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There is a ferment of science and technology going on in the area of waste disposal and we should be in the business of ensuring that that continues. I am a great supporter of anaerobic digestion. Nobody has yet mentioned that particular waste disposal system, but it is moving into large-scale production on the continent and there is no reason why we should not be looking to use it to deal with more of London’s waste. While that ferment of scientific progress is going on, we should
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not impose a monolithic, one-size-fits-all system, which would stop innovation and all the bright ideas that are flowing forth.

I sympathise with what the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) is trying to achieve. We all want to achieve much better results from the London boroughs. However, along with many others in the House, I am not convinced that the system that she recommends will deal with the issue. We believe that costs can be taken out by local authorities clustering together to share the costs of waste disposal and that having more organisations involved in developing waste disposal systems is good for us. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) refrained from his usual Friday contribution, but he did list the wide variety of organisations in London that jaw-jaw, not war-war. Perhaps the benefit of that is that they share best practice and move the waste disposal debate on, rather than inhibiting it.

I know that we have a large number of issues still to address, so I will conclude with these few words. I regretfully say to the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North that I hope that she withdraws the new clause. It is a debate that has been worth having and that we should continue to have, but the feeling of the House is perhaps not on her side this evening.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Given the thorough examination of the proposal in Committee, I can only salute the optimism of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) in hoping that the Government might change their mind this evening. Sadly, I fear that I am about to disappoint her.

Through the Bill, the Government propose to strengthen the strategic role of the Greater London Authority in ensuring that London’s waste is managed sustainably. As many hon. Members, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) in particular, have said, we are at a crucial stage in delivering a step change in the way in which we manage waste in the UK, in order to reduce the environmental impact of our waste and to meet challenging EU targets. In just three years’ time, we face tough targets to reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfill. The targets pose a real challenge for local authorities. I am pleased to say that recent indications show that London is responding positively to that challenge. Figures for 2005-06 show that as a region it is second only to the west midlands in reducing waste to landfill—a point made by several hon. Members.

Some of London’s success on landfill diversion is due to its above-average use of energy-from-waste technology. Incineration with energy recovery is a better environmental option than landfill. Data from other EU member states demonstrate that the use of incineration with energy recovery is compatible with high recycling rates. Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all have much higher recycling rates than the UK, while making greater use of incineration technologies. For example, the Netherlands recycles 65 per cent. and incinerates 33 per cent. of its waste.

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Recycling is also very important and performance on that is mixed in London, as many hon. Members said. Although two London boroughs, Sutton and Bexley, have been awarded beacon status on waste and recycling, Tower Hamlets is at the bottom of the national recycling league table. Some London boroughs need to make major improvements. The Government are working with them to make sure that that happens and are prepared to use formal intervention powers if necessary.

We cannot be complacent about the scale of the challenge ahead and the further progress needed on landfill diversion and recycling over the coming years. Nevertheless, significantly changing the governance structures for London’s waste at this crucial time could undermine and delay the urgent work that authorities are undertaking.

The amendments and new clauses relate to the establishment of a single waste authority for London. The proposals were tabled and debated in detail in Committee before being withdrawn. Some of the right hon. and hon. Members who are present will have heard the explanation why the Government do not support a single waste authority for the capital. For the benefit of those who were not present in Committee, I shall reiterate the Government’s position on that and on the amendments.

The arguments for a single waste authority are based on the premise that London will fail to meet its landfill diversion targets and that such an authority would improve performance across the capital and deliver efficiencies. The evidence that we have seen contradicts that view. First, it suggests that London is doing well at diverting from landfill, although, as in the rest of the country, there is still much more to be done. Secondly, there is the suggestion that a fundamental change in the governance structures for London’s waste would lead to a dip in London’s performance.

The first of the EU landfill diversion targets is just three years away. We face significant fines if those targets are missed. The creation of a new single waste authority would threaten the good progress which latest figures show London is making. There would be significant set-up costs for a new authority, as well as disruption as a result of transferring staff, assets and contracts from the London boroughs to the new body. Boroughs would have no incentive to drive forward investment in the new waste facilities needed in London during any transition to a single waste authority.

The proposals would also split control over collection, recycling and disposal responsibilities between two different political bodies. The single waste authority would not have responsibility for recycling, so would be able to do little to improve recycling rates in the capital. That is why the vast majority of London boroughs, irrespective of political colour, are opposed to a single waste authority for London.

We have not seen any convincing evidence that such an authority would deliver improvements in waste management or cost efficiencies. A single waste disposal authority could result in extra costs to the Government and to the boroughs, and could put at risk our landfill diversion targets. If the UK were to fail to meet its targets, the resulting fines would be likely to be passed on to London’s council tax payers.

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Over the past year, the Government have thought long and hard about the governance of London’s waste. Our position has been informed by a public consultation and by a number of detailed consultancy reports. It is our considered view that significantly restructuring London’s waste arrangements would divert attention and resources at a crucial time, and would put at risk performance and the achievement of our EU targets. We therefore see little benefit in making significant and costly changes to how waste functions are delivered at the local and regional level. Instead, efforts and resources should be focused on improving diversion and recycling performance within current structures.

Before I turn to the amendments and new clauses, I should like to pick up on a couple of points raised by my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) made the point that too much waste was exported from London. It is Government policy that waste should be disposed of at the nearest appropriate installation. However, some of London’s waste will always need to be exported, because there is not space in the city to landfill waste that cannot be recycled or otherwise treated. She said that she has raised several other issues and is awaiting correspondence from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am sure that her remarks will have been noted and that correspondence will follow very soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised the legal question of general conformity. As clause 36 indicates, the Government will issue guidance on a test for general conformity in due course, as they did for planning in planning policy statement 12. In planning, the concept of general conformity between plans prepared by different tiers of government is long standing and has not given rise to significant practical difficulties. The Government hope that any difference of opinion on whether the test had been met would be resolved, wherever possible, through discussion.

Amendment No. 1, new clauses 1 ,2, 5 and 6, and new schedules 1, 2 and 3 seek to amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to establish, and give powers and duties to, a single waste disposal authority for London—the “London Waste Authority”. I have already made it clear that I cannot accept them, because they would fundamentally change the way in which London manages its waste, and the Government firmly believe that waste services are best operated at local level.

Amendment No. 2 would extend the Mayor’s power of direction so that he could direct waste collection and waste disposal authorities in London in the manner in which they manage their waste beyond the second information notice stage of their tendering of a waste contract. Extending the Mayor’s power in that manner would create uncertainty and could make the waste industry less willing to engage in the procurement process with London authorities.

On new clause 3, it is difficult to understand what purpose would be served by a minerals and waste development scheme for London, because the Mayor does not have the responsibility for preparing the associated development plan documents on minerals and waste. That is the responsibility of the boroughs,
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and no case has been made for moving the responsibility to the Mayor. If the intention of the proposal is that the Mayor should prepare a minerals and waste development scheme and therefore take on the responsibility for site-specific plan making for waste and minerals sites, doing so would create the wrong balance of decision making. Site-specific plans should be made by boroughs, which have an intimate knowledge of their local area, while the Mayor maintains a strategic policy direction.

6.15 pm

New clause 4 proposes amendments to sections 353, 355 and 357 of the 1999 Act. Section 353 of that Act relates to the Mayor’s municipal waste management strategy. The relevant amendment would widen the scope of the strategy to include litter. The Government believe that litter policy is best dealt with at local level, in accordance with local needs and circumstances. For the same reason, we also reject the proposed amendment to section 355, which would require waste collection and disposal authorities to act in general conformity with the Mayor’s municipal waste management strategy when clearing litter and refuse. The amendment to section 357 relates to the new clauses proposing a single waste authority, on which I have given my views.

I turn to new clause 7, which we agreed in Committee to consider further. Litter functions are dealt with at the local level by the boroughs, which work closely with partners and others that have responsibility for clearing litter and refuse. They do not have to provide any information to the Mayor before putting street cleansing contracts out to tender. New clause 7 would enable the Mayor to have oversight of procurement activity for street cleansing, presumably with the aim of promoting and encouraging best practice with the boroughs.

Having given the new clause further consideration, we do not think that it would increase the Mayor’s ability to instil best practice or the effective management of contracts. The capital standards programme already provides a forum for partnership work on local environmental quality issues in the capital. We consider that the Mayor’s objective can be met through arrangements such as those, rather than by requiring the boroughs to inform him about their contracts. London boroughs are best placed to assess local needs and arrangements for dealing with litter, and to exercise their powers and duties appropriately.

The Government’s proposals to enhance the Mayor's powers, along with his existing power of direction, will help to ensure that the strategic vision that he sets out for London is delivered on the ground. For the reasons that I have already explained, I cannot accept the proposals tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North. I hope that I have been able to reassure my hon. Friends of the Government’s robust approach to managing London’s waste, and I ask them to reconsider and to avoid pressing their proposals to a Division.

Ms Buck: I like a challenge, and I have listened carefully to the arguments. I shall not be pressing new clause 1 to a Division because I have done the math, as the Americans would put it. However, I remain
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unconvinced by the arguments, which seem to relate to two themes. The first is local decisions being taken by local people. The other is an approach of, “Trust us. We are getting better and we will deliver.” I am still of the view that it is the Government, the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats who are the optimistic ones. I have no intention of rehearsing the arguments yet again, but I should make some brief comments.

On the issue of local decisions taken by local people, there are two points to be made. The first is that a local decision taken by one set of local people may not necessarily be in the interests of another set of local people—indeed, such a decision may be in their disinterests. That is at the heart of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey). We have a shared commitment to localism but we must recognise that localism has its limits, and we need to respond to that.

More importantly, the local decisions taken by local people have to reflect a changing, growing concern about the impact of policies, particularly in the environmental sphere. As I have mentioned, very real financial risks also need to be considered, particularly when it comes to landfill. The Government have assured us that instability and a change of arrangement now could leave us at risk of not meeting our targets in 2010. I understand that, and I reflected that fact in my speech. However, my fundamental argument is that a bigger challenge lies a little further down the line. Although instability might come from making changes at this point, we could otherwise be vulnerable to a bigger risk in the future.

The fundamental issue is whether we are doing well enough. We are not. Do I have grounds for confidence that the improvement in performance over the past couple of years is of a scale and intensity that will allow us to rise to the challenge? Frankly, no I do not. Our performance in London has deteriorated. Although there are excellent authorities and we can see real signs of progress, too many authorities are lagging behind and our city-wide performance is simply not good enough.

Most importantly, we must consider the scale of the challenge in the future. As I said, by 2020 we will need four times the recycling capacity that we have now. We must plan for 100 new waste disposal sites in the coming decade, even though local authorities are disposing of such sites at present. We have no indication that we have in place the investment and strategic grasp that are required not only to turn around today’s laggardly performance, but to meet the challenge that we will face over the coming decade? There is a dangerous risk that the situation will be wrong a decade down the line.

Although I will not press new clause 1 to a Division, for obvious reasons, I do not think that we have heard the last of this matter. The arguments that were put forward did not show a grasp of the scale of what is confronting us. I am worried that we will be held to account a few years down the line by Londoners who will be waking up to the challenge of recycling and to the environmental consequences of not considering new waste disposal technologies and not moving up the waste hierarchy. They will say, “Why were you so
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complacent?” I am afraid that we are far too complacent in the face of the challenge, and I am sure that we will return to the matter in future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 8

Approval of Mayor’s final draft budget by Assembly

‘In Schedule 6 to the GLA Act 1999 (procedure for determining the Authority’s consolidated budget requirement), paragraph 8(4) is omitted.’.— [Tom Brake.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Tom Brake: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We return to what the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives believe is a fundamental flaw in the Bill. If the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who has just left the Chamber, had wished to be cruel, she could have pointed out that we were simply re-tabling a measure that we had considered before and that the arguments that we were deploying in its favour had not been developed since we considered the matter in Committee. However, the difference is that new clause 8 commands the support of both my party and the official Opposition, so I suspect that there is a greater likelihood of it being agreed to.

Members of the Public Bill Committee, some of whom are in the Chamber, will recall that we had long and detailed discussions about various aspects of the Mayor’s budget. One long debate related to the component of the Mayor’s budget for the assembly. Concern was expressed about whether a future Mayor might use his or her powers to restrict the assembly’s budget to such an extent that it could not do its job of scrutinising the Mayor’s business. Several extremely complex formulae were also cited in Committee. I will not attempt to describe or elaborate on them today, and I hope that no one will challenge me to do so. Even the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) would have some difficulty explaining the way in which his floors and ceilings operated —[ Interruption. ] Perhaps the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) would like to intervene to clarify the purpose of those extremely complex equations and their factors and parameters.

The crux of our debate was the need to ensure that there was more scrutiny of the Mayor’s budget and a greater role for assembly members in ensuring that the Mayor came forward with a budget that they could support. Hon. Members will know that the existing arrangements require two thirds of assembly members to oppose the Mayor’s budget if it is to be blocked. Many hon. Members in the Chamber must find that difficult to understand. When the Chancellor presents his Budget, he needs to secure the support of a simple majority if it is to proceed, but that is not the case for the Mayor’s budget. One of the aspects of our Committee proceedings that I regretted was that no convincing argument was made for why that was an appropriate way of operating.

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We fully support the Government’s desire for more powers to be transferred from central Government to the Mayor. That is the right direction of travel, and it is something for which we have consistently argued since back in 1998, when the original Bill was considered. As I said earlier, we supported giving the Mayor additional powers on rail in London nine years ago. However, we have been just as adamant that as the Mayor acquires additional powers, scrutiny and oversight should be enhanced. There is no logic in requiring the Mayor’s budget to command the support of only a third of assembly members. Democracy dictates that a simple majority should be required.

In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), gave us an uncharacteristically unconvincing explanation. The Minister usually does a very good job of explaining why the Government have adopted a particular position, but he said:

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