Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Joan Ruddock: I think I need to help the right hon. Gentleman. The sort of scheme that he envisages would not happen. That is not the purpose. There is no absolute level of residual waste that a local authority would deem to be the basis of the scheme. A scheme must be based on the total residual waste produced within the pilot area. An average of that would be taken, and the range calculated. There is no absolute, as he describes. When I speak later, I may be able to elucidate further, but the sort of proposal that he makes would not be approved by the Secretary of State.
David Maclean: I am delighted to hear that from the hon. Lady, and I admire her faith in the ability of all our local councils to come up with schemes that have such integrity. That seems to fly in the face of some of the stories in the newspapers over the past few months—not necessarily in the Daily Mail, but perhaps in The Daily Telegraph. Those stories may have been totally untrue, but if the stories about some of the schemes that local councils are imposing are untrue, I would love to hear so. Experience suggests that some of the stories about local authority prescription of the type of containers and receptacles that can be used are, unfortunately, correct.
If the dustbin man—I am not sure of the politically correct term; perhaps refuse-recycling collector-person—comes along to a household and there are 20 different sorts of bins, boxes and collection receptacles outside, that is not acceptable. My amendment says that if local authorities prescribe a type of bin, they should not prescribe a designer-style one, which can be bought only from them, at exorbitant cost. If it is nicked, blown away in the wind or ends up being used in the allotment for more convenient purposes, a replacement has to be bought from the authority, again at exorbitant cost.
Another part of my amendment proposes that there ought to be no more than three different types of receptacle. This is not a gross exaggeration by The Daily Telegraph or others. Across local authority areas there seem to be totally different rules about what may go into a box. I agree with the hon. Member for Northavon that the Bill cannot prescribe the details such as thin or thick cardboard, Tetrapak and plastic. I do not want our district councils to do so either, as they are doing at present. There are vast differences in the definition of cardboard and newspaper between Carlisle city council and Eden district council. God help us if we put the wrong sort of cardboard in the cardboard box. It does not get collected and we might get a penalty.
Steve Webb: The right hon. Gentleman is over-egging the case. Unlike ourselves, most people do not live in two local authority areas. Although we might represent areas that cover different schemes, provided that local authorities are consistent and clear, before long, people will know exactly what they are meant to do. Different local authorities will have different schemes, because they have entered into different contracts on different dates and so on. As long as residents are told and it is consistent, why does it matter if different authorities have different schemes?
David Maclean: It matters because there is incredible mobility around an area. They are all our constituents. If we are all trying to come up with a proper recycling initiative, let us get as much standardisation as possible.
Steve Webb: Why?
David Maclean: Because we are trying to move the public and ourselves on to do more and more recycling, it is incumbent upon us to make it as simple as possible. The huge difference in the how local authorities are operating and in their definitions results in the sort of stories that appear in the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph and cynicism about all the recycling initiatives. Let us follow the old military term, KISS—keep it simple, stupid. That applies to me, especially.
Several hon. Members rose
David Maclean: I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal first.
11 am
David Maclean: I agree with my right hon. Friend entirely.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
David Maclean: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a second, I just want to elaborate on this point. I accept that different councils can have different coloured bins, different coloured receptacles and different days for collection. That is okay, that is the great diversity of Britain, but it should not be the case that one authority says, “Ah ha, that cardboard orange juice packet is acceptable because we deem it to be cardboard,” and another one says, “You have committed a criminal offence, you’ve put your orange juice packet from Marks and Spencer into the wrong box.” It is incumbent on us to make the legislation straightforward and simple. Given the difficulties of interpretation that the Committee is finding and the fact that the hon. Gentleman says we cannot put this into law because we cannot start defining what is a Tetrapak or polystyrene because it is too difficult and changes all the time, we will end up in this country with 300 authorities having 300 different definitions of what is acceptable newspaper or card.
Martin Horwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
David Maclean: I promise I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but please give me a minute to finish this point. As I was saying, it is acceptable to have differences around the country, but those differences should be within certain parameters. It should not be within the parameters for local authorities to so narrowly define newspaper, card, or material that they will not accept, and to do so not because it is not recyclable or they cannot do anything with it, but because they have just entered into a contract with Mr. Snoggins, who will take only—[Interruption.]. Well in that case the council should enter into a contract with Mr. Y, who will take the thicker cardboard or the newspaper.
Martin Horwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
David Maclean: I give way to the hon. Gentleman to shut him up.
Martin Horwood: The right hon. Gentleman is clearly enjoying himself. At the risk of encouraging him to go on to a further diversion, does he accept that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government—or the Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as it may have been called when it produced its report on recycling—clearly endorsed the approach that each council should be able to make up its own approach to recycling because the physical environments differ so much? It is one thing to recycle in a rural area, where people may have four wheelie bins, but that is not possible in a suburban area, which may have a box-based system, but even that is not possible in a place that is dominated by flats or multi-occupancy, where people have to do the recycling within their own household or share facilities. That is why we need a diversity of approaches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon said from a sedentary position, different contracts are negotiated with suppliers, which have to be done at best value for local councils and therefore involve different qualities of paper or qualities of recycling. That is why the approaches have to vary. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said that people might be confused by different districts having different approaches. The last time I looked, most households were residing in one district. That may not be true of Conservative Members, who have such huge gardens that they cover three districts, but most people do not seem to move.
David Maclean: In essence, what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that the most convenient way for the local authorities and the councils to recycle will be the way that it is done and sod the constituents, sod the residents, who will be left with the residual burden. I accept that local councils may have a different contract to take cardboard or paper, or the most lucrative recycling contract. That is fair enough, but we should be making these pilots based around what is most convenient and best for our constituents, for our householders. What collects the most material for recycling? What breaks the polystyrene problem? Some bins now take polystyrene, but the attitude of the councils has been appalling. They will take the easy stuff: “Bring us your glass bottles and we will recycle them; put them into brown, green, yellow containers. Bring us your easy paper, we will recycle it. Do not bring us your polystyrene as it is too difficult. You are stuck with that and must sort it out. If it is too big, do not put it in a big bag as we won’t take it.”
There is the problem of old mattresses and sofas, which will now pollute the countryside. If the rules are too tight or it is too difficult for householders to get rid of the chunks of polystyrene that come with a new TV or printer, we know where those chunks will end up—in the fields and hedgerows of my constituency. If people cannot get to the recycling tip in the cosy hour that it is available, those materials will be dumped in the countryside.
One of the amendments suggests that recycling centres in the pilot areas should be open more—not 24/7, but perhaps 7-11. If someone finishes unpacking their kit at the weekend after a trip to Ikea or wherever, by 5 o’clock when they are ready to load the car with big chunks of card, the tip or recycling centre has already closed. That is outrageous. If we want innovative ideas, we should build in rules so that local authorities keep recycling centres open later in the evening and accept all plastics and materials.
Mr. Gummer: Will my right hon. Friend explain to the Liberal Democrats the very simple distinction between a different method of collection due to the nature of the household, which is for the benefit of the public, and the inability of councils to recognise that unless there are standard assertions about which materials are collected, we cannot get the proper value for that material? We get very little value from many materials because no single council collects enough of that material to make it worth while. That costs the council, as it will not deal with its neighbours and make a joint decision as to what the value and nature of the material should be.
David Maclean rose—
The Chairman: Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I remind the Committee that we had an extensive debate on these amendments on Thursday, and we are in danger of falling behind. I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind.
David Maclean: I am grateful for that advice. If the Government agreed to withdraw these clauses, we could make very rapid progress.
My right hon. Friend is right. The key point I wish to get from the Government is about those “standardised assertions” of what is recyclable material. If that could be standardised throughout council areas, I would not care whether councils insist that they collect glass on a Saturday morning at 3 o’clock, or that the plastic bin has to go out on a Friday at 2 pm, although I would like to see that standardised as well—it seems to be for the convenience of councils and their operatives rather than householders. We should standardise the definitions of what can be put in the ruddy box. If the Minister goes ahead with the pilot schemes, I beg her to make that the main test. It is not about what size box councils have or what day they collect it; the main test of the pilots should be whether councils can standardise their definitions so that we have three recycling boxes at most that can take most of our recyclable material. We should challenge the councils to find another operator that will take the difficult cardboard, glossy paper or Tetrapak products.
I am fed up of going round the supermarkets, practically with my magnifying glass, looking at juice packets and seeing that even Sainsbury’s puts “Not yet ready for recycling” on them, because it finds them too difficult to recycle. If the supermarkets and the councils are finding it too difficult or too expensive, why should our constituents be left with the residual difficulty of, “We can’t take that, guv, it’s the wrong material” or “it’s the wrong weight”? I ask the Minister to try to design the pilot schemes to make it easy for householders to recycle and to recycle nearly everything, so that we have the minimal amount of garbage. Do not base the pilots on an area average.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who informs me that it was utterly inappropriate to refer to a “garbage collection man” or a “bin man”, they are domestic environmental collection operatives. I hope that all our domestic environmental collection operatives in future will find it easy to do simple recycling and take away the garbage at least every seven days.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I rise to speak in favour of new clause 22, which we placed before the Committee but did not have an opportunity to debate last Thursday. I am mindful of the revenue-neutrality concerns raised by Committee members when we discussed the last group of amendments on Thursday. While council tax reductions have to be paid for, we should remember that a municipality sending less waste to landfill would be paying less to landfill operators, which we discussed last week when Members rightly questioned how incentives would be paid for. The money saved could pay for the reductions in council tax for ambitious recyclers, and there would be significant savings from reductions in landfill tax being paid to Government.
However, in addition to cuts in council tax, there is another way to incentivise householders without threatening them with a penalty, and that is by paying people to recycle by offering vouchers depending on the amount of recycling waste that a family produces. Those vouchers could be redeemed locally, at supermarkets for example, and would thus go towards reducing families’ costs of living by helping them to pay for daily essentials at a time of soaring food costs. Communities could pool the vouchers to pay for equipment for schools or for the upkeep of parks and green spaces. That sort of market incentive is far more exciting and positive than pay-as-you-throw.
The public will not like the message, “We will fine you if you don’t go green.” “We will pay you to do it” is a better and more positive message. The only incentive scheme allowed under existing legislation is offering council tax reductions in exchange for producing less landfill waste, although, we would like that to be more explicit in the Bill. That is why I have tabled new clause 22, which would legislate for the introduction of such voucher schemes across Britain.
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