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Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but he is in a little danger of turning the situation on its head. The number of consultancy posts depends on the needs of the service, although of course that is in the context of the working time directive, national service frameworks, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines, and so on. It also depends on what individual hospitals judge they require and what the specialist royal colleges and
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associations recommend. All those factors have to be taken into account to ensure that in every part of the country the NHS gives patients the best possible care. That will determine the number of consultant posts and the number of training opportunities and non-training junior doctor posts, which will continue to make a valuable contribution to the NHS. As I said earlier, there will continue to be stiff competition for consultant posts, which is how it should be.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I am sure that many of the junior doctors in my constituency who contacted me because they are concerned about this whole process will welcome the announcement of additional training posts. Will the Secretary of State clarify where the funding of those training posts will come from? She said that it would come from the Department and SHAs, but will it be from existing budgets or will additional funding be found for those posts? What is her estimate of the total cost of funding those additional training posts?

Ms Hewitt: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for welcoming the announcements that I have made. The funding will come from the existing budgets of SHAs and the Department. I am not making a claim on the reserves. I always find it entertaining when Opposition Members who voted against extra funding for the NHS ask for extra funding for something else. I stress this point to her: because of the difficult decisions we have taken over the past 12 months, the NHS as a whole is not only back in financial balance but will have a surplus in the financial year that has just ended, putting it into a much better position to deal with those extra funding needs. We shall not know what the cost will be until we know the number of applicants who have been assessed as ready to progress to further training but for whom training opportunities are not currently available. What I have indicated is that there will be funding for the number of additional opportunities required for those candidates.

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Waste Strategy

1.24 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government’s waste strategy for England, which I am publishing today.

Each year we generate about 100 million tonnes of waste from households, commerce and industry combined. Most of it currently ends up in landfill, where biodegradable waste generates methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, which accounts for about 3 per cent. of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile much valuable energy is used up in making new products that are later disposed of, thereby also contributing to climate change.

We need, therefore, not only to recycle and reuse waste but to prevent it in the first place. The waste strategy published in 2000 delivered a step change in performance. Twenty-seven per cent. of household waste collected by local authorities in 2005-06 was recycled or composted, compared with 7.5 per cent. 10 years earlier. Recycling of packaging waste doubled to 56 per cent. in the same period. There was a fall of 9 per cent. in waste being landfilled between 2001 and 2005, and household waste is now growing much more slowly than the economy as a whole, at only about 0.5 per cent. per year.

Despite that progress, England’s waste performance still lags far behind much of Europe. Other countries landfill far less, and recycle and recover energy from waste much more. However, all countries face a challenge in reducing the growth of waste; and it is waste reduction that produces the greatest environmental benefits.

The strategy published today sets out national standards, while increasing local flexibility over how to achieve them. It provides a range of tools for individuals, businesses and local authorities to do the job. Our key objectives set out in the strategy are simple: less waste, more reuse and recycling, more energy from waste, and less landfill. Each part of society can play a part in achieving those objectives.

We set out three steps in the strategy. The first is for producers and retailers to help prevent waste, and take greater responsibility for ensuring that waste is recycled. We have identified key materials where waste can be reduced or recycled, including paper, plastics, glass, wood, aluminium, textiles and food. To achieve that, we are establishing voluntary agreements with the industries concerned to reduce and recycle waste. For example, there are more than 350 million pieces of unaddressed direct mail every year, so we have agreed with the Direct Marketing Association to develop an opt-out service for mail of that sort and will consider an approach where people get direct mail—addressed or unaddressed—only if they choose to receive it. We will also reduce the environmental impact of carrier bags by 25 per cent. over the next 18 months—equivalent to 3.25 billion fewer bags a year, or the greenhouse gas emissions of 18,000 cars—and work for the end of free, single-use carrier bags.

The reduction and recycling of packaging is an important symbol of change. The Government will take action in two areas. First, in consultation with
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industry, we will seek further to minimise the amount of packaging used; for example, by setting optimal packaging standards for certain products, so that producers will be expected to use the lightest weight packaging wherever possible. In addition, I am writing today to Commissioner Dimas urging the European Commission to review the provisions of the EU packaging directive so that member states’ authorities can take more effective enforcement action against clear cases of excessive packaging. Secondly, we need further to increase the rate of recycling of waste packaging. Subject to analysis, the Government will propose higher recycling targets for the period beyond 2008 and I have also written to the commissioner about that.

The second step to achieving the objectives is investment in infrastructure. Our aim is to ensure investment in facilities that collect sort, reprocess and treat waste by local authorities, businesses and the third sector. Alongside kerbside recycling, we want to stimulate the provision of much better recycling facilities in places of public access, so I am delighted that many operators of airports and railway stations, as well as the royal parks, have signalled their support for a drive to make recycling easier in places under their management. We will also establish a “zero waste places” initiative to develop innovative and exemplary waste practice. Through the private finance initiative, enhanced capital allowances and the proposed banding system for renewable obligation certificates, we intend to support a variety of energy recovery technologies.

We expect energy from waste to account for about 5 per cent. of municipal waste by 2020, compared with 10 per cent. today. That includes anaerobic digestion, which creates energy from food and other natural waste. According to the early evidence, the separate collection of household food waste on a weekly basis results in higher levels of recovery; up to 20 local trials on best practice in that respect are being undertaken.

The third sector—the voluntary sector—has a significant role to play in waste management and in achieving social and environmental objectives. The Waste and Resources Action Programme will therefore be developing a new programme to build further capacity in third sector organisations to enable them to maximise their contribution.

The third step is to use incentives and regulation to divert waste from landfill and encourage recycling. In his Budget in March this year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a substantially higher and faster rate of increase for the landfill tax escalator, which is to rise by £8 a tonne per year until at least 2010-11. Partly as a result, we now expect to see levels of commercial and industrial waste falling by 20 per cent. by 2010, compared with 2004. Also, we are considering with the construction industry a target to halve the amount of construction waste going to landfill by 2012. A number of European countries have imposed landfill bans on particular types of waste. Subject to additional analysis, we intend to consult on further restrictions on the landfilling of biodegradable waste or of recyclable materials.

This strategy empowers local authorities to make the right decisions for local circumstances in consultation with their local population. However, they are
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currently banned from providing financial incentives for waste reduction and recycling, even though elsewhere in Europe this has been an important contributory factor to higher recycling rates. We do not believe that a new tax-raising power for local authorities is the right way forward. However, in response to calls from the Local Government Association, I am launching today a public consultation on proposals to allow revenue-neutral financial incentive schemes to reduce and recycle waste.

Local authorities will be able to decide whether to develop schemes that reward in cash people who reduce waste and recycle at the expense of those who do not. Good recycling facilities need to be the foundation of such schemes; and any authority introducing a scheme will have to provide a good kerbside recycling service, as well as taking steps to tackle fly-tipping and avoid unfair impacts on disadvantaged groups. In the end it is for voters at local elections to pass judgment on such schemes, as against the alternatives.

We are confident enough of the measures that we are putting forward to set new and higher national targets for recycling, composting and recovery of household and municipal waste. We intend to achieve at least a 50 per cent. average household recycling rate by 2020, as compared to 27 per cent. in 2005-06. Subject to further analysis we will be proposing higher recycling targets for packaging for the period beyond 2008. Government must play their part: the central Government estate has targets to reduce waste by 25 per cent. and recycle 75 per cent. of waste by 2020.

We expect the combined impact of our policies to be a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions from waste management of at least 9.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020 compared to 2006. This is equivalent to taking 3 million cars off the road for a whole year. These savings are before allowing for the additional carbon benefits from waste prevention. Action on waste can make an important contribution to tackling climate change and other environmental objectives. More and more people are concerned about living in a throwaway culture. This strategy gives people the tools to make a difference. It makes environmental sense and it makes economic sense. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): It is a little ironic that a Government who have become a byword for wasting time and money have made such a hash of waste policy. Under Labour, as the Secretary of State almost acknowledged, Britain has become the dirty man of Europe. Yes, recycling rates have increased, but we are still faced with a growing pile of rubbish, and some three quarters of household waste is still dumped in landfill sites where it contributes to climate change. In France the corresponding figure is 38 per cent. and in Germany it is just 20 per cent. Why cannot we do better?

The Secretary of State says that household waste is growing at just a half a per cent. a year, but that represents less than 10 per cent. of the overall problem. Overall waste is increasing by 3 per cent. a year. Much of the pressure to improve our performance comes from the European Union. The Waste Strategy 2000 promised that in future the Government would meet the requirements of EU legislation “fully and quickly”. Shortly afterwards we had the fiasco of fridge mountains.
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Since then we have had delays and confusion over the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive and the end of life vehicle directive. The next one, I bet, will be a crisis over the new requirements to recycle batteries. Watch this space.

The huge media coverage that the issue of waste has attracted reflects real public concern. People know that there is a problem and they want the Government and local councils to help them solve it. I fear that there will be at best widespread disappointment at the Secretary of State’s statement today, and at worst a degree of alarm. Where the public, councils and industry were looking for and expecting at last some certainty, they will find vagueness and indecision.

The Secretary of State says that he will “consider an approach” to cutting junk mail. I wonder how that differs from the Waste Strategy 2000 pledge to

He suggests increasing packaging recycling rates, but only “Subject to analysis”. After a year of reviewing the position, how much more analysis do we need? He says that he is “considering with the construction industry a target” to reduce waste sent to landfill. How much more consideration can be justified?

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman announced a “public consultation” on waste charging. What exactly does he mean by allowing councils to reward in cash people who reduce waste and recycle at the expense of those who do not? I think he means fining people. I am not in favour of fining people; I am in favour of rewarding people who do the right thing. The Government will not succeed by bullying, whether bullying local councils by imposing new burdens without providing the means to pay for them, bullying households with threats of fines, or bullying communities by handing decisions over the siting of new waste incinerators to an unelected national quango.

The Secretary of State says that he expects energy from waste to account for 25 per cent. of municipal waste by 2020. Can he say what proportion of energy from waste he expects to come from anaerobic digestion, and what proportion from mass burn incineration? Does he agree that in a properly structured waste hierarchy incineration should be a last resort, and that it should always, wherever possible, go hand in hand with high levels of energy and heat recovery? Why is he not taking the opportunity to set standards to ensure that that happens?

The Secretary of State has been tentative where he should have been decisive. He wants a voluntary arrangement with the industry to reduce hugely unpopular and unnecessary packaging, but a system of fines for households struggling to cope with waste packaging that they did not want in the first place. Where are the measures to tackle fly-tipping? Where are the incentives to help people do the right thing? Instead of a clear, straightforward strategy to deal with the rising tide of waste in this country, we have been offered yet more consultations—more dither. The Secretary of State has laboured and brought forth a mouse, or possibly, as some newspapers would have it, no doubt in the light of the concern about fortnightly collections, a rat.

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David Miliband: That was an extraordinary performance. If only the hon. Gentleman could have seen the faces of those on the Back Benches behind him as he was giving that performance, he might have reconsidered.

I know that it is customary to send copies of a statement to the Opposition parties, and of course I did that in the time-honoured fashion. One would think that if I sent the hon. Gentleman a copy, he would be able to read out what I had actually said. From what he said about junk mail, I can only conclude that he had not read what I said. For his benefit, let me say it again. He claimed that we had said that we were considering further action on direct mail. He obviously neither read nor was listening to what I said five minutes ago. This is what I said: “For example, there are over 350 million pieces of unaddressed direct mail every year so we have agreed”—not considered to agree—“we have agreed with the Direct Marketing Association to develop an opt-out service for mail of that sort”. That is an agreement.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): It already exists.

David Miliband: No, it exists only for addressed mail. Two thirds of direct mail is unaddressed. That is why I gave the figure of 350 million pieces of unaddressed mail. Two thirds of the total direct mail does not have an opt-out service. That is a new agreement.

The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) claimed that this country was the dirty man of Europe, with 27 per cent. household recycling. We inherited a rate of 7 per cent. from the Conservatives. The quadrupling of household recycling in the UK in the past 10 years is the fastest improvement of any European country.

The hon. Gentleman said something extraordinary. He said that recovering energy from waste should be a last resort in the waste hierarchy. That is an incredible thing for him to say, and it is important that the House understands the implications of what he has said. He is right to say that there is a waste hierarchy, and prevention is the best option. However, the last resort is landfill, because landfill produces greenhouse gases that are so dangerous in a world of climate change. For him to say that energy from waste is a last resort demonstrates that he does not understand the issues.

This is the cheek of the hon. Gentleman—he complained that there is nothing on fly-tipping. That is from the party that voted against the provisions on fly-tipping in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. We do not need to legislate on fly-tipping, because we did it two years ago, when the hon. Gentleman voted against the provision.

On waste charging, the hon. Gentleman said—this is a very important moment in politics—that parties on both sides of this House say that they believe in devolution, local empowerment and local authorities being able to make their own decisions about what is right in their areas. On the Labour Benches, we not only say that, but do it. That is why I have said today that it is right for local authorities to have the power, if they so choose, to introduce a scheme that does not raise local taxes but rewards those who do the right thing. The hon. Gentleman has come out against that principle today. This is an important day to see the
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difference between rhetoric and reality on the Conservative Front Bench. On this side of the House, we are proud to say that accountability should come through local voters, and it is for local voters to pass judgment whether they like the schemes that local authorities choose to introduce or not.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to bullying. I can conclude only that there has been some bullying on the Conservative Front Bench. I have here a press release issued yesterday by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who speaks on local authority issues for the Conservative party.

Chris Huhne: Not today.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has chosen not to be here today. He preferred to get his press release out, perhaps to pre-empt the statement by the hon. Member for East Surrey, who said that there has been bullying. Under the headline “Join the winning team”, which must be ironic, the Conservative party has denounced the decisions made by 68 councils on bins. I am prepared to wager now that the majority of those councils are Conservative councils. It is significant that the Conservative party has refused to disclose the names of those 68 councils, but when we know the names, I will defend their right to make decisions that they believe are in the interests of local people.

The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar has warned that new stealth taxes are being proposed, but he is wrong, because today’s statement includes no new tax-raising powers. Far from the prediction that families would be quivering in fear as a result of the changes, we have the Opposition spokesman quivering in fear of other Conservative Front Benchers, while people in the country can look forward to the day when they can make decisions for themselves.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Contrary to what we have heard today in certain quarters, I warmly welcome the White Paper. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the ends and means issue in relation to climate change and the carbon content of waste, because one should have an eye on the means as well as the ends when supporting or not supporting that particular White Paper? What provisions has he made in that context specifically to enhance the effective use of the carbon value of biomass waste through waste management protocols and arrangements for co-firing—not incineration—where suitable residues are available? In that context, does he agree that there is the remaining problem of when waste is not waste and becomes a resource for further use? Has he made provisions and considerations in the White Paper to resolve that particular problem?

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