Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Amendment No. 183P would require that rebates and charges should apply only to occupiers of households covered by the scheme. Theoretically, this would prevent the extreme case arising of an authority collecting charges from one specified group of residents and deciding to make all the rewards available only to another specified group. However, as the noble Lord implied, this approach would have such obvious risks and downsides that it is extremely unlikely that the situation would ever arise. A special provision in primary legislation is therefore not necessary. We would not expect to see it in the pilots, where the process of being designated by the Secretary of State provides a further assurance.

We also wish to resist Amendment No. 183P to allow authorities to deal effectively with everyday situations where, for example, someone moves out of the area. The local authority may still wish to collect charges owed by them, or give them rebates they have earned, even though they are now living in an area outside the scheme. This is a necessary local authority discretion that the current drafting allows. It is again a matter for the local authority.

Amendments Nos. 183Q and 183S would remove powers for authorities to decide who in a household is responsible for paying a waste charge or receiving a rebate. This again would mean that the authorities, though empowered to design and implement a scheme for householders, would not be empowered to say who in that household could get a rebate or receive a charge. Though we are keen to make sure that schemes are as fair as possible—that is why we have put in place key provisions, such as the protection of disadvantaged groups—we do not want to create unnecessary administrative burdens for local authorities that achieve very little in practice. These amendments would create administrative difficulty and costs for local authorities. They would, for example, not be able to ensure that people moving in or out of the area pay only what

30 Jan 2008 : Column 695

they owe, and receive all the rebates they have earned, in the same way as for utility bills when people move house. This is a common occurrence. Tens of thousands of people move home on a regular basis. It is normal practice to calculate the relevant amounts with regard to utility and council tax bills. Therefore, this would be an unnecessary restriction preventing authorities from collecting the money they are owed by residents.

We believe in giving authorities flexibility to suit the conditions. The noble Lord raised some extreme cases which we would not expect the pilot to come across. As I said, we have the safeguard that the local authority pilot will be approved by the Secretary of State. We will be working with local authorities and the public in producing practical guidance for authorities and guidance on appeals processes to ensure that fair schemes are put in place. We do not want to impose an unnecessary administrative burden but we want the measure to be fair.

8.15 pm

Lord Greaves: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that long explanation. This is one of those occasions when we have to say, quite genuinely, that we will read it in Hansard, try to understand what it means and consider our position further.

I have one or two further comments on the whole question of charging and these amendments. The Minister appeared to say that there could be instances where people were due rebates for the period when they were living in a property, behaving themselves, not putting much stuff out and therefore getting all their brownie points, but if they moved away they did not have to be paid, even if the authority knew where they were. That does not seem to be equitable. If people have earned a bonus of, for example, £20 or £30, why should they not be paid it along with everybody else? I think there are limits on how far flexibility can be taken in this when people will believe that they are owed that money.

That leads to my second question on whether people who move away can be chased for any money that they owe. From reading the documents that the Government have produced I understand that the amounts that people could get from this in benefit, or in bounties, or which they owe because they have not been recycling properly, might be quite low. I assume that there will be a de minimis so that people will not be sent bills for £1, but where is a sensible level? If the level that is being talked about is under £100 per year—it might be £20, £30 or £40—what are the administrative costs for an authority of chasing people for that money? It seems that the difference between that and utility bills is that utility bills are usually higher than £20, £30 or £40 and often a great deal higher nowadays. That is the case with council tax generally. One of the problems underlying the proposals is that the amounts of money being talked about are not high. Administrative costs in relation to them might be a serious problem.

Finally, the Minister said that potential cases in extreme would not be expected to be seen in the pilots. That goes back to one of our fears that the pilots will

30 Jan 2008 : Column 696

be in easy areas and the difficult problems that we all know are going to be there. If the pilots are going to be worthwhile we have to tackle some of the difficult problems. Perhaps not the most extreme ones, but if it does not tackle difficult inner city areas, difficult council estates, other difficult areas or far-flung rural areas it is not going to be of any value, but that goes back to the point that we made earlier.

As I said, I will read carefully what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 183P not moved.]

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 183PA:

The noble Lord said: This is clearly a probing amendment. It would take out a great chunk of the Bill. I am not seriously proposing to do that, but the amendment gives us an opportunity to have some discussion over the way that volume-based schemes might work. As I understand it, the two types of volume-based schemes being considered are different sizes of bins—big bins and little bins—or charging people per sack. I am not clear about whether charging people per sack will always be on the basis of selling people the sack, which they are allowed to fill up and put out, and therefore the number put out will depend on how many sacks people have bought, or whether people will have a variable number of sacks and the charge will be on the basis of how many they put out at any given time and therefore they will have to be counted as the collection takes place, in the same sort of way that counting will take place on weight-based schemes. Some clarification might be helpful.

It would be easy for people to order a little bin when they need a big bin. It seems that there will be a great incentive for people to say that they will make do with a little bin but it will not cater for their needs and then there will be the problems of what they have to do with the waste that is left over and the sort of problems that in many areas will occur with weight-based schemes: people will either put them in someone else’s bin, which if people have already paid for that bin might not be a huge problem, but again will lead to neighbour disputes, or alternatively they will get rid of it in some other way and put it in the backyard of an empty house or on a piece of waste land.

We are having an increasing problem of people putting black bags in ordinary litter bins. The council in its wisdom thought that having a big increase in the number of litter bins was a wonderful idea to help keep the place tidy, but people are stuffing their black bags into litter bins. If they are clever and do not put incriminating material in; that is, material that identifies the people doing it, it is difficult to stop them. There are many associated problems. The Minister will say that that is what pilots are for, but it is right that we should consider some of the problems before they happen, not least because it may be the last ever time that we can do that.

From all the material that the Government have produced I have no feeling for how much they think sacks might be sold for. Are we talking of a minimal

30 Jan 2008 : Column 697

level, such as 10 pence, or are we talking of a significant level, like the Maastricht example, which is one of the success stories that the Government are talking about, where they are 75 pence—a euro—at the moment? If they are ordinary plastic sacks and they are identified only by having words or a logo on them I can see people doing well with a black market in them. I can see that growing up quickly and the whole system will break down. I look forward to what the Minister has to say about the way in which volume-based schemes might work. I beg to move.

Earl Cathcart: In the spirit of this being a probing amendment, charges to receptacles provided for homeowners, tenants and others to sort their rubbish into is in our view fraught with difficulty and probable dissension. There are, for example, those who will not use the things because they do not have the rubbish of the kind indicated and those whose health or age render them incapable of the work involved. Has there been discussion with local authorities that have already instituted the separation of domestic waste? I believe that councils provide the bins free of charge and the only rule is that they may not be overfilled. I understand that in large parts of towns the system works without difficulty.

Lord Rooker: The noble Lord has raised an issue relating to the ways in which local authorities might be able to charge. I want to reinforce—at the price of repetition, but it is absolutely the case—that the money raised in charges would be used to pay back rebates to residents. We want to be are able to pilot a wide variety of schemes. Paragraph 4 allows authorities to run schemes where people might buy sacks or pay more for bigger bins. The schemes would encourage householders to reduce the volume of the waste they throw away as opposed to recycling.

Similar receptacle-based schemes are operating successfully overseas, both in Europe and in the United States. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned the sack-based scheme in Maastricht, where there was a phenomenal increase in waste separated for recycling, from 45 per cent up to 65 per cent. We want to give authorities the freedom to trial these sorts of schemes here. Paragraph 5 allows authorities to charge in relation to the amount of waste produced. This could be done by weighing or measuring the volume of waste, for example.

As set out in the consultation paper, we would also like the legislation to allow for charging according to how often residents have their waste collected. We would like authorities to have the power to charge in relation to tags—which answers the noble Lord’s question about the sacks—which would need to be attached to sacks of waste. So there are a number of options here, and during the Bill’s passage, although I cannot say in this House, we may bring forward amendments to clarify the situation.

Amendment No. 183PA would remove paragraph 4—a blockbuster option—and therefore the option for schemes to charge in relation to waste receptacles, bins or sacks. As I have explained, we think that the option is necessary. It gives powers to authorities to run the schemes, which have a proven track record overseas. I am not a world traveller, but overseas cities

30 Jan 2008 : Column 698

and rural areas are not too dissimilar to ours, particularly in the European Union. The noble Lord referred to schemes that are operating with bins for food waste and green waste up and down the country, quite successfully to the best of my knowledge. Local authorities are involved. I do not know how many authorities are involved in food waste collection, for example, but we are piloting quite expensive schemes—running to several millions of pounds—around the country using small-scale anaerobic digesters fed by kitchen waste and green waste collected by the local authority. They are very much experimental but such experiments need a few million pounds of capital investment. Work is under way, but it is up to the local authorities. I do not want to pre-empt—nor should we try to do so—what aspect of it the local authority seeks to charge for in respect of getting a buy-in from its residents so that it can organise rebates and charges. That will be different in different areas, which is the beauty of the pilots.

8.30 pm

Lord Greaves: I think that was helpful, and I thank the Minister for his reply. He mentioned anaerobic digestion, which I forgot to mention earlier when we talked about food waste. That may be an important way forward, providing not just a means of disposing of food waste but one that is commercially viable and resulting in good quality compost.

The Minister referred again to the fact that money raised from people who do not behave themselves will go to those who do, and that the scheme will be revenue neutral. He is not saying where the administration and set-up costs will come from. We understand that on the pilots some of that money may come from part of the £4.5 million, but there is no guarantee of that. I think that that is a reasonable summary of what the Minister said earlier. If that is the case, and the set-up and at least the initial administration costs are not covered by government grants, the pilot schemes will have to find extra resources. They will have to find extra capital funds for set-up costs and extra revenue for administration costs. Therefore, it will not be revenue-neutral. It will be paid for by everybody who pays council tax in the area. Those who have nothing to do with the scheme and are not part of it will be paying towards it. We need to understand that revenue neutrality is superficial; it is between those who get a bonus because they are saving on putting out waste, and those who are charged because they put out too much.

I do not think that we have heard how much it might cost a litter collection authority to carry out a pilot on whatever scale. The information has not been provided. Until we have it, we do not have an adequate basis on which to judge whether the pilots should take place at all. If there is a general rollout, one assumes that there might be a nominal increase in the council’s revenue support grant, but one can assume that there will not be dollops of money for every council that wants to roll it out. Local people will have to pay for it. I do not see how that can be regarded as revenue-neutral. It will require an increase in council tax or a reduction in services to pay for it. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

30 Jan 2008 : Column 699

Earl Cathcart moved Amendment No. 183PB:

The noble Earl said: The three amendments in this group are also probing amendments. I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 183PB and RA.

If charges for the provision of receptacles for holding residual domestic waste and for collecting that waste are higher than the related costs, the population affected will regard it as another form of council tax. Should such charges not meet the costs, the population will see that some members of society are being subsidised while others are not. There is already a debate about whether householders should pay any extra for providing their rubbish ready-sorted for the council. The imposition of a charge greater than the cost of the provision will not add general support to the introduction of these schemes even if there is a counter-council tax rebate.

Under sub-paragraph (4), which would be deleted by Amendment No. 183QA, it appears that an authority would be allowed to charge for providing a rubbish bin under the Environmental Protection Act, and to charge under the aegis of a waste reduction scheme. Will the Minister please explain the purpose of that, or have I misunderstood? Will he further tell us whether the sum will be levied on a one-off basis or whether the intention is that the authority will in effect rent the receptacles to householders through a repeated charge? I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: I hope that I can answer the noble Earl’s questions. Because our debates get compartmentalised, I always feel that I have to say on every group of amendments that the schemes are not intended to raise revenue for local authorities—nor are they related to the cost of the service, by the way. This is fundamental to the process. The aim of the waste reduction charge is to incentivise people to throw away less. That is what it is about. All the money paid to an authority would have to be paid back out again as a rebate. The Government have not changed the way in which local authorities are funded to deliver waste services. As a result of the recent local government settlement, authorities are fully funded from 2008 to deliver waste services through a mixture of central government finance and council tax. There is no incentive for an authority to increase the charge beyond the level needed to affect behaviour. Evidence from Europe suggests that an incentive of about £30 to £50 can be effective in changing behaviour.

As has been said, we are dealing with relatively small sums of money, and the Government retain a reserve power to cap the level of the charge, by the way. The deletions suggested by Amendments Nos. 183PB and 183RA appear to be intended to provide that any charge would need to be related to the relevant authority’s costs, which would not be the desired effect. Together, the amendments would create legal uncertainty on how an authority could choose to set its charges under the scheme, in other words whether they should be linked to costs. This uncertainty would put local authorities off from applying to conduct pilots. This would limit our ability to select good quality schemes.

As I have already said, the intention of the schemes, and any charges and rebates under them, is to incentivise householders to change the way in which they consume

30 Jan 2008 : Column 700

and dispose of goods. Charges are therefore not intended to raise revenue for the authority, nor should they be related to the cost of services. Waste services continue to be funded through a mixture of central government and local tax. By seeking to recover costs, Amendment Nos. 183PB and 183RA would undo this well established arrangement. The last local government settlement was only a few months ago. The aim of Amendments Nos. 183PB and 183RA may be to offer protection against the excessively high charges being levied. We believe the draft clauses already provide sufficient protection against this scenario. To start with the Secretary of State will be able to assess the suitability or otherwise of the proposed charges by the designation process and the legislation allows the Government to cap the payments if necessary.

Even without these constraints, there would be no incentive for local authorities to impose charges beyond what is necessary to incentivise behaviour, because all the revenue must go back to the residents. There is no bypass for local authorities to seek to use an excuse about raising more money, let us say, from those who they say are not co-operating and are throwing lots away, because whatever they charge, even if it is disproportionate and not related to their costs, it has to be paid back to the residents. So there is no way they can do it as a revenue-raising mechanism. We are not talking about large sums of money. From the evidence in Europe, not from the evidence here, £30 to £50 can cause a change of behaviour.

On the noble Earl’s final point, I fully understand why Amendment No 183QA is there. It is a complicated area and I am going to stick to the words I have in front of me. I think this is important. Amendment No. 183QA has no legal effect, but it would take away a useful clarification that charges under a waste reduction scheme are different from charges under Section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Under this section, authorities may charge for waste receptacles. The provisions in this Bill, as drafted, confirm that the new waste powers are different. Waste legislation is a complex area and because of this we want to avoid creating additional confusion. We think it is important to minimise uncertainties for those implementing the pilots as well as those participating in them. Clarifying that a distinction does exist between our new powers in this Bill and those already contained in previous legislation assists in the process. That is why we cannot accept that amendment, but I realise that the noble Earl asked this for a different reason. I hope I have satisfied him.

Earl Cathcart: I thank the Minister for explaining, on Amendments Nos. 183PB and 183RA, that it is not a revenue-raising exercise and emphasising that the charging is to incentivise people’s behaviour towards how they consume and dispose of their goods. I think I will have to read Hansard tomorrow to fully understand the response on Amendment No. 183QA, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 183Q and 183QA not moved.]

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 183R:

30 Jan 2008 : Column 701

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page