Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Division No. 13]
Banks, Gordon
Brown, Mr. Russell
Gilroy, Linda
Griffith, Nia
McDonagh, Siobhain
Ruddock, Joan
Snelgrove, Anne
Walley, Joan
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Barker, Gregory
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Maclean, rh David
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 7

Report on contribution of reporting to climate change objectives
‘(1) The Secretary of State must—
(a) review the contribution that reporting on greenhouse gas emissions may make to the achievement of the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom in relation to climate change, and
(b) lay a report before Parliament setting out the conclusions of that review.
(2) The report must be laid before Parliament not later than 1st December 2011.
(3) In complying with this section the Secretary of State must consult the other national authorities.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 17

Charges for single use carrier bags
‘(1) Schedule [Charges for single use carrier bags] makes provision about charges for single use carrier bags.
(2) In that Schedule—
Part 1 confers power on the relevant national authority to make regulations about charges for single use carrier bags;
Part 2 makes provision about civil sanctions;
Part 3 makes provision about the procedures applying to regulations under the Schedule.
(3) In that Schedule “the relevant national authority” means—
(a) the Secretary of State in relation to England;
(b) the Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales;
(c) the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland in relation to Northern Ireland.
(4) Regulations under that Schedule are subject to affirmative resolution procedure if—
(a) they are the first regulations to be made by the relevant national authority in question under the Schedule,
(b) they contain provision imposing or providing for the imposition of new civil sanctions, or
(c) they amend or repeal a provision of an enactment contained in primary legislation.
(5) Otherwise regulations under that Schedule are subject to negative resolution procedure.’.—[Joan Ruddock.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Joan Ruddock: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new schedule 1—Charges for single use carrier bags.
Government amendments Nos. 86 to 101
Joan Ruddock: The amendments confer power on the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers and Northern Irish Department of the Environment to make regulations about charges for single-use carrier bags. The purpose of the amendments is to achieve a significant reduction in the number of single-use carrier bags distributed in the UK. More than 13 billion single-use carrier bags are distributed in the UK each year.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): At the outset of my hon. Friend moving this important new clause, will she clarify whether she is referring to bags as a whole, or whether she distinguishes between plastic bags and paper bags?
Joan Ruddock: I am delighted to be able to respond to my hon. Friend. Although I will come on to explain how the bags will be defined, they are single-use carrier bags, so there is no distinction regarding the material from which they are made. I am sure that she will know that the environmental impact of paper bags can be even more detrimental than that of plastic bags—although people might think that that is counter-intuitive. I am happy to explain that when challenged.
Martin Horwood: I am not necessarily challenging the Minister’s assumption that environmental damage can be derived from paper bags. Nevertheless, they are made from an entirely renewable resource. In terms of their impact on the environment at disposal, although there is some release of greenhouse gas emissions when they go to landfill, if they are recycled they are surely a more environmentally friendly option than plastic bags.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman is not correct, because the science is extremely complex in relation to that. However, I will say a number of things. On the production and transportation of paper bags—we are talking about billions of bags—the greater the weight, the more CO2 emissions there are and so on. There is a difference between paper and plastic bags in relation to the carbon cycle. In terms of disposal, the vast majority of paper bags go to landfill, as does the vast majority of household waste. In landfill, a biodegradable item, such as a paper bag, will produce damaging methane gases, which is why this is a really complex science. It is possible to have a lower environmental impact if, for example, a paper bag is properly composted. It is impossible to say that there will be a less detrimental effect from paper bags overall because the chances are high that there will be a greater impact on the environment.
Martin Horwood: The Minister is right; if they are badly disposed of, there is potentially a greater environmental impact. However, surely we should be aiming to have a strategy of zero waste—certainly zero to landfill—whereby all paper bags are recycled. On transportation costs and weight, is she aware that the overwhelming majority of paper bags in use in the United Kingdom come from Somerset, and the overwhelming majority of plastic bags come from overseas? Therefore, I suspect that the carbon footprint may well be rather different from what she supposes. That may be why Ireland chose to make different arrangements for paper bags when it legislated on plastic bags.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman has illustrated the fact that there needs to be a whole life cycle analysis to predict what the carbon footprint is from any item or object. He has a point, but it is not a general point. It cannot be said that paper bags would be less environmentally damaging than plastic bags.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I apologise if I am telling my hon. Friend something that she already knows. Some of the colleagues of the hon. Member for Cheltenham tried to introduce a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to ban the use of plastic bags. However, as my hon. Friend was saying, it was discovered that a 40-tonne lorry would be required to transport the equivalent of one pallet of plastic bags. Therefore, the transportation alone undoubtedly has a major impact on CO2 emissions.
Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend makes a good point.
Mr. Gummer: The Minister mentioned the number of plastic bags that are used, which is an important figure. Will she tell the Committee what has been the reduction in the number of plastic bags since the Government’s welcome initiative to work with the industry for a voluntary reduction?
Joan Ruddock: I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman definitively, because we have not fully assessed the plastic bags agreement, which is analogous to the Courtauld agreement. However, I can give a ballpark figure: there has been a 7 to 9 per cent. reduction in the number of bags in circulation as a result of the voluntary agreement on single-use bags.
Mr. Gummer: Later, could the Minister give the Committee a breakdown of those figures, so that we can see the way in which a large number of companies have worked with the Department voluntarily? There is a deep feeling of frustration in the industry among competing businesses, which have gone out of their way to find different mechanisms and been very successful. They have more than met the agreed targets, and been willing to do more, but the Government have introduced legislation that has left them with the feeling that this is not the co-operative plan that they had been led to believe that it would be. Out of what appears to be little more than tokenism, the Government are moving to a different scheme, which has undermined businesses’ belief in their willingness to work with them. It is important that the Government take what they have done seriously
Joan Ruddock: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have taken very seriously what has been done, and I shall describe later what has been happening. However, it would not be possible to say which companies have done what, because the agreement with the companies was that we would consider the overall picture of all participating businesses, and that we would publish all information on the overall achievement. Right hon. and hon. Members will already have heard from individual companies, which are more than entitled to, and do, make us aware of what they have achieved.
The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that there is a huge spectrum of achievement. For example, I am told that in one company the use of raw plastic has increased during the period of the agreement, but that many others have achieved significant reductions in the use of raw plastic through lightweighting and so on. We are not yet in a position to give all the information, but as I said, companies have been contacting Committee members setting out what they have achieved, and we appreciate what they have done.
6.30 pm
Public attitudes are central to this debate. At the beginning of our discussions, a number of right hon. and hon. Members referred to an Ipsos MORI poll that had appeared in The Observer. It was a poll that was quite depressing to all of us, because it was headlined:
“Most Britons doubt cause of climate change.”
I chose to get hold of the entire poll and look at the questions asked and the answers given, and frankly that headline was very misleading. For example, one of the findings was that 77 per cent. of people expressed their concern about climate change. Furthermore, only 4 per cent. of people agreed with the statement:
“Individuals should not be expected to do anything, it is not their responsibility.”
So, very clearly, that was a misleading headline about a poll that is much more in line than one would have thought with the tracking that we have done as a Department over four years, during which time we have seen a very high level of concern about climate change being maintained and a willingness to do something about it.
Indeed, on 2 July there was a Guardian/ICM poll that asked:
“Bearing in mind growing global economic problems on the one hand and growing environmental problems including global warming on the other, where do you think the government’s main priorities should now lie?”
Fofty-four per cent. of people asked said that the priority should be:
“On tackling economic problems.”
Fifty-two per cent. of people asked said that the priority should be:
“On tackling environment issues.”
Given everything that is being said about the economy at the moment, it is extraordinary that a poll conducted as recently as 2 July should give that result.
Steve Webb: Liberal Democrat Members have a lot of sympathy with tackling plastic bags. Surely, however, there is an issue here of scale, proportionality and priority. The Minister is arguing for a new schedule that adds 12 pages of legislation to a Climate Change Bill, when the issue is at least partly about litter. If the Government have legislative capacity to add 12 pages of legislation, is this issue of plastic bags really the top priority for tackling climate change? Why this rather than a whole shopping list of things that, presumably, have a bigger effect on climate change than plastic bags do?
Joan Ruddock: You would not want me, Mr. Atkinson, to list all the activities that are going on across Government in every—
Steve Webb: This is legislation.
Joan Ruddock: What I was about to say to the hon. Gentleman is that legislation is not required for the myriad activities going on across the Government in every Department, which attempt to mitigate climate change, to adapt to it and to deal in the round with waste issues. So this measure is here, as indeed are the waste incentives, because a requirement exists to have legislation in this regard. We do not believe that it is very likely, although the opportunity will be there, that we will get the numbers of plastic bags down in the way that the public demand unless we make these powers available to us.
I would just like to say to the hon. Gentleman that this measure should not be a surprise; this needed to be done somewhere, because 18 months ago we published our waste strategy, in which we clearly stated that we wished to make the single-use carrier bag a thing of the past.
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