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28 Mar 2007 : Column 1644

Local Government: Refuse Collection

3.20 pm

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, Sir Michael Lyons, in his inquiry into local government, recommended that the Government should give local authorities the freedom to implement such incentives developed in close consultation with local residents.

England’s waste strategy is currently being reviewed. In this context, the Government are considering the full range of options that could encourage producers and consumers to change their behaviour, including Sir Michael Lyons’s recommendations. The revised strategy is due to be published soon.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that informative reply, but is not charging people extra for removing their domestic waste an appalling idea? It would require a highly complex new local bureaucracy and would result in endless rows with neighbours as people put rubbish in other people’s bins.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Greaves: Well, my Lords, in our neighbourhood there is a communal area at the end of the street where people have to put their wheelie bins each week and it would be very easy indeed to do that.

Would not charging also result in a great increase in fly-tipping and discriminate against large households and poor people? Should it not therefore be rejected forthwith?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I always understood that the noble Lord supported local government. The idea is to allow local authorities to have flexibility. In fact, the Local Government Association has called on the Government to allow local authorities to introduce financial incentives. They may not necessarily be charges; they could be rebates. There is a range of options that could lower the cost for some people, but it will depend on local circumstances. People living in flats will be treated differently from people living in houses as the waste disposal is different. Whatever solution is come up with must take account of that. The strategy will give local government options, which may not necessarily amount to extra charges.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, why in recent years has council tax gone up steadily by large amounts while the frequency of collections and the quality of service have in general gone down?

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not accept that. I believe that something like two-thirds to three-quarters of local authorities are in the top echelons following the comprehensive performance assessments. Local authorities are responsible for waste collection. They have different policies and they consult residents about whether they want to have garden refuse bins or fortnightly collections. It is up to local choice and local authorities consulting with local residents. What they lack at the moment is the opportunity to give financial incentives; that is, potential rebates or perhaps a mixture of charges. That potential is not there for local government.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister hold with the principle that the polluter should pay where he has deposited hazardous industrial toxic waste on land and the land needs reparation? If he does hold with that principle, what is happening with the Environment Agency’s claim in the US bankruptcy court against New Monsanto, and the companies that it has indemnified, for huge deposits—millions of tonnes of industrial waste—on various sites in England and Wales? Why has the 1972 agreement between Monsanto and Redman-Purle not been enforced? It would save the taxpayer at least £100 million.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am all in favour of saving the taxpayer money on waste collection. I can confirm to the noble Countess that Parts IIA and IIB of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 place the costs of cleaning up sites on polluters. Costs fall on the public purse only in the event that the polluter cannot be identified or cannot pay. I can also confirm that, in May 2006, the Environment Agency filed a protective reservation of rights at the Solutia Incorporated bankruptcy proceedings in the United States, seeking protection and clarification for any liabilities under Part IIA of the Act at Brofiscin or elsewhere in the United Kingdom that derive from historic Monsanto tipping activities. No date has yet been set for the hearing of the agency’s representations. The agency is in regular contact with the US legal representatives and has had confirmation from them earlier this week that there is no two-week deadline for making a claim against the company.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, does not the Minister recognise that we should learn from experience? We had the situation of dumped cars where individuals were charged and as a result we had cars all over the place; now there is a more sensible policy in most local authority areas where you can take your car for free disposal. We also had the experience over refrigerators where the Government forgot to turn up in Europe at the key meeting. Can we not just learn from experience and recognise that if you tax people extra for their refuse, we will have huge problems all over the country?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. We have to learn from experience. If this policy was managed and introduced incorrectly it could cause an absolute disaster for those involved. People would find a way round it, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said. It is much better to encourage people to

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change their behaviour and recycle more—and last year 17 per cent more household waste was recycled, with less going to landfill, which is what we want to encourage—through money off their bill rather than money on it.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the problem for many households is the number of things that cannot be recycled? What progress are the Government making with manufacturers on changing their packaging?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, discussions on that are ongoing although I do not have the details. As the noble Baroness knows, there have been consultations with supermarkets, food producers and other producers of domestic goods on unnecessary packaging. The costs of both producing and disposing of this packaging is wasteful for everybody concerned.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, will my noble friend join me in my campaign? On Sunday mornings I get a plastic glove from the garage on the corner, take a carrier bag from Waitrose and, by the time I get to the newspaper shop to get the Sunday papers, I have put all the village’s domestic refuse into that bag. In other words, I wonder whether people cannot show some interest and take a bit of personal responsibility for this whole issue.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I am not sure whether he was saying that he could dispose of half of the Sunday newspapers before he got out of the shop. That is what most newsagents would like us to do. He gives a good example of civic responsibility.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, perhaps the Minster will inform the local democracy debate by telling us of any evaluation that the Government have made of the effect that bin taxes could have on the incidence of fly-tipping, and what are the latest figures for fly-tipping prosecutions?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not have figures for fly-tipping prosecutions. However, as I said, the revised strategy was consulted on and we are looking at the options that Sir Michael Lyons put forward. We will publish a revised strategy soon. Before anyone asks me when, it will be some time in the summer. It is not imminent in the sense of the next weeks, but it will be after the local elections. But that is not the reason why it will be later. There is a variety of ways of doing this: volume-based schemes, set-based schemes, weight-based schemes and frequency-based schemes. A whole range of issues will have to be looked at. It cannot be one-size-fits-all for a local authority, and it cannot be one-size-fits-all within a local authority, simply because of the nature of the dwellings in this country.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what progress has been made with the incineration of non-recyclable waste?

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Lord Rooker: No, my Lords, I cannot—not with respect to domestic refuse. Too much of it goes to landfill, for a start. We want to recycle as much as possible, and household recycling is up to 27 per cent. The recycling of household waste has doubled over the past four years. There is a recycling element. I do not have a figure for incineration, but too much is going to landfill.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the problem is not only recyclable waste or packaging waste; a lot of the waste that goes into dustbins is food waste, because people are encouraged to buy far more food than they need. Is there anything that the Government or local authorities can do about that?

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, an enormous amount of work has been done on that. Something like half the food purchased is wasted. Some local authorities are providing green bins for food waste, and there are schemes on both research and practicality around the country where food waste, mixed with green waste—trees and shrubs—is being fed into anaerobic digestion plants to create electricity. I visited Greenfinch at Ludlow, where I saw a first-class example of what is happening; there are other cases around the country. On some farms there are large anaerobic digestion plants, which are reliant both on animal waste and food waste, whether the food waste is from animals or humans. An enormous amount of work is being done to get energy out of waste. Waste is the wrong word; that product is a resource, and we should make good use of it.

Palliative Care Bill [HL]

3.31 pm

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Iran: Seizure of Royal Navy Personnel

3.32 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, I beg leave to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“I should like to make a Statement about the current situation regarding the 15 British service personnel detained by Iranian forces on Friday of last week. The Government are doing all that they can to ensure that they are released immediately.

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“I should say at once, and I am sure I speak for the whole House, that our thoughts and prayers at this moment are with all our detained personnel in Iran and their families.“I should like to begin by explaining the facts of what happened last Friday, and the actions we have taken since, and to share with the House some details about the location of the incident on which the MoD briefed this morning.“At approximately 0630 GMT on 23 March, 15 British naval personnel from HMS ‘Cornwall’, engaged in a routine boarding operation of a merchant vessel in Iraqi territorial waters in support of Security Council Resolution 1723 and of the Government of Iraq, were seized by Iranian naval vessels.“HMS ‘Cornwall’ was conducting routine maritime security operations as part of a multinational force coalition task force operating under a United Nations mandate at the request of the Iraqi Government. The task force’s mission was to protect Iraqi oil terminals and prevent smuggling.“The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they and their two boats were surrounded by six Iranian vessels and escorted into Iranian territorial waters. “I immediately consulted the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence and asked my permanent under-secretary to summon the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. “We set out our three demands to the ambassador: information on the whereabouts of our people, consular access to them, and to be told the arrangements for their immediate release. COBRA met that afternoon, as it has done every day since. “On 24 March, my colleague, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Triesman, held a further meeting with the ambassador to repeat our demands. He has had several such meetings since that date.“At that first meeting, the Iranian ambassador gave us, on behalf of his Government, the co-ordinates of the site where that Government claimed our personnel had been detained. They were not of course where we believed the incident took place but we took delivery of them as the statement of events of the Government of Iran. On examination, these co-ordinates supplied by Iran are themselves in Iraqi waters. “On Sunday 25 March I spoke to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, as I did again yesterday. In my first conversation, I pointed out that not only did the co-ordinates for the incident as relayed by HMS ‘Cornwall’ show that the incident took place 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters, but also that the grid co-ordinates for the incidents that the Iranian authorities had provided our embassy on Friday 23 March and Lord Triesman on Saturday 24 March showed also

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that the incident had taken place in Iraqi waters. I suggested to the Iranian Foreign Minister that it appeared that the whole affair might have been a misunderstanding which could be resolved by immediate release. “In Iran, our ambassador, Geoffrey Adams, has met on a daily basis with senior Iranian officials to press for immediate answers to our questions. He has left the Iranian authorities in no doubt that there is no justification for the Iranians to have taken the British Navy personnel into custody, and provided the grid co-ordinates of the incident which clearly showed that our personnel were in Iraqi waters and made clear that we expected their immediate and safe return. I should tell the House that we have no doubt either about these facts or about the legitimacy of our requirements. “When our ambassador and my colleague Lord Triesman followed up with the Iranian authorities on Monday 25 March, we were provided with new, and I quote, ‘corrected’, grid co-ordinates by the Iranian side which now showed the incident as having taken place in Iranian waters. As I made clear to Foreign Minister Mottaki when I spoke to him yesterday, we find it impossible to believe, given the seriousness of the incident, that the Iranians could have made such a mistake with the original co-ordinates, which after all they gave us over several days. “There has inevitably been much international interest in the situation, particularly given our personnel’s role in a multinational force operating under a UN mandate. I have spoken to a number of international partners, including US Secretary of State Rice, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud. We have also been keeping other international partners informed and I am pleased to be able to tell the House that many of them have chosen to lobby the Iranians or issue statements of support. I am particularly grateful to my colleague Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, who has confirmed publicly that the incident took place in Iraqi waters, calling for the personnel, who are acting in Iraq’s interests, to be released. “The Iranians have assured us that all our personnel are being treated well. We will hold them to that commitment and continue to press for immediate release. They have also assured us that there is no linkage between this issue and other issues, bilateral, regional or international—which I, of course, welcome. But I regret to say that the Iranian authorities have so far failed to meet any of our demands or responded to our desire to resolve this issue quickly and quietly through behind-the-scenes diplomacy. “That is why we have today chosen to respond to parliamentary and public demand for more information about the original incident and to get into the public record both our and the Iranian accounts to demonstrate the clarity of our position and the force of the Prime Minister’s words on Sunday 25 March, when he said, and I quote,

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“The House may also be aware that, even if the Iranian Government believed our vessels had been in Iranian waters—and I stress that they were not—under international law, warships have sovereign immunity in the territorial sea of other states. The very most Iran would have been entitled to do, if it considered that our boats were breaching the rules on innocent passage, would have been to require the ship to leave its territorial waters immediately.“We will continue to pursue vigorously our diplomatic efforts with the Iranians to press for the immediate release of our personnel and equipment. As Members of the House will appreciate on sensitive issues such as these, as with the recent Ethiopian case, getting the balance right between private, but robust, diplomacy and meeting the House’s and the public’s justified demand for reliable information is a difficult judgment. I am very grateful for the support we have been given over the past few days by the foreign affairs spokesmen of the other parties, and from yourself, Mr Speaker, as well as others in the House, and hope that this will continue.“But, as the Prime Minister indicated yesterday, we are now in a new phase of diplomatic activity. That is why the MoD has today released details of the incident and why I have concluded that we need to focus all our bilateral efforts during this phase to resolution of the issue. We will, therefore, be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until this situation is resolved. We will keep other aspects of our policy towards Iran under close review and will continue to proceed carefully. But no one should be in any doubt about the seriousness with which we regard these events”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.41 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to the Minister for repeating the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary’s Statement, for presenting the details of the situation with such clarity and, if I may say so, for his own part in seeking a swift resolution of this ugly problem.

Do not these details show beyond doubt that both HMS “Cornwall” and its boarding party boats were at least 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when surrounded and that they were going about their lawful business? Is that not confirmed by the GPS pictures, by witnesses and by the master of the Indian merchant vessel, which was anchored and unloading and was being examined? Therefore, were the Iranians not, frankly, acting in error, as they continue to do?

This is potentially a very grave situation in which there will be full support from this side of the House and, I suspect, from the whole House and all parties

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for the firm and measured approach to the problem at this stage that the Government have deployed. However, I know it will be recognised that if this approach is continually rebuffed for a prolonged period it will have to change. If the news is correct that one member of the group, Faye Turney, is to be released, we obviously hope that that is a sign of the dawn of realism on the Iranian side.

Perhaps I may put a number of questions to the Minister. First, we have heard that there have been repeated requests for consular access to the naval personnel. Has any firm reply of any sort been received about when this can occur and where the naval personnel are? Surely it is time that we at least knew that. At this point, I should add that we obviously share fully in the overriding concern for the safety of those seized and in the very understandable anxieties of their relatives, colleagues and friends.

Secondly, what went wrong operationally? Clearly, something did. It seems that the Iranian fast patrol boats must have been lurking and hiding, perhaps behind the Indian freighter, in order to spring a trap. Why did these boats not show up on the maritime recognition systems and screens of HMS “Cornwall”? Would preventive action have been possible if they had been spotted in time, or did the rules of engagement prevent any moves being made, even if they were spotted? If so, are these the right rules of engagement for patrolling in such dangerous waters? Had we been warned by any intelligence sources that a raid of this kind might be tried at this stage in the broader political context? Are we sure that its timing is not in any way linked with other events, such as the UN sanctions debate or the detention of Iranian suspects, who had been making mischief inside Iraq?

Can the Minister tell us something about the report that Turkish intermediaries have sought to be involved with Iran? Is that true and are they of any help? Does the Minister agree that, for the moment, we must pursue matters—he obviously agrees—by the most vigorous presentation of the facts? If that does not produce results, the full pressures of the international community, in its various guises, such as the United Nations, the European Union and all our other allies and friends across the globe, will have to be mobilised.

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