HC Deb 28 October 2003 vol 412 cc179-96

  1. '(1) The waste authorities for a two-tier area must, at all times after the end of the period of 18 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, have for the area a joint strategy for the management of—
    1. (a) waste from households, and
    2. (b) other waste that, because of its nature or composition, is similar to waste from households.
  2. (2) The waste authorities for a two-tier area must keep under review the policies formulated by them for the purposes of subsection (1).
  3. (3) The waste authorities for a two-tier area must, before formulating policy for the purposes of subsection (1), carry out such consultation as they consider appropriate.
  4. (4) The waste authorities for a two-tier area must set out in a statement any policy formulated by them for the purposes of subsection (1).
  5. (5) The waste authorities for a two-tier area must—
    1. (a) when formulating policy for the purposes of subsection (1), and
    2. (b) when preparing a statement under subsection (4), have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State.
  6. (6) The waste authorities for a two-tier area in Greater London must, when formulating policy for the purposes of subsection (1), have regard to the Mayor of London's municipal waste management strategy or, where that strategy has been revised, to that strategy as revised.
  7. (7) Where the waste authorities for a two-tier area prepare a statement under subsection (4)—
    1. (a) they must take such steps as in their opinion will give adequate publicity in the area to the statement;
    2. (b) they must send a copy of the statement—
      1. (i) to each of the Secretary of State and the Environment Agency, and
      2. (ii) if the area is in Greater London, to the Mayor of London;
    3. (c) each of the authorities must keep a copy of the statement available at all reasonable times at one of its offices for inspection by the public free of charge; and
    4. (d) each of the authorities must supply a copy of the statement to any person who requests one, on payment by the person of such reasonable charge as the authority requires.
  8. (8) Where subsection (1) is satisfied in relation to a two-tier area by policies set out in a statement prepared before the coming into force of that subsection—
    1. (a) it does not matter that the policies were not formulated for the purposes of subsection (1), but
    2. (b) subsection (2) shall apply as though the policies were formulated for the purposes of subsection (1).
  9. (9) Subsection (3) may be satisfied by consultation before, as well as by consultation after, the coming into force of that subsection.
  10. (10) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for subsection (1) to apply, in relation to a two-tier area specified or described in the regulations, with the substitution for "18 months" of some longer period.
  11. 180
  12. (11) A statutory instrument that contains regulations under subsection (10) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
  13. (12) In section 353 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29) (Mayor's duty to prepare municipal waste management strategy), after subsection (3) there is inserted—

Brought up, and read the First time.

1.32 pm
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 19—Power to disapply duties under section (Joint municipal waste management strategies: England).

Government new clause 20—Interpretation of Chapter 3.

Government new clause 21—Repeal of duty to prepare recycling plans in England and Wales.

Amendment No. 16, in clause 4, page 3, line 32, after `authority', insert 'taking into account that there can be no separation of responsibilities between district, or county council.'. Amendment No. 31, in clause 10, page 8, line 3, after 'authority', insert 'taking into account that there can be no separation of responsibilities between district, or county council'. Government amendments Nos. 44 to 46 and 48 to 58.

Mr. Morley

I shall speak to the new clauses and to the Government amendments, but I am also happy to give the Government's views on amendments Nos. 16 and 31.

The new clauses and amendments deal with joint working between waste collection and disposal authorities in two-tier areas. I know that that issue was discussed in Committee. I did not have the opportunity to serve on the Committee, but I followed its proceedings with interest. There was constructive discussion among all those involved on the important issues before us. For the convenience of the House, I shall set out some of the background.

The White Paper "Waste Strategy 2000" makes it clear that, to tackle waste management effectively, we need to develop constructive working relationships between the different tiers of waste authorities. That is not an unreasonable or controversial point. The strategy unit's 2002 report "Waste not, Want not" made the same point and recommended that the Government consider putting joint municipal waste management strategies on to a statutory footing. In our response to that report, we accepted that recommendation in principle, although in line with our wish to reduce burdens on local authorities, we have also sought to explore other incentives, short of legislation, to encourage joint working.

In speaking to the new clauses and amendments, I am fulfilling the promises made by Lord Whitty in another place and by the previous Minister for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), that the Government would bring before the House their proposals to effect a statutory requirement for joint municipal waste management strategies. New clause 18 introduces a new requirement for all waste authorities in a two-tier area to consult on and prepare a statement on a joint strategy for the management of household waste and other similar waste within 18 months of the day on which Royal Assent is received. That strategy must be adequately publicised and kept under review. Again, that is not an unreasonable requirement. There are special features for London involving amendments to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 requiring the Mayor of London, in revising his waste management strategy, to have regard to any joint municipal waste strategies produced by authorities in Greater London.

In accordance with the Government's wider approach to performance management, including the provision of freedoms and flexibilities for higher performers, we have tailored the new clause to ensure that it targets the authorities and areas that most need to improve their performance on waste.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)

Will the Minister tell us a little more about high performers and the sort of freedoms and liberties that will apply to them?

Mr. Morley

I am happy to do so. New clause 19 gives the Secretary of State power to exempt through regulations an authority whose performance is satisfactory. In accordance with the Government's wider undertaking to remove planning requirements on excellent authorities, we will exempt all authorities that are categorised as excellent under the comprehensive performance assessment, as well as those whose performance on waste is satisfactory with regard to defined targets.

New clause 19 also enables the Secretary of State to provide for the exemption of two-tier areas. We plainly wish to implement the provisions in a way that avoids placing unnecessary burdens on authorities, while ensuring that, where authorities need to work together more effectively in planning for the exercise of their functions, there is an obligation for them to do so.

Norman Baker (Lewes)

Surely, there will be most difficulties in agreeing a strategy where there is a need to work together more closely, perhaps because of division between a county and boroughs and districts. What mechanisms will deal with circumstances in which forward-looking districts such as Lewes and Wealden, and Rother for all I know, want to formulate a good strategy, while an antediluvian county council such as East Sussex does not?

Mr. Morley

I cannot comment on individual councils, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of his local area is greater than mine. None the less, I can say that there will be a duty for co-operation in relation to a joint strategy. He will be aware that, on top of that, the waste collection authorities are set a number of targets and responsibilities in relation to the waste strategy. Of course, the Bill also places obligations on the disposal authorities.

All those involved have their own responsibilities. The disposal authority can also make directions to the collection authorities, and they will be binding. Thus, a range of measures provides a strong incentive for agreeing the joint strategy. The thrust of the new clauses is not to provoke division among local authorities or different tiers, but to bring about co-operation between them. Surely that is better than division.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)

Let me pick up on the valid points made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). Where the collection authority has a clear strategy to increase the amount of waste that is recycled, but the disposal authority has entered into long-term contracts to provide waste to an incinerator, there will be not only philosophical differences between their interests, but economic ones. I do not see in the proposals a sufficiently robust legal strategy to enable such bodies to work together where there are genuine differences.

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman is leading us on to other amendments and new clauses dealing with issues such as incineration. Of course, different circumstances will apply where a waste authority has an existing incineration strategy as part of its policies. Such a strategy will involve a considerable capital investment, and the collection authorities will have to work with the waste authority on a joint strategy that takes that into account. There may be other cases in which the disposal authority wishes to consider incineration. In those cases, we would expect them jointly to consider with the collection authorities the most appropriate way forward in relation to disposal policies, which may include incineration. We want discussion and consultation to take place between all those involved in developing the joint strategy.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

My inquiry is altogether more prosaic than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). Under subsection (11) of new clause 18 and subsection (6) of new clause 19, the Government apparently propose that regulations should be subject to the negative procedure of the House rather than to its affirmative counterpart. If that is so, can the Minister enlighten me as to how there will be an opportunity to debate the contents of those regulations?

Mr. Morley

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, that issue has already been independently scrutinised. As far as I know, the use of negative or affirmative procedures was not queried. He will also be aware that negative procedures are fairly common. Personally, I am fairly relaxed about which procedure is used. There are reasons why legislation is sometimes implemented by negative rather than affirmative procedure; those reasons are separately scrutinised by the various Committees.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Can the Minister direct me to any part of the Bill or the amendments that deals with dispute resolution? Where two elected authorities are both concerned with the collection and disposal of waste, that gives rise to a problem if one authority pursues one strategy while the other pursues a different one. Furthermore, the Bill contains penalties. How are those to be divided up between the two authorities; and what system is there to resolve any dispute between them?

Mr. Morley

That is a rather complex series of questions. I am happy to deal with them, but it might be better to do so as I outline the meaning and implications of the amendments. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I have missed a point, he must feel free to intervene.

Norman Baker


Mr. Morley

I shall give way, but I should like to make some progress.

Norman Baker

I understand that the Minister wants to make progress, but this is an important issue. No one can deny that the joint strategy is right in concept, but the final decision—the whip hand—is given to disposal authorities, which can issue a direction. It is therefore possible—in fact, likely—that a scenario will arise whereby a waste collection authority wants to perform in a way that is more akin to the Government's waste strategy than that of the waste disposal authority. That could create a ludicrous situation in which the waste disposal authority issues a direction to require the waste collection authority to behave in a way that is further away from the Government's intentions. That cannot be right.

Mr. Morley

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman seems to be assuming that all waste collection and disposal authorities will be at each other's throats. That is not so. It is true that disagreements may arise and that directions can be given by the disposal authority to the collection authority. That is why there has to be a system: the amendments address that.

The hon. Gentleman argues that one authority might be trying to implement strategies that are much more in line than those of others with what the Government want. The answer to that is that all waste collection authorities will work to a series of targets, especially on recycling and re-use. That is sometimes forgotten. Some of the discussion that took place in Committee, particularly on incineration, seemed to overlook the fact that waste authorities cannot simply do exactly what they like: they have obligations in relation to recycling, re-use and reducing the amount of biological waste. In that sense, they operate within a framework that provides certain disciplines—it is not a complete free-for-all.

The hon. Gentleman must also recognise that we are committed to giving as much freedom as we can to local authorities in coming together to determine the most effective strategy for their area by taking into account their local circumstances and needs. We do not want to be too prescriptive in terms of taking tight, centralised control, but we do want a framework for delivering targets in relation to fulfilling our commitment to sustainability and to meeting our obligations in line with various directives. The amendments strike that balance: I shall outline some of the reasoning behind them.

1.45 pm

On the point that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) raised about exempting local authorities, we plan to give some exemptions in the form of freedoms to those that hit the excellence targets. That is not unreasonable. We have to take into account the possibility that some authorities might go backwards at a later stage, so there must be a facility whereby exemptions granted to authorities whose performance drops below the levels that we would expect are withdrawn. Even then, we would expect them to have a period in which they could improve their performance before being required to produce the strategy. We are trying to be flexible in dealing with that by tailoring the requirements to enable us to target those areas that need to improve their waste performance, while refraining from placing unnecessary burdens on authorities that are performing well.

New clause 20 defines what is meant by a two-tier area. New clause 21 repeals the requirement for waste collection authorities in England and Wales to prepare and publish a waste recycling plan in accordance with section 49 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It also provides certain consequential repeals in relation to the Greater London Authority Act 1999. That is a clear example of our desire to remove unnecessary and ineffective burdens on local authorities while expecting them to have in place appropriate arrangements for strategic planning of their waste management functions. That strategic planning is vital in moving towards more sustainable forms and in helping us to meet our ambitious targets for composting and recycling.

Amendments Nos. 44 to 46 remove certain powers to make regulations, and certain references to the duty under section 49 of the 1990 Act to produce a waste recycling plan, from clause 29, which concerns municipal waste management strategies for Wales. The repeal of section 49 of the 1990 Act through new clause 21 negates the need for those references.

The remaining amendments relate to the commencement and extent of new clauses 18 to 21.

The Government believe that these provisions, together with clause 31, give waste disposal authorities the power to direct waste collection authorities about the separation of waste and address the concerns that influenced Opposition amendments Nos. 16 and 31, the purpose of which is to require allocating authorities to take into account that there can be no separation of responsibilities between district, or county councils when making an allocation of allowances authorising the sending of biodegradable municipal waste to landfills under clause 4(1) and appointing a person to be the monitoring authority for its area under clause 10(1). There is clearly a genuine functional division of responsibilities in two-tier areas, because waste collection is carried out at district level and waste disposal is carried out by the county council. If the Bill is to succeed in its aim of ensuring that the UK meets its targets under the landfill directive, it is important that we have a clear ownership of responsibility. To that end, obligations to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill are imposed on the disposal authorities, whether unitary or county, as those authorities are responsible for the final disposal of waste, and therefore for sending waste to landfill. That touches on the point that was raised about who is responsible for any financial penalties.

I understand the reasoning behind the amendments in relation to where responsibilities and potential financial penalties fall. The Bill, however, necessarily works by imposing duties on the disposal authorities. As I have explained, we have already catered for the consequences in two-tier areas, and I do not think amendments Nos. 16 and 31 will help in that regard. I hope that in the light of my explanation they will not be pressed to a vote.

The Government's preferred approach, as I have stressed, is to encourage waste collection and disposal authorities to tackle waste management together, while taking account of the distinct role that each tier plays.

Mr. Sayeed

If, as we all assume, the Bill's purpose is to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, why does the strategy not encompass waste minimisation? Moreover, the Bill makes no mention of a duty to consult local businesses. Why not? After all, supermarkets and other businesses could be extremely useful in reducing the amount of waste that is produced in the first place.

Mr. Morley

The Bill does do that. We presented our waste strategy in 2000, and it has been followed by "Waste not, Want not" and the 2002 strategy unit report. What we have established is a clear waste hierarchy, at the top of which is waste minimisation. That is our No. 1 policy. Next come recycling, the reuse of waste as compost, incineration and, finally, landfill. We expect local authorities to adhere to our strategy, and indeed they are doing so.

I agree that businesses have an important role to play in waste minimisation. We are involving them in, for instance, the Advisory Committee on Packaging, which is focused very much on industry, although not hitherto on the industry that we are discussing. We are also involving them in the waste implementation programme and the waste and resources action plan, which means not just encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to take advantage of new opportunities and technologies in recycling and minimisation, but giving financial support for the establishment of new businesses and enabling them to explore new markets. We have a sophisticated range of measures to encourage waste minimisation, which includes industry along with other stakeholders.

Gregory Barker

I am pleased to hear about the waste hierarchy and the emphasis on minimisation, but what troubles me and many others is that little in the Bill will stop waste that currently goes to landfill being booted up to the next level of the hierarchy, namely incineration. There is nothing to prevent a considerable increase in incineration as a result of the clampdown on landfill. One bad thing is being replaced by another.

Mr. Morley

I do not accept that. We shall be able to discuss this in more detail later, but I will say now that I do not see the Bill in itself as a driver for more incineration. The Government have set clear targets for recycling and re-use, and the Bill does not remove the obligation that local authorities will have. This year's target is 17 per cent., and all the indications are that we will meet it. That is a considerable improvement on the beginning of the year, when I feared that we might not.

There has been an enormous increase in recycling and re-use, for which authorities deserve much credit. Some poor performers have improved dramatically in the last 18 months to two years. The target for 2005–06 will be 25 per cent., and the targets will be driven up to about 33 per cent. Furthermore, there will be a review. It should not be thought that 33 per cent. is necessarily the highest figure for which we are aiming.

Local authorities are constantly having to address their strategies to meet the waste and recycling targets. That is removing a great deal of material from the waste streams and reducing the amount of biological waste, thereby reducing the need for both landfill and incineration. Nevertheless, we should all be honest about the fact that there may well be a case for incineration in certain circumstances. It is neither true nor reasonable to say that it can never be part of the waste hierarchy. We have a lower level of incineration than any European country of similar size. Denmark, often cited as a country with a good recycling record, has a 55 per cent. level. We need not go that far, but it would be wrong to mislead people by saying that there is no case for incineration—although nothing in the Bill impels further incineration.

Norman Baker

I have just been to Copenhagen and looked around an incinerator. I was told that Denmark was placing a cap on incineration, and that the instruction was to move towards recycling. The difference between this country and countries such as Denmark is our huge reliance on landfill, which must be got rid of if the landfill directive is to be met. Without real measures to encourage minimisation, re-use and recycling, beyond those already introduced by the Government, the landfill that is removed will simply be replaced by incineration. That is the point that Members are making, and, with respect, I think that the Minister has failed to grasp it.

Mr. Morley

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has produced evidence to support his statement, although he will have an opportunity to do so later, and we shall all have further opportunities to discuss the issue. It does not surprise me, however, that any country whose incineration rate is about 50 per cent. should want a cap. It would want to increase the amount of recycling and re-use, as we are doing.

Let me say something about potential disputes. New clauses 18 and 19 set a regulatory framework for the development of the joint strategy that we have discussed. It is for authorities in each area to decide together how to develop the strategy on the basis of local conditions, working towards targets that they all need and are required to meet.

My Department can help all authorities to meet their objectives. Members of the Department have spent a lot of time going around the country and talking to authorities about the strategies they need to adopt in order to minimise waste and increase recycling and reuse. They have done a good job, which I think is one reason for the surge in the number of authorities meeting our requirements in a comparatively short time.

The Government's new clauses and amendments will, I believe, give sufficient encouragement to joint working without imposing further requirements on authorities that already discharge their responsibilities satisfactorily. Along with clause 31, they provide the right framework for a positive relationship between authorities in two-tier areas working towards a common goal. I do not feel that amendments Nos. 16 and 31 are consistent with that approach.

We believe that our new clauses and amendments offer an appropriate balance between the desire for an integrated approach to waste management and the rights and needs of different authorities at local, regional and national level. I hope that Members will recognise that and support the Government's proposals.

2 pm

Mr. Wiggin

We do not wholly disagree with the gist of the Minister's comments. The amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and I tabled try to ensure that different sorts of local authority and waste disposal and collection authorities are held together. We want top quality co-operation between both sides of waste management at unitary, district and country level. We therefore need to ensure that they have every incentive to work as a team and that, if one half lets the side down, it is not only in its interest but in that of the other half to bring it up to the required standard. That is important because the Bill provides for fines and a range of penalties culminating in imprisonment to ensure that waste management is done properly. We must therefore make sure that it contains no loopholes that would allow a waste disposer to play off against a waste collector.

Any fine should relate to both bodies. There is probably a weakness in the amendment because there could be a case in which one authority was clearly out of line and it was not the fault of another. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) was right to ask the reason for the lack of a proper process to identify those responsible for a breakdown in the system. That is one of many glaring omissions from the Bill.

My first question to the Minister is about the term "statement" in new clause 18. How legally binding are such statements? In the worst case, one waste authority could sue another to try to apportion blame. I agree with the Minister that waste collection and disposal authorities will not be at each other's throats. However, if we are legislating to ensure that that does not happen, we must cover every eventuality.

Earlier, I asked the Minister to define the differences and he referred to new clause 19 and exemptions. As I understand it, an excellent council that performs in the way in which the Government wish no longer has to have a plan. However, to get to that stage, such a council would first have to have a good plan to which it stuck. It is especially bizarre that once a council has a good plan that works, it is allowed to ignore it. Surely there is a lack of logic in that.

Mr. Morley

The concept of the excellent authority means removing some of the directions from it on the basis that it has demonstrated that it delivers excellent standards, including in waste strategies. Those authorities probably have their plans, strategies and joint working, and that is fine. The difference between them and other authorities is that they will no longer be under direction, because we acknowledge that high-quality authorities will continue to act without it.

Mr. Wiggin

The Minister is right to want greater freedom and flexibility for top councils and to remove the cold, dead hand of Whitehall from them.

Mr. Sayeed

The Minister's answer is fair, but it misses the point that although a local authority might start out with the best intentions and the best plan, and put it into effect, it is judged by the past. If there is a budgetary constraint or change in council leadership, the future may not be as rosy as the past. Perhaps it would therefore be better for a local authority that wants to move away from the plan on which it has operated to be required to report that.

Mr. Wiggin

My hon. Friend makes a valid and useful point. [Interruption.] The Minister says that the Bill covers it. However, my hon. Friend is right that if we judge everything with hindsight, as time goes on and people are allowed to move away from their effective plans, the potential for disaster is obvious. That aspect of the Bill is especially bizarre, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. We are united in acknowledging the Government's good intentions, but they have added a bizarre twist to the measure that may run counter to what they want to achieve.

My hon. Friends' most important points in interventions related to the quantity of recycling. The United Kingdom recycled 13.5 per cent. of its household waste last year, incinerated 9 per cent. of household waste and 3 per cent. of hazardous waste. It is hardly surprising that some authorities are expected to increase their performance dramatically, especially given their political colour. Eight out of 10 of the best councils at recycling are run by the Conservative party and seven out of 10 of the worst are run by the Labour party. I am therefore delighted that the party of Government is improving its act, but it is easy to do that from a low base.

We must ensure that the Bill makes a proper distinction between the responsibilities of the disposal and collection authorities so that we get the best possible co-operation. We want money to go into recycling and the re-use and recovery process rather than taken out in fines. Later, we shall perhaps debate whether the fines should go to the Chancellor or back into the process to continue the positive activity that hon. Members support.

Norman Baker

I am the only Front-Bench spokesman to survive the Committee proceedings. The Minister for the Environment has replaced the Minister for Rural Affairs and Environmental Quality and the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) is the latest in a bewildering succession of Conservative environment spokesmen. I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster—and, indeed, all Conservative spokesmen—will remain in position for a long time.

I am sure that the Minister has read details of our Committee proceedings in Hansard as part of his preparation. The subject of our discussion was considered at length in Committee by all members, including the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed). There was agreement, which the Government acknowledged, that we needed a guarantee that waste collection and disposal authorities would work together. It was also agreed that we should not place too many burdens on local authorities and that it was right to deal with recalcitrant authorities, not those that perform well. The Government try to do that in the new clause. So far, so good. My residual worries relate to cases of disagreement between waste collection and disposal authorities, and their resolution. The hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and for Mid-Bedfordshire also asked about that.

I want to refer to East Sussex—I am not obsessed by it but I know it best. Waste collection authorities there, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat, pursue high recycling levels. Indeed, parts of Wealden district council, which is run by the Conservatives, are recycling more than 50 per cent. as a consequence of doorstep collection. There is also a phenomenal uptake in Liberal Democrat Lewes district in my constituency. Those collection authorities will achieve recycling levels that exceed the Government's targets. That is important, because the waste disposal authority will calculate on a lower recycling rate. That means that it will agree an incinerator contract—which has not yet been drawn up, by the way—for a guaranteed throughput of waste to he delivered to the incinerator company, which in this case is Onyx. I hope that the Minister is taking in this complicated argument.

If the waste disposal authority then wished to have a guaranteed throughput, that would necessarily depress the amount of material available for recycling, particularly if the Government are successful in reducing the overall amount of waste. In those circumstances, the only guaranteed set figure would he the amount required for the incinerator, and everything else would have to go in order for that target to be met. There is therefore a real danger that, in these two-tier areas—I think that this could arise in East Sussex—the waste disposal authority could issue an instruction to the waste collection authority effectively to cap or even reduce its recycling capacity.

Mr. Morley

indicated dissent.

Norman Baker

The Minister is shaking his head, but that could happen if the authority were recycling an amount in excess of the Government target, and had to reduce its recycling capacity so as to ensure that there was a sufficient amount for the incinerator throughput.

Mr. Morley

I understand the case that the hon. Gentleman is making in relation to those who exceed the Government's recycling targets. If there is incineration—particularly if it involves a heat-from-waste recovery system—a contract might be needed in relation to the throughput. I do not know the details of the particular case that he is describing, but this situation should not stop the collection authorities reducing the biodegradable waste. There is always an element of waste that is not biodegradable, and there may be a case for incineration in those circumstances. The authority could simply extend the area to include some of those factors, rather than reducing recycling. Is the hon. Gentleman trying to argue that there should never be incineration in any circumstances?

Norman Baker

We shall debate incineration in due course. I am arguing that incineration has a role in specific circumstances, such as the destruction of medical or other special waste, so I accept the Minister's point on that. I was talking about mass-burn household waste, but we will come to that later.

It is conceivable that a waste disposal authority could issue an instruction to a waste collection authority, to which the latter did not want to agree but to which it would be obliged to agree. Carrying out the instruction would involve decreasing the amount of material recycled. That is a real possibility that is not being addressed, and there is no dispute resolution system in place to deal with such situations. Because the penalties relate to landfilling as well, the only objective of the waste disposal authorities, in terms of avoiding fines, will be to meet the landfill targets. They can do that either by incinerating or by recycling, and they will not be particularly bothered about which way they achieve that target. They will simply want to meet the target. The primary goal of the waste disposal authorities will be to avoid paying a fine, and they will say, "It doesn't matter how we get there. We'll incinerate, we'll do anything that we have to do, provided that we can avoid a fine."

The Minister is effectively creating a system in which waste disposal authorities will seek to avoid landfill at any cost, but he is not putting in place the waste hierarchy that he advocates to achieve the solutions that we all wish to see. I said in Committee—I repeat the point for the Minister, who I hope has now finished his conversation with his Parliamentary Private Secretary—that this is not a waste hierarchy implementation Bill, but an EU landfill directive implementation Bill. It has been brought before us solely to achieve the EU landfill reduction target. That is all that it is about.

Mr. Wiggin

The hon. Gentleman is making a good case, but it is worse than that. This is actually a fine-avoiding Bill, and not even a very good one, because I believe that we are going to be in line to receive fines of £180 million a year for failing to minimise waste.

2.15 pm
Norman Baker

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. This is about money, and the paucity of the Government's forward planning is illustrated by the fact that they are continually running after EU directives, rather than anticipating them and putting in place structures to deal with them. We should be in the lead in these circumstances, rather than having to chase after Europe to catch up.

There will be cases—a minority of cases, I accept—in which waste disposal and collection authorities will be at each other's throats and disagreeing on the best way forward, and it is in those situations that the Minister wants to apply new clause 18. He does not want to apply it when there is agreement between the authorities and the recycling levels are good. He wants to apply it when there are problems, and those problems will predominantly be caused by disagreements between waste collection and disposal authorities.

The Minister is saying that the disposal authority will always have the decision-making powers when push comes to shove, but I do not think that that is right, for the reasons that I have given. I hope that he will be able to deal with this point when he replies. If a waste collection authority believes that the direction from the disposal authority is unreasonable, either because it runs counter to the Government's waste hierarchy or because it could undermine the collection authority's targets, what redress will it have? What power of appeal exists? What could the authority do in those circumstances? As I read the strategy, that arrangement is open-ended. It is not clear what powers apply to the waste collection authority in those circumstances. It seems to me that it would have to comply, whatever the environmental and financial consequences. We could be faced with a situation in which a disposal authority required a course of action to be followed which would cost the collection authority an unreasonable amount because it would have to dismantle certain things that had been put in place. What would the consequences be in those circumstances?

Has the Minister considered whether the continuation of the arrangement whereby responsibility is split between the collection and disposal authorities is actually sensible? There is a case for merging the two into one authority. One answer might be to have a regional light-touch waste plan, and to have the collection authorities dealing with the bulk of the work. Although the Minister has done his best to get the balance right in the new clause—I accept that he has listened, and that his colleagues have listened in Committee—there will be a minority of cases in which there will be a dispute between collection and disposal authorities and in which they are following entirely different paths, as some are at the moment. There is going to be trouble as a result of this.

Mr. Sayeed

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and I would disagree with very little that he has said. The Minister is competent and courteous, but he was not in Committee with the hon. Member for Lewes and me. Those sittings were very time-consuming, and one of the problems that the hon. Member for Lewes, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) and I talked about all the way through was that the Bill is extremely narrowly drawn. It fails to provide a comprehensive strategy for all forms of waste, because its prime aim is to save the Government money.

We have here a Bill whose scope is narrow, whose vision is extremely small-minded and whose provisions are inadequate. I have always believed that legislation is best formulated when it is a vehicle that is used to drive forward a long-term, holistic and sustainable vision. Bad legislation is nearly always reactive, singular and isolated, and a panic-stricken reaction to a European demand. That is what we have here. Although I support the Bill's overall environmental objectives, it is still a legislative response, rather than a driver designed to send out policy signals to local government and industry for the purposes of long-term security and investment.

Legislation about the environment should be driven by the overriding objective of carbon emission reduction, and the development of a market that rewards sustainable consumption of primary resources and recycled materials. We need a Bill that encourages environmentally sensitive forms of product design and that frowns on unnecessary waste, but the present Bill does none of that.

I asked the Minister whether he believes that there is an adequate system of dispute resolution, and I have to tell him that he has not answered that question adequately. I realise that the issue applies to provisions that we shall debate later, but one of my main concerns is where long-term contracts have been entered into by one authority—for an incineration plant, for instance—and another authority wants to reduce the amount going for incineration and has a better, more environmentally sensible proposal, which is in greater accord with the waste hierarchy. If that authority tried to implement that plan, it could be penalised for the losses of the other authority. There is a potentially profound dislocation between the two authorities and unless an appeal procedure that permits a Minister to make a judgment is in place, the Bill may cause as many problems as it solves.

Another concern is that the Bill is so narrowly drawn that it does not allow all the other interested parties to share in its implementation. Much household waste is produced in supermarkets—we all know that—yet there is no incentive for local authorities to involve supermarkets and other producers of waste packaging in the process. There is an incentive not to send material to landfill, which is good, but there is an almost equal incentive to send it to the next cheapest option of incineration. We shall deal more fully with incineration in a later group of amendments, but unless the Minister can demonstrate that the Bill will fulfil the Government's objectives on waste hierarchy, it will amount to a lost opportunity.

Mr. Morley

I shall attempt to deal with some of the points that have been raised.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) asked what was meant by the term "statements", and the answer is statements of policy. Those amount to guidance to the authorities and joint committees that determine the strategy. It is guidance by its very nature, because we are trying to avoid a too rigid or straitjacket approach in respect of what can and cannot be done. We want to give local authorities some flexibility. There may well be different solutions in different areas, and local authorities are probably best placed to determine what they should be. Where there are two-tier collection agencies, we want a joint strategy so that agreement can be reached. Hon. Members have referred to problems that might potentially arise in that regard, and I shall attempt to deal with those.

On the subject of scrutiny and whether there should be positive or negative resolution, I want to make it clear that the procedure that I outlined earlier was correct. However, these new clauses have, of course, just been tabled, so they will have to go through that scrutiny. The Lords Committee will have an opportunity to scrutinise the provisions and a supplementary memorandum will be prepared to deal with the question of these powers and other matters raised during this stage of the Bill. The process will be put in place as I have outlined.

Mr. Wiggin

Before the Minister moves on from his point about flexibility, will he clarify for the record whether the same flexibility will apply to authorities that are being fined? There are good and excellent authorities, but we also need to take account of the ones that begin to fail. When a fine begins to be apportioned, will it be the authority that decides on the most appropriate way of dividing the fine, or will there be a more rigid process? There could be a significant danger here and I would appreciate the Minister's guidance.

Mr. Morley

The fines in the Bill apply to the disposal authority. I understand the difficulties that hon. Members have mentioned, but in the end it is necessary to have a line of accountability. I have some sympathy with the argument that a disposal authority could find itself in trouble because of the failures of a collection authority, but taking responsibility away from the disposal authority also means removing some of the incentives and controls. There are pros and cons to the issue, but I believe that it is right to concentrate on the disposal authority.

Norman Baker

Before the Minister moves on from that point, will he consider the mechanism that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) and I suggested—an appeal to a Minister in extreme circumstances where the two authorities cannot agree?

Mr. Morley

I was going to deal with that point later, because it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed). I do not want to have to go over the issue in my hand-written notes again. Ministers are sometimes asked to intervene on a range of issues, and we debated that matter in the Committee considering the Water Bill, on which several Members present served. The formal process is appeal to the Secretary of State, but, in reality, the Secretary of State sets up a mechanism for dealing with the appeal. In the case of major disagreement between the collection authority and the disposal authority—we are talking extremes here—the collection authority could refuse the direction from the disposal authority. That would mean going to court for the matter to be resolved. If the collection authority believed that it had a genuine case, it could put its case through the legal process. Due process exists for those extreme circumstances.

Norman Baker

With respect to the Minister, that is no solution at all. The waste disposal authority would simply point to legislation saying that it had the right to issue a direction—end of case.

Mr. Morley

No, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the legislation. He has completely disrupted my nice linear flow as I have to jump around from note to note. If I am completely confused by the end, he will understand why.

Hon. Members' main concern in respect of clause 31 seems to be a dispute over incineration. That is the most frequently mentioned example. The hon. Member for Lewes mentioned the specific example of a collection authority that believed that it had better solutions for waste minimisation—the object of the Bill—than incineration. However, clause 31 does not give the waste disposal authority powers of direction for incineration. Directions can relate only to legal obligations on the waste disposal authority and there are none specifically for incineration. The waste disposal authority therefore has to consult the waste collection authority before it issues a direction, and the waste disposal authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

That brings us back to the waste hierarchy and the fact that waste minimisation, re-use and recycling are at the top of the hierarchy. Those are the Secretary of State's directions and I do not go along with the argument that the Bill necessarily gives an impetus to incineration. I simply do not accept that, because in no way does it cut across the policy framework. The authorities must work within the hierarchy of disposal and take into account the various regulations.

2.30 pm

With respect to the hon. Member for Lewes, who does not normally duck the question, I did ask him whether he was arguing that incineration could not be used in any circumstances. [Interruption.] No. The hon. Gentleman said that he accepted incineration for clinical waste, but that is a bit of a cop-out, because clinical waste must be incinerated. However, in every area there will be an element of waste that is not biodegradable, so the choice for that waste residue will be landfill or incineration. In some circumstances, it may be decided that incineration—particularly where there is heat recovery, energy recovery or combined heat and power—may be the best option. That is for local authorities, through their joint strategies, to decide. I should like to know whether Liberal Democrat Members believe that we should never have that facility in any circumstances.

Sue Doughty (Guildford)

Yes, we are very strong supporters of a zero waste policy. Within that, however, there may be circumstances where it is possible to take opportunities, such as in the construction industry with cement kilns. Certain products that do not easily degrade, such as tyres, can provide good materials for other processes, so we are taking an ideal opportunity to use those materials to support another industry.

Mr. Morley

Forgive me, but that sounds as though the Liberal Democrats are really saying "Let us incinerate by sticking material in cement kilns". It is still incineration. The salient fact may be that the incineration would take place in an existing facility. I do not know why the Liberal Democrats, in particular, continue to be so evasive about this. I am simply asking whether they are saying that in no circumstances whatever could there be incineration.

Norman Baker

I shall try to tell the Minister again. I have given him one example of where incineration would be appropriate: special waste. If he reads the Committee reports, he will see that we suggested that there should be a moratorium, and that therefore existing incinerators that have been practically shut down might be used, although we want greater monitoring of the dioxins—as we have said in a new clause that we shall discuss later—and we want a life-cycle analysis of incineration. We do not want more Bills at present, because we do not believe them to be necessary, and we think that it is possible to deal with the country's waste without recourse to further incineration. That is the policy we espoused in Committee and which we shall espouse again shortly, when we discuss incineration in a few minutes.

Mr. Morley

I had noticed the hon. Gentleman's comment that there should be a moratorium on incineration, although I am not aware that there is a lack of business in incineration—rather the opposite, in my experience. However, at this stage I do not want to focus too much on incineration, because there will be an opportunity to discuss it later.

Mr. Sayeed

I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in giving way. The answer to his question from the Conservatives, as far as I can remember, was that, provided the most environmentally friendly activity had been undertaken and found not to be cost-effective, one could then go to a lower level of the hierarchy. But one had at least to check that the most environmentally friendly system of disposal was used first.

Mr. Morley

That strikes me as a perfectly reasonable position to take. Incineration should be a resort, because it is down the waste hierarchy. As the hon. Gentleman fairly states, it should not be first choice. There are a lot of caveats: there are issues in relation to standards and safety, whether other options are available and whether it is the best practical measure. That is a perfectly reasonable and, I might say, honest position to take on incineration.

Mr. Wiggin

Although the Minister's initial comments were about the hierarchy and how the Bill would bring it about, they quickly descended into how the authorities would avoid being labelled failures and being fined. Immediately, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) gave an example, which the Minister pursued, quite keenly, towards incineration. Does the Minister not think that that parallels exactly what the Bill is all about, and that as soon as it becomes law everyone will run to the lowest common denominator, which is incineration?

Mr. Morley

No; absolutely not. I do not believe that. I was pursuing the point because the hon. Member for Lewes raised it and I was trying to tease out where he stands on this matter; I am still not absolutely certain. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lewes will have the opportunity to explain as we progress through the Bill, so I do not wish to be distracted at present. I have all these bits and pieces of notes and I have to try to reach a conclusion on this.

The hon. Member for Mid-Befordshire repeatedly raised the issue of supermarkets. We do not ignore the role of supermarkets. In fact, most local authorities, including my own, find that supermarkets are a very convenient centre for recycling because many people buy a lot of material there, and it is a convenient place to take the material back to. I see supermarkets playing a very important role in relation to waste minimisation, which is a legitimate part of the joint strategies that should be developed by the local authorities through the collection and disposal authorities. That is dealt with by these amendments.

We have had a fairly broad run around on this issue, but judging by what I have heard, hon. Members accept the desirability of joint strategies. We have tried to make allowances in relation to authorities that are rated excellent, and to deal with matters that may give rise to disputes. I have tried to give some reassurances that I do not believe that the joint strategies are necessarily driven by incineration alone in relation to the waste hierarchy. The strategies and guidance from the Secretary of State will prevail and the local authorities will have to work within those in terms in formulating their strategies.

These sensible new clauses reflect the desire expressed on both sides of the Committee, and I very much hope that they are supported. I believe that the amendments tabled by Opposition Members are not relevant, although I understand the reasoning that prompted them, and I hope that I have answered hon. Members' questions.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Forward to