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House of Lords

Friday, 17th July 1998.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Waste Minimisation Bill

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I think the feeling of the House is that this particular debate should be quite short, as I know a number of noble Lords are eager to start proceedings on the Landmines Bill. I also have to bear in mind the suggestion made by one of my noble friends who is a most righteous and generous man, although that was overlaid by the cynicism derived from many years' occupancy of the Whips Office which led him to suggest that, if I were seriously concerned about the minimising of waste, my speech should be exceedingly short in order to save paper.

However, this Bill is a virtuous piece of legislation. It has been bouncing around the House of Commons for a couple of years. I believe that it was originally suggested by a Conservative Member and was fortunate to survive the slaughter of the innocents which takes place in early July in the other place. Indeed, this year, only two Bills out of a very large number were approved.

I believe that most people accept that we really must challenge the problem of waste far more vigorously. Despite the need for vigour in the field, the Bill is not of an extensive character; indeed, it is a brief Bill. It merely proposes to insert in the relevant Act of 1990 a provision which will allow waste authorities to take action which will encourage the reduction of waste.

Waste is an enormous problem. On average, every household in Britain produces such a tonnage of it that the total must now exceed 20 million tonnes a year. That is only in the domestic context; businesses produce much more. Some are taking steps to promote recycling and reuse, and these measures will help prevent the remorseless growth of this problem which besets our country. It may also be relevant in dealing with the problem of litter. That is a problem which requires much more urgent attention as our country is probably the most litter strewn in northern Europe today.

I believe that the Bill will serve a useful purpose. I understand that a large number of local authorities strongly support it, and I know that a number of businesses do. I have been advised that the industry council concerned with waste in the environment is very supportive indeed. In view of the qualities of the Bill and the needs of our society, I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Hardy of Wath.)

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11.9 a.m.

Lord McNair: My Lords, this modest Bill has the support of my noble friends and I believe that it also has the support of noble Lords in all parts of the House. I feel particularly at home speaking for the Liberal Democrats on the Bill because it was during the Second Reading of the Environmental Protection Bill in 1990 that I made my maiden speech. As we have heard, this Bill is simply an extension of the provisions of that legislation. It is no less welcome for its modesty of power and scope, though I feel that it will give effect to many of those discussions that people have had over the years in which they ask, "Why don't they...?", and so on, to which the response is, "Well, the local authorities don't have any standing to do this". I believe that the Bill will give them that standing.

Perhaps I may make one more general point about such discussions; namely, that, when talking about sustainability or "sustainable", I wish that people would qualify the word with one of the following adverbs--"economically", "environmentally" or possibly "biologically". Otherwise, it is most difficult to pick one's way through the cliches that build up around a subject which is much talked about.

The Bill will hearten all the voluntary groups which have been working in this field for a number of years, all the people of my generation who were ridiculed for talking about the environment in the early 1970s, and all the people who are working for organisations like Waste Watch. I believe that education is a very important aspect that this Bill might engender. Indeed, the citizenship education which was discussed under Professor Bernard Crick's advisory committee should include education on how to take care of the environment. If young people are encouraged to put pressure on local authorities, I am sure that the most use will be made of the powers in the Bill.

I was lucky enough to attend a conference on economic instruments and waste management on Wednesday. I noticed the difference in culture between Britain and various other European countries. I very much hope that the effect of the Bill will be to change that culture so that we are more enthusiastic about minimising waste. As I said, I support the Bill.

11.12 a.m.

Lord Bowness: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, for his explanation of the Bill. I take the opportunity, if the newspapers are to be believed, to wish him a happy birthday. We support the purpose of the Bill. There are some matters that we may wish to pursue in Committee. We have received representations--no doubt other noble Lords have received them--from the industry council for packaging and the environment. There is the matter of consultation with those who will be affected by any actions taken by local authorities, whether they are users of the packaging, users of the products, or the generators of the waste. We shall want to consider that matter.

The council has made the point that we want to ensure that, in promoting waste minimisation, we do not look at things in isolation. Some waste items are not

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worth recycling as they may generate less waste in manufacture than recyclable waste and may be produced with fewer resources than recyclables. Those are matters that we shall want to examine in Committee and seek to redress any concerns. Apart from that matter, we on these Benches support the Bill and its Second Reading.

11.14 a.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, this Bill will allow local authorities, where they choose, to investigate and promote methods of minimising the amounts of waste generated within their areas. I thank my noble friend Lord Hardy for taking it forward. I join in wishing him many happy returns of the day.

As the noble Lord, Lord McNair, said, this is a good Bill and a timely one. It clarifies the existing legislative position about whether local authorities can undertake waste minimisation activities. Although some local authorities undertake initiatives on waste minimisation, many do not because of a lack of clarity in the existing legislation. The Bill will remove that uncertainty.

We generate 26 million tonnes of municipal waste each year in England and Wales, 90 per cent. of which comes from households. There is evidence that the amount is growing steadily as more households are created and as personal consumption increases. Therefore action must be taken to reduce the amount of waste put out for disposal. This is an important issue. That importance has been re-emphasised by the Government in the recent consultation document Less waste: more value. The simplest and most effective way of dealing with waste is to ensure that it does not arise. The Government want waste minimisation to be an important focus of our strategy and we believe that the efforts being made by many households on recycling can be extended into reducing waste.

In the past waste minimisation has received less attention than recycling. Local authorities have tended to treat the amount of waste produced as something over which they have no control, and which they have to manage. We have not been getting the waste minimisation message across as successfully as we need to, partly because of the uncertainty I have mentioned about what local authorities may actually do. This Bill starts to address that problem. It will allow local authorities, for example, to inform householders about some of the straightforward actions that they can take: for instance, stopping junk mail. It will not empower an authority to impose requirements or restrictions upon individuals or businesses within its area. The Bill is about the acts of local authorities, not those of other parties.

We hope the Bill and the new waste strategy which is now being prepared will help to raise the overall level of awareness about waste and waste minimisation. I am sure it will. We have found that, in areas where waste minimisation initiatives have taken place, people start to think seriously about the waste that they are producing. That is a vital step towards a more sustainable society. As the noble Lord, Lord McNair, said, it is vital that young people's interests in these issues are harnessed to

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achieve this end. I slightly disagree with the noble Lord, however, when he said that young people need to be encouraged to consider environmental issues. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that the Government are committed to ensuring consultation, as our document shows. The Government welcome and support this Bill. I commend it to the House.

11.17 a.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am most grateful for the helpful and relevant comments which have been made. I have not had much contact with the noble Lord, Lord McNair, but I served with his father on the Council of Europe for a long time and we enjoyed an extremely cordial relationship. The point he made about sustainability should echo much more volubly throughout the land because we have to manage the world's resources rather more intelligently.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for his pertinent comments and for his felicitations. I had not expected any Member of your Lordships' House to note the date. I had forgotten it, but I am grateful to the noble Lord and to my noble friend for mentioning it. I hope that we can have a constructive, if relatively brief, debate in the further stages of the Bill. It is extremely encouraging to have the support of the noble Lord and his colleagues.

My noble friend will not be surprised to hear that I am delighted to learn--I am sure the House is also delighted--that a strategy is being prepared. This problem needs to command attention. I hope that the Government's strategy will be assisted by this modest Bill. I was glad to hear my noble friend's comments and also the brief comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord McNair. I trust that this cross-party support will ensure that the Bill has a happy and successful passage. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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