Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Gregory Barker: Will the Minister quantify what the CO2 reduction would be as a result of that measure?
Joan Ruddock: As a result of which measure?
Gregory Barker: If the plastic bag reduction target is met, either by voluntary agreement or, if necessary, by the mandatory mechanism, what would be the CO2 impact?
Joan Ruddock: I gave the Committee that figure earlier. I cannot calculate the result of a reduction, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our impact assessment found that single-use carrier bags were responsible for an estimated 790,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year. The other issue is what happens each year. Because the bags are thrown away, we have to produce more and more. That is important, and reducing the number of them will have valuable and welcome effects.
We were accused by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle of political posturing, and other members of the Committee suggested that we were responding to the agenda of the Daily Mail. Let me reiterate that the pledge to make single-use carrier bags a thing of the past was in the waste strategy for 2007. The Prime Minister also made the announcement last year, so when the Daily Mail set out with its campaign against what it termed “plastic bags” as opposed to all bags, it was responding to what the Government had said very clearly that they planned to do and something that the Prime Minister had already announced. We very much welcomed the campaign. We always welcome media support for our initiatives on both climate change and waste.
David Maclean: The Minister is responding to the campaign on plastic bags in the Daily Mail or The Mail on Sunday. Does the power in the Bill permit us to take action against all the rubbish CDs and DVDs that we receive from those newspapers, too?
Joan Ruddock: I am very, very sympathetic to what the right hon. Gentleman says. Most of us in the room would probably not have time to make use of those CDs, even if we had the inclination.
Mr. Woolas: They do not even work.
Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend has obviously tried them. Well, I do not know about that because I have not tried any. There is a facility within DEFRA for recycling CDs.
In response to what the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said about the House authorities, I agree that there is much that they ought to be doing to improve recycling rates and to reduce waste. I hope that we can join in a campaign to that end.
7.30 pm
Miss McIntosh: Will the Minister give way?
Joan Ruddock: I am happy to give way, but I am worried that members of the Committee will be here literally until midnight if I go on like this.
Miss McIntosh: The hon. Lady said that the Government’s calculations show that they would save 790,000 tonnes of CO2.
Joan Ruddock indicated dissent.
Miss McIntosh: The briefing note supplied to the Committee stated that 790,000 tonnes of CO2 will be saved on the basis that the current bags are made entirely of primary plastic with fossil energy sources. Most plastic bags used by the majority of supermarkets are now biodegradable.
Joan Ruddock: I do not think that the hon. Lady is correct on that point, but I will have to take advice because I am not certain. The impact assessment had said that that was the current cost in CO2 equivalent of the use of 13 billion bags. If there was a reduction of 70 per cent. in the number of bags, the actual carbon reduction would be in the order of 553,000 tonnes. We cannot dispute that. It is the order of magnitude that we are talking about, and that is the calculation made in the impact assessment.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that 1 billion fewer bags had been put into circulation by the major retailers that were part of the voluntary agreement. He is correct. We believe that it is of that order. However, if the achievement in a year is a reduction of 1 billion—we have 12 billion bags left in circulation—and that progress is maintained, it will take 12 years to make the bags a thing of the past.
I want to emphasise that we have appreciated the commitment made by retailers for the 25 per cent. reduction in environmental impact. Much has been learned from that work that is relevant to other forms of packaging—particularly in the light-weighting with the use of raw materials, the greater recycling and so on. It has been an extremely valuable exercise, with the reduction of a billion bags. However, as I said earlier, times have changed and we now believe that it is not just about environmental impact of that nature; we have to do much more. The agreement continues to run until the end of the year, and if retailers now apply themselves to numbers of bags—as many of them are—and they are able to achieve the substantial reductions that we seek, there would be no need to introduce the secondary legislation, which would take this primary legislation forward and create the effect.
I was asked by a number of hon. Members about the “substantial reduction” that we seek. We are guided by two things The first is the situation in Ireland, where there was a 90 per cent. reduction in the number of plastic bags. As I said, there was substitution. There has not been a complete analysis by the Irish Government so we are not able to obtain much more detailed information. Nearer to home, the best example that we have is Marks and Spencer, which now charges 5p a bag throughout its stores, big and small. It has already achieved a 70 per cent. reduction. So 70 per cent. seems to be the bottom line. We would hope for more—we would like to be ambitious—but if we think of that as a “substantial reduction”, it is clear that that is going to take us well beyond where the current voluntary agreement has taken us.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that there was nothing to indicate the hypothecation of the bag charges and asked what would happen to the moneys. He cited Marks and Spencer, which has given all the proceeds from the sale of bags to Groundwork. Obviously, retailers absorb the cost of the bags that they produce and distribute. Under the legislation, that would stop. If introduced in secondary legislation, there would be an absolute obligation on the retailer to charge for each bag at the point of sale. There is no question of them absorbing the cost or of the levy. They cannot do that, but must clearly act in that way.
The hon. Gentleman asked who was going to benefit and if it was just another revenue-raising initiative, implying that the Government were in need of revenue. However, the Government will not touch a single penny of the moneys raised by the charges on carrier bags. We would hope that the retailers would not wish to pick up the money that they raised by selling the bags, although they would clearly be entitled to do so. We seek to ensure that they do not give away, for free, those single-use bags. The retailers would have to charge, but, theoretically, they could keep the money. We, who know those retailers well and work with them consistently, believe that they are most likely—for customer satisfaction and dialogue—to want to see those moneys go to environmental causes. The hon. Member for Northavon asked why retailers should be able decide on anything at all. The retailers are now in constant dialogue with their customers about behaviour change and the environment—a point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. If the measure should come to pass, it is most likely that they would want to consult their customers about which environmental charities they would like to support. I would not be at all surprised if they did.
Steve Webb: Is the Minister satisfied that the version of the scheme that she described—where the companies can keep the money—is compatible with public assurances given in the past by senior Ministers about the scheme?
Joan Ruddock: I am absolutely satisfied. That is desirable and is what we think will happen. We have made provisions for separate accounting. Should the measure go through, retailers will have to account and keep records on the proceeds of the sale of bags. That is a means of transparency and will enable customers to see how much revenue has been raised for the company through the sale of bags. The chances are that that will benefit environmental charities. The Government do not need to go further, and obviously we will not legislate to make that happen.
Mr. Gummer: Will the Minister take the opportunity of returning to the Treasury and reminding it that it stole a great deal of money from the levy on the landfill tax that used to go to charity? It increased the rate, although there had been no original intention to do that, and perhaps the Minister could ask whether it would like to do exactly the same as it did before. That is why people were suspicious of what was said.
Secondly, will the Minister guarantee that this tax will not be reclaimed at some time in the future? I would not expect that from her, but the present Government did exactly that with the landfill levy, which was originally designed so that people could avoid the tax if they used the money directly for environmental purposes. A large number of environmental organisations lost out significantly when that was changed.
Joan Ruddock: The right hon. Gentleman is clearly talking about a tax—monies that would normally be taken in by the Exchequer or could be excused by it. This is not the same. The Government are not involved in getting their hands on this money. They do not seek that and have no reason to want to do so in the future. This is a charge made by retailers, who will be responsible for accounting for it and explaining what they have done.
If this policy is successful—and we would not introduce it unless we had good grounds for believing that it will be—the moneys will disappear quickly.
David Maclean: I do not believe that the Government will get their hands on the money. I am a cynical old git and believe that supermarkets and multinationals will keep every penny. I will apologise to Marks and Spencer tomorrow if it currently ensures that the money goes to charity. I would like the Government to put all our retailers under maximum embarrassment and pressure if they do not use the money for other purposes. I am fed up with going to stay in hotels—occasionally—and finding notices all over my towels telling me that 20 billion towels are unnecessarily washed every day, that the hotel believes in saving the planet and therefore it will not wash my towels. I always go to the reception and ask how much I will get off my bill for having to bathe with a dirty towel and what the hotel is doing with the money that it saves.
It is all very well haranguing us, and telling us that the world will be saved by charging for plastic bags or not washing towels, but what happens to the money? Is it invested in the environment, the rain forests perhaps?
Joan Ruddock: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must shop at one or other of the supermarkets. Should this measure come about, I suggest that he makes immediate representation to see that the moneys raised go to the rain forests. That would be a great public service, and I am sure that he will get a sympathetic hearing.
The hon. Member for Northavon asked me a raft of questions about transparency, records and what individual companies could do with the money, many of which I have covered already. He raised the question of his village shop and that is very important because the Government have no wish to see the small village shop burdened by new regulation. Of the 13 billion bags in circulation every year, 11 billion are produced by the major supermarkets. We need to catch the major supermarkets in the legislation, along with other significant retailers, but we do not wish to cause problems for the village shop, and the hon. Gentleman may be reassured about that.
Steve Webb: I am greatly reassured by that.
I want to return to where the money goes, and I have the 2008 Budget speech in front of me. The Chancellor said that legislation could come into force in 2009 and could lead to a 90 per cent. reduction. He then said:
“The money raised should go to environmental charities.”—[Official Report, 12 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 296.]
Anyone who listened to that speech will have assumed that that was where the money would go. How is that consistent with the Minister saying that companies may do what they like with the money?
Joan Ruddock: I think “should” means that it is an aspiration. If the Chancellor had said “would”, the matter would be rather different. It is entirely consistent to say that that is where we think the money should go. The Chancellor was expressing that aspiration.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the profligate used of bags in home delivery, and we agree with him, which is why we drafted the clauses as we did. I believe that I have responded to everything that he asked, but if I have not, he can jump up. Looking at all the questions I recorded, I believe that I have dealt with them.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal spoke about bringing together voluntary and statutory arrangements, how important the process is to retailers and their customers, and the point of contact. I could not agree with him more. It is incredibly valuable, and we can all praise our retailers for the way in which they have engaged and educated their customers about waste. The fact that they have achieved so much does not mean that there is not even more to be done. We will continue to talk to them about changing their customers’ behaviour, and considering their own behaviour. Food waste has been a prevalent issue this week, and we need to talk to them about the amount of waste that is going out of the back of supermarkets, as well as that which is going into customers’ bags. There is much to be done, but good work has been done.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about plastic bags around newspapers, and I agree with him. We are in dialogue with the newspaper industry and direct mail organisations, and there is more work to be done.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that we should consider a reduction in packaging waste generally. The Committee will have heard my earlier slip of the tongue when I referred to this as Courtauld, but the Courtauld agreement covers packaging and packaging waste. Its members, who cover the vast majority of the grocery chains, have agreed that the growth in packaging waste will be ended this year. They have committed themselves to that, and to actual reductions by 2010. I shall be meeting them in the near future to assess what progress has been made. We believe that much more must be done. I have increased the recycling rates this year for packaging waste, and we will continue to keep that very much in our focus. Little else so annoys the public beyond plastic bags than packaging in general.
Finally, the hon. Member for Northavon and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal referred to what they believe is the global vision in the Bill, and I shall respond to their criticism about involving this measure alongside that huge vision. None of us wants to diminish that vision. We are deeply proud of the fact that we are the first country in the world to give ourselves this target for reduction, mitigation and adaptation, and nothing should take away from that. However, the fact is that 40 per cent. of our CO2 emissions come from the actions of individuals. If we are to persuade the public to work with us on the great vision and the global agenda, we must enable them to do what they can most easily do, and we must respond to what they say to us. They say that they want the Government to lead and to facilitate measures that can be taken, They also say that they want rid of single-use bags. It is appropriate for us to respond to that.
I hope that I have responded to all the questions that were raised.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.
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