§ 2 pm
§ Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Historically, dealing with waste was relatively simple. People put whatever they produced into their dustbin, a man came and collected it and took it away. The same principle applied to industrial waste, by and large, and the main concern for local authorities was to find a new tip when the old one was full. I think that it is fair to say that no recycling to speak of took place except for the marginal effects of totting at tips. I imagine that that is why we still place some 78 per cent. of household waste and some 50 per cent. of our industrial waste in landfill—the modern name for the tip. Frankly, we love our tips, and we are far more addicted to putting waste in them than any other country in Europe.
Over the past few years, waste has become far less simple. We now know that those landfills, and especially completed landfills that have been covered over, give rise to 25 per cent. of the methane produced in this country. Methane is a global warming gas that is four times as potent as CO2. In the tips that produce that methane lies thoughtlessly discarded rotting waste that could, by and large, have been recycled, recovered or reused.
We also know that the ability of the local authority to find another tip, as it would have done in previous years, is seriously constrained. In short, we are running out of holes. The Environment Agency recently estimated that we have about 10 years' worth of conceivable landfill left in London, and perhaps as little as five years' worth in the north-west. Meanwhile, of course, we continue to produce more and more of the stuff. Although the increase has abated a little in recent years, waste arisings are increasing by about 2.5 per cent. a year. Incidentally, that means that even though, as a result of increased recycling, we have marginally reduced the percentage of waste going into landfill each year, the amount of waste going into landfill continues to go up, because of the overall annual increase in waste produced.
As a country, we have so far completely failed to do what we have successfully started to do with energy consumption—decouple increased industrial and consumer activity from waste generation. Since the early 1970s, our primary energy consumption has remained roughly stable, while our gross domestic product has doubled. Waste, on the other hand, has faithfully tracked the increase in GDP all the way. Although we are having some success in recycling waste, there are few, if any, signs that we are about to produce less of it.
Among other things, our inability to deal strategically with the growth in waste makes us slow to respond to and implement the other recent phenomenon in terms of waste: the plethora of European Union directives that have arisen over the past three or four years. In 2001, there was the EU waste packaging directive, followed by the UK waste packaging regulations. In 2002, there was the so-called WEEE directive—the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive—and we followed earlier EU regulations by introducing our own end of life vehicles regulations. In the past year, there was the hazardous waste regulation, the EU ban on whole tyres going to landfill and the introduction of producer 360WH responsibility obligations for direct mail. In the next year, there will be producer responsibility obligations for batteries and a ban on co-disposal. In 2005, there will be pre-treatment requirements for all waste going to landfill. In 2006, there will be a ban on abandoned shredded tyres going to landfill, and there will be targets for organic waste disposal. The changes from the EU that require the UK to implement waste regulations are all far-reaching, and some overlap.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
My hon. Friend will know that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is about to bring out a report on the end of life vehicles and waste electrical and electronic equipment directives. I will not go into detail, but it was obvious, from the evidence that we received, that there is some doubt in the industry about whether the Government can deliver what was signed up to, because of the difference between objectives and action. Does he agree, and if so, what would he do about it?
§ Dr. Whitehead
I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. There are overlaps between some forthcoming directives and there is a problem with clarity. On the subject of where one directive stops and another starts, a representative of the Environment Agency, who gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on which my hon. Friend sits, said:The battery in the vehicle: is it caught by the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive? Is it caught by the forthcoming Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive? Is it caught by the Batteries Directive? Or is it caught by the Hazardous Waste Directive?One criticism introduced by a Select Committee from another place, which the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee may be considering, is that the Government's participation in the early stages of the formation of those directives was, by and large, reactive rather than proactive, and that sometimes they considered the consequences only when the process was too far down the line.
The UK's record of transposing EU directives is far from spectacular. There are five cases against the UK outstanding in the European courts for failing to implement waste-related directives on time. Sometimes we implement directives, but do not spot the implications—the recent fridge mountain is a living testament to that—but I am confident that that will not be repeated with the forthcoming directives on end of life vehicles and on tyres. However, there is a general feeling that various Departments are not as coordinated as they might be when dealing with the representations necessary to introduce those directives in the EU and implement them in the UK.
Non-implementation means fines: we may well end up being fined about £180 million a year if we do not make the landfill directive work. If we are to avoid that fine, we must rapidly reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. The Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003 established a cap on the amount of waste allowed in landfill, and there is now a trading mechanism between those local authorities that are ahead of their targets and those behind them. There is also a rapid escalation of the landfill levy in sight after 2005.
361WH Although those measures will make a significant change, we will still have the problem of what to do with the waste that has not then gone into landfill. I produced some research a while ago suggesting that, as things stand, it is likely that most of the diverted waste will be incinerated—an outcome, as we know, only just above landfill itself in the waste hierarchy.
If we do not incinerate that diverted waste, a large number of waste handling facilities will have to be established over the next few years. The European Environment Agency estimates that, if we are to meet the requirements of the landfill directive, some 27 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste will have to be diverted from landfill by 2016. That means that one new management facility able to process 40,000 tonnes of waste will have to be built every week for the next 14 years. To put it mildly, there are legitimate doubts about whether the planning process can accommodate such a programme.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
I am not against incineration as long as it is a balanced part of waste treatment. However, given that on average it takes eight years to get planning permission for an incinerator, are we not in danger of moving to mechanical biological treatment? In most places, this treatment has been thrown to one side—they no longer do it in Sweden, because it is ineffective. These are no answers to the crisis we face.
§ Dr. Whitehead
My hon. Friend underlines my point. Either we incinerate or we use alternative measures. The incineration process will take quite a while to come to maturity, given the likely development span of the planning process and the resistance in various parts of the country to new incinerators. If we go down a different path—for example, a larger number of smaller plants—the planning process will last for a similar period.
My central point is that we must decouple ourselves from our historic insistence on burying almost all the waste we produce. The consequence of doing so, and of dealing effectively with the waste directive, is that we face a difficult future as we try to reach our targets and produce a different pattern of waste management nationally. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) is a substantial expert in the reuse, reclaiming and recycling of materials, which is one of the routes we need to take. We will have to escalate how we do all that at a local level, so that we can take that element of the waste out of the waste stream and away from landfill.
§ Mr. Drew
When we talk about "recycle and reuse", we often leave out "reclaim". Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should put reclamation at least on a level footing with reuse and recycling? For example, when any building is taken down, the bricks, wood and any other material should all be made available for use. That material ends up in landfill. If we were to move in that direction, that could only help.
§ Dr. Whitehead
Indeed, my hon. Friend makes an important point. We normally talk about domestic 362WH waste, but it makes up only some 7 per cent. of the waste stream. The rest is made up of various industrial and commercial wastes, a substantial part of which are materials arising from activities such as digging up roads and knocking down buildings. Some materials are already systematically reclaimed for reuse— —for example, hardcore is recycled for foundations and road building. Ensuring that such material is systematically made available for reuse and that it is put high up the hierarchy begin to make a difference.
§ Mr. Sheerman
If there is no focus, no leadership and no strategy, we will again miss opportunities. Wembley stadium was knocked down and destroyed, and all of it went into traditional holes in the ground. The Minister is shaking his head, but that information came from the contractor, who said that the remit was to get rid of it.
§ Dr. Whitehead
My hon. Friend anticipates what I am coming to. He also emphasises the fact that the way in which we have historically dealt with our waste hangs over into an era in which we know that we must deal with it differently. This is not just a question of changing public recognition of what we do with domestic waste. The public can no longer simply put the rubbish in the bin outside the front door and go back into the house thinking that that is the end of the matter. So also with industrial and commercial practices, someone can no longer decide that a building can simply be demolished, as Wembley stadium was, and the whole of it sent to a hole in the ground.
§ Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD)
It gets even worse. It is right to reuse such material, preferably as close as possible to the place of generation, but when virgin plywood is used in shuttering and fencing at the Home Office building in Marsham street, not only are we failing to handle what we have, but we are importing wood from dubious sources just to ruin it and throw it away again.
§ Dr. Whitehead
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the other end of the process. When we have put everything into a hole, too often, with a new building, we then replace what we have put in a hole with material that we need not source as new. We tend to have systems in place that encourage us to do that and discourage us from doing otherwise. Indeed, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield about the extent to which building material should be available should be underscored with the idea that, just as we consider the percentage of recycled material in products generally, we should consider the extent of regulated recycled materials in new building as part of the building regulations. Again, the way forward may be a method of co-ordinating such matters.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)
If the hon. Gentleman accepts that the recycling and recovery of waste costs more than landfill, will he put pressure on the Government? Five years after his Government signed up to the landfill directive, they have still not set the standard for treating hazardous waste. Is it not fair to provide a lead to businesses on what standards will apply, to enable them to make the resources and investment available to meet those standards?
§ Dr. Whitehead
The hon. Lady exhibits psychic powers, because it says here in my notes that there is 363WH a similar issue with hazardous waste. As she said, hazardous waste must now be separated from non-hazardous waste on disposal sites. Some 450 sites accept hazardous waste, but, depending on the estimate, that will shrink to between 25 and 30 as the directive is implemented. As things stand, we shall probably need urgently to re-provide receiving facilities for hazardous waste that are separate from traditional disposal sites. It is not clear whether a market in which companies invest and open new receiving sites will be enough to bring this change about. The Government will have to consider urgently the need to review the progress of separating out the disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste by taking a market lead and through structured change, rather than assuming that the market will fill the gap, as it becomes apparent that those sites are unlikely to be available in the near future.
Local authorities continue to be in the front line of the need for rapid change in dealing with municipal waste. Outside the big cities, they are divided into waste collection authorities and waste disposal authorities. There are many examples of good practice among consortiums of waste management authorities, and many more examples of partnerships between waste management authorities and waste collection authorities. They are, however, often the result of happy accident rather than design. Members who sat on the Committee that considered the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill may recall the problems that arose when trying to write into legislation a requirement that the collection agency should separate out waste in a way that would allow the waste disposal authority to deal with it in the optimum manner.
I hope that I have described the increasing complexity of issues relating to waste and the urgency with which we need to address them. The question is how we deal with the emerging palette of problems and possible solutions, which will require careful planning and a great deal of collaboration and partnership, as well as a rapid increase in momentum over a relatively short period. Currently, we deal with them through various Government bodies nationally and locally. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs takes the lead on domestic waste, the Department of Trade and Industry deals with elements of the management of commercial and industrial waste, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for funding local government and relations with it, and for planning waste management. The Treasury has a substantial hand in providing push and pull incentives for waste diversion and minimisation through green tax initiatives. The Environment Agency has a substantial role in the regulation of waste and in the development of hazardous waste inspection and disposal. As I said, various Departments have the role of discussing, negotiating and co-determining European Union directives.
In recent years, there have been substantial Government initiatives on waste, from the establishment of the national waste plan in 2000 onwards. The landfill tax credit scheme was reformed in proportion to the funding. Every year, almost £100 million is redirected to a new sustainable waste 364WH management programme. A new waste implementation programme—WIP—will be run by DEFRA. It has similar funding behind it, and it will undertake a package of strategic measures that were recommended by the strategy unit's investigation, "Waste Not, Want Not". For some time, we have had the waste recycling action programme—WRAP—which examines the ways in which markets might be provided for waste so that the supply and demand for new products from waste can match up in the future. In addition, there are several local authority programmes and a new delivery team and steering group. A review of the health and environmental effects of waste management and disposal, particularly of incinerators, is also under way.
Positive steps are being taken, but we still do not have targets for minimisation, which is imperative, or a realistic chance of meeting our other national targets for recycling and reuse. Unless we start at the top of the hierarchy in relation to minimisation in the near future, even if we have a better chance of meeting the other targets, we will simply be recycling and reusing it and diverting more waste from the larger arisings as they continue to mount up. Under those circumstances, we would not be able to adapt quickly enough to the changes required by the landfill levy, as my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Huddersfield mentioned.
Therefore, in my view, we need to be able to focus and co-ordinate in a way that we have hitherto failed to do. That is why I believe that the time has come to consider seriously the establishment of a strategic waste authority. The strategy unit report recommended that such co-ordination is necessary:A review should be undertaken to assess the merits of focusing all waste policy in one Department".In their response to the report, the Government accepted that recommendation. They agreed that there should be a review on the merits of focusing the waste policy, and asked the Cabinet Office to carry one out. At the time of the response to the strategy unit report, the review was stated to be due for completion by the end of 2003. We are a little beyond that date—not far, but I anticipate the arrival of the report on that recommendation at a fairly early stage.
I do not envisage that a strategic waste authority would be a vast new quango. It would not require huge new offices, substantial new staff or large amounts of new equipment. It could recruit its staff from existing personnel. It would comprise technical specialists within the Environment Agency policy team, plus appropriate waste specialists from DEFRA. It would have a number of key strategic requirements and perhaps be responsible for the development of a national data reporting infrastructure. We need data to understand where we are now in order to plan effectively for the future, and we certainly do not have them in any way at the level we require.
The strategic waste authority would investigate and improve proprietary technologies in line with best practice and with emission criteria decided by the Environment Agency. It might develop operating standards for those technologies that cover organic and inorganic material processing through gasification as well as mechanical and chemical means. It might develop improved communication infrastructures with 365WH the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister with specific reference to developing and implementing the introduction of those various technologies in the UK regions. working with established specialists in the planning system to see how that system might accommodate the substantial changes that need to be implemented in waste management systems.
The authority would certainly have a role in agreeing acceptance dates for EU directives, looking at those EU directives early on and considering the implementation timetables in directorate-general XI. It would therefore have a clear strategic function. In doing that, it would not need to second-guess or remove local functions and initiatives. If we are to make the progress that we need to make in changing the nature of waste management, we need local initiative to flourish. Contrary to the view that a strategic waste authority would remove that initiative, having a clear way forward housed under one roof and co-ordinated between Departments would surely encourage it.
§ Miss McIntosh
Does the hon. Gentleman imagine that such an agency would be housed within DEFRA and act as the interlocutor with other Departments? He appears simply to be recommending that we should have another structure, whereas the message coming from industry appears to be that there is a lack of political leadership. How does his proposal overcome that?
§ Dr. Whitehead
I disagree with the hon. Lady. The issue that I am attempting to focus on is beyond even political leadership—and I emphasise that there has been rising awareness in the Government of the urgent need to change the nature of waste management in this country. There have been substantial political initiatives. Part of the problem is that the delivery of political initiatives—whatever is decided on, however strong that political will is—tends to be dissipated by the way in which the management of waste is organised. I would envisage that a strategic waste authority would be sited within DEFRA, but would bring together the fractured nature of waste management at a national and strategic level. That is the case I have tried to make today, from what is apparent. The authority would work with the Environment Agency and with DEFRA, but would have a single focus of activity at the centre of the Government, to bring that political will to bear on making the changes with the rapidity that is needed.
No change in our waste management strategy condemns us to a gradually more unmanageable and failing waste system. Eventually, slowly but surely, we will become engulfed in the rubbish we create. We are changing, but too slowly. A strategic waste authority is not in itself a solution—it would not make the change in its own right— but as a method of driving change forward, quickening the pace and ensuring that the changes made work to the best result, I think we need it. I hope that the Government review agrees. If the review does not agree, perhaps the Government themselves will, having listened to the logic and the compelling case that I have laid before them today.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
I am delighted to be here to participate in this debate, as I had a speaking engagement in Cardiff this morning and did not think that I could get back in time.
I shall try to be brief. I want to reinforce some of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), because he is also one of the small band, at least three of whose members are in this Room, which may be in danger of getting a rather quirky reputation in the House, because we are so interested in waste. A key element of environmental policy should be dealing intelligently with the waste products in our society. I am of a more practical bent than a blue or green skies person. Our old Etonian friend Jonathan Porritt should get on with the blue-sky thinking while we get on with the more practical stuff that can help save our environment and do something about global warming and much else.
Waste is a very complicated matter that goes to the heart of our environmental concerns. One serious worry is that environmental concerns have slipped down the polls every year in terms of public perception and of their priority in the hierarchy of issues in which the population are most interested. Environmental concerns have slipped down, but I can guarantee that, like all these things, they will come back into fashion. The environment will return as a much greater public concern, and the waste sector will increasingly lead into that concern.
I have several interests to declare. I am chairman of Urban Mines Ltd., a not-for-profit organisation that sees the waste flowing from our towns and cities as a new raw material that we mine for new processes to obviate the need to dig holes in the earth's crust and take virgin material. I started the organisation in 1995. It now employs 28 people and is recognised as a leading authority in this area. We help in starting small businesses that use waste as a raw material. I also helped in the plot to establish the parliamentary sustainable waste management group and am a member of Lord Lewis's Onyx environmental watchdog panel, of which he is chairman. We keep an eye on how environmentally sound major waste management companies are.
I know a bit about this issue. In respect of the "joinedupness" that several hon. Members have mentioned, the complexity is amazing. One of the problems with DEFRA is that it has never taken waste seriously enough. Personnel change too fast, so people are not kept in the Department and on the job long enough. When I take my experts into DEFRA, we are lucky to see the same people twice. Indeed, because of the policy of keeping people in a job only so long once they get the knowledge that it can give, they are moved on. DEFRA therefore has a central weakness in understanding waste issues, and I worry when my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test says that the strategic waste authority may be based solely in DEFRA.
§ Sue Doughty
Does the hon. Gentleman share my frustration about the following issue? What happened to the knowledge in the old Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and all the work that it was doing on such things as hazardous 367WH waste? Where did that knowledge go? Surely it did not fall down a crevasse, because that team moved across to DEFRA, but there has been no continuity.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I agree with a great deal of that. DEFRA must take the waste sector much more seriously. It is no excuse to keep spinning off back-office operations such as WIP and WRAP—there are many other acronyms—because we know that they are less accountable than DEFRA when they are spun off. If a strategic waste authority is to emerge from the current process of policy making and consultation, we must ensure that it is properly accountable to Parliament.
The DTI plays a major role in how we manufacture things, provide services and products and use raw materials, and in why we cannot use standardised, reworked raw materials instead of taking virgin material. What standards can we lay down for the industry to ensure that alternative raw materials are seen as reliable and as good as what they replace? The DTI has its fingerprints all over waste, and it has often not taken that role seriously enough or been innovative enough when talking to the private sector. Since the European directives have begun to hit, however, the private sector has been far more effective in reducing the percentage of waste going to landfill than local authorities and others. It is the domestic waste stream that has not performed well. Given the right incentives and communications, and of course the tax incentives, industry has responded pretty fast.
The regional development agencies are now very much involved in waste. Because the DTI is largely their agency, every RDA to which one talks is involved. Some do not rank the environmental sector or environmental clusters high enough, but they are involved. The Environment Agency is intimately involved. When it was formed by the previous Administration, many good people in waste left for pastures new because they could see that the agency's priority would be the rivers and that side of the environment. There is no doubt that there was an exodus. Again, valuable people who knew about the waste sector left it.
The Office of Deputy Prime Minister is also involved. If you only knew, Mr. Hurst, how complex it becomes when every so often, in looking for the resolution of a particular waste problem, we have to go to the Office of Deputy Prime Minister and look into the planning process. I shall give an example. This is a Government who want to build new housing in the London gateway as part of a massive expansion of housing in the southeast. One of the people who gave me that information is the head of one of the biggest land banking operations in the country, a company that is part of another business, but has a large amount of property, much of which is unfilled. When the hazardous waste regulations are introduced, it will no longer be possible to put contaminated soil into landfill. It does not take much imagination to agree with my private sector expert that only 20 per cent. of landfill in our country has the capacity to take the material that will now be designated hazardous—contaminated soil. That will mean one of two things: either the development in the London gateway will not be possible or the contaminated soil will be stored throughout the country in goodness 368WH knows what condition. The problem is serious and affects many of the major developments that the Government are keen to see, such as the London gateway.
As I said, it takes seven or eight years to receive planning permission for an incinerator. The Government were brave and bold in their first couple of years in office, and they had a Minister who said that we needed 170 incinerators to get the balance right—a figure that has moved around a bit. They then saw that incineration might not be so popular with the great British public and retreated from that position as fast as they could, or they were, at least, told to do so. There is an incinerator in the heart of my constituency and I believe that incineration is not an environmental or health problem when it is conducted in accordance with modern standards and European regulations. As part of the solution, incineration is a good answer.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is at the heart of the process and is involved in upgrading the planning regulations that touch on such matters. We cannot ignore the links between planning and the strategic waste authority or between what happens in DEFRA and other Departments, because those things are joined at the hip. Even the Department for Education and Skills is involved. I am concerned with that Department as part of my day job, because I am Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Skills. Both the high-tech answers to the problem of replacing old plastics with new and the new techniques for dealing with waste will, like any other innovation, come from the research programmes and efforts of our universities.
Such programmes will be conducted in partnership with the private sector—there is the rub. There is so little profit in the waste sector at the moment that many companies are selling out or being taken over. The will to remain is not as strong as one would think. There are some good people in the waste management sector—my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test and I know them well—but they are pretty demoralized because of the ruthless logic that they face.
There is no certainty because of the European regulations. People are asking, "When are they coming in? How fast will they be? How seriously will the Environment Agency implement them? How rigorous will they be? Is DEFRA going to derogate at some stage? What are the rules of competition?" Not only do people not know what to invest in or when to invest, but their bankers will not lend them the money. The problem is easy to identify but much more difficult to solve. The waste sector will not make capital investments in sophisticated equipment, whether it is a materials recycling facility, biological or mechanical treatment methods or anything else, because there is no certainty that such investments will ever make a profit. That goes to the heart of the problem.
I was clocking up the things that my hon. Friend mentioned, and I think that he left out Customs and Excise, which is also intimately involved in this issue. The landfill tax is increasing by £3 per tonne, thank goodness, although we all heard on the bush telegraph that the increase was going to be £5. The Treasury was quite keen on the increase, as was DEFRA, but the CBI went to the Department of Trade and Industry, which 369WH said in turn that the CBI would not wear that rate. I have never understood the logic of that position, but down the rate came to £3. That is not enough, but it is still better than under the previous regime.
A great deal of money is flowing in from the landfill tax, and the amount will get bigger each year. We can do something creative with that resource, but we will not solve any problems if we fritter it away on small, back-office operations such WIP and WRAP. We must do something much more dramatic. Customs and Excise has a hand in the matter, as does the Treasury. The people who will have to make the decisions are the Chancellor's advisers. To get to the heart of the matter, one has only to go to the Treasury and to talk to Ed Balls about what he considers the proper regime for environmental taxation, the level of landfill tax and much else. Indeed, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury actually knows something about the subject. I have seen the eyes of Ministers responsible for the environment and environmental taxation glazing over when I have mentioned such things, but this Minister understands it and I have great respect for him.
I was disappointed by No.10's policy discussion paper, which was not what any of us had been hoping for. However, No. 10 knows about the issue and has its sticky fingers on it. As a member of the Liaison Committee, I said to the Prime Minister last Tuesday that whenever the Government get into difficulties in delivering policy, we can see that the weakest link is the sharing of responsibility across many Departments. The Education and Skills Committee knows how complex it is to assess the skills deficiency, as skills are covered not only by the Department for Education and Skills, but by the Department for Work and Pensions, because it has a responsibility for Jobcentre Plus, the new deal, intermediate labour markets and so on. Furthermore, the Department of Health is involved in a massive amount of training, the DTI has a great role in skills and so on.
It is difficult to deliver co-ordinated and focused policy on skills, but waste is an even more difficult matter. That is why my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need a strategic waste authority. We have been saying that for some years and nobody has listened, so I am heartened to learn that the proposal is being seriously considered. I would like a big, freestanding strategic waste authority with real powers to be based in a proper part of the country—in Huddersfield, in my constituency. That would be much better than locating it in Banbury. What on earth is WRAP doing there? The same applies in Guildford, which does not need the authority as much as we do.
§ Sue Doughty
While I do not support the proposal for a strategic waste authority, I point out that, if one were established, Guildford would be an interesting location for it, given that people there want a waste strategy. We might disagree about incineration, but we do not disagree about the need for a strategy.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I am reminded that, during Prime Minister's questions, the hon. Lady's predecessor used to talk about "inner-city Guildford". I used to scratch my head and think that that was an interesting concept. 370WH As well as a strategic waste authority, we need some refreshing, joined-up government. It must be joined up, because the problem will otherwise get worse. We do not need derogation, which would be awful, and we know that the motor for change is in Europe. If we expected local authorities to be at the cutting edge of progressive and innovative methods of dealing with waste, we would wait for results for a very long time. A few take recycling rates seriously and adopt innovative approaches to waste strategy, but the former chief executive of a major metropolitan authority has told me that when groups of chief executives in some regions get together, waste is at the bottom of the agenda. It is not sexy or interesting and it is not taken seriously. The people recruited by local authorities to deliver policy in that area are not often the most exciting on the management team. A crisis is waiting to happen, and the situation is getting worse all the time. I think that the Minister knows how bad it is. As a pragmatic, open-minded chap, he will also know that something dramatic must be done to tackle the problem.
The last issue that I want to raise is the Environment Agency. Although it plays a tremendous role, it could play a much bigger one and it needs to be freed up. In Sir John Harman, my old council leader in Kirklees and Huddersfield, the agency has a great leader and chief executive, and he has a really good team. I can imagine a re-energised DEFRA and a liberated Environment Agency with a bit more independence from the Department. Why on earth can the Minister not cut the agency free so that it is much more independent and can give the Government a bit more grief? I can also imagine a strategic waste authority working closely with its partners. If such arrangements existed, we could get rid of all the bits and bobs that have been created over time to put a sticking plaster on the problem. All the evidence suggests that a joined-up solution requires joined-up government, and a strategic waste authority is the appropriate answer.
§ Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) on obtaining the debate. The issue greatly exercises those hon. Members present and, I think, much of the public, who ask what we are doing about waste and how we decide what to do. Although I do not agree with his solution, his analysis is absolutely right: no change is not an option. This is a matter of urgency and we must deal with some grave issues.
The proposal was, I think, born out of frustration, and the speeches that we have heard so far have been characterised by frustration. By implication, if DEFRA, as the Department that holds the ring on the issue, were doing its job properly, there would be no need to call for a strategic waste authority. However, I cannot buy into the idea of setting up another quango, whether or not it is part of DEFRA. In any case, quangos eventually split off and disperse. What we need is political leadership.
In its May 2003 inquiry on the future of waste management, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:We are concerned that Defra still appears to lack the capacity, the vision, the sense of urgency and the political will to break the mould and bring about truly sustainable waste management.371WH Setting up a strategic waste authority would cause more delay and give the Government something to hide behind. Hazardous waste has been mentioned. One of the big problems faced by members of the Environmental Audit Committee when we asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about that before Christmas was her incredible complacency. As I said, we need leadership, not another body to carry out the necessary tasks.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) mentioned the Liaison Committee. When the Prime Minister was asked about the environment, he parried the question and moved on to the next one—the issue is not on his agenda. That remains the case and setting up an alternative organisation will not change that.
The point about the dead hand of the Treasury was eloquently made, and I, too, would have raised it. Setting up a new agency will not remove that dead hand. We can have report after report, difficulty after difficulty, but if the Treasury will not pay, nothing will happen. The problem is the lack of co-ordination. One of the key roles of DEFRA and, to an extent, the Department of Trade and Industry is to implement EU directives and regulatory measures, such as the WEEE directive. Indeed, progress towards sustainable waste management has been driven by the EU. Usually, EU measures come through, we change a few words, call them Bills and implement them, but at the same time we duck the opportunity to introduce a proper waste Bill.
The Environmental Services Association said in evidence to the House of Lords European Union Committee that the UK's implementation of European waste law has occasionally been chaotic. I cannot disagree. We learned from an answer given on 2 February 2004 that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has met only seven of the 55 transposition deadlines for an EU directive. I am not sure that a separate strategy unit would change what is going wrong with regard to waste-related failures and the four-year derogations that we are having to use for the landfill directive targets. Fortunately, the Minister was not in post at the time of the refrigerator fiasco, so we can quickly move on from fridges to other things, such as hazardous waste.
I have been bidding for a separate debate on hazardous waste for several weeks. It would take a full hour and a half to debate that subject. As we still have not seen a draft proposal, industry is not able to invest in new sites and facilities. Indeed, the final regulations on what business should be doing to manage the problem will not be finalised until after they are supposed to have been implemented. The final regulations will come into effect in September 2004, yet the provisions are required to be implemented by July.
The Minister says that every now and then we can build a cell in a landfill site. I understand that the only time it was ever tried it was so expensive and difficult, and so impossible to run, that no one wants to do it again. Shanks has looked into the problem, but it has no intention of putting cells into landfill sites to take hazardous waste.
Another problem is that such a solution would allow only for non-reactive waste. The Government do not know how much hazardous waste is non-reactive. I was told this in a written answer: 372WHThe Special Waste Regulations 1996 (as amended) do not require producers of special or hazardous waste to record whether or not waste being produced or disposed of is non-reactive." —[Official Report, 6 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 265W.]However, we have solutions that are supposed to deal with that.
We need a clear legal framework, with long-term regulatory certainty, before we can invest in the sites and the necessary technologies. Is DEFRA going to review its approach to the implementation of EU directives to ensure that industry has sufficient lead time? We are chewing the carpet and not getting anywhere because of DEFRA's lack of strategy.
As the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, there is a lack of co-ordination between Departments. How much is being done to ensure that producers design waste out of their products and processes? The Department of Trade and Industry had to be told by the strategy unit that it needed to look at the British Standards Institution standards on recyclates because the standards supported by the DTI worked against their use. The Department also failed to co-ordinate with the Environment Agency on the WEEE directive, which led to unacceptable delays in producing the information needed for businesses to plan and implement their strategy. Another problem was the failure to coordinate with the ODPM on planning reform, although I shall not say much about that because it has been well covered and the point well made. We need clear guidance and we want it to balance local interests with the need for communities to take responsibility for their own waste. Those are also problems for us to address.
On green taxes, why did it take so long for the landfill tax escalator to be speeded up? Why did it take so long to reform it so that the income could be directed to sustainable waste projects? Why do we not have an incineration tax? Those are Treasury questions, and something should be done about them.
The failure to ensure sufficient and secure funding for the waste management sector is another problem. Again, I doubt whether a strategy group or an agency would achieve that. We need to double the money that we spend on domestic waste to levels similar to those in other European Union countries. It is no wonder that we fail. We do not invest to succeed; we underinvest to fail. Then, irony of ironies, we have to pay the fines when we fail and we waste money.
There is a funding gap. The Environmental Services Association believes that we need to double the money spent on the management of domestic waste. Do the Government accept, however, that they need to increase funding? If they think that is wrong, what do they think should be happening? Those are leadership issues, not necessarily agency issues. Have they made a real estimate of the number of facilities needed? We get some answers but we need to meet those commitments. We have already got to the concept of waste management and discussed the number of facilities, the different types of facility and whether they are for fridges, clinical waste or hazardous waste, but where is the money coming from?
Local government and the Environmental Services Association would again favour a permissive power for local authorities to use direct charging for waste services. When combined with the variable charges for 373WH the amount or content of waste, that could be a valuable driver for recycling and waste minimisation. We must find out whether it could work. There were plans for a pilot scheme, but what has happened to it? We want to know why local government cannot be trusted to make decisions on the matter. There are stoppers in the system. Innovative local authorities say, "Could we do this?", but they are not getting the support.
We do not see much progress on waste. The items that have been introduced have not explained the lack of progress. I do not understand how a strategic waste authority would solve the problems when leadership is so absent. I am not against DEFRA; my husband worked for it in a senior position until just before I was elected. I know some of its people very well and I want the Department to be allowed to succeed and get on with what it should be doing.
For a long time we have had excuses, such as the loss of expertise when the Environment Agency was set up. However, it has been established for nine years and the Government are only now recruiting staff to DEFRA to deal with the problems that it has been unable to tackle. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test suggested that staff need to be recruited. If it is true that there is a shortage of staff and that people poach each other's staff, I should like DEFRA to be given the opportunity to train, develop, promote and recruit good staff to strengthen its team so that it can move forward instead of remaining inert.
When a quango is set up, there is a new body, chief executive, premises, including newly rented premises from some other organisation, new letterheads and a pension scheme. DEFRA has too many quangos and I cannot understand how one more is a good idea.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Perhaps the hon. Lady misunderstands the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test and I made. We want to get rid of some existing quangos and replace them with something effective.
§ Sue Doughty
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. If we could identify the quangos that should go and those that should take schemes under their wing, there would be a case for some responsibilities going to them. I am not convinced that they would solve some other problems within the Government, however. I take his point that there need not necessarily be a new organisation, but a reformed one. Similarly, some duties could be passed on to the Environment Agency.
Tribute was paid to the agency and its management. I share in that tribute. At its inception, it could have been a weak organisation that concentrated mainly on rivers, water and sewage. It has grown in ability and expertise and has gained the respect of us all over the years. It is one of the few non-governmental organisations about which I would say, "Let it grow more," because of the quality of its work in placing checks and balances on the Government, business and the community and its leadership.
DEFRA needs to be run much better. The House of Lords European Union Committee examined the development of waste policy in Europe. Its report said: 374WHThe UK has a poor record of influencing EU waste policy. It needs to operate at a more strategic level.It went on to call for afar greater level of collective working within Government, overseen and co-ordinated by a dedicated unit at the centre with the task of ensuring clear accountability to successes and failures.I agree with that. DEFRA must be responsible for coordination. It is not in dispute that more integrated coordination across the Government is required.
Britain fails to negotiate European directives on the one hand and then fails to implement them on the other. Somehow we must find the energy to go back and negotiate with the European Union. We must develop single points of information for stakeholders. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister seems to communicate with councils and others effectively. Any council that has received a letter about potential capping of the council tax knows how quick off the mark the ODPM is on such matters. The quality of communication and publications from DEFRA and the Department of Trade and Industry—for example, the WEEE directive—could be improved. A common approach is needed and the Government must work cross-departmentally. Another agency would well and truly guarantee that the Government will lose the plot, if they have not already done so.
§ 3.6 pm
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) not just on securing the debate but on securing it at a timely juncture. However, I ask him and the Government to look cautiously at the model that he outlined, given that the Government are studying another agency, the Strategic Rail Authority, most carefully. That agency, which was set up by the Labour Government, has fragmented the industry even further and may be disbanded. My starting point is to ask why he wants to create a new agency when the Government are probably considering streamlining existing agencies in other areas.
§ Mr. Sheerman rose—
§ Miss McIntosh
Thank you, Mr. Hurst. I was most interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and would like to respond to some of them later.
The industry makes a clear point—the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) touched on this—that the Government, and the Departments that were identified in the contribution of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, are not demonstrating joined-up government or political will and leadership. Why would the Government consider a new authority now? How would they pay for it? I understand that £1.5 million has been suggested for the first year, presumably to set up the agency. Where would the money come from? Would it involve additional funds for the Environment Agency or would it be taken from its budget or DEFRA's? Several hon. Members spoke at great length about the role of the Environment Agency. From its website, it 375WH appears that the additional responsibilities should lie with it, working as it does under DEFRA's umbrella. The website states clearly that the agency's role is to regulate waste management through a system of licences.
Waste is material that people discard at home or at work because it is no longer needed. I was struck by the answer on tonnage given by the Minister for the Environment. In a recent reply, he stated:According to the most recent Municipal Waste Management Survey, about 28.8 million tonnes of municipal waste were collected in 2001–02. Of this, about 22.3 million tonnes were disposed of to landfill, 2.5 million tonnes were incinerated, and 3.9 million tonnes were recycled." —[Official Report, 4 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 906W.]The Government have a dilemma, as there is an increasing gap between the amount of waste sent to landfill and the amount allowed under the landfill directive. The Minister will have picked up on that concern, which was expressed by several hon. Members.
My first question to the Minister is, why is there a need for a new waste authority? I want to know why we cannot strengthen the waste unit, as I would prefer, possibly under the Environment Agency. What would the additional cost of £1.5 million cover? Would it cover purely the introduction of additional bureaucrats, or would some of the bureaucrats be officials brought in from other Departments? Where will the money come from—an increase in the budget for DEFRA, or its existing resources? In the latter case, funds would be diverted from other projects.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield identified a very confused situation. Let me focus on some agencies. DEFRA leads with the responsibility for waste policy in England, and has residual responsibility for co-ordination across the UK. The Treasury leads on fiscal instruments. The DTI leads on producer responsibility and policy relating to industry. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister leads on planning issues in relation to land use and local government. Not many colleagues have focused on the role of local authorities, but they are the key delivery partners when it comes to making a success of the Government's waste strategy, and they face a confusing array of policies and funding streams.
Will the Minister respond to what he understands the concerns of the industry to be? I understand that it has identified three. It wants more regulatory certainty and a greater lead-in time, so that it can make the required investment that we have identified. It also needs more funding. That funding has to come from central Government and the industry itself. Finally, it needs a less complicated and more streamlined planning process. That would allow UK waste companies to invest in the thousands of new facilities that will be required.
Is the Minister aware that the European institutions are about to agree the amended directive on packaging and packaging waste? By 31 December 2008 at the latest, the UK will be required to recover a minimum of 60 per cent. of waste, in terms of waste volume, or to incinerate it in incineration plants with energy capability. Between a minimum of 55 per cent. and maximum of 80 per cent. of waste, by weight, should be recycled. In relation to incineration, we might have regard to what is happening so successfully in countries such as Sweden and Denmark. They have a deservedly 376WH high reputation for being committed to green environmental policies, and they incinerate large quantities of their waste. I understand that most of the incineration is smokeless and that most of the incinerated waste benefits the local community through distance warming. Has the Minister's Department given some thought to that? The lead-in, in terms of planning policy, to what would presumably be a new style of plants in the UK would be substantial.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test is a brave man. He is the only person to date who has recommended a specific strategic waste authority. In evidence from the Environment Agency that was included in the report by the Environmental Audit Committee, it was stated that the strategic waste authoritycould be a single body",or that there could beprovision for enhanced roles for one or more existing organisations.Neither the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee nor the Environmental Audit Committee recommended the establishment of a single strategic waste authority. I agree with all those who have expressed their concerns about the plethora of legislation coming from the European Union, and the implications for the waste industry and waste management when it comes to recycling, incineration and landfill.
On the debate on Wembley, I was led to believe at my local tip that wood is the single most difficult product to dispose of. It cannot easily be recycled and used in other buildings.
I reiterate that what is lacking is strong political leadership, and it is far more important to develop that than to focus on restructuring. That is precisely the viewpoint expressed by the industry. The model of the strategic waste authority may not necessarily be the best; we could beef up a separate unit within DEFRA or, more specifically, within the Environment Agency. We look to the Minister to demonstrate that the Government have the necessary political will.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) on securing the debate and apologise that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment could not be here to reply. As I am sure hon. Members are aware, he is the Minister responsible for waste, but he is otherwise engaged in a debate in the Chamber on an Opposition day on the environment in general. He sends his apologies.
I am afraid that I am not sighted on some detailed questions, and in particular those from the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). I will ensure that my hon. Friend writes to her with answers to those questions and those of other hon. Members which, having had a very short time in which to brief myself on the subject, I am not in a position to answer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) rather unkindly suggested that people concerned with waste are quirky. He may feel quirky, but this is a serious subject. Having listened to the 377WH debate it is obvious that it is not only serious but complex, as one or two other hon. Members have said. That came through in the fact that there are a number of different ideas on the way forward—an indication of the difficulties that would face any Government trying to get to grips with this important environmental problem.
I would like to outline where the Government have made some advances, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test was generous enough to touch. We have made waste one of our Department's six key priorities. One of the most exciting areas where progress is being made is in the increase in recycling figures. We are finally beginning to see the fruits of those policies, not only in the hard work of local authorities but in Government action. Initial estimates suggest that England had a recycling and composting rate of 15 per cent. in 2002–03, with an increase of about 2 per cent. on 2001–02. That means that we have broken the 1 per cent. increase barrier for the first time, which is very encouraging. With a similar increase in 2003–04 we will meet our target of 17 per cent. for that year.
Although we still have a challenging target to meet in the next couple of years, my officials were confident this morning that it is achievable. Some local authorities are already achieving it, and we anticipate an increased rate of improvement in the coming year once the benefit of some recent and new initiatives is realised. They include, as Members have said, the national waste minimisation recycling fund and the waste implementation programme, about which I shall say more in a moment.
The landfill directive targets on the horizon also present a test. However, we are making good progress in developing the landfill allowance trading scheme. Building effective working relationships is an essential part of that work. Hon. Members touched on where responsibility for waste lies. Currently, the strategic lead lies with DEFRA, with the DTI leading on some producer responsibility initiatives. The Environment Agency, sponsored by DEFRA, is responsible for regulating waste management facilities and other bodies, including the ODPM, the Treasury and of course local authorities, are all important in the development of policies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield complained that this is a classic example of where many Departments are responsible for a particular issue. It is not unique: yesterday we were discussing a number of complex issues involving the tragic circumstances in Morecambe bay and the practices of gangmasters. I know from the experience within our Department that making progress on those issues is not always straightforward because the questions involve and impinge on the responsibilities of a number of Departments.
The Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003, which was granted Royal Assent in November, provides for a unique system of tradable landfill allowances for waste disposal authorities across the UK. The system, known as the landfill allowance trading scheme, is intended to help England to meet the targets set by the 1999 landfill directive to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste we send to landfill. This is one element 378WH of DEFRA's waste implementation programme, which is rolling out a number of initiatives recommended in the strategy unit report. Others include waste minimisation programmes and the expansion of home composting.
We are also providing support to develop new infrastructure for recycling and associated education programmes. We are improving our data and carrying out research on waste management to provide a sound evidence base for policy development, implementation and monitoring. We are introducing incentives to encourage the take-up of alternative technologies for waste treatment. The programme team is working with local authorities and stakeholders across the whole supply chain. A high-level steering board, which brings together senior figures from industry, local government and central Government, and retailers, has also been established to drive forward the implementation of the programme.
Further measures announced in the Government's response to the strategy unit report include a commitment to raise landfill tax by £3 per tonne in 2005–06, and at least £3 per tonne in each year thereafter, up to £35 per tonne. The Government have established a hazardous waste forum, and we are introducing regulations under the EU animal by-products regulation, setting out rules for composting catering waste. As hon. Members will be aware, the Government have increased the environment, protective and cultural services block funding to local authorities, part of which is for waste management. The increase announced at the last spending review was 1.3 per cent. per year, in real terms.
§ Miss McIntosh
We are all most grateful that the Minister has been able to respond to this debate. Is he able to give us a global view on what the Government's priorities are? Do they intend to show the political will to respond to the industry's needs, to comply with the EU directives, or rather set up another quango and more bureaucracy?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I shall get on to that in a moment. The Government are interested in policies and structures that work and that contribute to the amelioration of this very serious problem. The fact that we have made it one of our six strategic objectives is significant, as is the fact that we are investing ever more extra resources in this issue. I shall come on to the structural question shortly.
The Government also recently announced a £20 million extra grant for 2004–05 to help with some spending pressures arising from waste management for local authorities. Linked to these central-local government relationships is DEFRA's work with the ODPM, including work on the development of the planning system. Enabling adequate and timely provision of waste management facilities will become even more important as the demand for such facilities increases. My Department is closely involved in the revision of PPG10—the planning policy guidance note that sets out national planning policy on waste management. The revision is part of the Government's drive to streamline planning policy to give greater clarity in terms of the outcomes to be achieved. The ODPM expects to consult on a draft of the new planning policy statement in the first half of this year.
379WH The DTI, which leads on the implementation of the waste electrical and electronic equipment and end of life vehicles directives, and DEFRA, which works with it on the implementation of these directives, are committed to a more cross-Whitehall project team approach. Both have dedicated project teams and interdepartmental advisory groups, with the body of best practice starting to grow.
I turn now to the question of the overall responsibility for waste, in response to the strategy unit report. The Cabinet Office was commissioned by DEFRA to carry out an internal review of existing arrangements and consider the scope for improving the co-ordination of interdepartmental responsibilities for waste policy. A limited consultation was undertaken with interested parties, and the review will consider the views of all the respondents. That means not just a single person—quite a lot of respondents made the same point as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. The strategic waste forum's proposals for a strategic waste authority will be considered, alongside all the other responses. The review began in December, is well under way and will conclude in the spring. I am not sure of the reasons for the delay, but I will happily find out and inform my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Sheerman
It is very important that we also get the planning guidance. What is the ETA on that?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I am afraid I do not know, but again, I will find out and write to my hon. Friend.
I listened with interest to the vision outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test detailing how he envisages such a strategic body would work. As he explained that, I was thinking about the review going on within and outside our Department, under Lord Haskins, and the recommendations he has made. Some points that he made about the value of separating policy from delivery and having a single strategic body consider a particular policy had considerable weight. As I said at the beginning of the debate, I am not an expert on the matter, but I shall certainly take those points back to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who leads on the issue.
The hon. Member for Vale of York slightly jumped the gun by assuming that there are already plans to set up such an authority. She even talked about an amount 380WH of money. We have not got that far yet. We are still waiting for the report on the work of the Cabinet Office committee—perhaps she knows more than I do.
§ Miss McIntosh
To satisfy the hon. Gentleman's curiosity, the source of the figure is the excellent House of Commons Library note, in which I discovered that the Government have confirmed that the amount of £1.5 million will be available. Perhaps it illustrates lack of joined-up government if his Department does not know where that is coming from.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
The Cabinet Office is reviewing the responsibilities for waste generally. It is considering proposals from others as part of its review. The £1.5 million referred to is the additional administrative resource that DEFRA is contributing to the establishment of the waste implementation programme to help local authorities to meet their landfill directive targets. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Lady.
§ Dr. Whitehead
Will my hon. Friend underline the fact that if a strategic waste authority came into being it is precisely such programmes that would be subsumed within it, rather than it being an additional expense, with new staff and costs?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I take that point, but I was going on to say that whatever the view one takes of my hon. Friend's suggestion for a strategic waste authority—my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment is open to persuasion on the matter—there would still have to be an interface with other Departments, devolved Administrations and external stakeholders.
It is often difficult to know where the boundary lies between products and waste, and the priority for our Department is to ensure that these relationships are forged and reinforced now and maintained in the future. The way in which we work could, without exaggeration, be described as already acting as a virtual strategic waste authority. It may not work perfectly, as several hon. Members have said—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield is laughing at the notion of a virtual authority, but I think he is being unkind.
I would also suggest that the significant increase in resources that my Department has dedicated to waste is one element helping to ensure that relationships are improved. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test for raising the topic for debate. We have sympathy in the Department for the aims of his proposal, and we await the outcome of the Cabinet Office review with great interest.