Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Clause 69

Waste reduction schemes
Joan Ruddock: I beg to move amendment No. 103, in clause 69, page 32, line 40, leave out ‘may only be brought’ and insert ‘come’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 104.
Joan Ruddock: I assure the Committee that the amendments are small and technical. Perhaps it is unfortunate that we have not yet had the debate on waste incentives as it might not be entirely clear why we have tabled these amendments. We have done so to remove the link that exists between regulation-making powers relating to waste reduction schemes and the orders that will designate authorities as pilot areas. Within the proposals of this part of the Bill, we wish to see pilots undertaken by local authorities on waste reduction incentive schemes. For example, the regulations might be needed to allow local authorities to show waste charges and rebates on the council tax bill, or to enable them to collect outstanding charges more effectively through the county court and in relation to appeals processes. Under the existing drafting, the legislation prevents any such regulations being laid in Parliament until orders are made designating pilot authorities.
The amendments will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations using the relevant powers before the pilot authorities are formally designated. That will ensure that authorities interested in piloting a waste reduction scheme can be provided with a clear legislative framework by the time they are formally designated as pilots. As is the position at the moment, the regulations will not have any effect until the pilots are designated, and the amendments do not change the scope of the existing regulation-making powers set out in schedule 5.
I hope that I can assure the Committee that these are minor and technical amendments that will ensure that the Government can provide certainty for the pilot authorities, rather than them having to wait for the making of the designation orders.
Gregory Barker: I have taken what the Minister said on board. These are tidying-up amendments and they are relevant only in light of our debate on the Government and Opposition amendments that follow. I do not propose to delay our discussion. We will deal with the more substantive changes to schedule 5 in the next group of amendments. [Interruption.]
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Miss McIntosh: It is good to note, Mr. Atkinson, that even those in the highest echelons can sometimes be caught unawares by electronic devices.
This is our first opportunity to discuss this part of the Bill. I do not wish to take issue with what the Government are proposing, but this is a Bill on climate change. It is interesting to see that this part has been added to the Bill, so I wonder whether the Minister will explain why that has happened. This part of the Bill—clause 69 onwards—does not seem relevant to climate change. That does not mean that matters to do with waste disposal and energy from waste cannot help to reduce emissions, but the measure seems very heavily geared towards the domestic household.
In a few moments we will move on to schedule 5, but the issue is more about what is not in clause 69. I would like to have seen some review and emphasis of the EU packaging directive to show that the Government are on course to reduce packaging. I am concerned that, in respect of Government approaches to things, we seem to penalise the end user every time yet, in many instances, the end user has no control over the packaging, particularly in respect of supermarkets and food. I should like to have seen some reference in clause 69 and related clauses to other waste issues, including food waste and anaerobic digestion. Many other issues could have been dealt with under this part of the Bill, especially in clause 69, so why did the Government not do so?
Steve Webb: I agree with what the hon. Member for Vale of York says. Inevitably, as we discuss the succeeding clauses, we will dwell in great detail on the sorts of schemes that local authorities might run with regard to residual domestic waste, incentives on householders, and the things that councils can do to penalise or reward people. This is probably the right place, under the general heading of waste reduction schemes, to probe the Minister on the thing that our constituents say to all hon. Members: “We’d throw less away if, when we left the supermarket, there was less in our trolleys and shopping bags.”
It is unfortunate that the scope of the waste reduction schemes covered by clause 69 is limited, under schedule 5, to just domestic schemes. Householders have limited control over a lot of the residual waste that we will be talking about. They can do something about it, but are often lumbered with it. We should now be asking the Government what their part of the bargain is regarding the duties that they are placing on manufacturers and retailers to minimise packaging and waste generally.
We will be focusing overwhelmingly on what the householder can do and what sticks and carrots councils can apply to them, but this is the right point in the Bill to ask the Government what they are going to do to make it easier for householders to avoid the sticks and to benefit from the carrots.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I add my voice to those expressing disappointment that the Government have chosen to bolt this on to the Bill. This is an enormously important and groundbreaking Bill. It only has one value and that is as a framework Bill designed to put in place a much better process for setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, revising those targets and holding the Government of the day to account for performance on meeting those targets. We hope that the Bill will be scrutinised around the world. It would have been much better to have kept it pure in purpose, but the Government have not been able to resist the urge to add a few more baubles on to the Christmas tree, which dilutes the value of the Bill.
I am interested in why it was necessary to add this provision to the Bill and whether there was consideration of other mechanisms to introduce legislation that would have enabled what are, in effect, some pilot projects in local authority areas. The measures dilute the Bill, so why were they necessary?
Joan Ruddock: I shall respond to the last point first. I am asked why it is necessary to add to the Bill. I am surprised that Opposition Members do not see the connection between reducing waste and climate change. Waste in this country has, historically, gone to landfill, thus causing an immense problem with the production of methane, which Committee members have drawn to our attention as a more potent gas than even CO2.
The problem involving huge quantities of waste and methane is of enormous concern in relation to mitigation. There is an absolute necessity to reduce what goes into landfill, and that is why the proposals are in the Bill.
4.15 pm
Gregory Barker: With the greatest respect, I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood doubted that for a minute. He was simply saying, “Why pick on waste?” Why is there no provision in the Bill for carbon capture and storage? Why is there no provision in the Bill for microgeneration and feed-in tariffs? Why is there nothing in the Bill to promote combined heat and power? Why does the Bill not address the expansion of Heathrow airport? Why does the Bill not address energy efficiency? The list goes on and on, so my hon. Friend made a good point.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman has just given a list of all the things that are bound to be considered when the Government seek to mitigate emissions from the various sectors that he has just described. The measure is being proposed because it does not exist elsewhere. We are the only country in the EU15 that does not allow local authorities to charge for some aspects of waste removal. There is a strong reason behind the measure. It comes before us because local government asked central Government to make such powers available to local government.
As Conservative Members know, their party controls a significant number of local authorities, and the Local Government Association, which is Conservative-controlled, has an environment committee, the chair of which is Paul Bettison, who is well known to us all. He said in response to a Communities and Local Government Committee report:
“This report rightly points out that it is only councils, in consultation with local people, who can decide the best system for collecting waste and boosting recycling rates. Although pilot schemes are a step in the right direction, the power should be there for all councillors to reward hard working families who do their bit for the environment...The Government should bring forward amendments to the Climate Change Bill to give councils the power to introduce incentive schemes as the Committee has recommended.”
It seems that the chair of the Local Government Association’s environment committee is enthusiastic that such measures should be in the Bill.
As I said at the outset, waste in landfill is a major problem. It is not sustainable, and 3 per cent. of all UK greenhouse gas emissions come from methane from biodegradable waste in landfill. Waste reduction schemes may have an important role to play in encouraging people to throw away less and to recycle more.
In the meantime, we have tried to agree voluntary arrangements with major retailers, and I am pleased to record that those who have entered into the voluntary Courtauld agreement have done so on the basis that there will be at least an end to the growth in packaging waste by the end of this year, and a reduction by 2010. In the meantime, on the advice of the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which is funded by the Government, there has been the lightweighting of packaging and a reduction in its amount in ways that, unfortunately, consumers often cannot see. In defence of retailers, some packaging is necessary, and some good work has been done, but there is a great deal more to do. We are pursuing that in every way.
The hon. Member for Vale of York also asked about food waste, which is one of the most extraordinary aspects of our society. We throw into the waste stream a third of all the food that we purchase, and that is costing UK citizens £10 billion a year. That is a horrific waste at this time. We want to do more about that across Government. We are making considerable inroads with the “Love Food Hate Waste” programme, which was launched by myself and the Waste and Resources Action Programme. We are aware that the public are particularly sensitive to the issue at this time, and they are receiving these messages about reducing food waste and the necessity of doing so.
As I have dealt with all the questions, I will return to what we are trying to do in the Bill. Local authorities asked for such opportunities. We know that they have made progress, but they want to do more, and we need them to do more. Over the past 10 years, recycling rates have quadrupled and they now stand at around 33 per cent. As hon. Members will know, we still lag far behind much of Europe and that is why we need to do more. Householders have a vital role to play. Municipal waste accounts for more than a quarter of the waste sent to landfill in England, and household waste forms a large part of that.
To enable us to do more, we need to try out new possibilities. We cannot afford to sit back and say that things will never work, especially when research shows that waste reduction schemes really help. We know that from other countries. A particularly good example is Sweden where, in one of its municipalities, residual waste as a result of such schemes fell by 45 per cent. in the first year of the scheme, and waste separated for recycling or composting rose by 49 per cent.
Likewise, in Seattle, where householders pay according to the size of their bin, recycling tonnages have increased by 60 per cent., and participation in recycling has increased by 80 per cent. That is undoubtedly why local authorities have proposed to Government that they should have the opportunity to incentivise householders to reduce the amount of waste that they produce and to recycle more. The Bill proposes that we allow up to five local authorities to pilot schemes. However, those schemes will not have been tried in this country before, which is why this is a very modest proposal.
We want to learn from the pilots and from the response of both the authorities and the public. Once we have evaluated the impact of the pilots, we will be in a position to decide whether or not to roll out the powers more widely.
Clause 69 introduces schedule 5, which provides the legislative framework for waste collection authorities to set up a waste reduction—or a waste incentive—scheme. Householders who throw away the least will receive a rebate from the local authority and, under some schemes, but not necessarily all, householders who throw away the most will pay more.
Under the schemes, many people will be better off. That is because any money that is received by the councils in charges will have to be paid back to residents. That is on the basis of the condition called revenue-neutrality. Overall, residents do not pay any more to the authority.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I wonder whether the Minister will explain her point about some householders paying more and some paying less. Is it based on how many people inhabit a house? A house with two occupants would have a different “budget” to houses with four or five occupants.
Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The whole point of having pilots is to try to work out a fair system. Concern has been expressed that larger households will produce more waste than smaller ones. Strangely enough, research shows that proportionately, smaller households produce as much waste, and occasionally more. It is quite complicated, because we have a lot of research under way, which WRAP has undertaken. In the case of those schemes, the pilot authorities must have regard to vulnerable households, which could include larger households. It is quite possible, whatever the design of the scheme, that there would be an allowance for larger households.
Martin Horwood: I am not arguing against permissive powers, and in general we favour the freedom of local authorities to experiment with the consent of their electors. As well as larger households—in other words, families with children—there is also the issue of small households that might not have the space to compost organic waste or put it in relatively smelly wormeries. In one case, they do not have sufficient space in a small flat, and in the other they would almost certainly break their tenancy agreement and act against the interests of public health. Does she accept that that is also an issue and that the guidelines on social justice in that respect need to be drawn pretty broadly?
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