Climate Change Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): I know that the right hon. Gentleman was not present when we began the debate in our previous sitting, but there is a direct connection with the amount of waste that we householders throw away every year, the majority of which goes to landfill, producing methane, which is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. He might not think that it is entirely tidy to have the clauses in the Bill, but there is an important connection.
David Maclean: The hon. Lady is right that there is a connection, but why do we not have clauses on the amount of motoring that we do, the cars that we buy and the contribution that transport makes? Why do we not have clauses on peat-land bogs and upland forests?
Joan Ruddock: The right hon. Gentleman knows that all such matters are considered in other forms of legislation. We can do—we are doing—many things to try and move towards having a low-carbon economy. However, we need the specific legislation, because we are the only country in the EU15 that does not allow charges to be applied for waste collection.
David Maclean: This Bill is a convenient vehicle for the garbage clauses to be tacked on to. I am not suggesting that they are out of order because the long title of the Bill permits their inclusion. It is not just a matter of tidiness, although I do like tidy legislation—and tidy everything, to be honest. The schedule is inappropriate because it could disillusion the public with regard to our main purpose. People in the pilot areas and in other areas will struggle to put the right sort of material in the right boxes on whatever day of the week the council deigns to turn up to collect that sort of recycling material. When they get it wrong and are given penalties, I am afraid that they will say, “Well, it’s all this climate change nonsense and saving the planet,” and they could become disillusioned about our main purposes. I will not labour the point; I want to get on to the technical details.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend press that point a little more before he gives it up? The Minister is just wrong. The schedule will distort the Bill in a way that will do damage. Already, local councils that tried to do what is proposed for a pilot scheme have found it much more difficult than they thought. At the moment, they—Tory as well as Labour councils—are being blamed. The Bill is about too big a matter for us to add to it this sectional interest, which the Government could have put in the Finance Bill or a whole range of other legislation. This shows that the Government have not yet realised what a huge undertaking they have taken on. In a sense, they have not built up the importance of the Bill.
David Maclean: I agree with my right hon. Friend. I also agree with the Minister that it is important that recycling is increased. We need to educate the public to do that better.
I would have liked to have seen the Government’s “good” recycling scheme before going ahead with the measure. I am appalled at how some things have slipped in the House since the old days. When I was in government 10 years ago, we could never have come along to a Committee and said, “Pass this legislation. We will at some point in the future produce a good recycling service, and we will produce guidance and standards on what that is.” The Committee would have said, “Look, Minister, we are not going to go ahead with that until you produce the regulations and the guidance.”
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): May I help the right hon. Gentleman with an interesting quote? It states:
“Add to that, the impact of methane leaching from the decomposition of organic material which releases approximately 22 per cent of the UK’s methane emissions and it is obvious why no serious policy to combat climate change can avoid the problem of the way we use and discard material resources.”
That is a brief quote from the introduction to the Conservative quality of life commission report, which was authored by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal.
David Maclean: Yes, of course it is terribly important. I do not want to go back to the discussion that we had two weeks ago but, as everyone admits, the rain forests are worth more than all the transport emissions in the world and we do not have a big section in the Bill on rain forests—the Government said, “Oh, it’s covered, we don’t want to deal with that.” Biodiversity is vitally important to saving the planet and it is not in the Bill. Yes, garbage and recycling make a contribution, but they have a huge part in the Bill, and it stands out like a sore thumb. It stands out like a piece of plastic in the newspaper recycling box because it is not appropriate to the Bill.
Mr. Gummer: I hope that my right hon. Friend would agree that it is important to remember that the domestic waste stream is 8 per cent. of the waste stream as a whole, so even though the hon. Member for Southampton, Test is right about those figures, we are dealing with not the 92 per cent. but 8 per cent., and we ought to put that in context.
David Maclean: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the proposal was for a waste reduction scheme or a garbage collection scheme relating to all the garbage in the country, including the vast amounts that the commercial vehicles pick up each morning in the giant Biffa bins, or however else they collect it, I could understand it. My right hon. Friend is right: we have a Bill on carbon emissions, setting magnificent targets for 2050—which we can argue about ad nauseam—yet we have a few clauses on trying to create five pilot areas for a bit of domestic recycling containing weird and wonderful ideas and penalties. The pilots concern five of the authorities dealing with 8 per cent. of the waste in the country, so that is perhaps 0.1 per cent. of waste.
Joan Ruddock: There are measures to deal with all the other waste streams. I repeat that it is a specific necessity to deal with household waste streams. The recycling rates of commerce and industry, for example, are far ahead of household recycling rates. Regarding the right hon. Gentleman’s comment about what makes a “good” recycling scheme, on 19 June we issued the draft scheme for consultation.
10.45 am
David Maclean: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that latter point and I stand corrected. I hope the draft scheme will be circulated to members of the Committee. It is a pity that it is not in the room for us to study as we go along.
If industry and business are further ahead, let us have a specific Bill to lay out all the proposals for dealing with household waste in separate legislation, so that we can deal with it in detail. I do not want to get bogged down on that point—it was an aside at the start of the Committee. It is a pity that five or six clauses on garbage are stuck in such a major Bill.
Mr. Gummer: Will my right hon. Friend note what the Minister said? The Government have done nothing whatever about the 20 per cent. of the waste stream that is construction waste. They have not insisted upon consolidation, they have not insisted that building companies behave properly, and they have no arrangement to help the links between local authorities and the building industry. We have the worst record in Europe, and the Government have done nothing. They have not even bothered to deal with the matter in the Bill.
David Maclean: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those detailed observations, which I will leave for the Minister to respond to. We could do much more to use construction waste in recycling, whether in concrete blocks or road building and so on.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
David Maclean: No, I do not wish to go down that route now, I wish to consider the amendment and explain what it is about.
Amendment No. 108 states that
“the authority proposes to collect residual domestic waste at least once in every seven days,”.
I suggest inserting that requirement into proposed new paragraph 2(2), so that a waste authority could create a waste reduction scheme. It would be allowed to do that, providing that it satisfied qualifications (a), (b) and (c), and that it collected waste every seven days. It would also be able to collect all recyclable material.
I then propose an alternative amendment, suggesting that authorities should collect every 14 days. An authority might not want to collect every seven days, as it believes that it has a good scheme collecting every 14 days. I personally think that that is too long and I am disturbed that some schemes collect garbage only every 14 days. However, in recycling garbage collection pilot schemes, collection up to 14 days is legitimate, so the option exists.
With my dodgy legs, I find it difficult, staggering with different boxes to the recycling bins, but I do my best to recycle. However, I am appalled to see the many rules that exist in district councils in different parts of the country—even in my area of Cumbria between Carlisle and Eden. There are different collections on different days. Some take paper but not cardboard, others allow paper and cardboard in the same box. There are numerous definitions of plastics. God help a person with a carrier bag full of plastic bottles that they are stuffing into the holes. If they stuff the carrier bag in with the bottles, they are in deep trouble. That will be a criminal offence, so they must go to another bin to dispose of the plastic bag.
There are different kinds of cans. I can tell the difference between a tin can and a Coca-Cola aluminium can, but the hassle involved in separating all that stuff in some ways prejudices me against recycling. It would be easier to put everything in a big bag and dump it at the tip. I do not do that, but at times, one is tempted. I can see that many others have been similarly tempted because of the sheer hassle of trying to separate things into too many different categories.
When I come to London—many of us have homes in the Westminster area—it seems to be all-in-one recycling. What is Westminster council doing? Is it doing it correctly, or wrongly? I assume that it is doing it legally. In the Westminster area, provided there are no food scraps, garbage or bits of cling film from food, all plastics, glass bottles, tin cans, containers, newspapers and card of whatever description—glossy Sunday colour supplements and ordinary newspapers—go into one recycling plant. I do not know how the council sorts it. I do not know if the council sorts it. Much of it may go for power generation, or incineration to create power. It is so convenient for householders that it is much easier to do and we are not prejudiced against doing it.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Perhaps I can help my right hon. Friend. I followed the rubbish from Westminster to its ultimate destination, which is SELCHP—South East London Combined Heat and Power. I challenged the Minister about what is, in my view, a missed opportunity in the legislation, and about the need to educate people about what such schemes do. My right hon. Friend may not know that despite its name, SELCHP does not at present have a combined heat and power facility, or it may have just got it.
David Maclean: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that elucidation. The next time she is following the garbage truck, I would be grateful if she could call by my flat, because I have a huge bit of polystyrene wrapping from my last printer that needs to be taken to the tip.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): As a Member of Parliament whose constituency covers Westminster, may I inform the right hon. Gentleman that Westminster council has one of the worst recycling records of any local authority in the country? Whether waste is combined or separated, let us not be deluded into thinking that that in itself is the solution to the problem.
David Maclean: The point is that Westminster council seems to be able to collect combined material from householders and do some separation. Presumably, it does not burn the glass or the metal in the power plant. It is able to separate that, I presume, and then burn the plastics and the paper. It has made it simple for householders by encouraging householders to use it. I see an awful lot of commercial waste lying around the streets from shops, pubs and cafĂ(c)s, which is presumably much more difficult to separate.
My amendments make it clear that any waste authority that intends to set rules for recycling must accept all possible plastics, paper and recyclable material. The hon. Member for Northavon is right. Once one starts specifying Tetrapak or the type of plastic, one gets into difficulties. I do not want to do that. I tabled the amendments in this form so that I could provoke a debate. I want at least one of the schemes to suggest that it will collect the residual domestic waste, as the Government have termed it—that is, the garbage, the food scraps, or what has not gone into compost—and take everything else in a limited number of containers.
My worry is that if an authority designs a scheme whereby it charges for the bulk of the garbage left—the residual domestic waste—or the weight of it, that may be legitimate, in order to minimise residual domestic waste either in bulk or in weight. However, if the authority then says, “Aha! We’re going to take only little plastic bottles, and we are not going to take polystyrene. We will not take cardboard or Tetrapak. We will take only the following materials, separated into three or four types”, it automatically forces householders to have a lot more residual domestic waste.
Householders will have to stick the polystyrene, the Tetrapak, the unacceptable cardboard or the mixed bit of plastic and paper into the residual domestic waste. I bought a new printer yesterday and I could not get the plastic off the cardboard. It is difficult to separate some of these things, and one ends up throwing them into the residual domestic waste because one cannot take the risk of putting them into the cardboard or into the plastic.
By being ruthlessly discriminatory as to what they will accept as recycling material, local authorities could design recycling schemes that force people inadvertently to increase the amount of residual domestic waste. Local authorities could then put a charge or tariff on that, which is unfair on householders. My amendments seek to tell local authorities that they cannot do that. If a local authority intends to be ruthlessly tight on the amount of garbage—I apologise for using the American word, but it is easier than “residual domestic waste”—on the food scraps and the bits that have to go into garbage, and if it proposes to penalise or charge householders who produce more than one little bag of garbage, there is a duty on the local authority to say, “However, we will take all the plastics, glass, bottles and cans in three simple boxes, or one multi-recycling container.”
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 9 July 2008