Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Gummer: No.
Joan Ruddock: I am glad to hear that. It might have accounted for a tremendous increase in the recycling rate if it had involved bottles of wine or cans of beer. Nobody would dispute that it was a good result but, as I understand, the rate of material that was recycled as a consequence was 40 per cent. We already have local authorities that are at the 40 per cent. level, so we must do more.
Gregory Barker: The hon. Lady is right; 40 per cent. is not the summit of our ambitions. However, the point is that this was a difficult metropolitan area. This country has some very poor communities that recycle a fraction of their waste—I think especially of Liverpool where the recycling rate is in low single figures, perhaps as low as 3 per cent. During the experiment, recycling in one area went from 7 per cent. to 40 per cent. in a short space of time. It is not the only solution, but it is an interesting scenario.
Joan Ruddock: Indeed. We will discuss the hon. Gentleman’s amendment shortly.
Amendment No. 108 requires authorities running waste reduction schemes to collect residual waste at least once a week, and to collect all recyclable materials. Clearly, we cannot accept that. It specifies,
“tetrapak materials, polystyrene and all plastics.”.
As the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border knows, at the moment, such materials are not collected from the doorstep by the vast majority of authorities. Requiring a local authority to operate a weekly collection of residual waste and collect all the recyclables would prohibit the majority of local authorities from coming forward to offer a scheme at all.
David Maclean: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady as I initially spoke for much longer than intended. This is about pilot schemes, not amendments to compel every authority in the land to collect all Tetrapak and polystyrene. I am merely trying to build it into the pilot schemes.
Joan Ruddock: Indeed, but all local authorities are invited to put themselves forward to undertake a pilot scheme. It would completely distort any schemes that might come forward if that involved moving into a different era and collecting 20 streams of recyclables. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman protests too much.
The other important point, which was raised by the hon. Member for Northavon, is that if we specify that residual waste is to be collected every seven days, no authorities that currently operate alternative bin collection schemes will come forward at all. The amendment is unnecessarily prescriptive and limits the options for authorities. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes would effectively prevent any authority in England from piloting one of those schemes.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I am concerned about what my hon. Friend says in response to the amendments in view of press reports that I read last week. I know that we should not believe everything that we read in the press—that point was raised just now—but I remember reading that the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was intending to report local authorities for collaborating on some of these pilot schemes. I am a little unsure about the comments coming from the Opposition with regard to the Department for Communities and Local Government. I wonder if there is a difference between the two shadow Front-Bench spokesmen on that matter.
Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend is perceptive. The shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has spoken frequently about the schemes and threatened Conservative local authorities, telling them not to collaborate with the Government. I am delighted, however, that that is not the attitude of the shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister who has joined us in the Committee. It is for that party to sort out what on earth its policies on those issues might be. We have certainly not been able to understand them.
Reference was made to Tetrapak cartons, which have historically been difficult to recycle, but industry is working hard to turn that around. We all hope that that will happen, as they are such an important part of our lives. While we encourage local authorities to continue improving the recycling services they offer, we must recognise the complexities and different circumstances they face on the ground. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham indicated in a intervention, that is very much a case of achieving the commercial contract, and local authorities have to do that and gain an outlet, otherwise there is no point in collecting it.
The powers outlined in the Bill require an authority already running one of the pilot waste reduction schemes to operate a good recycling service. As I have said, that means a service that meets the standards specified for the purposes of that definition in the guidance. The Department has also recently published draft guidance on what constitutes a good recycling service. That proposes that an authority must, as a minimum, offer free kerbside collection of dry recyclates and at least two waste streams. We have also said that additional priority in selecting pilots would be given to authorities that collect plastics and food waste or that plan to do so within 12 months. Food waste was not one of the streams that the right hon. Gentleman suggested needed collection, but I am sure that members of the Committee will have noted the enormous amounts of food waste that we are putting out in this country. Indeed, tackling the amount of food waste has become a priority for the Government.
We believe that the proposals represent a good balance between ensuring that householders within a scheme are provided with a good collection service and that the requirements are not so prescriptive as to limit the types of authority that can participate in the scheme. The key issue is to ensure that the pilots provide us with robust evidence about the impact of incentives on behaviour. We have seen that similar schemes work elsewhere, which is why we want to trial them in England. Excluding large numbers of local authorities from coming forward to undertake a pilot by including over-prescriptive requirements, which is what the amendment would do, would hinder us in the task, so we obviously oppose it.
Steve Webb: A figure of speech.
Joan Ruddock: A figure of speech, but I reiterate that what really matters in these pilots is that we should be able to retrieve the evidence systematically and analyse and record it properly. That limits the numbers that we should properly put in place. The hon. Gentleman might have an opinion that there should be more pilots, but we have decided that five is appropriate, and I ask him to accept that we need a robust and useful evidence base for deciding whether to roll out those powers to other waste collection authorities. If he thinks that all authorities ought to have the opportunity to do that, that is for a later stage in the proceedings.
11.45 am
Steve Webb: I cannot understand why the Minister needs to tie her hands with legislation. It is almost as though she does not trust herself, as if she has to pass a law to stop herself saying yes to six. Surely she should see what she gets in, and if there are six damned good ideas, she should take six, and if there are four, she should take four. Why does she have to pass a law to ban herself from doing something that she might want to do?
Joan Ruddock: I have a great deal of confidence in myself, thank you very much. We wanted to settle on a number, and we put that number in the Bill. That gives clear certainty to local authorities. It is also a case of looking to what financial support will be provided. If we had a completely open-ended number, we would have to have a completely open-ended budget. There will be financial support from the Government. We want to get the evidence. We believe that we can do it. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that it would be impossible anyway to test every conceivable type of scheme in every conceivable type of authority.
Steve Webb: Six.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman says six, but someone else would say, “Yes, but there are already four types of scheme and 20 types of demography”. The hon. Gentleman should accept that we have decided on five. We certainly will not have an open-ended number, as he proposes in the amendment. That will be resisted.
Amendment No. 107 would prevent the Government from making any regulation that would create a criminal penalty on any householder for non-compliance with any aspect of a waste reduction scheme. Unless I am mistaken, that amendment has not been spoken to. I will not tempt the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border. He might like to be tempted. No, his colleagues say that they would not like him to be tempted.
Joan Ruddock: I am glad the right hon. Gentleman made that point. Iit is appropriate for the record that I deal with the amendment, even though he did not. I am sorry to tell him that he failed to notice that there is no provision in the Bill to use any regulation to create any criminal penalty. I hope that with those few words he will be entirely satisfied. I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North. The right hon. Gentleman has probably been reading too many of those press releases from the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who is always saying that people are being made into criminals by the proposals for proper waste collection policies.
Our advice to local authorities is that they should first communicate well with their citizens and explain clearly what is expected in response to waste collection policies, and that they should not need to have to penalise people. However, where people will not accept the advice and will not co-operate, the provision exists for the fixed penalty notice. That is what local authorities can issue. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a fixed penalty notice does not make a person a criminal. I am sure he has occasionally had a fixed penalty notice himself, not in respect of waste, but perhaps in respect of a vehicle. He would be unusual if he had not.
David Maclean: I may have picked up many fixed penalty notices for parking offences, and they were richly deserved where the evidence was clear. Who will judge whether a householder has got it wrong with recycling? Will the hon. Lady tell us the type of mistake that could lead to—I am glad that it will not be a criminal record—a fixed penalty? Would those mistakes include putting the wrong sort of card or paper in the wrong box?
Joan Ruddock: As I explained to the right hon. Gentleman, communication between local councils and householders is crucial in all these things, leaving aside the pilot schemes authorised by the Bill. If people put materials in the wrong bins, the council should explain what they are supposed to do. I expect councils and those who operate their policies to understand the position of the householder.
We would all expect common sense to prevail. For example, if a blind person made such a mistake, a fixed penalty notice would be inappropriate. We need common sense, courtesy and proper communication. We know perfectly well that some people persistently do the wrong thing after receiving an explanation and having been treated politely. Some people are abusive to the refuse collectors. A line must be drawn at some point. That is how I believe we should proceed.
David Maclean: We are getting into rather dangerous territory. I am glad that we are pursuing this line of questioning. I take the point that only a crazy local council would penalise a blind person. That is an extreme example. I am more concerned about the millions of householders who have to deal with something that appears to be a cardboard box and do not realise that it is lined with plastic or foil, as with a Tetrapak.
I come back to the point that I have been making. If we do not have simple, standard definitions that are advertised by the Government in a national campaign, we will catch millions of innocent householders. They might not be blind, they might have perfect sight and they might be reasonably intelligent, but they still might not realise that the material in their hand is the wrong sort of material. They might not realise that their little district council will refuse to collect it and penalise those who put it in the wrong box. That is the mischief.
Joan Ruddock: I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the general point about waste collection is that we all have to do more and we all have to learn to do it better. In the vast majority of cases, common sense prevails and such difficulties do not occur. If we cannot decide on these things, councils will not be in a better position.
David Maclean: It will not stop them.
Joan Ruddock: Well, in general, common sense prevails and these things are dealt with appropriately.
To come back to the Bill, we are talking about only five pilots. Perhaps this is a case in point for the Liberal Democrat amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Northavon. In the pilots, we will work closely with the local councils through the Waste and Resources Action Programme to give advice and ensure that the communications work. We will test some of the hypotheses put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in a proper way.
Under the existing mechanism local councils can issue fixed penalty notices. It is not Government policy to make non-payment of a waste charge a criminal offence. Under the regulation-making powers we cannot create criminal offences for non-payment of a waste charge. On the basis of that reasoning, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to withdraw the amendment, as it is superfluous.
On new clause 18, I agree entirely with much that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said. Of course we want to give people incentives, to learn from the practices undertaken elsewhere and to do all we can to incentivise and increase recycling. However, new clause 18 is a puzzle. It would not remove schedule 5, which might have been a logical move. Instead, the new clause would be additional to the powers of the schedule. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham pointed out, what is proposed can already be done under the Bill. We therefore do not believe that the new clause is needed.
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Prepared 9 July 2008