them.
The Government argue that the Mayors proposals for a single waste disposal authority are bad because they split responsibility for collection and disposal. Those things, the Government say, need to be done at the same level. Either the Mayor does it all, or not at all. Although the Government say that these things are best done at local level, their own wider proposals for the rest of the country for joint working among local authorities on waste are about consolidating upwards from district to county level, not downwards to the districts. The Secretary of State will make statutory boards where districts request that.
As things stand, waste management in London is a tangled mess of waste organisations and responsibilities. We have four statutory joint waste disposal authorities, 33 waste collection authorities, 33 waste planning authorities, 12 unitary waste authorities and, of course, the GLA itself. London already has a wide range of forums, organisations and networks for waste that operate across the capital, such as London Waste Action, the London waste strategic advisory group, the London cleansing officers group, the London recycling officers group, directors of the environment network, the regional technical advisory body for waste, and the London technical officers group. For fear of making it sound like a Friday, I will not read them all out, but I believe that there are another 10 or a dozen more.
That arrangement is purely a function of historical accident rather than design. It represents the fragmentation of waste management following the abolition of the strategic government of Londonthe Greater London councilmore than 20 years ago and the opportunities that have been missed since then to put things right. Faced with this unstructured confusion, the Government now propose yet another forum to bring together waste stakeholders in the capital. Waste in London has too much governance and not enough government. The Governments response to the considerable waste charges that my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North highlighted is more talk but no more action.
What about the boroughs existing and anticipated performance on waste recycling? Perhaps the structural and organisational absurdities could be tolerated if this laissez-faire approach worked, but the evidence proves the opposite. The capital did not meet its modest 25 per cent. target for household recycling in 2005-06. Worse still, it was the poorest performing region in the countrytwo thirds of its authorities are on the lowest quartile for recycling waste products from households. When all the waste collected by local authorities in the capital is included, London recycles a mere 9 per cent. compared with 30 per cent. for the country as a whole.
The Government concede that Londons recycling performance is poor. They say that as the proposed single waste disposal authority would not also run collection, it would have no impact on altering that performance. Such an authority is necessary, however, because it would be able to direct authorities to deliver materials to it in a specific way. Through the way in which it charged for its services, it could create real incentives for maximum recycling. Through the type of recycling and composting facilities that it built, it would create more opportunities for increased recycling and service consistency across the capital.
On progress towards meeting landfill targets, London once again leaves a lot to be desired. An Office of Government Commerce report in 2005 showed that the London region had the second lowest number of planned facilities programmed to be built over the next 15 years. London is planning to build 11 new facilities over the next few years, but has nothing planned beyond 2011. That can be compared with the 308 additional facilities required by the statutory London plan to meet the capitals self-sufficiency targets for 2020.
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): I am sorry to disagree with my neighbour and right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), but I cannot think of any function that is more strategic than that of waste management in London.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the failure of the western London boroughs to achieve their recycling targets? In my part of London, they have taken the easy option of going for mass incineration without first addressing the whole question of the hierarchy of waste management, much to the detriment of recycling initiatives in London.
The London statutory plan shows that 308 additional facilities would be required by 2020. That message was reinforced in the past six months by the National Audit Office report stating that all local authorities need to make a step change in planning and performance if landfill targets for 2010 and beyond are to be met.
London is also poor in relation to planning for waste facilities. No boroughs have prioritised waste planning in their local development schemes. Consequently, London will be without site-specific allocations of land for waste for the next three to four yearspossibly the most critical time scale when London should be putting in place waste facilities to serve the future generations. That cannot inspire confidence in those who must finance and build these facilities. We have a system that is a developing crisis. Some boroughs have recognised it and are seeking to do the best they can, but the overall picture does not provide any room for optimism.
I would also like briefly to mention the issue of general conformity. The Bill proposes this new legal
requirement on the boroughs, which will have to ensure that they are in general conformity with the Mayors waste strategy. That is a legal minefield and a recipe for deadlock. Local authorities and the Mayor will be tied together in continuous judicial reviews and London council tax payers will foot both sides of the lawyers bills. The outcome will be critical delays in the delivery of overdue waste infrastructure and service improvements.
So far, since 2003 the Mayor has had to use his powers of direction four times to ensure compliance with the municipal waste management strategy. Three directions relate to the West London waste authority, picking up the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) just made, and one to the London borough of Enfield. Each decision is subject to judicial review, but none of them has yet been heard and none of the issues raised has been resolved to date. Surely the new duty for general conformity is an open invitation to confrontation and argument. I fail to see how it will contribute to a system that needs to speed up rather than slow down in order to deliver.
Mr. Raynsford: Will my hon. Friend tell the House why we should believe that if the proposal that he supports is put in place, the boroughs will accept direction from the Mayor without seeking judicial review? I would have thought that if their collection procedures and practices were all subject to direction, there would be far more conflict and far more scope for judicial review.
Mr. Dismore: I think that the lines of authority and responsibility would be that much clearer, so it would make life much easier if we had such a system. It is quite clear that the system in place so far has not achieved that, as shown by the judicial reviews that we have already had.
I believe that having a single waste authority for London would provide economies of scale, focus, and strategic investment to minimise unnecessary transport movements. It would provide procurement expertise and an unfettered priority to meet the Governments waste management objectives. It would put a premium on procuring state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly bulk recycling facilities. In London, we suffer from a waste management system creaking under the weight of its own contradictions and poor performance. The future needs to be radically different from the past and we require a wholesale change in approach, not a mere tinkering with the current inadequate set-up. We need the sort of approach outlined in the new clauses, amendments and schedules that my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North and I have proposed this evening.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con):
It is a pleasure to participate in the debate, focusing on waste-related issues in London. It is certainly a very significant matter for my constituents. In many ways, Rainham in my constituency is a rarity: it is a landfill facility that takes in several hundred thousand tonnes of rubbish from London year on year. Indeed, Rainham has in many ways been a dumping ground for Londons problems for generationshence the perhaps
heightened anxiety of my constituents when they see the potential of the Mayor seeking to take greater powers to deal with waste-related matters.
Hon. Members have raised a number of points, particularly about the sense of community, namely, that individual communities should take greater responsibility for waste-related treatment and processes. My own area of Rainham has not only a landfill site, but a materials recycling facility. A new one has just opened and there is the prospect of a further one, while an autoclave facility may well be established in the course of the next two years. There is even the possibility of a waste gasification plant being created in the next few years in a very small area of land.
All that creates some concern for residents in my constituency about what the future may hold for Rainham, particularly in the context of it being at the heart of the Thames Gateway and in light of the changes, growth and investment coming into the local community. Understanding how Rainham meets the obligations of east London and Essex may make it easier for my constituents to put their concerns about the area into perspective, but it becomes a very different matter when the issue is placed on a capital-wide or a London-wide footing.
It might be seen as an easy approach to say that because there are already waste-related facilities in Rainham, it would be acceptable to put more there. That might appear an easy option. It would, however, create huge resentment and anxiety among my constituents. They are already picking up the problems of east London and Essex, and more than fulfilling their responsibilities in regard to the inputs that are coming through. To extend that undertaking would create more problems and inhibit the potential for much-needed and long-promised regeneration in my community.
In the wider context, it is important that people should have a much greater stake in, and a much greater linkage with, these issues in their local communities. I do not buy the argument that putting waste management on a London-wide footing through a London-wide waste authority would maintain a sense of community engagement and involvement. In many ways, it would take the decision-making processes and the sense of ownership further away from the people, where they need to be.
I am sceptical about the import and impact of a London-wide waste authority. I am also sceptical about what it would mean for my constituency, given the role that my area already plays in dealing with at least part of Londons waste problems. If we were to go down this track, the system would become more expensive and less directly accountable to the communities. It would not fulfil our aspirations for increasing recycling rates and reducing the amount of waste going into landfill. The new technologies that are coming through could well contribute to our ability to meet those challenges.
I am not convinced that a London-wide waste authority would achieve the ends that its proposers are seeking. Indeed, it could be harmful in the context of improving recycling rates and the way in which London
deals with its waste, and improving the direct ownership that local communities need in order to fulfil those aspirations.
Tom Brake: I should like to start by saying, Credit where credit is due. The hon. Member for Regents Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) has been consistent in deploying her argument, both today and in Committee. She said that she did not want this issue to split the parties. Well, it does not, because the Government, the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats are all united against her proposal. If it has split any party, it is her own, which seems to be divided down the middle on the issue, as we have seen today. I hope, however, that she does not feel that the parties are ganging up on her.
There are some areas of agreement, however. I agree with the hon. Lady that incineration should be minimised as far as possible, and we are all in agreement that some London councils perform well while others perform very badly. However, I wonder whether there might not be risks associated with the Mayor taking on waste disposal through a single waste authority. He might, for instance, adopt a policy of maximising recycling, but we all know that the market for recyclables goes up and down, so he could be left in a very difficult position. Perhaps a mixed economy, in which different authorities were trying different things, would be safer in the long term than going for one particular approach.
It feels almost as though our debate on 16 January did not take place. The hon. Lady has restated the arguments that she set out in that debate, but they were not accepted by Members on that day, and I do not think that they have been developed since then. I suspect that the outcome of todays debate will therefore be the same because our concerns have not been addressed. Indeed, new concerns have been identified today, including the problem of the lowest common denominator. Is it not possible that, under a single waste disposal authority, the best performing authorities would find their performance being pushed down, even if the worst performing authorities were dragged up a little? That risk certainly exists.
Neither the hon. Lady nor other Labour Members could explain why they have this blind faith in the powers of the Mayor to make things different. Why would he be able to improve the bottom authorities? She did not explain how he would achieve that. It is clear from the examples given by other Members this afternoon that some local authorities are grabbing the problem by the scruff of the neck and beginning to tackle it. The hon. Lady did not explain why a one-size-fits-all approach would be appropriate. Would she deploy similar proposals for other aspects of London life? Some might argue, for example, that the pan-London schools admissions system was not working well and that there was a case for the Mayor taking responsibility for that as well. She did not make a convincing argument for why the London-wide waste authority was an appropriate approach to take, and she is not advocating similar measures in other areas. With regard to admissions, local authorities across London have worked together to devise a system which, while not perfect, ensures a much quicker response for children seeking places in secondary schools.
Perhaps the hon. Lady was hoping that Members would have short memories, and that we would have forgotten what took place on 16 January. I think that even Members have slightly longer memories than that. Perhaps she was hoping that the Members here today who were not in Committee would be convinced by her arguments, but I do not think that is the case. One major flaw in the hon. Ladys proposal is the fact that it goes against the grain of the whole Bill. We have some arguments with the Government over the planning aspects of the Bill, in which there is a move towards centralising power in the hands of the Mayor and taking it away from local authorities, but, broadly speaking, it is a devolutionary Bill. However, the hon. Ladys proposals are very much about centralising in the hands of the Mayor powers that are currently held by the local authorities, which goes against the grain.
I should like to leave the hon. Lady with a few examples from the London councils briefing. Perhaps they will also be useful to other Members who have not heard the arguments. They provide reasons why her proposals should be opposed. Members of a financially prudent natureI am sure that that applies to all of uswill want to know that the Governments estimate of the additional cost of the proposals is £5.5 million a year. Members who are worried about money and about the council tax levels that their residents would have to pay should remember that. Those of an environmental bent might be interested to know that the new body would divert valuable resources from the serious business of addressing issues such as recycling. It would distract attention from what we are trying to achieve on environmental matters.
Furthermore, we all know that organisational and structural changes divert valuable management resources and distract attention from the key objectives of an organisation. We have seen this happening time and again in the NHS, and we do not want to see it happening with waste disposal in London. Many Members have expressed support for devolutionary measures, but putting these powers in the hands of the Mayor and City Hall would clearly not be a devolutionary measure.
Finally, I make an appeal to Labour Back Benchers who, I am sure, will want to do the right thing by their Government. The Government have made it clearbe it through the Minister who is here today or the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairsthat they do not support this proposal in any shape or form. I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw her new clause, but if she does not, we shall join the Government and the official Opposition in opposing it.
It has been a fascinating debate for those of usthe great majoritywho were not in Committee on 16 January. I think that only two people who have spoken tonight had to listen to the previous debate. My overriding impression is that, essentially, this is a debate about process. We are all equally concerned that London is not doing as well as it should, although I come from the borough of Bromley, which was green and clean long before I became the Member of Parliament for Beckenham more than nine years ago. As everybody else has talked about what their local authority has done, I should say that it has just introduced a fat recycling scheme for restaurants
and other such outlets. That innovative scheme covers a number of boroughs. We feel strongly that we are at the forefront of recycling and of dealing with waste collection.
Many of the boroughs are determined to get better and I think that we would probably all agree that we do not want that determination to be dashed because of a centralising measure and a one-size-fits-all approach. I do not often agree with the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford). However, much as I might not have agreed with him when he piloted the Greater London Authority Act 1999 through the House, I certainly agree with him on this occasion on his principal argument that the Mayor should take a strategic role and not a day-to-day role. It is clear that there is enthusiasm on the part of the boroughs for the day-to-day role. They acknowledge that the Mayor already has a strategic role in relation to waste. That is as I think it should be, provided that the boroughs grip the whole issue and improve their waste recycling and disposal habits.
I feel quite sorry for the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey). She clearly feels put upon by all of us from London, but if she hangs on for a little bit, she will find that things will get better. Clearly, all the various schemes that the boroughs are involved in concentrate on ensuring that Milton Keynes gets fewer tonnes of waste and that we look after it better ourselves.
There is huge innovation. Perhaps incineration is not the best example, but I know of an old chemical incineration plantnot in the Greater London areathat recycled and cleaned some of the nastiest industrial oils and solvents. There was one famous occasion, at the height of the smuggling of alcohol, when Customs and Excise retrieved a large consignment of orange-flavoured liqueurs. For the space of a week, the plant spewed orange all over the neighbouring areas.
Mrs. Lait: Well, some of us thought that at the time, but, unfortunately, if the liqueurs had been resold, the market would have crashed, so it was a sensible measure in that respect. A few years later, that incineration plant is clean, does not produce any smells and does a first-class job of producing feedstock for the cement industry. I say no more than that about incineration, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) mentioned what is happening in Rainham. We also heard from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). If I continue with the list of examples that have been given, I will be here for a long time.
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