Draft London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008

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Joan Ruddock: Let me try to respond to the numerous points that have been made in the debate. I am being provided with more information.
In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said he thought that there should be local solutions to local problems and that local authorities should produce the results. He gave some examples of that. We agree with that approach. At the heart of all the responses I will give is that local boroughs will continue to assess the local needs and will make appropriate local responses to them. Overlaying that is the Mayor’s strategy. We hope that the board will bring together thinking within the boroughs and analysis of the boroughs, with the involvement of the Mayor. That will give a more strategic approach. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the measure.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether another level of bureaucracy will be workable. I have tried to illustrate why and how it will be workable. We currently have two levels with the boroughs doing their own thing. However, some of them are now getting together, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North has remarked. We need a greater involvement of London councils in coming together with the Mayor to look at strategy. We think that this proposal will add to what is in place. It is therefore a justifiable layer of bureaucracy. Importantly, it is something that those involved have all wanted. As I said in my opening remarks, the proposal has come after widespread consultation. It was presented to me jointly by the parties involved as something that they feel is appropriate and that they feel will work.
The hon. Gentleman asked what assessment has been made in meeting the challenging targets and whether the proposal will divert priorities away from what the boroughs are doing. The answer is that we think it will assist in meeting the challenging targets. The recycling rate in London is currently just 22 per cent. The latest figure for England is 33 per cent. Clearly, London has some way to go. It also has a way to go in diverting from landfill. Once again, we believe that this more strategic approach will be very important.
However, there will be no diminution in the responsibilities of local authorities. Through the framework of local authority indicators, many boroughs are opting for waste as one of their priority indicators. A number of local area agreements have clearly demonstrated that local authorities in London are taking this issue very seriously. Many local authorities have given their projections for the increases in recycling that they expect. We have to reach a target of 40 per cent. of recycling nationally by 2010 and local authorities have to make their contributions. They have to continue, we expect them to continue and there is every indication that they will.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the possibility of consultation before funds are handed out. There clearly will be consultation if the board is working and thinking strategically. It will not hand out funds in the same way as under the previous recycling fund in London, but will look strategically at the best things to do. Some poorly performing authorities might get particular help, but that will have to be justified by the board. It cannot just be that they have been performing poorly, but that there is a factor that will make a difference. It is for the board to decide and not for me to pronounce on what its priorities will be. [Interruption.]
I am helpfully being told that a vote is expected shortly. I doubt that I can get through all the answers and move the business to a conclusion before the vote, but we can hope that I may do so. I think that I have dealt with all the hon. Gentleman’s questions—he should jump up if I have not. Obviously, by publishing the board’s reports we are seeking transparency, and we see that funds are awarded for strategic purposes.
The hon. Member for Northavon first asked why there had been no impact assessment on the sector as a whole. I am advised that the impact on the private and community sector is expected to be minimal, in the context of the board’s full operations. The money would also have been available for waste activities directly via the boroughs, if not via the board. Apparently, that is why no impact assessment is required. As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is a legal matter and not one on which I would make a judgment.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the 2020 target for waste produced in the city—whether there is a London boundary and what assessment we have been able to make of that. As I indicated, we know what our national targets are—we have Waste Strategy 2007, as the hon. Gentleman knows. London has to contribute to that, and we are doing so through the local government indicators and the local area agreements. We are confident that we will meet the 2020 target, but only if we get sufficient infrastructure in place and keep up the progress that has been made by local authorities. We are very confident about the 2010 target, which is clearly already within our sights. Regarding the London boundary, the hon. Gentleman will I think know that at the moment there is no necessity for London’s waste to be dealt with in London. However, we subscribe to the idea that the closer waste can be dealt with—recycled, reused or disposed of—the better, and we would always want to see that. However, I stress that it will be for the board to decide how it invests, to encourage any of that strategy.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about independence. I thought that we did not have any information on that, and I am now assured of it. There is no information available on how the councillors will chose their representatives—that is clearly a matter for the councillors. The board is not meeting at the moment, so that is something that is still to be done. The hon. Gentleman asked about the board having committees and what kind of committees they would be. I am sure that he will understand that that is a decision for the board. Because of the need for transparency and accountability, the board should have the power to have committees, and it may or may not choose to do so.
On funding and research, my view is that there is a great deal of research going on already that can be drawn on, not least Government-funded research, part of which comes from the Waste and Resources Action Programme. There is also much that will come from the private sector. It would be entirely up to the board to choose what moneys to spend on research and what time to spend on analysing research going on elsewhere.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North talked about the relationship between the board and local authorities, and whether her local authority would have to consult with or inform the board if it chose to do something such as close down a successful recycling centre. The borough would, of course, take such a decision itself, and boroughs will continue to take such decisions. The Government have made it very clear that if local authorities are to satisfy all the needs of their residents—
3 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
3.15 pm
On resuming—
Joan Ruddock: I was in the middle of addressing the questions that had been put to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North, who spoke about the closure of a successful recycling centre. The Government and WRAP make a great deal of advice available to local authorities on how such centres should be operated, because they have to be operated for the convenience of the public and be easy to get to and the opening hours must be suitable for people’s lifestyles. Only by helping people to reuse and recycle their waste will we achieve the reductions in residual waste that we want to see in this country. We consider the provision of recycling centres to be extremely important, and they should operate for the benefit and convenience of local people.
Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): While the Minister is discussing fly-tipping, would she care to give her opinion on the effect of the recent £25 charge that the Liberal and Conservative administration in Brent has placed on the collection of bulky items, which used to be free? It now seems that, instead of calling the council to ask them to collect those items, people are fly-tipping them in the streets outside other people’s homes or in back alleyways, which has resulted in a huge upsurge in fly-tipping in the borough.
Joan Ruddock: First, there is no excuse for fly-tipping. No matter what excuse is given, it is unacceptable. Fly-tipping is a crime, and no one should fly-tip their own domestic waste. The imposition of charges is a decision for local boroughs, and I should have thought that a local borough would question whether the charging, at whatever rate, would be a deterrent or incentive for people to deal responsibly with their waste. Local councils certainly need to monitor that when new policies are introduced, no matter what they are. Monitoring is appropriate to see whether there are any unintended effects of different policies or changes of policy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North spoke about the seven north London boroughs being involved together, and that is absolutely true. In principle, we believe that the North London Waste Authority is a good thing and that boroughs should work together, but clearly I cannot comment on the impact that that might have in her constituency. I hope that proper consultations will be carried out with local people, because in every aspect of waste disposal it is appropriate that people are consulted and see that infrastructure, whatever it might be, is put in place with proper regard to the local environment.
I can tell my right hon. Friend that the North London Waste Authority, the borough of Lambeth, the West London Waste Authority, London Councils and the East London Waste Authority were the five respondents to the consultation. She asked whether that was a low level of response and is surprised. I am not surprised, because there had been many prior consultations on this subject. The boroughs had been involved through London Councils and through consultations with the Government Office for London and in many other ways. Much consultation had occurred and so at this final stage it was not surprising that we had only five responses. Interestingly, four of the five were a number of councils working through their co-ordinating body. So it is not a surprise and is perhaps an indication that they thought they had the most interest in the formation of the board.
I hope that I have dealt with the questions that have been raised in the debate. I am grateful to members of the Committee for their comments. We take it from the Committee that there is good agreement on the need to tackle waste in London and on the need for the board to be set up. As I said, London’s recycling rate is below the English average. It is just 22 per cent. compared with 33 per cent. There is no London borough in the top 20 councils for recycling in England. London has a way to go. We need to reduce dramatically the waste that goes to landfill from London because it is a clear burden. These are important and substantial challenges for all of us in London. With the Mayor and London Councils coming together we will, through this new recycling board, have a means of at least adding to the action that we take on tackling these particularly difficult but important issues of waste.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008.
Committee rose at twenty-two minutes past Three o’clock.
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