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Volume 405: debated on Thursday 15 May 2003

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If she will make a statement on her Department's strategy for promoting recycling. [113309]

The Government's "Waste Strategy 2000" set national targets for the recycling or composting of at least 25 per cent, of household waste by 2005 and 30 per cent, by 2010. To underpin these national targets we have set challenging statutory recycling and composting targets for all local authorities.

I welcome the Minister's support for recycling but I would like to test what it actually means in practice. The Government attempted to remove all meaningful targets from the Home Energy Conservation Bill during its passage, although they were defeated in Committee by Conservative and Labour Members. They consequently destroyed the Bill on the Floor of the House. The current Municipal Waste Recycling Bill proposes recycling targets to be achieved by 2010 that would require, in the Minister's words,

"an increase in the level of kerbside collection in the order of 45 to 50 per cent.".—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 10 April 2003; c. 238.]
Do the Government intend to support those targets or will there be yet another example of when new Labour talks dirty—[Laughter.] Sorry. Will there be yet another example of when new Labour talks green but acts dirty?

At least we do not act dirty, which the previous Government sometimes did.

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands. I made it perfectly clear that the reason why we could not support the Home Energy Conservation Bill, although we certainly supported the overall targets, was that under the modernisation procedures through which we will finance the further burdens that we require of local authorities, which we have rightly instituted, the cost of the Bill would have been about £400 million. Following the spending review, such expenditure was not available. However, it is true that home energy conservation targets are increasing steadily and gradually.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point about kerbside recycling, I remind him that the current level is about 51 per cent, according to the latest information available to me. We believe that if we get to a national recycling rate of 25 per cent, by 2005–06, and we have every intention of ensuring that that happens, the level of kerbside recycling will have to be increased substantially by local authorities. If we were to require them to do it, we would again have to pay substantial sums of money—perhaps as much as £200 million—which is simply not available in the spending review.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the House authorities for doing their bit to promote recycling by providing Members with a separate bin for recycling waste paper? Does he agree that that promotion could be taken a step further, perhaps by having central collection points for used plastic bottles or tin cans? That might be a logical way forward.

I think that is a helpful suggestion. In terms of national targets and national performance, what happens in the House is infinitesimal by comparison, but it sends an important message. If we are asking other people in all households to increase recycling and recovery markedly—not just of paper, but also of plastics, aluminium steel cans, bottles and so on—it is important that we do it ourselves. I shall certainly take the matter up with the House authorities.

The Minister is proud of his targets, but he must be aware that the Environmental Audit Committee described them as "depressingly unambitious". Does he agree with most hon. Members that bottle banks and the like will never achieve reasonable recycling targets? That can only be done by kerbside recycling, something that the Prime Minister acknowledged when he memorably said:

"I want to see every local authority offering doorstep recycling".
Does the Minister agree with his right hon. Friend? Does he, too, want to see every local authority offering kerbside recycling? If so, can he prove that by supporting the private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), which will shortly be in Committee?

It is a bit of a cheek for the hon. Gentleman to make a case for recycling levels when we inherited a recycling level of 6 per cent, in 1997. That has been doubled to 13 per cent, and we intend to double it again to 25 per cent, within the next two years.

It is also unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman prepared his supplementary question without realising that I had answered it in my full response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), which he would have known had he been listening. Since he obviously did not catch it, I said that we are in favour of a big increase in kerbside recycling. It is already 51 per cent. We believe that achieving 25 per cent, overall national recycling by 2005 will increase that substantially. If we are to require local authorities to do that, however, we have to finance it from central sources, and we simply do not have the capacity in our budget to do that.