Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Further to the point that she has just made, is it conceivable that, with joint use, county courts in some parts of the country might reopen?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it would be possible to assess local needs. On occasion, magistrates' courts committees have looked simply at the estate needed to serve as a magistrates' court, not the broader estate. As a result, courts have been rationalised and closed. At the same time, sometimes in the same locality there has been a need—sometimes pressing—for county, or other, court space. That space could be used very creatively if there were a unified system. Unification enables that rationalisation and proper use to be undertaken to the advantage of the local community. That must be a very good thing.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 82

The Association of Justices' Chief Executives has supported the Bill. It has been, and will continue to be, fully consulted on all the proposals so far. It sits on the steering group that is managing the work, so its interests are fully represented.

Some noble Lords expressed anxiety about the 42 criminal justice areas. I can confirm that they will be a building block of the new organisation. We have an opportunity to do much good work. Cases can, therefore, be moveable. Clauses 25 and 39 provide for the sharing of estate that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, sought.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, raised passionately the concern about court administration councils. They will not replace magistrates' courts committees. They are one element in a new system, not only for magistrates' courts, but for all the courts about which I have spoken, including county courts and Crown Courts. The new system is based on an executive agency, but the CACs have an important partnership role.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked why there was no detail about court administration councils in the Bill. As the statement of principle makes clear, the CACs will not act alone but with the civil servant chief officers. The whole point is that they will work in partnership. The Bill cannot deal with arrangements in a departmental agency. It simply sets out, therefore, the fundamental aspects of the councils, which will have to be finely honed.

The noble Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Goodhart, shared several anxieties. Both said that the role of the council should be set out in a statutory instrument, not in guidance. I reassure noble Lords that we do not believe it will be easy to override councils' recommendations. As well as guidance to councils, the agency's framework document aims and objectives will require working in partnership. The independent inspectorate will review whether it is working. An annual report, which will be laid before Parliament, will report on that.

We want to unify the courts, not to replicate the organisational boundaries of the current system, which Sir Robin Auld rightly criticised, nor to break up the civil and family courts system. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in his usual passionate way, said that local Benches were going. No, they are not. They are not going anywhere. Lay justices will be allocated to a local justice area. One of the provisions, in Clauses 14 and 16, that will prevail is the arrangement for electing Bench chairmen and deputy chairmen. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, also raised concerns about court closures. As I said, unification will allow more efficient use.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, raised a number of concerns about whether the role of the magistrates' court clerk was going to change and whether we would be creating a different creature, which might have some aberrant effects. I assure the noble and learned Lord that that is not our intention. He said that the justices' clerks would be brought under the control of the Lord Chancellor. The short

9 Dec 2002 : Column 83

answer to that is, "no". Clause 24(1) makes clear that a justices' clerk exercising advisory or judicial functions is not subject to the direction of the Lord Chancellor—or of anyone else. No material changes are proposed to the current powers of justices' clerks.

The noble and learned Lord also asked about Benches being able to remove justices' clerks. Clearly, a clerk's functions include satisfying his Bench. If he or she does not do that, the magistrates will be able to communicate that to the local chief officer, who makes decisions within the court administrative council. There will be very close consultation with the Justices' Clerks' Society and the Magistrates' Association on the general role of the justices' clerks. The CCMCC represents those who manage magistrates' courts, not magistrates themselves. The powers of the justices' clerk in the Bill are a re-enactment of existing powers. I fully appreciate the importance of going through that in detail. We shall do so in Committee, but I assure the noble and learned Lord that it is not our intention to create a different creature. We intend the justices' clerks to continue with the independence of role that has been so valuable in years gone by. We also intend them to have similar responsibilities.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said with such care. If it is not inconvenient, will she say a word about the criteria that will apply to the appointment—and by whom—of justices' clerks under the Bill?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I understand it, the appointment system for justices' clerks will not be greatly changed. We are looking carefully at what changes, if any, the new structure will create. I can write to the noble and learned Lord with greater detail on how we propose to do that. I assure him that we take that seriously, particularly now that it has been highlighted. We did not believe that it would be a problem, because we felt that we were simply echoing what was already there. I assure the noble and learned Lord that we shall wish to address any matters that have been highlighted, because we do not want there to be a difficulty on this issue.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice raised a number of issues about how the costs of the Bill will be met. There will be costs associated with setting up the new agency and some costs for the new inspectorate and criminal procedure rule committee. These costs will be met from within the spending limits of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, using appropriate phasing and piloting as necessary. The noble and learned Lord, with his usual precision, has highlighted a number of issues that I am sure will excite our interest for some time.

I dare not go further. My noble friend Lord Lea made a telling point about what will happen to the workers. Under an order made last November, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor agreed an authorised contract for staff to be appointed on a temporary basis. There are no plans to privatise the courts. This power is useful so that my noble and

9 Dec 2002 : Column 84

learned friend can arrange for agency typists or clerical officers and for IT-based services, for example for civil processing.

I now see that I have been speaking for 21 minutes. I have an answer to each and every noble Lord. I am sorry that I shall not be able to give them all. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, asked a number of questions about how the magistrates' courts committees in Wales will be rearranged and the role of the Welsh Assembly. I shall write to noble Lords on those issues that I have not been able to deal with tonight. On behalf of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and myself, I should like to say that this has been a very interesting debate. We shall consider every suggestion that has been made before Committee stage. If we feel that changes are necessary, we shall certainly seek to consider them properly so that we shall be able to give a proper answer when the Bill comes back in Committee. I thank noble Lords for their support. It is unusual to get wholehearted, if critical, support from all sides of the House. I very much welcome it.

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


7.56 p.m.

Lord Lucas rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the way that recycling targets for local authorities are set and administered.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not want to stray too far this evening. We have a fascinating Bill before the House that will enable us to be fairly wide-ranging in talking rubbish, which is always their Lordships' pleasure. I suppose I may stray a little into the question of whether we sometimes seek to recycle merely because it is possible rather than because it is in some way advantageous to the environment. I want to concentrate narrowly on the subject at hand, which is the recycling targets set for local authorities and how that system is administered.

There are some interesting figures on the subject. The Government have set general targets. I think I am right in saying that we recycle about 11 per cent at the moment and that that is to be raised to 25 per cent in 2005-06. That is still well below the figures set by some of our continental competitors. Even within the current performance there is an extraordinary diversity between local authorities. The list of the worst performing authorities features Amber Valley and Broxtowe both at 3 per cent, a number of authorities around 4 or 5 per cent, which are quite common figures, and Sunderland coming in at 1 per cent. There is quite an interesting quote from the leader of Sunderland council, who said that he could not be bothered with recycling. It was cheaper to stuff it all into landfill. He is clearly an unregenerate free market advocate. It is a pleasure to see that from a Labour council, but it is not exactly what the Government are aiming for.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 85

At the other end we have councils achieving nearly 30 per cent. Bath and North East Somerset come in at 24 per cent, Buckinghamshire at 23 per cent, Chiltern at 27 per cent, Dorset at 27 per cent and Hampshire at 25 per cent. Interestingly, all of those stellar performances that I have noticed come from Liberal or Conservative councils and the ones at the bottom come from Labour councils. That balance says something about the parties' commitment to recycling when it comes down to deciding whether that is what they are going to spend their money on.

One effect of that enormous diversity is the choice facing the Government of whether to concentrate on those local authorities at the bottom of the pile or on those at the top of the pile in order the improve the overall performance in the years running up to 2005-06. The answer seems to be that the Government are entirely impartial in this. They will impose the same sort of level of increase on all of them. So if you are running around at 1 per cent at the moment, you will be asked to get up to 10 per cent by 2005-06. And if you are running around at 25 per cent, you will be asked to get to 40 per cent by 2005-06.

But those achievements are entirely different in their nature. If you are being asked to get from 1 per cent to 10 per cent, it is rather in the nature of falling off a log. All you have to do is improve the level of recycling you are achieving at your central waste depots. You should be able to get 50 or 60 per cent recycling efficiency out of a central waste depot. If that is a reasonable proportion of the waste you are collecting—say, 30 per cent of a council's waste—simple mathematics show that you can probably get up to 15 or 20 per cent overall recycling just by dealing with what is happening at your central depots.

If, on the other hand, you are being asked to get from 25 to 40 per cent, you are essentially being asked to improve performance at the kerbside. That is a much more expensive business and involves dealing with all sorts of problems in getting people to play their part in recycling. It also involves long journey times and having to build facilities to handle all the separated waste once it arrives at its destination. That is a much more expensive business.

It seems strange that the Government announced that of the support that is to be made available for this matter, 20 per cent of it is to be made available to high performing authorities and 80 per cent to low performing authorities. In other words, the authorities that need the money are not to get it and the authorities that do not need the money are to get it. Of course, that has nothing to do with the high performing authorities being opposition authorities and the low performing authorities being Labour-led authorities. That seems to me entirely the wrong way of going about it.

The Government have produced a very interesting strategy paper from the Strategy Unit entitled, Waste not, Want not, which sets out clearly what a successful waste strategy will require. The paper refers to,

    "a robust long term economic and regulatory framework . . . significant increases in the landfill tax and new incentives for households to reduce and recycle waste; a package of short to

9 Dec 2002 : Column 86

    medium term measures to put England on the path to more sustainable waste management including measures to slow the growth in the amount of waste; investment in recycling infrastructure; and support for new alternative waste management technologies; and additional funding accompanied by radical reform of delivery structures to ensure the overall aim is realised".

I think that that is quite clear, accurate and reasonable.

What the paper is saying, if I understand it correctly, is that to achieve the sort of levels we are aiming at—the 25 to 40 per cent range—we need a government-led structure. We need government support for the sort of changes that have to take place in order to make that level of recycling possible, economical and sensible. We need "incentivisation". If you are going to build a centralised facility for separating rubbish or for recycling organic waste or for incineration, you need local support. At the moment the structures do not exist to enable a council to give something back to those people who will suffer as a result of having such a centralised facility built next to them. It may not be so much a case of pollution, although pollution certainly comes into it, but a great deal of transport pollution arises from a lot of heavy, smelly lorries travelling to and from these facilities. It would be helpful, for instance, if a local council could arrange reduced cost electricity for those living next to an incineration plant generating electricity. That sort of thing is not possible without government support. It is the sort of measure that needs to be put in place before you ask a council to move from a target of 25 to 40 per cent in this regard.

Situations can arise where there is no market for the product that is due to be recycled. Some councils have had to abandon cardboard because the market is flooded by German imports. If councils are to move from a 25 per cent to a 40 per cent target, and if they are to be asked to undertake difficult tasks, the Government must ensure that markets exist for the products that councils must recycle to achieve that target. To move from 1 to 10 per cent is easy, but to move from 25 to 40 per cent requires a council to undertake difficult tasks. To do that well requires government support. Councils are likely to have to build central facilities and to experience planning difficulties in doing so.

Improved planning regulations do not yet exist to enable these matters to be dealt with in a sensible time-scale and on a sensible basis. We do not have the system of personal incentives and rules—the sort of carrot and stick approach—that the Germans have in place in order to reach their 40 per cent targets. Therefore, if you are dealing with kerbside recycling, you are faced with great difficulties in doing better than the sort of good average of 60 per cent compliance, which is what we get in this country. You are already hobbling yourself if you are trying to reach German targets, which are around 40 per cent, but they are doing that with near 100 per cent compliance because of the way their government have set out the structures, incentives and sticks that surround recycling in that country. If we are to push councils at the top end of the range, we need the Government to be there first and to work in partnership alongside them.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 87

There is an emphasis on centralisation in the Government's approach. Centralisation is enormously expensive for a rural authority as there are long runs involved in collecting rubbish. It may have to be collected in three or four different cycles in order to keep its components separate. That adds greatly to costs. A great deal of extra traffic is created travelling to some central location and one concentrates the pollution which arises from that. In some circumstances perverse incentives arise. Some councils are now having to dissuade their residents from operating compost heaps as they do not count towards recycling. You would not guess that from reading the strategy paper which positively encourages composting. It states:

    "Over 50% of the household waste sent to landfill sites or incinerated in England could be diverted from incineration and landfill through home composting and recycling on the basis of current best practice".

If 20 per cent of a council's householders compost their organic rubbish, that 20 per cent does not count towards recycling targets. A council almost has to send dustmen in to raid compost heaps; it certainly has to send circulars around saying, "Please give us your lawn cuttings, please give us your hedge clippings. Please create more organic waste so that we can meet our targets". That is a ridiculous and perverse incentive. The structures ought to be in place so that the ambitions set out on page 4 of Waste not, Want not can be achieved. Currently, the regulations point in the other direction. One cannot count builders' rubble towards recycling, for example—it just does not feature. It is one of the major items that is tipped into landfill and one of the main items that is fly-tipped, but that does not count towards recycling targets. Many perverse incentives come into play when a council is asked to go from 25 per cent to 40 per cent.

There is a lot of potential for the Government to say to councils, "Look, we will come down on you if you are running below our targets. If you are running above our targets, think of us as partners—think of this as the golden uplands that you should reach towards. When you arrive, you can expect not to be kicked any more and not to face financial disincentives. You will not be asked to put up your council tax by immense amounts every year, way in excess of the tax collected by councils such as Sunderland, just because we are pushing you to do far better than other people are being asked to do." Recycling should be something that is praised and that people are supported for doing.

There are problems even with organic waste, on which the Government are putting much emphasis and which is one of the most important aspects of recycling for councils at the top end of the range. Kerbside recycling of organic waste means that people bring it to some central composting facility. By doing that, they do not please the National Rivers Authority because it is likely to create a great deal of pollution. Finally, a large quantity of compost is left that is unusable, because the animal by-products order prevents people from doing so. There are likely to be

9 Dec 2002 : Column 88

animal by-products in organic waste, and we cannot spread on fields or use as domestic compost products that may be so polluted. Councils are being forced to recycle something that cannot be recycled.

My plea to the Government is that councils that are doing well should feel rewarded. A council may manage to get from the government target for 2005-06, which has already been achieved, to the government target for 2015 some 10 years early. That should be a process of walking happily, hand in hand with the Government, like the two children in the Startrite advertisement who walk into the golden future. People should not be made to feel that those who have done well be punished more, while those who have done extremely badly or have done nothing are given an easy time and a great deal of government money.

8.11 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for introducing this important and timely topic. We on these Benches believe that the Government's targets are not ambitious enough, especially for household recycling. The target for 2010 is 30 per cent plus, but we believe that it should be more like 60 per cent. That target has already been reached in Austria, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, some local authorities here are very near to the 30 per cent.

Governments have been slow to act on this matter over the years. People who have travelled or lived abroad know that, even going back 20 or 30 years, other countries have been way ahead of us. In this country, there has been increased use of landfill and incineration, which concerns these Benches. Britain is very near the bottom of EU recycling league tables but, at the same time, the number of incinerators is set to become quite large if people get permission for them. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, we currently recycle something like 11 per cent. I have read 9 per cent and 10 per cent, but our rate is something like one-tenth. That is one of the lowest rates in Europe.

Landfill has continued apace, despite the introduction of the landfill tax credits scheme. The Government seem happy to propose increasing incineration, although many people are concerned and believe that it poses unacceptable health hazards.

More research is needed into the environmental and health impacts of incineration. I should be interested to learn whether the Government are considering that. Large sections of the public are opposed to it, and it causes great problems when planning applications come through. That must be recognised. We on these Benches want a moratorium on the new incinerators until there has been proper research into the environmental and health impacts of incineration. We must know that it is safe and the best environmental option. Many believe that using incineration encourages people to create more rubbish in order to feed the incinerator; that has been found to be the case.

If we are to reach the 60 per cent target of doorstep recycling, much needs to change. That could be done through a national recycling programme in five years

9 Dec 2002 : Column 89

if money was available and channelled to local authorities by reforming the landfill tax credits scheme. We currently raise about 500 million a year through the landfill tax levy but very little of it is redirected to support recycling schemes. Currently, about 20 per cent can be claimed back by waste companies for environmental projects, which have been managed by a body called ENTRUST. There has been much criticism of that body.

Normally, my noble friend Lord Greaves would have spoken in this debate but unfortunately he is not well. As it happens, today I found on my computer upstairs that "What is New in the Library" had a rather interesting paper on the landfill tax credits scheme and the various associated problems, but I have not had enough time as I should like to digest it. I understand that the Government recognise that there have been problems.

I turn to the sequence of events. In March 2001, at the time of the Budget, the Government were attracted to replacing all or part of the landfill tax credits scheme with a public spending programme to direct resources towards government priorities on sustainable waste management. There was not a consultation paper until April 2002. It was issued to seek views on the priorities for funding from revenue currently spent through the landfill tax credits scheme and to examine the merits of different funding mechanisms and other arrangements. In the Pre-Budget Report of November 2002, the Government announced that the scheme would be reformed from April 2003. They announced that the tax credits scheme will continue to make grants for local community environmental projects with approximately one-third of the funding of the current scheme but that the remainder will be allocated to public spending to encourage sustainable waste management. I hope that the Minister will clarify further the Government's intentions regarding reform of the system and how much extra they believe might be used to help local authorities with recycling.

The Local Government Association has commented on the issue, particularly in light of the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill. I draw the attention of noble Lords to its concerns. It recognises that the targets from the EU landfill directive are very challenging and it is pleading for more resources to be made available to allow councils to recycle more and to develop other programmes so that they do not have to put so much into landfill. However, it recognises, as we all do, that moving away from a traditional reliance on landfill cannot be achieved overnight. Our problem is that we in this country have been rather slow even getting started. If waste disposal authorities are to comply with landfill targets, they may end up diverting funds away from the real challenges of providing alternatives to landfill.

Local authorities are very clear that the Government need to play a big part in changing public attitudes to household waste. We in Britain have failed to do that. If we are to get higher rates of recycling and composting, and reduce public opposition to the building of incinerators and so on, the Government need to play a greater national role. One of the real

9 Dec 2002 : Column 90

problems with waste management is that one authority—the lower tier—collects the waste and is responsible for recycling but another authority disposes of the waste. That is the real problem that the Government must tackle when considering reforms of the landfill tax credit. The current arrangements do not provide incentives for the authorities that are not recycling very well because those authorities are not responsible for getting rid of the waste. That is one of the key issues. The Government could be taking a bigger leadership role in trying to change the public's attitude to waste disposal, recycling and re-use.

I should like to raise another issue that, although not about recycling, affects the amount of material to be recycled. We are lagging behind also in reducing the amount of waste produced in daily life, as evidenced by the amount of packaging on supermarket products. Someone suggested that everyone should remove waste packaging from such products and leave it behind, and I understand that one or two people have been doing so and asking the supermarkets to dispose of it. Such action might change things. However, that point is perhaps wide of this debate.

As I said, it is regrettable that we lag so far behind the rest of Europe. A nation as advanced and economically prosperous as we are should be doing better. I believe that four simple steps would go a long way in bringing waste removal into harmony with the environment. We should have a national recycling programme, which could, as I said, enable us to achieve the 60 per cent target by 2010. We also need tougher action on reducing the amount of waste produced. If we could also reform the landfill tax and call a moratorium on new incinerators, I believe that Britain would be well on the way to joining the ranks of green European nations. Those steps would enable us to do far better in reaching our recycling targets.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for bringing this debate, even though it is being held while the House is considering the Government's Waste and Emissions Trading Bill. Recycling is a very serious subject. England currently has a growing waste mountain. The way in which England currently manages its waste both harms the environment and squanders resources. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, pointed out very strongly, we are also miles behind the pack. As one of the world's most advanced technical nations, we should certainly not be in that position. We need to act now to reduce waste growth and to recycle more.

As I said, the Government have introduced a Bill to start to tackle the problem. However, we on this side of the House believe that the Government's management of the country's waste and emissions strategy can be summed up as too little and too late. Let us hope that it is not too late. The Government's strategy, however, certainly needs to be considerably more aggressive. We believe that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, the Government have

9 Dec 2002 : Column 91

set their targets in the Bill too low. Not only are the targets the bare minimum required to meet the EU requirements; they send out the wrong message.

The Conservative Party would propose the target that 50 per cent of household waste should be recycled or composted by 2020, compared with Labour's lower target of 30 per cent by 2010. We believe that every home in the country should have their recyclables collected separately from their other waste. Local residents should be able to drop larger items of recyclable waste off at collection points, recycling centres and so on. There should be a nation-wide scheme to provide subsidised compost bins and water butts.

However, we support the Government's introduction of a tradable permit system for the disposal of household waste by landfill. We would increase councils' resources for recycling and composting by reforming the landfill tax credit scheme. That has also been touched on today. There is clearly a significant financial gap in how local authorities will achieve these targets.

Recently, there have been a number of EU regulations for which the Government were ill-prepared—for example, the regulation relating to fridges. In 2001, it was brought to the attention of the UK Government that the regulation would also include the insulating foam in the doors and the walls of fridges. Her Majesty's Government complained of the late finding of information passed on by the European Union. Nevertheless, this deadline caught the Government unaware.

While the European Commission must accept some blame for lack of clarity, the overwhelming responsibility for mishandling the implementation lies with Her Majesty's Government. We find it deeply disturbing that the Government signed up to the regulation while still suffering knowledge gaps about its full impact.

We then had the WEEE directive. The directive does not place obligations on local authorities but on producers and retailers. It is a technical directive. Again it was not very well prepared for and has caused some embarrassment.

Ahead of us we have the End of Life Vehicles Directive. From 2007 onwards motorists will be able to hand back their cars free of charge. But from now until when the directive becomes law, motorists will have to pay for disposal. The British Metals Recycling Association, representing scrap metal merchants, predicts that the number of illegally dumped cars will triple to about 750,000 per year as a result of this new legislation. Peter Mathews, a BMRA executive committee member, said:

    "Car dumping is going to be a much bigger problem than dumped fridges".

That is quite a salutary statement because the Government, and certainly the local authorities, know what the situation was like with dumped fridges. Incompetence and dilatoriness will lead to even more fly-tipping and illegal dumping.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 92

Currently, local authorities do not have the powers to deal with the situation and the Environment Agency does not have the will. The Environment Agency alone has the power to check or inspect the performance of organisations in the waste disposal business. It does not appear to be prepared to attack the cowboy end of the business—those people who start the job, do the part they want, find easy or are set up for, and then leave the rest dumped illegally, probably on someone else's land.

I ask Her Majesty's Government and the Minister to give a commitment that all extra moneys raised from landfill tax will go to local authorities in order to allow them to make the necessary investment for doorstep collections of source separated waste, and, probably equally importantly, for the capital equipment needed to treat waste.

The other day the industry informed me that in order to meet the Government's targets—not ours—which are less than ours would have been, the industry needs to invest 1.5 billion per annum for 10 years. I ask the Government: under the present strategy, where are the incentives coming from to motivate the private sector? Where is the investment capital coming from? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that to charge per item for household rubbish in the street will just compound the problem and lead to more illegal tipping and more cowboy operators while doing nothing to encourage investment?

I should not touch on the Bill in this debate but, from what I have seen and from our current position, it seems that there is no clear financial plan. We do not know where the money will come from to make investments in order to allow local authorities to get ahead of the game and to allow the country as a whole to catch up, let alone to get ahead.

We are all suffering from another complication in this issue and I ask the Government whether they will help us out. It concerns definitions. There are no universally understood definitions of "municipal waste", of "biodegradable" or of "recycling". Everyone has different ideas. When it comes to biodegradable matter, when is something fully degraded? Several scientific issues arise here and straightforward definitions are required. In order to make sense of the Government's strategy and the structures which, it is hoped, will be set up under the Bill, those definitions need to be clarified.

Having said that, we as a party totally support the Government's Waste and Emissions Trading Bill, although I realise that it does not form part of this debate. However, my noble friend Lord Lucas made some pertinent points about the balancing of the structures—the geographical balances—and I very much look forward to hearing the Minister's response to some of the points raised.

8.31 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating the debate. This is a very

9 Dec 2002 : Column 93

important subject and one of the most important issues on which my department has to deliver. As noble Lords have said, there is before the House a Bill related to the subject matter of the debate. Therefore, much is going on but, from the Government's point of view, much of it stems from the waste strategy that we published more than two years ago. That strategy set out a vision for achieving more sustainable waste management and it put in place a number of steps to achieve that. The strategy is based, first, on waste minimisation wherever possible and, thereafter, on maximising the re-use and recycling of the waste that is produced.

In order to achieve that, the Government have set certain targets. They have set demanding targets for local authorities in England so that, compared with the 1998-99 levels, the amount of household waste recycled or composted will double by 2003-04 and treble by 2005-06. That target is fairly demanding. Likewise, in order to encourage business further to reduce waste and to put to better use the waste that is produced, in Waste Strategy 2000 the Government set a target to reduce by 2005 the amount of industrial and commercial waste sent to landfill to 85 per cent of the 1998 level.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that the targets for recycling and for the reduction of landfill are ambitious. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also implied that. It is true that, as noble Lords have said, we are behind certain other countries. We are clear that we want to increase the amount of recycling over the coming years to 40 per cent and more. From the Liberal Democrat Benches, the noble Baroness set a higher target, and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, set a slightly lower target than the Liberal Democrats but slightly higher than ours. That is an interesting juxtaposition of the parties.

We are setting targets for the relatively short term, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, indicated, the problem may stretch over the next 25 years or so. However, we want to set targets which are demanding but achievable. They must be deliverable by those responsible—that is, mainly the local authorities.

The general aim of minimising waste and recycling what is left is true of all waste streams, but particular issues arise in relation to the waste handled by local authorities. The strategy is conducted largely in order to reduce the amount of waste that local authorities put into landfill, as required under the landfill directive. As your Lordships will be aware, the Bill will give effect to the international obligations by setting councils individual limits for how much biodegradable waste they can send to landfill.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked for definitions. Without wanting to pre-empt the Committee stage of the Bill, there is a definition of biodegradable waste in Clause 20 and a definition of municipal waste. I shall not go into that at present. We shall return to these matters in a few days' time.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 94

Nevertheless, I re-emphasise that the Bill also brings in a scheme of tradable allowances as well as the stick of requirements to implement targets. That will mean that economic levers are being used to ensure that local government meets the targets as set out in that Bill.

As regards recycling targets, we issued guidance to all local authorities on municipal waste management strategies, including joint municipal waste management strategies, both horizontally and vertically. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, is right; there is a particular problem in two-tier authorities where one authority is a collection authority and another a disposal authority. It is important that they act together but it is also important, particularly with smaller authorities, that they act in concert in order to deliver their own strategies and targets. Our Waste and Resources Action Programme helps to establish and create markets for recycled materials. That will help not only industrial producers of waste but also local authorities in offsetting their costs.

The report of the Prime Minister' Strategy Unit published with the Pre-Budget Review a couple of weeks ago set out what is needed to deliver the waste strategy. In particular it concentrated on how to meet the landfill directive and produced a wide-ranging analysis and set of recommendations which need to be taken into account by the Government. We shall publish a full response to that in the spring. Work will start immediately through the new ministerial group.

The main point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was that setting recycling targets on the basis of current performance was not a fair way of dealing with the matter. It is important to ensure that all authorities raise their performance. The very poorest need to attain a reasonable level. However, it is also important that those authorities at average or above average level also improve. If we are to move from a low level of performance now to a minimum achievement of 18 per cent in 2005-06, all local authorities will rapidly have to improve their performance. That means that we have to take account of where they are at present. If we are to set targets for collection authorities as well as for disposal authorities, the requirement to improve performance must rest at disposal authority level. In some cases, those disposal authorities are constrained by the way in which the collection authorities conduct their task.

The noble Lord implied—I thought this was something of a side swipe—that there was some political influence on how the authorities were being challenged with these targets. It is right to say that all political parties have good performers and bad performers in terms of who runs the council at any given time. Although there may be greater priorities in some parts of the country than others, that is not entirely identifiable with political parties, although there is some difference in the way in which the number of relatively small county authorities have performed rather better than some urban and other remoter rural authorities.

9 Dec 2002 : Column 95

There are inherent difficulties, but the bids for government funding and the assessment of what needs to be done was made by an independent panel of experts from local government with NGOs and community sector representatives as well as the experts from the waste profession. Therefore, it was not conducted in any sense on a political bias basis. I am sure that the noble Lord was not pushing that too far. Nevertheless, I thought that I should put on record how that was done.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, raised a number of questions about incineration. The Strategy Unit recommended that there should be a review—this is based on the earlier recommendations already announced in the Pre-Budget Report the other week—of the health impacts of all waste options. It is important to mention that the level of health hazard represented by modern incineration is generally recognised to be pretty low. It is also true that many of the European states whom the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, cite as being well ahead of us in waste management performance are also heavily dependent on modern incineration methods.

For example, the recycling performance of Denmark or the Netherlands is frequently cited. Denmark has 39 per cent recycling and the Netherlands 47 per cent, but they also have 50 per cent and 41 per cent respectively dealt with by modern incineration. The uniqueness of the United Kingdom lies in the way in which in a crowded island we have relied on landfill to a much greater extent than the rest of our European partners. Incineration can be part of the necessary strategy. It is therefore wrong to oppose incineration per se, and I regret that the Liberal Democrats are engaging in that degree of nimbyism. I thought that I might wake up the noble Baroness at that point.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page