Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Gummer: We have been trying throughout, with a certain amount of amusement in between, to reach a consensual answer on the issue. The crucial matter is that there are modern means of encouraging people to do things, which are more attractive to many households than the traditional ways of reducing council tax and all the rest, because they are immediate and fit in with other things that householders do, with television and the like.
I hope the Minister will undertake to ensure that at least one of the pilots would try to use a voucher system or something similar, to see whether that raised the participation of a wider range of families. We should not allow the whole business to become the purview of particular kinds of families from particular backgrounds. In the work that I have been doing, I have found that the most difficult thing is how to increase recycling in, for example, disadvantaged areas. It may be that the mechanism before us would have the effect in this country that it has had in the United States.
Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If I may, I shall explain our attitude to the new clause in a logical sequence and then come to his point. It seems to make little sense to allow waste disposal authorities to require billing authorities to reduce council tax, while requiring that the waste disposal authority should reimburse the billing authority for both the lost council tax revenue and the costs of bringing the scheme about, which is what is proposed. It seems unlikely that a waste disposal authority would ever choose to do that.
The provisions for linking rebates and charges made under an incentive scheme to council tax are set out in schedule 5 and already allow authorities to net rebates off council tax bills. The rebates and charges made under a scheme are designed to incentivise sustainable behaviour on waste. There is no need to consider changes to the underlying council tax liability and it is not Government policy that the schemes should do so. I need to set that on the record because it has not been debated. The provisions in the Bill and the framework that we intend to establish in regulations will ensure transparency and fairness for householders, and will ensure that councils may link the administration of their scheme to council tax if they wish. We will consult fully on the detail of the regulations relating to council tax. We do not believe that anything more is required.
I turn to the issues about which the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle spoke. He wants only reward schemes under the Bill. As I said at the outset, such schemes can be established under the proposals in the Bill and, perhaps even more significantly, do not require new legislation. Right hon. and hon. Members may not be aware that DEFRA has already carried out major incentive-only and reward-only schemes involving a significant number of authorities. There were 53 fully reported trials, of which 30 found that they had a positive impact in increasing the tonnages of recyclables collected. I am pretty certain that those reward-only schemes included vouches in some cases. I may need to check whether they were actual vouchers or prizes, as it were, but there was not a council tax reduction or anything of that kind. They did not have a monetary value.
Mr. Gummer: I am sorry to have introduced the matter rather earlier than I ought to have done. I apologise to the Minister. I want her to be very vulgar.
12 noon
Joan Ruddock: Could I be vulgar?
Joan Ruddock: I am intrigued by the right hon. Gentleman inviting me to be vulgar. I hope that I am not capable of doing that, but I shall obviously try.
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman thinks about the schemes and their being timid or not, there were a lot of them. Local authorities came forward and volunteered to undertake what were a considerable variety of schemes. All I am saying to Conservative Front Benchers is that such a scheme has been tried in this country. We saw a rise in recycling in 30 of the 53 trials. There was a positive impact, but the difficulty was that the magnitude of the increase varied widely. It was hard to separate out the extent to which the particular reward, rather than the education, information and exhortation, increased recycling rates. As the scheme took place some years ago, rates were much lower, so there was greater scope for easy increases.
Gregory Barker: Apart from exhortation and education, a key role is played by the mechanism for collecting recyclates. If it is overly complex or requires too much effort on the part of the consumer, take-up will suffer. I urge the hon. Lady to look at the pilots in the USA—and perhaps not at the historic examples in which DEFRA has taken part—to see how the combination of vouchers plus effective collection produces such positive results.
Joan Ruddock: We have looked extensively at north America and its different schemes, such as the rewards-only and the rewards-and-charges schemes, as we have at continental Europe. I shall make a point of looking at the example that the hon. Gentleman gave of Wilmington, how long it has been happening and how sustainable it is. Participation rates can be raised easily and quickly by giving people vouchers, but how is that sustained for years on end? Where do the commercial interests lie in offering the rewards and vouchers? How sustainable is that? Does it raise competition issues in due course? Many factors would have to be considered if a scheme was based entirely on a commercial interest being allied with a public service. We must be sustainable and constantly increase recycling rates, not just have a burst of activity with a good result. We need to do more.
Having considered all the research, I was advised strongly that, if we want to increase recycling rates substantially and in a sustainable way, we need to look to the continental and north American examples that involve both rewards and charges. That is why, informed by all that research, we have brought forward proposals to try out five pilots in this country.
Mr. Gummer: I ask the Minister to remember where her advice is coming from. It is coming from people who are universally unconnected with private industry. She is being advised by civil servants who, charming and able though they are, have specifically chosen not to be part of the private sector. She is being advised by local authority people who are in the same position. The American example is very interesting. In fact, it is sustainable, and is the basis of a now nationwide provision. It is supported by major companies and it really has a result.
I do not suggest that the Minister should take this on alone. I merely say that it would be silly if we produced an exciting idea but did not find a way of testing it ourselves. There is a worry about where our advice comes from. When I was in her position I had no idea, because there was a certain filtering of information, how much was being done commercially in both continental Europe and the United States. I hope that we will be given the opportunity to do this. I do not care two hoots who does it. I want to achieve it. But this line of vulgarity is important because otherwise the expansion of recycling is restricted to particular sections of the community, which is a great sadness.
Joan Ruddock: I hope that we can satisfy the right hon. Gentleman. We will clearly look at all the schemes that come forward. As he said, we may need to do some additional work ourselves in order to inject some further ideas into the process. I am more than happy to consider that. He would be entirely wrong, however, if he thought that I spent all my time talking to civil servants and people from local government. I have a significant number of meetings with entirely commercial interests. The civil servants involved also have a great deal of dialogue, particularly in these fields, with manufacturers and retailers. There is no ideological reason for us to be opposed to the sort of proposition that the right hon. Gentleman makes.
This is where we are. We believe that we need the possibility of pilots that involve both rewards and charges. That is the provision in the Bill, but it does not mean that we cannot do reward only—I must make that absolutely clear. All moneys raised in charges must be returned to residents as a whole, so that the overall burden on householders will not increase. That is an important point. Using words such as “penalties” and “fines” suggests that it is a new imposition on residents as a whole. It certainly is not. It is a reward-and-charge scheme and a rebate-and-charge scheme, in which no moneys accrue either to the Exchequer or to local government. That is a very important point.
New clause 18 does not introduce any useful new powers. New clause 22 removes the current provisions which allow authorities to issue rebates and charges to householders according to the amount of waste that they throw away, thereby permitting reward-based schemes only. As I have just said in relation to new clause 18, schedule 5 already allows authorities to run such reward-only schemes. Rebates could be netted off council tax bills or paid to householders directly. Indeed, the powers also allow for other types of financial payments, including vouchers, which new clause 22 specifically seeks to allow. As neither new clause 18 nor new clause 22 would replace schedule 5, but would merely add superfluous material, they must both be opposed.
David Maclean: Before my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle perhaps chooses not to press the amendments in my name, I want to say a few concluding words. The Minister asked whether I would be pleased if we chose not to pursue my amendments, and I am not pleased at all, but that may not prevent me from declining to press them further.
Amendment No. 109 is not a wrecking amendment—none of my amendments on the amendment paper are intended to wreck the Bill. We are talking about a pilot scheme, and I have tabled probing amendments outlining what I thought were genuine pilot schemes. I agree with the hon. Member for Northavon that it is daft to restrict ourselves to just five schemes, when we could have four or six or seven. Yes, there is a cost involved, so we cannot have 200, but why restrict ourselves to five if they are pilot schemes?
I thought that the pilot schemes were intended to test not only the financial charging and penalty mechanisms, but whether councils could do the difficult recycling tasks that the rest of us cannot do. Instead, all that we have heard is that they will test charges, rebates and fixed penalties for householders who do not get things right. Local authorities will therefore not be encouraged to introduce pilots to deal with the huge amount of stuff that we cannot recycle—the Tetra Paks of this world. I am not totally obsessed with Tetra Paks, except in the sense that when I go to recycle them, nobody wants to take them. I cannot put them in the cardboard box, the foil box or the plastic box. If I go to the recycling centre, warnings tell me not to stick them in any of the containers.
Local councils have got me running up and down the stairs sorting out all their rubbish for them, and we the householders are doing their dirty work by putting our recycling into separate boxes, but when it comes to the difficult stuff, they just do not want to know—they do not want to take the things that they find it difficult to recycle. In my ignorance, I had assumed that at least one or two of the pilot schemes would test volunteer councils that came along and said, “We’ve got a system for dealing with the polystyrenes of this world and with the composite materials—the cardboard and the foil together and the plastic and the paper together. Minister, can we have a go at testing it out because we can take the stuff that most other councils aren’t taking? Here’s our charging regime.”
Joan Ruddock: A council will be perfectly free to say that it wants to do that in its pilot. Its proposal might be the most successful if it offers much more. Everything is possible.
David Maclean: I am delighted to hear it, but that was not the message that I got from the Minister earlier. She suggested that our proposals would be rejected because they would compel every council in the country to recycle everything. Of course, I do not want the provisions and the pilot schemes to do that, but we must draft such probing amendments to explore the Minister’s intentions in Committee.
I will happily sit down now if the Minister tells us that the pilot schemes will offer positive encouragement to councils—it may be one or two councils—to come forward with ideas about how to recycle the stuff that most councils do not want to touch because it is too difficult to handle. We must solve that problem. There is no point in the Minister introducing five schemes if they test only the charging incentives, the penalties and ways of clobbering the local community charge payer. Surely a pilot scheme must test the mechanics to see whether councils can recycle stuff that others cannot.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal is right that there is a danger that the whole recycling issue will get stuck not in a class system, but with the people who are already attuned to it, who are already recycling and who probably already have a lower carbon footprint. The issue should not be the preserve of puritanical liberals—luckily, we do not have too many of them in my constituency. We know what puritanical liberals are like: they put their plastic bottles through the dishwasher to make sure that they are clean, they put their wet newspapers through the tumble-dryer to get them dry, they load everything into their diesel Volvo and they go down to the recycling centre. If that is what turns them on on a Saturday night, good luck to them, but there are more exciting things to do in Hexham and Penrith. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend wanted vulgarity and he has got it.
The serious point—I apologise for that excessive levity—is that we must make things easier for people. I am getting fed up with recycling. I believe in it, but I am getting sick to the back teeth of having to separate everything out and do the council’s dirty work when it will not take the stuff that I find it most difficult to cope with. What is the point of a district council if it cannot deal with those things, even on a pilot study?
12.15 pm
The Minister has heard my plea. If the clauses need a slight tweaking on Report, I beg the Government to give her the flexibility and the freedom to have four, six or seven pilots, and to have some pilot schemes that will deal with the rubbish and the recycling materials that no one else wants. She will have my full support. I am happy to go along with my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle if he wishes to withdraw my amendments, on the basis of the firm assurances from the Minister.
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