Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Gregory Barker: I will not detain the Committee. We feel strongly that there should be a far more explicit statement on the face of the Bill about the power to reduce the amount of tax payable in relation to household waste, so we propose to press new clause 18 to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman: The Opposition have asked for a vote on new clause 18. That, of course, will come later in our proceedings.
Joan Ruddock: I beg to move amendment No. 24, in schedule 5, page 74, line 21, leave out paragraph 3 and insert—
‘(1) Section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43) (receptacles for household waste) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) Where—
(a) subsection (1) applies to a waste collection authority, and
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 5—Collection of household waste.
Government amendment Nos. 25 and 26
Joan Ruddock: The amendments refine an amendment that was made during the Bill’s passage in the other place. Our intention was to enable waste collection authorities to run waste reduction schemes where residents buy tags or stickers to place on their waste receptacles, either waste sacks or bins, when they put them out for collection. Residents would then receive a flat rate rebate. People buying the most tags would pay more overall, whereas others who had bought fewer tags would make a net financial gain. To allow for such schemes, we made an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to give authorities the power to specify in a notice to residents under section 46 of that Act how they should identify their waste receptacles—say, with a specific tag or sticker.
That would apply to all waste collection authorities, which was not our intention. The amendment would avoid the unwanted impact and clarify that the power to specify how waste should be identified should be available only to those authorities running a waste collection scheme.
Following the pilots, as the Committee knows, the Government will report back to Parliament and will consider whether to roll out to all authorities in England powers to make a waste reduction scheme available. Should the powers to implement such schemes be rolled out in future, the power to specify how waste should be identified would continue to apply only to those authorities operating a waste reduction scheme.
I turn now to new clause 5. My noble Friend Lord Rooker mentioned during the Bill’s passage in the other place our intention to table an amendment to clarify that once a local authority has informed residents how they should present their waste for collection, such as by putting it in a bin, the authority need not collect any waste left lying outside the bin, for example. In the business, such waste is normally termed “side waste”.
As explained then by my noble Friend, these sorts of policies have been successfully operated by a significant number of authorities, with the support of their communities, using powers conferred by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. As part of a good overall service, they have helped householders to reduce the waste that they throw away, and to increase the amount that they recycle. We have not made any change to existing policy, but we think it would be helpful for local authorities and for residents to have a single clear point of reference in legislation. That is why we tabled Government new clause 5, which would apply to all waste collection authorities in England and Wales.
Miss McIntosh: Would the provisions permit councils whose current policy it is to allow side waste to continue to do so?
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Lady is probably referring to situations where the way in which waste should be collected is specified, but householders put out additional waste and the collection authority willingly takes it away. Authorities would obviously be able to do that. They are not being dictated to, but are being given a power. It is our understanding that the power exists at present.
Local authorities can refuse to take away the side waste because they have made a specific provision under a section 46 notice. However, some local authorities choose to take waste that is additional to the bin or system that they use. That is their choice. There are, however, quite a lot of authorities which say, “We issued a notice. We made it clear what you are required to do. You must not put out more waste.” The Bill will clarify what we believe to be the case already—that they have the power to refuse.
The hon. Lady still frowns, but I hope that what I said is clear. Our reason for tabling the new clause is to make it clear that all waste collection authorities are covered by the relevant provisions. They need not collect waste that is placed for collection in a way that contravenes the collection requirements set out by the local authority in a notice to residents. That may seem unnecessary and complex, but it is intended to make the law absolutely clear.
Government amendment. No. 25 is consequential to Government new clause 5 on the collection of household waste. The amendment adjusts the Bill so that its provisions on the collection of household waste extend to England and Wales only. Similarly Government amendment No. 26 adjusts the long title of the Bill to reflect the inclusion of the new provisions.
Gregory Barker: I note from the Minister that the amendments seem primarily to be of the tidying-up kind. She answered my hon. Friend’s query, but we need to probe a little into the ostensibly innocuous nature of the provisions and consider their exact intention a little further.
Amendment No. 24 is an amendment to schedule 5, which in turn makes changes to section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. For the benefit of those without the Minister’s mastery of the legislation, can she clarify the significance of the 1990 Act, how it relates to the waste section of the Climate Change Bill, and the effect that the amendment will have on the operation of the Bill and the 1990 Act?
Government new clause 5 would also change section 46 of the 1990 Act. The text to be inserted looks somewhat less innocuous than that in amendment No. 24. It reads:
“A waste collection authority is not obliged to collect household waste that is placed for collection in contravention of a requirement under this section.”
Such phrases can set alarm bells ringing all over the country, particularly where residents have experience of particularly officious waste collection regimes, so can the Minister assure me that the inclusion of the amendment will not mean that people will get out of bed in the morning to find that their rubbish has not been collected, on the grounds that they put the bag 1 m in the wrong direction, it was a few grams too heavy, or for some other pedantic reason?
Mr. Gummer: The proposal worries me a great deal. We should be passing legislation for the benefit of the customer, and not of the provider. This sounds like bureaucratitis of the worst kind. It says, “I am the local authority, I am going to decide what is convenient for me. You are going to do it and, if you don’t, I have no duty to collect your waste.” That is precisely the attitude of Government that people are getting tired of. It is an attitude that has become more pervasive over recent years, and this seems to be a prize example. The provision is too tight and I do not like the feel of it at all. I suspect that our constituents will not like it. I know what will happen. Mr. Jobsworth will be around from the local council, saying, “Wrong place, wrong type of product. I’m afraid we can’t take it. And what’s more, they’ve just moved the law so that we can tell you that if you don’t put it out in the right way, we don’t take it.”
Gregory Barker: My right hon. Friend has his finger on the pulse of the public, as ever. In my area many elderly people are worried about such regulations. There has been the experience of bins not being collected from time to time by new operators. Particularly when there is a change in operator and a switch from one system to another, people take a while to get used to it. Sometimes waste is not collected, even though the householder has behaved entirely sensibly.
Miss McIntosh: Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to press the Minister further? I am not entirely satisfied. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal has struck on a problem. The amendments make the system much less flexible than the present one. There are people who work away and who are not able to put out their rubbish on the collection day, but have come to an arrangement. There might be pressing security reasons why that cannot be done. Could my hon. Friend press the Minister further about the Government closing down a degree of flexibility and making matters more difficult, which will lead to more fly-tipping?
Gregory Barker: Absolutely. That is expressed across the country, where new regimes and new contracts are coming into force, ending the flexibility that many householders used to have with their dustman and the relationship that they used to have with him, which found expression at Christmas. There was often a personal relationship with him. [Laughter.] No, not the milkman. [Laughter.] From a sedentary position, the Minister has broken the habit of a lifetime and been rather vulgar. However, I will rise above it.
All I am saying is that customs have grown up locally where householders were on good terms with their dustmen, ensuring flexibility in the collection of rubbish. I would hate to see such arrangements compromised by tightly worded legislation such as this. I have lost my line of thought.
Joan Walley: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is about to return to his text, but I would like him to confirm that this is a serious issue.
Gregory Barker: We are looking for flexibility and common sense in the interpretation of the law, to make sure that we are not creating a charter for jobsworth officialdom.
David Maclean: My concern is not just, as my hon. Friend said, the jobsworths coming around and dictating what they cannot take and so on, but what will happen to the stuff that they do not take. We are not referring to people who, when they are supposed to be putting out their garbage or recycling, dump a sofa or mattresses. What will happen to the little bags? What happens if a person puts out extra newspapers in the wrong box—a whisky box or a wine box—instead of the official council plastic box? Such a move will inevitably be fly tipping. I would like to have reassurances that if householders put out extra, legitimate, material on the right day, it will not end up being thrown over a hedge into a farmer’s field in the countryside.
12.30 pm
Gregory Barker: My right hon. Friend makes another valid point. We want to hear the Minister say that she takes on board such common-sense concerns and that a common-sense regime and culture will not be superseded by an exact charter and a legalistic interpretation of the rules and regulations. We hope that common sense will continue to prevail.
Martin Horwood: I do not know what the story will be in tomorrow’s Daily Mail, but I think that I know what it will be in The Sun.
Amendment No. 24 is astonishing, in that we have to produce a piece of legislation to permit a local council to ask someone to put a sticker on a bag in its local authority area. It is a measure of just how ridiculously centralised this country is that the amendment is before us and that 20 Members of Parliament have to discuss special clauses to allow people to put stickers on bags. If the Minister insists that it is necessary, we have to take it at face value.
In all seriousness, I share the concerns of other hon. Members about amendment No. 24. The Minister is right that councils can already refuse to collect waste under certain circumstances. I have had one such experience. Having been told to shred my confidential waste paper, I was then told that I did not have the right to have it collected for recycling. In the brave new world of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, I suppose that it would have been collected anyway and that it would have clogged up all the recycling machines.
David Maclean: If the hon. Gentleman shredded his confidential papers, why did the council refuse to collect that for recycling? Was it in a plastic bag?
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