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Joan Ruddock: We have considered that carefully. I depart very much from the argument that the hon. Lady made earlier about the enormous costs that she wants to heap on to the collection system that were all about disposal—costs to cover anaerobic digesters, incinerators and so on. The actual cost to the local authority of administering such schemes will obviously be analysed during piloting. However, we have looked at schemes operating elsewhere and believe that up to £18 per household will be saved by the local authority from not having to send so much waste to landfill. These schemes are not dreamt up to give local authorities something new to do, but are based on proper consideration of what is done in countries where recycling rates have increased dramatically as a consequence of charge and reward schemes. We make no apology for the fact that the pilots are included in legislation currently in the House of Lords.

Dan Rogerson: I am interested to explore a little further why the Government support pilots rather than opening it up for local authorities to experiment. We have talked about innovative authorities coming up with their own systems. I am intrigued about why there are only five pilots. Will that not hold back other authorities?

Joan Ruddock: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm, and that of other Committee members. I understand why the Committee wanted all local authorities to have the power to get ahead. However, we had to listen very carefully to all who have continued to engage in this debate. That is why we felt that, if there is uncertainty and people are not convinced about our evidence, it is reasonable to say, “Let’s pilot schemes in this country and see how they work”. Piloting is a good way in which to learn lessons about best practice before deciding whether to roll out any of the schemes.

I remind hon. Members that the schemes are strategy proposals that local government can choose to take up. They are not to be imposed. If no local authorities come forward, there will be no pilots. However, we believe that we should offer the opportunity, which is why we are legislating.

Mrs. Lait: I have an entirely practical question. How does the Minister envisage charging larger families and in poorer areas?

Joan Ruddock: Poverty is no reason why people cannot recycle. People can avoid charges in such schemes by doing what is required of them. There is no reason why people with less money should not want to do their bit for society and to recycle along with those of us who have more money. Poverty is not an issue. Indeed, poorer people tend to have fewer products and expenditures, and probably less waste, although I have not carried out an analysis of that. However, I suggest that they are likely to have less waste than those of us with greater purchasing power. On larger families, we have said that pilots—this is another reason for piloting—need to consider those who might find it more difficult to increase recycling and reduce residual waste. That could include larger families, and we expect that to be looked at.

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In recommendation 20, the Committee raised the question of linking waste incentive schemes to council tax, which is a point that I myself raised when I took over the portfolio. I am glad to report that we have listened to stakeholders, including the Select Committee and the Local Government Association, on this point and that pilots will be able to administer waste rebates and payments through the council tax system if the authority wishes. Much of what has been said on this subject today is found in the Committee’s second report of 21 February. The Government have yet to respond formally to that report, but will do so in due course.

However, I think I can tell hon. Members today that we totally reject the Committee’s 14 conclusions, all of which fly in the face of earlier responses to the Government’s own information gathering on this subject. We remain confident that local authorities will want to pilot such schemes and I remind hon. Members that in our consultation 80 per cent. of respondents supported bringing in these powers. I am afraid that we will not agree—we will have to differ—and there is little point in going further over this well-trodden ground. Waste incentive schemes are being proposed in order to increase waste minimisation and recycling. Current measures have raised recycling rates to more than 30 per cent. and reduced residual waste going to landfill. We are on course to meet our 2010 targets and although we are not complacent, we are heading in the right direction to meet the 2013 targets.

Things get harder as progress is made and we believe that local authorities are likely to want such schemes as they move to meet challenging targets beyond 2013. However, we continue to listen and to refine our proposals. In the Lords we are currently proposing amendments to allow schemes to be based on frequency of service and on identifying tags applied to bins or bags. We are also proposing an amendment requiring the Government to report to Parliament on all pilots within three years of Royal Assent, which is expected in the summer. The reports will be transparent, taking account of the fact that the pilots were supported by DEFRA funding, and we will work with stakeholders to establish success criteria by common consent.

The Committee expressed concern about timing—the fact that pilots will not begin until next spring. We make no apology for that either, because we want to ensure that they are well designed. However, we will not require that all pilots be technically completed and wound up before we report on them. If pilots prove to be successful, we can act with appropriate pace to make the powers available to all local authorities, which is what the Committee wants.

Whatever the differences between the Committee and the Government, I hope that members of the Committee, perhaps with the exception of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), who spoke for the Conservatives, will reject the irresponsible reporting of some national newspapers on incentive schemes. Scaremongering that so-called bin taxes could cost ordinary families up to £1,000 a year is absolutely and utterly wrong. I hope that that was simply the product of an innumerate journalist but, of course, what was said has not been retracted.

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I shall address some of the points that Members made. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West made a number of points—she did not ask me any direct questions—and I shall comment on them. She asked about charging that is happening now and referred to the fact that the Government have written to the chief executive of every authority. She suggested that there was a grey area, but I must tell her that there is not. Charging for collection services is illegal, and that is what we have told local authorities. Under section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, authorities are allowed to charge for the provision of receptacles. It is on the interpretation of the provision of receptacles and the charging that she raises some questions for individual authorities—it is not for me to say.

The hon. Lady referred to home composting services and said that she thought that they could be a disincentive. As she was speaking, I tried to work the issue out in my head and I concluded that a local authority does not have to collect home compost if it encourages home composting. If local authorities had a statutory recycling and composting rate imposed on them, they could argue that they needed the compost to reach a target. However, they will no longer have that target. If people compost at home, local authorities benefit because they have less to send to landfill. The hon. Lady said that it was a question of balance, and I agree, but it does not seem that there are contradictions.

Dan Rogerson: The interesting question that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West addressed earlier was on garden as opposed to kitchen waste. Some of the latter can be composted, such as vegetable waste, but some cannot, such as meat waste. Clearly, if people composted kitchen waste, the weight of the municipal waste collection would fall. However, the issue is more about garden waste. We have all heard examples of areas in which green waste was not collected until targets were imposed and authorities had the incentive to put more lorries on the road to collect garden waste; it is a heavy and bulky item. We should draw a distinction between the two. When it comes to encouraging home composting, there is no recognition for people who compost garden waste, but perhaps there is for kitchen waste.

Joan Ruddock: I have some sympathy with that point. We need to look further at the issue of garden waste. I am a keen gardener—I have given up my lawns because they are too much—and many homes produce huge amounts of waste from lawns, shrubs and so on. We should look further at whether collection is the best environmental option, and whether there should be more emphasis on it. There has been a great deal of work and WRAP has been heavily involved in home composting arrangements. The hon. Gentleman said that it is not possible to compost meat waste, but I have a food digester in my garden in which I can put all my waste food every single day. I am glad to say that it disappears and that those awful bugs that we complain about can be productive.

The hon. Lady made a number of points on commercial waste and recommendation 29. The Government have no evidence of deliberate evasion of responsibilities.
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DEFRA wrote to all local authorities, as I said, to remind them of their duties to collect commercial waste if they are asked to do so. Local authorities must also report all the waste that they collect, including commercial waste. We have not been able to find evidence of the things of which some local authorities in London are being accused, particularly by the Greater London Authority. However, the Environment Agency was asked to do some auditing as a result of recommendation 29 of the fifth report, which suggests that London local authorities need to be audited because of their current waste disposal programmes and the

The agency states:

On that basis, we can see that it has not been possible to substantiate whatever suspicions there are on the matter.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall asked questions about DEFRA grants to WRAP and NISP, which was the subject of a previous debate in which I was involved. I was unable to comment then because we did not have the final settlements, but we now have them. Perhaps it would be helpful if I quoted what WRAP has said about its final settlement. It says:

I value the work of WRAP and NISP, which has undertaken some extraordinary innovation. NISP’s budget will be somewhat more than £5 million—it would have liked more, but I am confident that it will be able to continue its important work with that amount.

Mrs. Lait: Has the Minister heard what Steve Creed of WRAP said when he announced the end of the funding support programme? He said:

for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Joan Ruddock: We are conscious of the important work that has been done by a variety of delivery bodies, including WRAP, with small businesses over the years, but we are re-orienting that spending. We will ensure that support is given in different ways across government, and it is important to small businesses, particularly because of their size, that they do not have to approach or be approached by a lot of different agencies and Departments. We should be channelling a much more holistic service for small business.

The changes are a rationalisation and what has been said is absolutely accurate. In other circumstances, there might have been a longer period over which support was redirected, but we have taken the steps
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now because we are in a tight budgetary situation. It makes sense. We do not expect small businesses to be in difficulty as a consequence, and I think neither does WRAP.

The hon. Lady asked about anaerobic digestion, incinerators and a whole raft of disposal technologies. In particular, she asked why it is that they are all on the continent and not here. The fact is that we have had, for far too long, too many holes in the ground and landfill has been too cheap. Countries such as the Netherlands, which have not had the potential to put their waste in holes in the ground, have had to develop alternative solutions at great speed. That is why the technologies are so much more advanced in other countries than they are here. We have now made our decisions. We have been following the landfill directive, and we know where we are going. We will constantly reduce the amount of material going to landfill. That means that these other technologies become cost-effective and of interest to big business, which means that they will be coming on stream. In order to incentivise and assist with that process and ensure that there is appropriate and sufficient waste infrastructure in place, the Government have provided, as the comprehensive spending review settlement indicated, PFI credits worth £2 billion to facilitate the provision of such infrastructure over the next three years. That is an unprecedented amount of money. We believe that many technologies will be put in place as a consequence of that support. It has to be said that private industry itself is already on this path.

In DEFRA, we have contributed to the development of anaerobic digestion and we have made it very clear that we think that it is one of the preferred technologies. It has great potential for not just taking a variety of biodegradable waste, but also ending up with a digestate that can be used in agriculture or, alternatively, with biogas.

Dr. Pugh: The Minister referred to anaerobic digestion on the continent. I am sure that it exists on the continent, but has the Department made a study of how prevalent it is and how much waste is moved via that method?

Joan Ruddock: If the Department has made a study of it, I have not got the information. I will write to the hon. Gentleman. I was not thinking so much about anaerobic digestion, but more about conventional incineration and, of course, combined heat and power, which is a very positive technology that we see a great deal of on the continent.

Let me look at the other questions that I want to respond to. The hon. Member for Beckenham referred to a freedom of information request that had been successful on a consultation that I understood her to say was on alternate weekly collections. We have not done a consultation on AWC that has been subject to an FOI, so I am not sure how she was able to substantiate her claim that there has been a huge increase in fly-tipping. The AWC collections were around long before there was a documented increase in fly- tipping, which I acknowledge that there has been. Our view in relation to fly-tipping, like all crimes for which there is a requirement to report—Flycapture, which collects the data, is very new—is that we will see an increase. We have also seen much more activity by local government in tackling fly-tipping and in taking forward prosecutions.

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Mrs. Lait: The FOI request to her Department was for the responses to the consultation on bin taxes. The responses included one from the Environment Agency, which said:

Hertfordshire Waste Partnership said:

I can go on. There are very many references to fly-tipping. The statistics show, separately, that there has been a very large increase in fly-tipping, but that is not necessarily shown in the response to the hon. Lady’s consultation.

Joan Ruddock: We need to be very clear about this. First, there has not been a consultation on AWC, which has been subject to an FOI. Secondly, there has been a consultation—obviously—on incentive schemes. It is correct to say that on that consultation, concerns were raised. The Government never failed to acknowledge that. What we have said is that it would be essential in any scheme—again this is why pilots are important—to have a good fly-tipping strategy in place. That is common sense and a good recycling service would have to be in place, otherwise such a scheme would make no sense. As to fly-tipping, we acknowledge that the data show an increase. However, one also has to look at one’s own experience. In my borough, in which there is a very good strategy for tackling fly-tipping, fly-tipped waste is collected very fast. We are seeing much better outcomes than some years ago. At that time, when there was much more visible fly-tipping on my streets, no data were being collected at all. It is the collection of data on crimes that makes it appear that incidents of fly-tipping have gone up.

Dr. Starkey: Does the Minister also accept that a significant amount of fly-tipping is done by small business enterprises, notably builders, which are attempting to evade the landfill tax and are dumping builders’ rubble or hedges or whatever around the place? The statistics quoted would be for fly-tipping overall, most of which, I suggest, is likely to be from the commercial rather than the domestic sector and, therefore, entirely unrelated to any proposals on domestic refuse collection.

Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is a combination of things. Around half of fly-tips contain material from households, and that material is often collected by people such as she describes. What we would say is that the householder has a duty to be sure that those who pick up their waste intend to dispose of it appropriately and not fly-tip it. We all have a duty to be careful about who we give our waste to. If we are being offered something that clearly looks very different from the regular collection services, for which in the case of bulky items one may today have to pay the council, we ought to be aware that it is probably going to be fly-tipped. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The relationship between the potential for fly-tipping and waste incentive schemes is in no way proven.

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