Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend assure me that the new clause would enable public-private partnerships in cases in which local organisations of all sorts might like to join the local council? That will be a good way for large stores—department stores and the like—to join the local authority in encouraging such schemes and perhaps put money into them so that the vouchers are worth that much more.
Gregory Barker: Absolutely. My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The precedents for this kind of incentive scheme are primarily in north America and those partnerships are exactly what have happened. In effect, there have been top-ups in addition to the incremental savings from the value of the recyclates. Other organisations that wish to help to encourage recycling, particularly supermarkets and large retailers, have joined in to help recycle as part of their corporate social responsibility policies and to help drive the creation of viable new markets for recyclates.
A voucher system operator in north America, where a similar scheme operates, claims that recycling rates rise from single figures to, on average, 40 per cent. of household waste in the communities where it has been trialled. Participation in voucher schemes is entirely voluntary, but in north America it averages at 90 per cent. in areas where it has been introduced.
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To give a specific example, an initial pilot in two neighbourhoods in Philadelphia included 2,500 households where recycling rates were just 7 per cent. and 30 per cent. respectively. They were two very diverse metropolitan areas. Within two months, recycling rates had doubled in both neighbourhoods, and participation rates rose to an incredibly impressive 90 per cent.
Another example is from Wilmington, Delaware. Participation in the voucher scheme is around 90 per cent., and the amount of waste to landfill has dropped by 40 per cent. This saved the city about $800,000 a year in landfill costs and landfill tax savings. That $800,000 was after the costs of rolling out the city-wide scheme.
Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman is citing helpful evidence about what others have done. Where does he stand on the apparent inconsistency between what he is saying and what his right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border argued? His right hon. Friend called for standardisation, no pilots without standardisation and so on, but he is talking about 1,000 flowers blooming. Does he think that such voucher schemes should be bog-standard, fixed and constrained, or should they be varied?
Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman misconstrues what my right hon. Friend is saying. My right hon. Friend and I speak with one voice. We do not want to clobber the council tax payer with penalties and fines in the way that the Liberal Democrats do. We want to offer incentives. The problem is the incredibly complex array of schemes. The average community charge payer is more likely to incur one of the Liberal Democrat fines or penalties if an array of legislation is allowed in.
The strong difference is not between my right hon. Friend and me, but between the Liberal Democrats and us. We favour rewarding people who do the right thing, looking for ways to incentivise communities, and looking for a positive agenda, rather than the Liberal Democrat hair-shirt, bang-people-up attitude, or at least their preference for giving people a fine or a penalty, because it is so much easier, particularly for lazy-minded councils, just to fix a penalty than to consider innovation and reward. Of course, although we do not intend to impose a scheme from the centre, the more uniform it is, the easier it is to understand, and the more comprehensive, the better. That is common sense.
Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend explain very simply to the Liberal Democrats that it is helpful to people to have standard categories, so they know what to save in the right boxes, and it is helpful then to have as many different ways of encouraging people to do it in as many different places as possible? That is clear, and even if the Liberal Democrats do not get it, most of the public will.
Gregory Barker: There is no need to tell the Liberal Democrats. My right hon. Friend has just put it so beautifully that I could not improve upon it.
Joan Ruddock: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his account of the incentive schemes? Is he saying that there was an increase of 90 per cent. in the amount of material recycled, or that 90 per cent. of the waste was recycled?
Gregory Barker: I am saying not that 90 per cent. was recycled, but that there was a 90 per cent. participation in the waste recycling schemes, up from 7 per cent. in one part of the city, and 30 per cent. in another.
Joan Ruddock: Is that what the hon. Gentleman said?
Gregory Barker: I am confusing myself. I am saying that participation rates across the city rose to 90 per cent., rather than that 90 per cent. of rubbish was recycled.
Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Gregory Barker: Let me get to the logical breakpoint in my argument, then I shall give way. Let us return to the case in point at Wilmington, where the city faced the daunting dilemma of dwindling landfill space. It did not wish to fine anyone to increase recycling, so it used the innovative voucher scheme instead. The head of Wilmington’s public works, the public works commissioner, said:
“We’re not interested in penalties. We’re interested in making it work and getting people involved”.
That is exactly how the Conservatives see the recycling agenda.
Martin Horwood: I am glad the hon. Gentleman told us that that was the logical breakpoint. He is indulging in some entertaining political slapstick, for which he will receive due reward from the Daily Mail. To bring him back to the facts, is he interested to know that during the Select Committee’s inquiry into recycling to which I referred, I supported incentives, not fines? I agree with his amendment. At the time, that action got me favourable mention in the Daily Mail.
Gregory Barker: Am I surprised that the Liberal Democrats say one thing in one Committee sitting and say another in a different Committee? No. That is their standard operating procedure. As for the savings for United Kingdom recycling operations that would accrue from not sending household waste to landfill, councils could make significant savings by avoiding landfill costs.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman’s argument about the Wilmington experience is interesting. There are always dangers in trying to import directly into the United Kingdom an experiment that took place in the United States. Does he accept that, if the voucher scheme that he described was linked entirely with the larger retail businesses, it would further concentrate the retail market in the hands of the big five supermarkets in the UK?
The last thing that most towns in Britain want is a further concentration of retail share with the big five because that would continue the hollowing out of our town centres. It would also make individual households more car dependent because, to use their vouchers, people would have to drive to the out-of-town supermarket. What would be saved in emissions and might be saved through an increase in recycling would be counter-balanced by increased emissions from having to use the car to drive further to the retail outlet.
What is there in the Bill to prevent one of the five local authorities from submitting an innovative bid on exactly those lines? Is anything blocking that?
Mr. Gummer rose—
Gregory Barker: If my right hon. Friend will allow me, I shall explain. We want it made explicit in the Bill that such action would be allowed. I do not accept the absolute logic of the assertion of the hon. Member for Bury, North.
Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend help the Committee by explaining that the Wilmington project was supported not by the local retailers, but a major beverage manufacturer? The manufacturer wanted to take such action. It was a sensible thing to do, and the vouchers could be used at any local shop. That is not the issue. A system can always be organised. We need the opportunity under the Bill for at least one of the tests to be undertaken in that way.
Gregory Barker: Absolutely. The hon. Member for Bury, North painted an entirely sensible scenario of everything accruing to supermarkets, and that would worry us. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, food or other manufacturers are equally able to participate in promoting such a scheme. It would enhance the opportunity to recover things like glass bottles from drinks manufacturers and reusable or recyclable packaging products. Although we do not want to get into that level of detail now, I understand his point, but I do not consider it to be a necessary or obvious conclusion that such schemes would put more power into the hands of the supermarkets, to the detriment of local traders.
Finally, I return to the landfill tax and the cash savings that would accrue from recycling within a year to a council that increased the amount it recycled. The landfill tax stands at £32 a tonne. As was announced in the 2007 Budget, landfill tax will rise by £8 a tonne a year until at least 2011, when it will be £48 a tonne. As we are producing about 28 million tonnes of municipal waste a year, the opportunity to avoid the costs of sending the waste to landfill, plus avoiding the costs of paying up to £48 a tonne on landfill tax represents a significant financial saving for councils. I note that the Treasury expects to receive £1.1 billion from landfill tax in 2008-09.
Avoiding such costs should mean that councils are able to pass those savings directly back to the ratepayers through council tax reductions for ambitious recyclers, on the basis that council tax payers are already paying through their council tax to have their waste collected. Any additional savings that the council make as a result of participating in such schemes and diverting waste from landfill should at least be shared with the council tax payers, consistent with our policy that it is right to reward people for doing the right thing, and to do so without penalising non-participants.
Steve Webb: Savings are an important part of the equation. A local authority does not get money; it just does not face an increase in a bill that would otherwise be faced. It is not that local authorities will suddenly have an income stream that they will have to decide what to do with, but that there is a tax with a ratchet effect on it, which they may be able to mitigate, to a greater or lesser extent, by such schemes. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, although it sounds great in principle, that is not a pot of money that local authorities will have? The rate per tonne is going up and up, They can try and offset it, but the odds are against the net effect being less landfill usage. The scheme would have to be extraordinary to deliver that, would it not?
Gregory Barker: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but any responsible, prudent local authority will have to have a financial plan that anticipates paying that charge. If councils are able to beat the financial plan because of the actions of their local council tax payers, they will achieve a saving on their forecast budget. That saving should at least in part, if not in full, be shared with those who are doing the right thing and recycling.
Unfortunately, I am unable to press new clause 22 to a Division. However, I shall seek to press new clause 18, to which I spoke on Thursday and which gives power to local authorities to reduce the amount of tax payable in relation to household waste.
Joan Ruddock: Let me begin by addressing some of the comments made in the debate this morning.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal accused the Government of not tackling waste other than household waste, but we put in place construction-site waste-management plan requirements earlier this year, which will transform the operation of construction sites. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform strategy on construction waste was published last month.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border spoke of how Westminster deals with its waste, sending it to SELCHP. I cannot comment on the particular processes of that authority, but I can tell him that there are perfectly good mechanical arrangements for separating combined, dry recyclates. Many local authorities across the country satisfactorily separate plastics, paper, metals and glass, collected together, by using plants called MRFs—materials recovery facilities. He said that Westminster sends everything to SELCHP. I cannot comment on the specifics, but it is the Government’s policy that only residual waste remaining after the maximum recycling by a local authority should be sent for incineration. It is true that the SELCHP plant does not currently have heat recovery, but it is looking at whether it can do that in the future. I would support that, SELCHP being in my constituency.
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The right hon. Gentleman began by objecting to having these clauses in the Bill at all, but he has made a meal of them.
David Maclean: I took interventions.
Joan Ruddock: I was glad that he took my interventions because they helped, I hope, with the case that he was making, or not making. He spoke about recycling centres and I agree with him that recycling centres, civic amenity sites—whatever the local authority calls them—should offer a service that is relevant and fits contemporary lifestyles. We have encouraged local authorities to consider carefully the hours at which such facilities are open and how they enable people conveniently to deposit materials for re-use, recovery and recycling. I have recently seen a state-of-the art facility at Reading.
David Maclean: In that case, will the hon. Lady insist that at least or possibly three of the five pilots have 7-11 opening facilities?
Joan Ruddock: I am sorry to have to tell the right hon. Gentleman, but that is not relevant to these particular clauses. We are considering enabling the local authority to recover more recyclates at the household level. The schemes are to deal with the material that the householder puts in his or her bin, not what they may or may not be taking to the civic amenity site. Taking things to the civic amenity site or the recycling centre is usually done on the basis that what one cannot put in one’s bin is what one takes to the other place. I am giving the right hon. Gentleman that information because he makes a good point, but it is not relevant to these particular clauses or the amendments proposed to them.
The right hon. Gentleman queried what is the point of the pilots if they do not take everything. The point is to increase the participation rate and to increase the quantity of material that is collected. Although he would like, and I would join him in this aspiration, local authorities to collect more and more and more waste streams, none the less it is a fact that not everyone is participating at the moment and not everyone is participating to the degree that they might, so we could collect a great deal more from the doorstep than we do currently.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would like standard assertions of what is recyclable. The waste resources action programme, which the Government support financially, gives a great deal of advice to local authorities and to manufacturers and retailers, to try to standardise and reduce the number of, for example, plastics that are in use—we do not need the huge range that we have. Virtually everything is recyclable, and that is the direction that the Government seek to follow.
As I have said, local authorities provide many other outlets, if required, for the recyclates that that particular local authority is not collecting, such as the civic amenity site. Retailers are offering more and more big containers on site, so that people are not necessarily using making more car journeys and producing more emissions because they are going to the supermarket anyway, so it can be done all at the same time. Most recently, we have introduced “recycle on the go”, to capture in particular aluminium cans, glass bottles and plastic bottles when people are away from the home. Much is being done.
The clauses are about the collection of household waste where the local authority collects from the doorsteps. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle referred to the Wilmington experiment. I was concerned to hear that it was a beverage manufacturer—I hope that alcohol was not being offered.
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