Previous Section Index Home Page

Since the introduction of those, and their predecessor regulations nine years ago, there have been just four prosecutions for excess packaging. I have surveyed trading standards services around the country, and they are clearly finding it difficult to build a case for enforcement using the regulations. Wiltshire county council says that

West Berkshire council says that

South Ayrshire county council says

It is far too easy for businesses to show that they are complying with the regulations. Product presentation and brand image are taken strongly into account. If producers can find any evidence that sales have dropped as a result of a packaging size reduction, they can use packaging that is larger than necessary. A packaging arms race has begun, with ever bigger branded boxes jostling for space on supermarket shelves, and the consumer is left to pick up the tab for both the packaging and its disposal.

Even if the regulations were well worded it would make no difference, because trading standards departments are told not to bother. Last year the Rogers review described the policing of excess packaging as a “non-priority”, and no mention was made of packaging in
23 Oct 2007 : Column 186
the 2005-06 statement of central Government priorities for the trading standards service. The current regulations need technical amendments to prioritise the reduction of excess packaging over the needs of marketing departments, and Government need to stop ignoring the issue and provide some leadership.

My Bill calls for the establishment of a national body on packaging to support trading standards departments. It would work with them to tackle large-scale producers of excess packaging, and would offer a more co-ordinated and systematic approach to the problem. Such a national body could also place more emphasis on proactive packaging enforcement than trading standards departments, which tend to act only on specific complaints from the public.

If supermarkets and other retailers are to drive change and reduce packaging, the ball must be in their court. They must be given an incentive. Consumers should be empowered to take action and return unwanted packaging to the point of sale. The Bill requires large retailers to provide an in-store deposit point for the disposal of excess packaging before the customer leaves the store. Broadly speaking, packaging that can be removed by the customer before he or she leaves the shop is excessive, whereas packaging that must stay on the product if it is to arrive at the customer’s home in adequate condition is necessary. Making retailers take back the excess packaging that they force on consumers will send the message, loud and clear, that if they do not want to deal with it, they should not put it on the shelf in the first place.

Disposable plastic bags are a highly visible symbol of wasteful practice on the part of supermarkets. An estimated 17 billion plastic bags are given away annually by United Kingdom supermarkets—enough plastic to cover an area the size of London, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and west Yorkshire combined. Some countries have attempted to tackle excessive use of disposable plastic bags by introducing bag taxes, but evidence of their effectiveness or otherwise is mixed. Supporters of the idea point to the example of Ireland, where a 15-cent bag tax resulted in a 90 per cent. reduction in plastic bag use, but critics argue that the alternatives to plastic bags are heavier, and that the additional carbon emissions from transporting them offset any gains.

A better alternative to a plastic bag tax would be requiring supermarkets to participate in a deposit scheme for carrier bags. It would take the form of a levy—say 10p—paid on a bag at the point of sale, which would be redeemed when the bag was returned to the store. The charge would encourage customers to use bags sparingly, and in practice customers bringing the bags back would reuse them until the end of their useful life, when they would redeem the deposit or receive another bag. Attaching a redeemable deposit value to the bags would also create an incentive to reduce plastic bag litter.

We face many huge environmental challenges, and packaging is just one small but important part of a much bigger environmental picture. Outside the Chamber, I have found huge support for my campaign to cut excess packaging. The Independent and groups such as the Women’s Institute are running similar campaigns. The reaction both of my constituents and of people who have contacted me from around the
23 Oct 2007 : Column 187
country has been overwhelmingly positive In circumstances such as these, when a clear case for action is backed up by strong public support, the onus is on Parliament to act. Both the environmental and the economic costs make this an issue that must be tackled urgently.

The Government have recently come under fire for stealing policies from other parties. Lest my Bill does not receive sufficient parliamentary time during the current Session to progress to Third Reading, I invite the Minister to feel free to adopt the good ideas in it—and I promise that, rather than criticising, I shall be delighted.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Jo Swinson, Chris Huhne, Susan Kramer, Andrew Stunell, Norman Baker, John Barrett, Jenny Willott, Peter Bottomley, Bob Spink, Derek Wyatt, Mark Lazarowicz and Mrs. Sharon Hodgson.

Packaging (reduction)

Jo Swinson accordingly presented a Bill to establish a national body to promote and enforce packaging reduction; to make provision for the disposal of packaging by certain retailers; to establish binding targets for the reduction of packaging; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Thursday 25 October, and to be printed [Bill 165].

Royal Assent

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Sustainable Communities Act 2007

Greater London Authority Act 2007

Further Education and Training Act 2007

Building Societies (Funding) and Mutual Societies (Transfers) Act 2007

23 Oct 2007 : Column 188

Crossrail Bill (Carry-over)

[Relevant document: First Special Report of the Crossrail Bill Committee, Session 2006-07, on the Crossrail Bill, HC 235.]

4.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): I beg to move,

This motion is technical in nature, and will ensure that the Crossrail Bill continues into the next Session. If enacted, the Bill will allow for the construction of the scheme. It is a hybrid Bill. It was introduced on 22 February 2005 and received its Second Reading on 19 July 2005 with a majority of 375. The Select Committee, ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), commenced its work on 17 January 2006 and completed its—unenviable—task on 16 October 2007, having convened for an impressive 84 sitting days, including a few evenings, and having considered more than 200 petitions. I am sure the whole House will once again join me in thanking the Committee, as well as the Clerks, Hansard reporters and doorkeepers, for their dedication, professionalism and enthusiasm during the past 21 months.

The motion’s purpose is simple. It will ensure that the Bill can be carried over for consideration in the next Session and that all the work that I have briefly described is not wasted. Carrying a Bill over from one Session to another is, of course, well precedented; indeed, this Bill has already been carried over from one Parliament to another.

If the motion is passed, there will be no curtailing of scrutiny in the next Session. There will be the usual opportunities for Members to consider the Bill line by line during the Public Bill Committee stage. Allocation of places on the Committee will be on a first come, first served basis. I urge Members to speak to their Whips as soon as possible if they wish to secure a place. I can say with confidence that the Committee’s deliberations will be measured in days or weeks, rather than months.

Whatever outstanding reservations Members might have about aspects of the project, I do not believe that anyone wants the Bill to be infinitely delayed or, worse still, cancelled, which is what could happen if they object to the motion before us today. I remind the House that there will be a Select Committee in another place to consider remaining concerns of petitioners. With that in mind, I commend the motion to the House.

23 Oct 2007 : Column 189
4.53 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): London is the global city: it is the city of world finance, international tourism and the 2012 Olympics. It competes not nationally or continentally, but internationally and globally, and it therefore needs infrastructure of the highest global stature and highest standard.

I note that this debate can continue until 10 o’clock. An invitation to speak is a temptation to politicians, and the carry-over motion debate in the last Session unexpectedly lasted for two and a half hours. We should resist that temptation this afternoon.

Earlier today in the House, the Secretary of State for Transport said that Crossrail was a triumph for this Government, and it is certainly the case that if the Bill is enacted that will be a triumph for them. However, I should add that that was a failure for a predecessor Labour Government, because such a project was first mooted in 1948—in order to alleviate overcrowding on the Circle and Central lines, which might prompt some participants in today’s debates to say, “Plus ├ža change.”

This motion commits the Bill to Committee. We have been there several times before, and let us hope that this Committee stage is more fruitful and that Crossrail is built and being used in 13 years’ time—which is how long ago the last Committee stage was—and not just being talked about.

As the Minister also said, the motion is essentially non-controversial and aims to carry the Bill over into the next Session. The Bill proves the convention that hybrid Bills usually last for more than one Session; this one is probably close to creating records because, as he has said, it has spanned not only one Session but one Parliament. Conservative Members echo the thanks to the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), his Committee and all colleagues who served on it.

The Bill will have taken a long time to reach Committee when it does so in the next Session. In my short time in the House, we have had four debates on the Floor of the House on this and several major arguments, the first of which was over the location of stations—there will now be a station at Woolwich. There have also been arguments about the route—latterly, where to begin it and where to end—about where to have sheds and about funding: who, how much and when. The Government, the taxpayer, the fare box and business were always going to be involved in that, and with all due respect, the Government cannot escape the criticism of dalliance. The suggestion made in the previous Session that the financing be reviewed by Sir Michael Lyons was nothing more than a blind alley.

A deal is now in place, but it will need examination and further clarity. Londoners are already wondering how large the sum is on the cheque that the Mayor has written on their bank accounts. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully and that we will be able to explore the deal carefully in Committee. I am glad that he is making a note of that.

Throughout the parliamentary process, the Conservative party’s position has been to back Crossrail in principle and to ensure that the Bill’s passage through its parliamentary process is as quick as we can possibly allow it to be. That was our position and will remain so.
23 Oct 2007 : Column 190
We look forward to Committee, Report and Third Reading. We want those to be swift so that the mental work that has been done on this vital piece of infrastructure can be reflected in the physical work that needs to commence. We support the carry-over motion.

4.57 pm

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I do not intend to detain the House for any length of time, but it is right that a few additional comments should be made in support of the carry-over motion. I agree with the Minister’s proposal and his remarks about the importance of the Crossrail scheme and the good progress that is being made. I emphasise how vital it is for the future of not only London and its economy, but the whole country. There is little doubt that without Crossrail, transport and traffic in London would grind to gridlock within a short time. Crossrail is vital to the long-term success of our capital city and the economy of our whole country, so it is good news that the scheme is progressing and that a firm timetable is in place to ensure that trains will begin to run from 2017.

I agree with the tribute that the Minister paid to the members of the Select Committee and to its Chairman, because they have done a magnificent job. They have had to put a great deal of time into this—84 sittings and more than 18 months’ work, which is hard work by any standard—and they have made a significant impact. As the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) mentioned, their stalwart efforts have resulted in a station at Woolwich; it is now an integral part of this scheme and that was not the case when the Bill was first presented. It is essential to Crossrail, vital for the regeneration of the Thames Gateway and will be a considerable net contributor to the scheme because, as the Committee pointed out, the cost-benefit analysis is particularly favourable in respect of Woolwich. Common sense has prevailed, and the Select Committee has done its job successfully in ensuring that this provision is incorporated in the Bill. That is warmly welcomed in south-east London. I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) is present, because I know that he, too, will wish to congratulate all involved in this progress.

The final comment that I wish to make concerns the funding package. Major progress was made in the recent announcements by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, in his pre-Budget statement, about the funding basis for Crossrail. The hon. Member for Wimbledon was a little churlish about Sir Michael Lyons, because his report came forward with the proposal for the supplementary business rate, which is an integral part of Crossrail’s funding package and has made this possible. It is a big project and the funding is substantial, so it is right that the package should be robust. By seeking support from several different parties, rather than having the cost all falling on the public purse, we have a better prospect of ensuring that the scheme proceeds and is properly funded.

I congratulate the Government on reaching this stage, and the Committee on its magnificent work. I wish the Bill well in its progress to the statute book and the process of constructing this hugely important new rail link in London.

23 Oct 2007 : Column 191
5 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I echo the Minister’s comments about the good work done by the Committee. Remarkably, my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), whom I appointed to serve on the Committee on our behalf, still speaks to me. I give credit to the Committee for ensuring that its work has been relevant and suitably challenging.

I could, I suppose, spend some time giving a brief history of Crossrail, although perhaps not going back to 1948. Suffice it to say that perhaps the most recent emergence of Crossrail was back in 1989, with the central London rail study, which was, regrettably, rejected in 1994 by the then Conservative Government. However, to give them credit, they did ensure that there were protected alignments, so that when the project re-emerged, the route was safeguarded. That was very welcome.

I agree with the Chancellor that Crossrail is essential for the competitiveness not just of the City of London, but of the whole country. I certainly welcome the progress that has been made to date, and I would not want to impede that progress. However, just as the Committee states in the conclusion to its report on page 56 that it is

hon. Members may have struggled to identify information that is of concern to them, especially about the financial framework that has been put in place to ensure that Crossrail proceeds. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will be able to give us some reassurance on that point. For example, the pre-Budget statement refers to the resources that were allocated in the comprehensive spending review to allow the commencement of the main construction of Crossrail. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the phrase “main construction” is simply used to demonstrate the phases in which the work will be done, which would start with the main construction, and is not an indication that all that will be affordable is the main construction, and other components might not be afforded. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that does not represent wriggle room for delivering only part of the project, not the totality of it.

The pre-Budget statement also contains a reference to the Department for Transport contributing around one third of the total estimated cost of up to £16 billion. Is there a defined upper limit on that contribution, given that the statement is a little vague about the Department’s contribution? We need clarity on the £16 billion and where the funding will come from. It is regrettable that hon. Members have had to try to piece together the financial framework from different sources—principally the media—as opposed to having a clear breakdown. My understanding—and I hope that the Minister will confirm it—is that £5 billion will come from Government grants, as stated in the PBS—

Next Section Index Home Page