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House of Lords

Tuesday, 17th January 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Landfill Tax Revenue: Use

The Earl of Bradford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to use revenue raised by the imposition of the proposed tax on waste disposal in landfill for the benefit of environmental projects.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, revenue from the proposed landfill tax will form part of general government receipts. The case for public spending on environmental projects must be made on its own merits and judged against competing claims on public expenditure.

The Earl of Bradford: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Is he aware that all those with an interest in environmental matters will applaud Her Majesty's Government for raising the cost of landfill as that will encourage people to recycle and to incinerate waste? However, is he also aware that there will be an inevitable environmental cost on the countryside as those who unfortunately seek to avoid paying the new tax will dump their rubbish on the countryside and create an enormous problem as a result? Will he encourage Her Majesty's Government to make available some of the funds raised by the new tax to solve the problems created for the countryside?

Lord Henley: My Lords, that is certainly something that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will consider after they have published their consultation document on the proposed new tax.

As regards the problem of fly tipping, to which my noble friend referred, my advice is that the level of fly tipping has decreased over the years since the introduction of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Obviously, that is difficult to measure and we should be very interested to receive further evidence from interested parties as to levels of fly tipping in the consultation period. However, the experience of those countries which have already introduced taxes of this type is that it has not led to an increase in fly tipping.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that while it is right that the Government should try to discourage less desirable ways of disposing of waste, at the same time they should be encouraging more desirable methods, which is the purpose of the Question? In particular, does the noble Lord agree that further assistance and encouragement should be given to local authorities, which have already gone some way to finding novel ways of recycling and separating

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materials? Does he also agree that there should be encouragement for developing the market for recycled materials, which has inhibited developments in this direction for many years?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the Question relates in particular to discouraging landfill. That is the problem on which my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer wishes to concentrate. However, no doubt the further matters to which the noble Lord referred could be considered during the consultation period by my right honourable friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the charges levied will relate to the administrative cost of dealing with licences and will not be used as a means of raising taxation generally as an indirect form of taxation?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot confirm or deny anything at the moment because my right honourable friend has said he wishes to publish a consultation document on these matters. In his Budget speech my right honourable friend said that he did not want to damage our competitiveness by increasing the tax burden on business but that he wished to alleviate the extra costs imposed on business as a result of the tax by examining compensatory reductions in, for example, the level of employer national insurance contributions and by that means broadening the tax base.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government are opposed to the hypothecation of taxes in principle or simply in this case?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can answer simply by saying that there has to be a strong presumption against hypothecation.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: My Lords, will my noble friend tell me whether there is any difference between the proposed tax as announced by the Chancellor in his Statement and the landfill levy as announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I made quite clear, those are matters which both my right honourable friends will consider following publication of the consultation document.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, will my noble friend encourage his right honourable and noble friends to consider seriously an alternative to disposal of waste by landfill sites in the form of incineration of that waste in order to create novel and beneficial fuels for power generation?

Lord Henley: My Lords, at present landfill is used to dispose of some 100 million tonnes of waste a year, representing approximately 70 per cent. of all our waste. That is a much higher proportion than in most other countries. That is one of the reasons why my right honourable friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and

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the Secretary of State for the Environment would like to discourage landfill. The tax could be one way of doing that.

Countryside Council for Wales

2.42 p.m.

Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why their grant-in-aid for the Countryside Council for Wales for 1995-96 has been reduced by £3.37 million from that provided for 1994-95, and what the effect on the work of the council is expected to be.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we consider that there is scope, following the financial management and policy review, for improving the efficiency and focus of the Countryside Council for Wales through a reduction in its overheads, management restructuring and a reassessment of some of its other programmes. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is continuing to discuss the council's detailed plans with it and has agreed to provide an additional £0.5 million to secure the future of Tir Cymen. He is meeting the council again next week, and it is expected that detailed plans will be issued shortly thereafter.

Lord Moran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I particularly welcome what he said about the future of Tir Cymen. However, will he explain why the Welsh agency has been singled out for a substantial cut of 16.3 per cent. while no comparable cuts have been made in the funding of English Nature or Scottish Natural Heritage? Will not a cut of that magnitude make it difficult for the Countryside Council for Wales to fulfil its statutory duties to help conserve the Welsh countryside and Welsh life, and to make its proper contribution to the Joint Nature Conservation Council? In particular, how can the council fulfil its responsibilities in carrying out regulations implementing the habitats and species directive which we discussed in this House on 17th October last? As I pointed out at the time, at col. 102, those were new duties which would require the statutory agencies to be given additional funding. Are we not making it just about impossible for the Welsh agency to carry out its duties?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, to answer the second question first, there is no question but that the Countryside Council for Wales will carry out all its statutory duties. In particular the implementation of the habitats directive is a priority which will be accommodated within the grant-in-aid provision.

As to the overall reduction in resources for the Countryside Council for Wales, that is a matter which has been decided by looking at the Welsh council as a Welsh entity and not by comparison with its equivalents in England and Scotland. We have seen opportunities for improving the efficiency and focus of the Welsh agency. I cannot today offer the noble Lord any suggestions as to whether there are similar opportunities in the other countries.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, how can the noble Lord expect the Welsh council to perform its

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whole range of statutory duties with a reduction in resources of this magnitude? Is he aware that there is considerable disquiet in the Principality about the way in which it is being treated in this and in other ways? It has come to the conclusion that perhaps the best solution would be for us to have the Secretary of State for Scotland in Wales and to send Mr. Redwood to Scotland.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Countryside Council for Wales is confident that it can perform all its functions despite the reduction in its resources. It is a question of improving efficiency and of cutting out expenditure which is no longer considered necessary.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, does the noble Lord make the charge against the Welsh council that it is less efficient than the English and Scottish councils? I have been informed for several years that the Welsh council is very efficient indeed. Does he use such an argument to justify the cut?

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