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The Minister raised two issues, the first of which was side waste. He said a later amendment is planned to clarify the position in various legislation and to put all the provisions in one place. Local authorities will welcome that, because there is a lot of argument about side waste in recycling schemes. Secondly, he suggested that the Government will come forward at some stage with an amendment in relation to certain large retailersan interesting phraseand single-use bags. We would very much welcome that. We will be interested to see what that amendment says whenever and wherever it appears. We welcome the Government taking the issue seriously. We raised it in Committee on this Bill.
I also welcome government Amendment No. 213which, as the Minister said, is generally the substantive amendment in this groupnot least because it makes the whole presentation of the proposals much clearer and it shortens the Bill, something which is unusual for a government amendment but is to be welcomed. The amendment sets out much more clearly for anyone interested the different options for the pilots and for looking at waste reduction schemes: based on the weight of residual waste; volumethe big bins or the little bins; and type of receptaclebins, sacks or anything else that people might invent. The question of frequency is much clearer here than it was in the original wording. The reference to types of receptacle and identification of receptacles is also much clearer. Although Amendment No. 213 does not change in any way the Governments intentions towards the options, it is a good amendment. I understand this provision much better than the previous, rather convoluted one.
Amendment No. 213A, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Teverson, goes back to the issue we discussed in Committee. We gave all these charging provisions and systems a pretty good scrubbing down in Committee. The fact that we did so means that at least some of us are not revisiting those issues here. The issues will undoubtedly be considered again in the House of Commons, and we have very much helped them to do so. However, one issue that was not dealt with is advanced payments and payments on account and in instalments. Both Liberal Democrat Members and Conservative Members tabled amendments
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The problem is that if you send out estimated bills in advance and give people estimated rewards or estimated penalties in advance, how is that responding to a change in their behaviour? Surely it is clear whether people change their behaviour in a certain way or not, and they are then rewarded or penalised afterwards for doing so. It seems totally illogical to say to people: We are going to penalise you or reward you on the basis of your historic behaviour before the system comes in. I do not think that the Government have faced up to that properly.
Some payments in advance will take place, because if people want a big bin they will have to pay more for it, and they will get a bill for that. If there is a sack system and people have to buy the number of sacks that they require, they will pay for those in advance. That is not at issue. What is at issue is where the refuse is going to be weighed and people are then going to get rewards or penalties, and the size of their bill will depend on how much they throw away. Surely, that has to come afterwards.
In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, referred to utility companies, and the Minister has done so again today. That reference really is not the case. As I said in Committee, if you have an electricity bill or a gas bill that you think is too great, you can read the meter and ring the company to get an amended bill. There is no way that you can do that in relation to your waste; you are lumbered with the estimate, however it has been carried out. I do not know how they will possibly make these estimates in the first place. There is a real problem here in terms of advance estimates and advance payments in the weight-based type of scheme.
As far as on account or by instalments is concerned, the point of my amendment on instalments is the opposite of what the Minister suggested. He suggested that it is like council tax, which you are able to pay in instalments. That is true, but it is not a requirement to pay council tax in instalments. If you are sufficiently soft in the head, as I was earlier this week, to write a cheque out for the whole of your council tax and pay it all at the beginning of the year, you are entitled to do that. Council tax becomes payable at the beginning of the year. You have a right to pay in instalments if you want to, but you pay those instalments in arrears, because the council tax is due on 1 April, and if you wish, as most people do, you pay by direct debit, cash or cheque each month subsequently over 10 months. You are doing it in arrears, though, because the council tax is due on 1 April. You have a right to pay quarterly
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This is the opposite. What is being said here is that people will be forced to pay by instalments. The purpose of my amendment is to say that if they want to pay up front and get the whole thing out of the way, they should be able to. We are talking about quite a small amount of money here; £30 or £40. The idea of being forced to pay that by instalment through the year in £5 direct debits is crackers. That is the purpose of the amendment, and I hope that the Government will look again at that issue.
My final amendment in this group is on revenue neutrality. I really do not understand why the Government want to put into legislation the ability to abolish the requirement for revenue neutrality when they cannot come up with any circumstances whatever in which they might do it. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that it would be an unforeseen event, and that is all we got. He said:
We want the flexibility to amend the revenue-neutrality condition. In the unforeseen event that we need to make an amendment ... it would come back to Parliament.[Official Report, 30/1/08; col. 711.]
I accept what the Minister said this afternoon, that it would be an affirmative order, but to say that an affirmative order amounts to comprehensive parliamentary scrutiny, as he said, is pushing it a little bit. It is better than none, but it is the old take it or leave it system. It does not really provide us with the opportunity to scrutinise it as if it were primary legislation, although the system is getting better slowly, year by year.
I press the Minister again on what circumstances he thinks might change what he is saying is a cast-iron guarantee of revenue neutralitythat they will not make money out of it and it is not a stealth tax or any other type of tax, except that it is a redistribution from those whose behaviour is thought to be not good to those whose behaviour is thought to be good in recycling. That is the whole principle of it: redistribution from goodies to baddies as far as recycling behaviour is concerned. Yet the Government want it in the legislation that they can change it, so that revenue neutrality can be abolished in the future and they could raise revenue. Under what possible circumstances do the Government think that they might want to do this? Until they come clean and tell us, this should not be in the legislation.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I cannot help seeing a very slight element of irony in that, as we pat ourselves on the back for being at the head of climate change, we keep referring to how Germany is doing it better. I had an easier job talking about North Rhine-Westphalia; whereas the Minister was landed with something rather dreadful to pronounce, which may have been Ludwigshafen.
Amendment No. 213 is the main amendment in this group, the remainder being consequential. We feel that the revised wording makes clearer what the Government intend. In particular, it allows receptaclesfor example sacks, plastic or otherwiseto be identified by tags for which a charge would be made. One has
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The consequential amendments do not affect the requirement for revenue neutrality. I well remember the Ministers robust defence of this provision. I should be grateful, however, if he would respond to a further probe on the Governments intentions in this area. We understand that the costs of running a waste reduction scheme will be met from the savings that the council will accrue through providing materials for recycling. Does this mean that when the Secretary of State considers a scheme for piloting he will expect to see proof of a contract between the piloting authority and the waste reclamation company that it proposes to use? Furthermore, will any rollout be dependent on there being sufficient reclamation capacity of the kind needed for the scheme in question to function with sufficient financial payback to cover the administration costs? The phrase a good recycling service does not seem to us necessarily to cover this point.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I welcome the Governments commitment to look at retail plastic bags, because they deface our countryside in many ways. I say that with a slight smile because I suspect that most of us who acquire them new from the retailer go on to use them again. The bags are therefore used more than once, although they come from their original source only once. I do not mean this in a childish way, but that needs a bit of thought.
I also wonder what research has been done on producing a receptacleapart from a paper onewhich is biodegradable. Presumably, research is ongoing. If the Minister has information on that, it would be helpful if it was shared with us today.
As regards the collections in these trial areas, most of us will have a regular amount of rubbish that goes each week to be recycled and is put in its proper bags. But from time to time, when one has an invasion of family or friends, the weekly amount may well be doubled. I wonder, in the constraints of what is being proposed, how that will be dealt with as well. We do not want to jeopardise people who are doing their best, but at certain times of year they may well have more than they would otherwise have.
The Minister mentioned Germany, which is doing better. In many ways, that is not surprising, because, as the Minister knows, Germany already has biodigesters that are in use. I wondered whether the Government have done any research on how much waste is wasted and is not used to produce electricity or energy. Have the Government thought what might possibly be gained
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At the moment, the rubbish that a person puts out goes into the normal system which the councils run. In these schemes, the councils want to impose a limit so that the person who uses more than they should will be charged extra. Has the additional amountthat in addition to what they normally would have in just one wheelie-bin been anticipated? I am sorry to be so specific, but it would be helpful to know. I welcome the Governments amendment because I think it does help us to identify future projects. I wish them well. I think there was one other thing that the Minister mentionedit was to come before us but will now be put to the Commons later. Could he perhaps clarify that to me? The point on retail and plastic bags I accepted, but the other one I slightly missed.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, your Lordships certainly are very good when it comes to rubbish. It is a great subject for us all and we seem to be very interested in discussing it. It is most important. Looking at the average supermarket trolleythis week I had a good look at my own and at some othersone sees that it contains far more rubbish in plastic and paper wrapping than the plastic bags into which that is put as one goes away. A very good move would be to look carefully at packaging and see whether something can be done, perhaps through the standards authority, to reduce it. I am not sure whether this was said in Committee, but it would be far more useful than limiting plastic bagsalthough plastic bags are a very good advertisement for the cause and I entirely support it. The packaging in a full supermarket trolley is enormous. The rubbish that one puts into the plastic bag, after one has used the things one has boughtthe plastic bag that it originally came inis far more than the plastic bag itself. I think there are not many people who operate their kitchen who would disagree with that.
The other pointI am not sure whether it has been madeis the increase in fly-tipping which is going to happen as a result of this. In Germany, they have been very disciplined about the whole subject for many years. They are used to it. I do not think there is a lot of fly-tippingI may be wrong. My impression is that the system works rather well. In this country, people in cities close to the countryside or to a park are going to resent having to pay enormous amounts, so they are going to just put their rubbish into the back of a car and dump it somewhere. As someone who lives not terribly far from the citywhere people are already not very tidy about what they do with their old beds, prams and so onand on a farm where one is constantly having to remove rubbish, I fear that fly-tipping will
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Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked me about an issue I raised in my speech. We proposed to bring forward an amendment in the Commons. I know it is in the Q & A and I cannot put my finger on it. Now I have lost the page in my notes and I do apologise. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked me about the people charged. What we want is for the local authorities to have the opportunity if they wishand it is up to themto merge the scheme under the pilots with the council tax collection. As he said, we are not talking about large sums of money here. I think we estimated £30, £40 or £50, at the most, either as a rebate or as a charge. Linking it with the council tax, if they have a system for that, should actually be efficient for everybody, so I do not see that as the problem. I have made notes on everyones speech and I cannot find them. I do apologise.
From that point of view, we are not saying how local authorities should actually deal with the rebate. I would like to think of the rebate first and the charge second, and try to make it revenue neutral anyway. It is up to them how they do it. We do not know which local authorities they are going to be. As we said in Committee, we do not know which parts of which local authorities they are going to be. We have got to leave it to the local authorities. That is not saying we are not interested; we sure are interested. In this respectI understand why the noble Lord raises itwe have to trust local government. We may be able to elucidate on this in the other place.
I realise that revenue neutrality is controversial. The noble Lord asked me in what circumstances we would abolish it. We think that revenue-neutral schemes are the right way forward and the work to date supports the view. But these are pilots and that is the whole point about piloting. This is a classic case from schools of government. If you are going to do something national, roll it out a bit at a time. Whatever you do, if it is major, pilot it first to see whether it works. This is normally what we have done. The old social security department and the DWP used pilots to operate. We cannot therefore give the answers; to a large extent, they depend on how the pilots go. We want to learn the lessons, including, I supposeI do not knowsome negative lessons. We should look at all the good criteria; a good recycling service is crucial. As the noble Baroness said, there must be provisions dealing with fly-tipping. We will look again at all those issues if the evidence points that way. We must learn lessons. We do not have other motives; we simply do not know. This is a question of trying it out with local government as a partner. We do not have all the answers.
The noble Baroness rightly said that I had referred to Germany on two occasions. I have warned inside Defra that we should not talk about giving a lead,
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Virtually every scheme that it is possible to pilot in this area is operating somewhere in the world. We made that clear in the original consultation. We are not inventing the wheel. We are a small island and we are running out of landfill, and landfill is bad anyway. We must therefore make reductions and encourage people to recycle more. We can give a lead on many things but on that we are taking evidence from other areas. The evidence from some of the examples I gave shows that this can work; there have been big reductions in what goes into landfill and there are huge advantages in terms of what is recycled.
The noble Lord asked about instalments; I have answered that: it is up to the local authority. We tested that in the pilots. One local authority may want to take the charges one way and another may want to go another way; that is the whole point of the pilots.
The noble Lord said that if awards or penalties were made in advance, there would be no behavioural incentive, but there isit is in the next round. The process operates on an annual basis and the pilots, if I recall correctly, can run for up to three years. Local authorities will have the data on the levels of waste produced; they will relate to bins and be weight-based or volume-based. That can be built into the next round. Peoples behaviour would be affected.
I have specifically not used the P-word. I have referred to single-use carrier bags, and I am sticking to that because that is what I have been instructed to do. This will be dealt with in the other place. Somewhere in my speech there is something about a specific amendment that we intend to move in the Commons; I shall find it before the evening is over. When I discussed it earlier, I said that I thought it would be introduced not at Third Reading but in the Commons. In about 50 pages of Q and A, I saw a specific reference to it being introduced in the Commons. The noble Baroness asked me about that. I am a bit surprised that I have not had a copy of the page whizzed along to me. I will try to find it myself.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, does the Minister not understand that there is a great deal of cynicism and scepticism out there about this being intended as a money-raising and tax-raising process? Simply taking out of the Bill the ability to make it such would make it much easier for the Government to sell this scheme to the cynics and the sceptics.
While I am on my feet, I forgot to ask the Minister a question; I hope that he will be kind and let me ask it now. Is it fair that someone who is moving into a house, as a new tenant or new occupier, should be penalised for the behaviour of the people who were in the house previously? Surely that is not fair; if there is a charge or penalty, that should surely go with the people who lived there previously.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, my experienceI have not moved that oftenis that local authorities and the utilities providers are meticulous about, for example, reading the meter; your liabilities start on the day you move. The people who have moved out are under a legal obligation about all that they need to doto leave the place clean and to have got rid of all the rubbish; that is also in the sales contract. There is not an issue there. Of course it would be unfair if people were saddled with the liabilities of others but that is dealt with in the moving processin the tenancy agreement or the lease and deedsand the normal rules for utilities and local government apply. You pay council tax and the rubbish tax from the day that you go in; you do not pay anybody elses council tax or rubbish tax.
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