HC Deb 08 January 2004 vol 416 cc385-6
2. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con)

What assessment she has made of whether the UK will meet its recycling targets by 2005. [146369]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)

National targets for England are to recycle and compost 17 per cent. of household waste in 2003–04 and 25 per cent. in 2005–06. Our current assessment of local authority performance is that we expect to meet the 2003–04 target and that, although challenging, the 2005–06 target is achievable.

Mr. Baron

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Challenging is one way of putting it, but given that the Environmental Audit Committee has stated that the UK will not come even close to meeting any of its recycling targets because of a lack of funding, will she stop making false promises and start outlining to the House the concrete action that the Government will take to improve their poor record on recycling, given that failure could result in large EU fines, and incinerators being forced on local communities?

Margaret Beckett

I understand and recognise the concern that we must do as much as we can to meet the targets, but it is not the case that the Government are not on track to meet the targets for this year. I note that the hon. Gentleman called for more funds, so I hope he is aware that the Government have already substantially increased the funds available for the disposal and recycling of waste, both through the general grant that goes to local authorities and specific grants that we have given to deal with waste. I note yet again that although Conservative Members continually complain that the Government spend too much, they call for us to spend more on specific issues.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we might achieve our recycling objectives better if the authorities responsible for the collection of waste were the same as those responsible for the disposal of that waste?

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We are examining the way in which waste collection and waste disposal authorities work together. I hope that he knows that the Government recently put in place measures that mean that such authorities will have to draw up joint management plans. We have done that precisely because we understand that there can otherwise be different interests and incentives for one authority to leave to another the burden of dealing with these issues.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Will the right hon. Lady explain how she hopes to meet the 25 per cent. target given that local authorities have demonstrated only a 1 per cent. increase in recycling year on year under her Government? Will she also address the producer responsibility obligations regulations? Although the new scheme comes into effect on 31 January this year, the regulations have still not been published. How does she expect the companies that will comply with the proposed waste scheme to prepare for that when they do not know what they are being asked to do?

Margaret Beckett

I do not recognise the figure that the hon. Lady cited—perhaps it is out of date or reflects a broad picture that is not relevant on the ground. She makes a point about the availability of regulations. I am mindful of the fact that the detail of regulations that are approved often does not become available until much later in the day and that that creates difficulties. That concerns the Department and we continually work to rectify the situation. However, the solution is not always in our hands. If we have to wait for legal texts, for example, it can be difficult to get regulations out as speedily as we should. However, we continue to work at that.