17 Mar 2008 : Column 1

House of Lords

Monday, 17 March 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Waste Management: Recycling

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Government do not tell local authorities how to carry out household waste collections. Local authorities should provide a convenient and practical waste service to residents, accounting for local circumstances. As recycling schemes become more mature, good practice will spread, leading to collection arrangements which are better understood by the public and businesses alike.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that there is a major problem in that each local authority seems to be in the hands of its contractors, whereas if there were a national list, everyone would be obliged to recycle everything on it? Is he also aware that the vast majority of waste in the Cities of London and Westminster is commercial but that the local authorities get no credit whatever for it because it is not classified as domestic waste? In Westminster, 65 per cent of the waste is commercial and it is collected very conscientiously. Is that not a disadvantage for those cities and inner-city areas?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not quite follow the noble Baroness. Those local authorities do not get any credit for commercial waste because they get money for it, whereas they have a duty to provide a collection scheme for domestic waste under the council tax system. The two are treated separately and that is quite normal. This matter is best left to local authorities. They have national and international frameworks and from April they will have three targets. Decisions on how and when to collect, the schemes that they operate and how they dispose of the waste are best left to them. They are much better placed to make these decisions than is the man from Whitehall telling them exactly what to put on the list.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, local civic community sites are an important part of local recycling but many of them operate quite bureaucratically. That is very frustrating for the public, who are just trying to do the responsible thing. Have the Government commissioned any research into best practice and, if not, will they consider doing so? Although this matter is best left to local choice, it is good to share best practice.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, although I am unaware of bureaucratic difficulties at the sites. I recommend the Wigmore site in Gloucestershire—I use it myself—as an absolute model. In the past, it has won awards for recycling the maximum amount and I have never noticed any excessive bureaucracy. It is true that inner-city, more concentrated areas—perhaps in some of the London boroughs—are particularly keen to ensure that traders and commercial operators do not abuse the sites because they are essentially for domestic residents, and that may be where a touch of bureaucracy comes in.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many local authorities have extremely good recycling schemes, including in Essex, where I live? However, does he agree that an enormous amount of waste is still going to landfill

17 Mar 2008 : Column 3

and that manufacturers and producers need to get much more clearly in their minds the necessity of reducing packaging and increasing the amount available for recycling? What are the Government doing to encourage that?

Lord Rooker:My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. I congratulate Essex on having a good plug this afternoon. There has been a massive reduction in packaging waste in the past 10 years. The recycling rate for packaging waste has increased from 27 per cent in 1997 to 56 per cent in 2006. There have been increases for UK business targets. The announcement on 11 February this year, which came into force following consultation just last week on 14 March, provided a whole new list, particularly for packaging waste and its recovery, which annoys people immensely. Business has woken up to the fact that there is money in what people used to call waste. It should not be called waste; it is an asset.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, it is pleasant indeed to hear Conservative authorities being praised by the Minister. We on this side are not complacent because this is a major issue. The waste strategy for 2007 for England promised a Defra-led waste strategy board and waste stakeholders groups. How often have they met and are the minutes publicly available? In short, what is being done to set up those bodies and what are they doing?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, to be honest, I do not have any information on that. I hope that the answer is very little. I hope that we are not having lots of meetings in Whitehall about things that everyone is quite clear about from the legislation that has been passed. I am not here to make petty party points: I had forgotten who ran Gloucestershire, but I know who runs Essex. I shall check on this and contact the noble Lord later today.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his normal sunny nature may be leading him to be a little overoptimistic about people accepting with pleasure the present system? At the moment, some postcodes have their household rubbish collected every week and many others have collections only once a fortnight. There is much concern about that. Although the noble Lord is quite right about it being a local matter perhaps, when advice is given, it could involve more equal treatment between postcodes.

Lord Rooker: No, my Lords, the Government are not ordering local authorities to collect at any particular rate. It depends on what is best for them. We shall pilot some schemes to give them even more flexibility. I invite all noble Lords—the Bill team will not thank me for this—to turn up tomorrow afternoon for the Report stage of the Climate Change Bill, on which we have reached the part dealing with waste. It provides for legislation to set up five pilots to give local authorities more choice and flexibility about the way in which they organise their affairs. Uniformity will not work, simply because of the nature of society and the housing structure in the country.

17 Mar 2008 : Column 4

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, how can we meet our climate change targets if the man from Whitehall has very little influence?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the influence is there in setting the framework for local government, setting new targets and encouraging it not to use landfill simply because it is more expensive, as has been happening. That is what the man from Whitehall can do. What the man from Whitehall should not do is say, “You will collect this particular range of recyclables on such a day”. It is much better for local authorities to judge the local circumstances and then to deliver against the national targets.

Gift Aid

2.44 pm

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Budget announced a package of measures in response to the consultation on gift aid. The package included payment of gift aid at a transitional rate of 22 per cent for three years. It also included major reform of the auditing process, redesign of guidance, a programme to bring additional small charities into gift aid and a number of other administrative changes to the scheme.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. On behalf of the churches, I thank the Chancellor for giving three years of transitional relief on gift aid claims. We realise the vital importance of using that transitional period to up the number of donors signing gift aid forms. Does the Minister agree that the limited simplification measures still leave a complex business for church and charity treasurers, few of whom are accountants and fewer still tax specialists? Will the Minister use his best endeavours to encourage the Chancellor to continue to listen to the representations of the sector and, above all, to be really bold in taking steps to simplify the scheme still further?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his kind remarks about progress made thus far. The Treasury is aware that any problem which it solves merely gives rise to increased demands from any quarter—certainly from a meritorious one like this. We are aware that more needs to be done and we will certainly remain open to representations on improvements to gift aid. However, I am grateful that progress made in the Budget has been appreciated, particularly by the churches and others who are responsible for small donors.

17 Mar 2008 : Column 5

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, will the Government consider making all donations to registered charities claimable against income tax and tax generally, as I understand happens in the United States of America?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a further step. We received representations on that point and will look at the issue further. Certainly, those who pay higher rates of tax generally want to make their contribution to charity. However, these issues are not simple. It is not easy to produce reforms which do not lead us into further legislation. Thereby hang many difficulties, but the intention is certainly to improve the gift aid scheme.

Lord Newby: My Lords, in addition to the changes on gift aid, the Budget documentation said that the Government continue to support payroll giving. Given the size of the public sector, can the Government take more active steps to encourage payroll giving within its own bailiwick, starting with the Civil Service?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, payroll giving is an increasing feature, as the noble Lord will recognise. How such an operation is to be conducted is for agreement between staff and employers. We are eager to encourage the development of payroll giving, and the Civil Service makes its contribution.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I join others in congratulating the Government on making transitional relief available for the next three years. However, I suggest that this measure is given greater publicity. I was at a meeting over the weekend where there was, to put it kindly, a degree of confusion.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, some of the issues are complex, but the basic one to which my noble friend alludes, and what the Government are guaranteeing, is that charities will continue to receive the relief they would have got under 22p in the pound, despite the fact that there has been a cut in income tax. It is important that we get this message across. The charities benefit from this, too, and I am sure that they are eager to spread the good news.

Roads: Satellite Navigation Systems

2.48 pm

Viscount Tenby asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, legislation on this subject in 1989 and 1990 required system providers to apply for a licence prior to marketing certain subsets of route guidance/sat-nav devices. The Government are currently carrying out a review of this legislation.

17 Mar 2008 : Column 6

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister; I hope I am not being too euphoric about the sympathetic Answer he has given. Is he aware of the impact that unregulated information from satellite navigation systems is having on predominantly rural communities? Whole villages are being cut off for days on end by juggernauts stuck in lanes; pieces are being taken out of buildings; and there is heavy use of minor roads, on surfaces which are not intended for such use. Accordingly, would the Minister, as a first step, undertake to talk to the providers of these systems—I believe they are only few in number—with a view to getting them to introduce at least some relevant information on the roads, such as weight and size limits, and whether a route is suitable for lorries at all?

Lord Bassam of Brighton:My Lords, the department is in continuous discussion with the providers on the subjects that the noble Viscount described. It is for that reason that we intend to bring forward the fruits of our consultation and some proposals about how we can secure better management of sat-nav systems. There are now some very sophisticated systems on the market. I was looking at one the other day called BridgeX, which is a points of interest database for use with the popular TomTom, Garmin and Navman satellite navigation units. It is a specialist product targeted at trucks, articulated lorries and so on, where there can be particular problems, as the noble Viscount pointed out.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, do all ministerial cars carry sat-navs?

Lord Bassam of Brighton:ot all of them, my Lords. We rely in some measure on the intelligence of our drivers, which is very good.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, further to the noble Viscount’s Question, can the Minister give us any indication of how many safety incidents occur each year because of the misrouting of vehicles or wrong routes? Why have the Government not acted earlier, as they completed their consultation about 15 months ago? It might have been appropriate to have started some new legislation or thoughts on it earlier.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the consultation was launched in October 2006 and was extensive. We wanted to take the views of local authorities, which are very important, the providers, the market and so on. We had a lot of responses. We are very close to the point of publication. The trouble with this field is that because technology is constantly changing and improving, it is hard to legislate and regulate to keep ahead of that. The approach we have adopted—trying to encourage and work with the industry—is very advisable.

The noble Lord asked a specific question about how many of the incidents that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to occur annually. We conducted a survey of some 40 local authorities and discovered that there were not very many of these incidents, but

17 Mar 2008 : Column 7

those that there are are the ones we read about in the newspapers. They are very troubling, but fortunately most people make good use of sat-nav systems and follow the road signs as well.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, as the Minister knows, a lot of these systems are used by foreign lorry drivers, many of whom cannot read road signs. I do not know whether these systems will come within the control of the new legislation that the Government are proposing. The Government seem to be impotent in dealing with breaches of the lorry regulations in this country, particularly by foreign drivers, and in dealing with sat-nav navigation systems. In fact, sometimes one wonders whether they have given up on the road haulage sector. Can the Minister give us some reassurance about urgency and about getting something done rather than having constant consultation?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I dispute the notion that we are complacent or slow in dealing with this. That is far from the case. If the noble Lord talked to his European colleagues on this he would find that we led the way in ensuring that we have European Union direction because the vast majority of trucks and lorries coming here with foreign drivers are from Europe. The most important things are to get Europe-wide agreement on these systems and to ensure that European systems accurately reflect the latest conditions on our roads. We have been putting a lot of effort into those important factors. We are not complacent on this. It is a complex issue and the legislation is hard to manage because of technology. We are taking important steps to ensure that providers improve their product.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a sat-nav system placed inside the vehicle in the swept area of the windscreen wipers is an automatic MOT failure? Is he also aware that the construction and use regulation relating to television sets being visible from the front of the car could now apply to certain sat-nav systems and to mobile phones that can show videos?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not have the detailed knowledge that my noble friend evidently has on these things. I will now undertake even more research so that my knowledge of such things is greater than it is this afternoon. I do know that there are some new developments with sat-navs that would make them work rather better by providing a less distracting visual for drivers who rely on them.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, does the Minister agree that we are seeing only the first generation of sat-nav systems and that later ones will be much more sophisticated? To aid that, are comprehensive data available on speed limits for sat-nav manufacturers so that they can produce a device that will not allow motorists inadvertently to speed?

17 Mar 2008 : Column 8

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think some databases are available that advise the provider companies of the latest information on speeds. Ordnance Survey in particular provides a lot of information on the changing nature of road networks, because clearly the relationship between Ordnance Survey and sat-nav providers is very important. Some sat-nav systems are now so sophisticated that, in the course of the journey, they update the information on their systems to advise drivers of best possible routes.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, bearing in mind that the Minister is a keen runner, as I understand from reading the recent House magazine, and as we are on a lighter note here, would it not be right for someone in the Chamber to congratulate Wales on its Grand Slam win?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this briefing just does not cover rugby, but I am more than happy from the Front Bench to congratulate Wales on its terrific rugby achievements.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page