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Volume 402: debated on Thursday 3 April 2003

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What percentage of local councils she expects will reach the 2004 targets for the percentage of household rubbish recycled. [106682]

I cannot predict now what percentage of local authorities will reach their 2003–04 targets. Evidence up to 2001–02 suggests that good progress has been made. That will be augmented by schemes that have been or are being introduced to improve performance.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the extra money received by Cambridgeshire waste partnership for the recycling strategy, particularly for the £3.5 million grant announced earlier this year. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the effectiveness of local councils' recycling strategies, particularly in view of some of the claims that are being made. The Liberal Democrats in my constituency sent out a leaflet claiming that 16 per cent. of household rubbish was being recycled, whereas Cambridgeshire waste partnership claimed that only 13 per cent. was recycled. Will my right hon. Friend look into that and—

I am pleased that Cambridge succeeded in the challenge fund and that, as a result, it can increase its recycling rate from about 15 per cent. to, I hope, about 26 per cent. in the current year. On my hon. Friend's particular point, local authorities are under a statutory duty to provide accurate information for each best value performance indicator. That information is subject to audit, so any issue about the accuracy of the performance claimed against any indicator should be brought to the attention of the district auditor.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) has had an answer to her question from my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), and the hon. Lady is incorrect in the assertion that she makes.

In respect of targets, if local authorities dramatically increase recycling, as both we and the Government want, is it not important to have a strong market for the goods collected, so that they are not sent to landfill? What are the Government doing to identify markets to deal with the large increase in recycled products that will occur?

:We are aware that a successful recycling strategy must have three elements. One is stretching targets, which will increase recycling beyond what would otherwise be the case. We believe that setting statutory recycling targets for local authorities will achieve that. Secondly, adequate funding is necessary. I have repeatedly pointed to the increase in the revenue support grant through the £140 billion challenge fund, and the 60 per cent. increase in private finance initiative money. The third element is, of course, markets. We set up the waste and resources action programme, which is a business at arm's length from Government, to find innovative methods of recovery and reuse of recycled products. It has a £40 million budget and I am aware of several innovative examples, which I want to see multiplied across the economy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, for all the good work that the Government have done in this sector, if we do not secure a faster rate of increase in the landfill tax in next week's Budget and if we do not set up a strategic waste authority to co-ordinate the different aspects, we will not make further progress and we will not hit the targets?

The Government are well aware of that. We have extremely tough landfill targets to reach. As I have said repeatedly, instead of doubling landfill under the "business as usual" scenario by 2020, we are seeking to reduce it by two thirds by that date, which is extremely demanding. There are two main measures to achieve that: one is the landfill tax escalator—my hon. Friend makes a fair point about the rate of increase, and Ministers have been paying considerable attention to that and will respond to the strategy report shortly—and the other is the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill, currently proceeding through the House. Indeed, I left its Committee proceedings five minutes ago. That Bill will set physical limits on the amounts that can be sent to landfill and progressively reduce them year by year.

As the Minister will know, last weekend certain journalists had been briefed to the effect that the Government propose to change the law to allow householders to be charged for the collection of rubbish from their homes. I understand that the Secretary of State persuaded the Deputy Prime Minister of the need for that. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government have decided to adopt that policy?

That is certainly news to us, but one often learns much from the press about what the Government are alleged to be about to do. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman awaits the Government's response to the strategy unit report, which will be published around Budget time. Such a change in the law was just one of the recommendations in that report. The Government are giving careful consideration to it and we shall make our response shortly.