Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Joan Ruddock: In response to the final remarks of the hon. Member for Cheltenham, I give him every assurance that this is not a new measure—I have been at pains to stress that before. At the moment, local authorities issuing a section 46 notice can specify how waste will be collected from a residence. Once they have done that, if people do not comply, they may refuse to take away the additional waste. As I said in relation to the intervention made by the hon. Member for Vale of York, that does not mean to say that they will refuse, but they may refuse. If there were any risk to public health, they would have to collect. This provision already exists; local authorities may refuse to collect and some do.
There have been some questions about this. We have put clear provisions in the Bill to make it obvious that this is the law and that the power exists. The waste section of the Bill in schedule 5 will insert new schedule 2AA into the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I think that I have answered the points made by Back Benchers.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 70

Waste reduction provisions: piloting
Amendment made: No. 104, in clause 70, page 33, line 18, leave out from ‘exercised’ to end of line 19 and insert
‘at any time after the coming into force of this section.’.—[Joan Ruddock.]
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Miss McIntosh: I will take this opportunity to correct the record. When we debated clause 69 on Thursday, I was recorded in column 334 of the Official Report as saying “clause 60”. I will ensure that that is corrected.
I will press the Minister on a couple of points so that she can respond to some criticisms that have been made. We have had lengthy debates last Thursday and today on why five pilot areas have been designated. Subsection (4) will give the Government the power to change the pilot areas. Does that mean that there can be additional pilot areas or that a pilot area can be substituted? Is five the maximum? How does she envisage subsection (4) being interpreted?
The Minister will recall that the Communities and Local Government Committee report described the thrust of clause 70 as a “massive retreat” because it will limit the number of recycling incentive schemes to just five local authority areas and because the Government have capped the amount that local authorities may offer as incentives or take-in charges. Perhaps the most serious criticism is that it delays any possibility of England-wide schemes until after 2012-13. Is she confident that the Government will be able to introduce an England-wide scheme before that date? What date do the Government have in mind? Does the clause mark a departure from the Government’s waste strategy along the lines suggested by the criticisms, or does the Minister believe that the clause is in keeping with the strategy?
I have had a little read of “Erskine May”, as one does from time to time. Subsection (5) will exclude the prospect of an instrument being treated as a hybrid instrument. Is that a standard procedure? I am sure that the Minister will find that help is at hand. The Commons is not as used to this procedure as the Lords because hybrid instruments are largely used in the Lords. Such instruments give the public the opportunity to petition. I do not know whether that could be seen as a delaying tactic, given the strength of feeling about clauses 69 and the amendments to it. What was the thinking behind the Government’s seeking to exclude the possibility of a hybrid instrument?
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Lady is correct to suggest that I might require the help that is at hand in dealing with her final point about hybrid instruments. I have looked at the provision and taken a briefing on it, but as we are in a formal Committee, I will read what is provided to me in due course to be on the safe side.
The hon. Lady referred to the Communities and Local Government Committee report, which said that the clause was a “massive retreat”. Everyone who has spoken has indicated that these are subjects on which people feel strongly. We have considered, therefore, that moving immediately to the roll-out of schemes across the country would be premature, given the controversy that they have generated. That is why we thought that it would be much better to start with pilots and to have a limit of five pilots. In no way does that go against our waste strategy, as outlined a year and a half ago. We said that we would create such powers and they are being created, albeit by beginning with piloting.
The Government have said that we want to have substantial results from those pilots before proposing any roll-out and that we want a parliamentary debate on those results, so the timing could be as the Committee has suggested. That is not a huge problem because we are already on target for the 2010 requirement under European law to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, and we believe that we can achieve the 2013 target. It is beyond that time that we know we will have a huge challenge to meet the 2020 targets. If the schemes were to be rolled out within that time frame, it would be a way of rising to the challenge of the difficulties that face us regarding the 2020 target for the reduction of waste going from households to landfill.
On the issue of capping the amount that could be charged, although we have not really been referring to charges, based on the schemes that we have studied from overseas, the indicative amount that might be charged would be of the order of £50 over a year. That is not a huge amount. As I said previously, there has been a great deal of excitement about this, which has come primarily from the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, and it has been suggested that we could be talking about £1,000 a year. We want not only to make it clear that that is ludicrous, but to reassure people by saying that we will take the power to cap in case any local authority wanted to propose anything that was unreasonable.
I am now getting the advice that I need, although there is much of it—[Interruption.] It keeps coming, so I do not know whether the opinion is changing. I am told that hybrid procedures do not state that there will be full public consultation, if that helps anybody. If a scheme does not start, a designation order can be revoked and another designated in its place—that is the precise answer to the question about changing where a scheme is. Apart from as provided for under that power, only five may be designated.
It is reasonable to remind the Committee that we are talking about five pilots, not a scheme throughout the country, so the question of the hybrid procedure would relate to a small number of cases. I confirm that such an instrument would allow the public to petition. There is no doubt that that could result in the process slowing down. However, of course, there will be full public consultation on all the secondary legislation proposed.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 70, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
12.45 pm

Clause 71

Waste reduction provisions: report and review
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Miss McIntosh: The Minister referred last Thursday to £2 billion of PFI credits available for waste infrastructure, and said that there is no prohibition on any form of scheme. Some incinerator schemes are coming forward, and there is an additional £10 million available for anaerobic digesters. She said:
“It is now accepted that no serious health effects result from incineration.”——[Official Report, Climate Change Public Bill Committee, 3 July 2008; c. 333.]
I beg to differ with the Minister’s conclusion. Waste strategies are coming forward in each local authority, and several include heat in some shape or form, whether that is straight incineration or not. I repeat the request that I made in connection with clause 69. In relation to the provision for a report or review in clause 71, and an interim report in clause 72, will the Government elaborate on what was said at column 333 so as to end the public disquiet on that form of waste reduction?
I do not know if the mailbags of other hon. Members reflect my own, but in the Vale of York, at any mention of heat, a local action group is immediately set up—outside the confines of the Committee, I could show the Minister five ongoing campaigns. In relation to the reports, will the Minister use her good offices to have a public discussion and end public disquiet about the matter?
Joan Ruddock: Unless I am wrong, the hon. Lady is not dealing with any provision that exists in clause 71. Those reports are about the pilots. What she talks about has nothing to do with waste collection; it is to do with waste disposal and incineration—she refers to heat, but I think that she means incineration plants.
Miss McIntosh: That is a form of waste reduction. It means sending less to landfill. Does the Minister say that none of the pilots will look at anything other than recycling?
Joan Ruddock: The pilots are about incentivising behaviour and the way that householders separate household waste into recyclables and residual waste. The destination of residual waste is a decision for the disposal authority. In some cases, that is the same authority as the collection authority, in others it is separate. Those decisions do not relate to the provisions in the Bill. I responded to the points, but they remain outside the provisions of the clause. I will write to the hon. Lady about where to find information that can satisfy the public about the safe operation of incinerators.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 72 to 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6

Renewable transport fuel obligations
Martin Horwood: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in schedule 6, page 75, line 38, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) It is the duty of the Administrator to ensure that only renewable transport fuel that—
(a) causes or contributes to the reduction of carbon emissions over its total lifecycle from planting or production to use, and
(b) contributes to sustainable development and the protection or enhancement of the national or global environment generally,
qualifies as a permitted fuel under this Act.’.
If we were in any doubt as to whether terms such as “renewable” and “sustainable” are used loosely, it has been clarified by the debate about biofuels, which are a clear example of something that is renewable—all biofuels are from a renewable source—that can be unsustainable. Most hon. Members will know of examples of wheat grown in north America that requires so much energy to be grown, fertilised and transported—
Joan Ruddock: Maize.
However, we are in a fast-moving policy landscape, as the Government would like to call it. Only yesterday, the Secretary of State told the House of Commons in the context of the Gallagher report, that
“Professor Gallagher also concludes that there is a risk that the uncontrolled expansion and use of biofuels could lead to unsustainable changes in land use, such as the destruction of rainforest to make way for the production of crops. That might, in turn, increase greenhouse gas emissions, as well as contributing to higher food prices and shortages. The Gallagher report therefore concludes that the introduction of biofuels should be slowed until policies are in place to direct biofuel production on to marginal or idle land and until these are demonstrated to be effective.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 1169.]
And lo, within 24 hours an opportunity arises in this Bill to make such a policy change, through amendment No. 1 to schedule 6 on the renewable transport fuel obligation.
We are operating in the context of wider European policy, including the 2003 directive that mandates European nations to increase the proportion of road fuels from renewable sources to 5.75 per cent. by 2010, and the imminent renewable energy directive, which may raise that target to 10 per cent. by 2020. We agree with the Government’s statement, although it has come late in the day, that action is required at EU level to modify that imminent biofuels target and to place a moratorium—I would say—on biofuels targets until we have strict sustainability criteria in place. Yet the Government have pressed ahead with some policy in their own right, including the renewable transport fuel obligation introduced in April.
It is possible—although not necessarily likely—that the EU directive might not be agreed before April 2009, and that even if the push for a change in EU policy fails and the directive comes in we might be allowed to develop stricter criteria. Such criteria might not prevent the importation of other biofuels—I gather that that would be prevented under the directive—but they might provide the basis for the kind of regime that we have seen in other sectors, where labelling and public information might lead to more sustainable procurement policies being implemented by businesses or Departments. Nevertheless, we might still be able to contribute to a more sustainable policy on biofuels.
The Secretary of State said yesterday that she had done the two main things that this Government seem to do on environmental policy. One is to commission a report—she has done that and it was clear in its conclusions. The second is to begin a consultation—she will formally consult on slowing down the rate of increase in the renewable transport fuel obligation. In her concluding remarks, she also said that
“I will not hesitate to alter our policy if that is what the science suggests is appropriate.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 1171.]
This seems a golden opportunity to do just that. If we cannot do it in this Bill, I would like to hear from Ministers what exactly the Secretary of State meant by altering Government policy as opposed to EU policy. Could the biofuels targets be amended, and could we introduce conditions such as those in amendment No. 1, which link fuel not only to the physical fact of renewability, but to the actual
“reduction of carbon emissions over its total lifecycle”,
which is the kind of sustainability criterion that we want to see throughout Europe? Is such a measure permissible and technically possible within Government policy at the moment, even in the context of European policy? We hope that it is, and that it will give us freedom to pursue a more sustainable policy on biofuels, even if European policy is moving slowly in that direction.
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