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Waste Management

Volume 407: debated on Thursday 19 June 2003

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Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

[Relevant documents: Eighth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2002–03, on The Future of Waste Management, HC 385-I, and Fifth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2002–03, on Waste—An Audit, HC 99-I; and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Annual Report for 2003, Cm 5919.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That further resources, not exceeding £1,386,358,000, be authorised for use for the year ending on 31st March 2004, and that a further sum, not exceeding £1,456,729,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending on 31st March 2004 for expenditure by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.— [Joan Ryan.]

4.16 pm

I begin by mentioning absent friends. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is preparing for an important and joyous occasion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) is now—unfortunately—spending a little more time with his family. He would have been a persuasive respondent to the debate. In the past six years, he has been a strong advocate not only on waste issues but on general environment matters. Those who have seen him in the Chamber in the past couple of days know that he will not neglect those causes.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment will reply to the debate. He has received a long awaited and well deserved promotion. Given his history, I know that he will take a keen political interest in waste.

I offer hon. Members apologies for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, who is unable to be present today.

I am sure that hon. Members understand the importance of waste management. Both the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee noted that, in the past, reports have been written but no action has been taken on them. We have reached a point when delivery is vital. I note the Secretary of State's comments on that. I also take note of the waste summit and I am delighted about the strategy report, "Waste Not, Want Not".

The important point is not that we have a problem but its scale. We must consider the policy instruments to resolve it and the timetable for doing that. Both Committees independently describe the Government's performance as "timid". We have not made sufficient progress.

Yesterday, several hon. Members had the opportunity to talk to the permanent secretary at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He described the recycling and composting targets as "very challenging". He is always a diplomat, and we could not draw him on whether the target of 17 per cent. would be met next year. I got the impression not only that the target was challenging but that the answer was probably no. We need to make progress and analyse the problems.

In a sense, the problems can be categorised in two types, involving, first, a set of institutional issues and, secondly, a set of issues around policy instruments. I shall first deal with the institutional issues. It is clear that, although DEFRA is the lead Department on this matter, other Departments are involved. The Department of Trade and Industry deals with planning matters, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister encompasses local government, and the Treasury plays an important role—perhaps a prime role—in setting taxation. The Government are of the view that there clearly needs to be greater co-ordination between the Departments, and they are considering, through the Cabinet Office, whether that can be achieved. That ought to be a prime aim.

I am aware that the Cabinet Office is reviewing the situation, but the hon. Gentleman might wish to know that, when the Secretary of State came before the Environmental Audit Committee on 12 February, she dismissed the idea of consolidating responsibility under one Department. The Government therefore seem to be in some disarray over this issue.

It may well be the case that the idea of consolidation has been dismissed. What the Select Committee is advocating, however, is better coordination. We shall need to look at what the Cabinet Office has to say. There are different models for achieving this, but what unites everyone is the fact that the present situation is simply not satisfactory, and that we ought to achieve something better. We also need to look to the Department, because one of the things that came out of our inquiry was that the division between policy and delivery—a lively issue in DEFRA at the moment, in the light of the Haskins review—is not at all clear. The Environment Agency has a regulatory facility—that is its prime task—but it is apparent that at times it is giving policy advice to DEFRA. I suspect that that reflects a lack of resources in the Department.

A further institutional issue relates to EU legislation. Most of our environmental legislation now comes from the EU, and I have to say that, as a Government and as a Parliament, we do not handle this well. It is a straightforward fact that officials from the UK Government are well regarded in the EU, but our problem is that we do not get involved in discussing draft proposals at an early enough date. We certainly do not consider the consequence of regulations in enough detail. When it comes to our own House, I have to say that the way in which we examine European proposals is woefully inadequate. More legislation will come from the EU, and we must improve our act.

It is important to recognise that the Department does not itself dispose of waste. It is reliant on other partners, both in the private sector and in local authorities in the public sector. We need a stronger, more effective partnership between those bodies. I think that it is fair to say that DEFRA has a long way to go in terms of building relationships with the private sector. The Department has a particular genesis, in that it is used to working with the farming community, and its approach to partners needs to be examined in some detail. This is highlighted by the notion of a hazardous waste forum, which was long advocated by the private sector but resisted by the Department until the very end, when it eventually realised that it was necessary. There is real expertise in the private sector, and the Department needs to examine ways of handling that expertise, and of communicating far more thoroughly.

Is it not about time that the Government took seriously the concentration of highly skilled people in the Department who know about the waste sector? Is it not a problem that, wherever we look outside the private sector, we see people who do not stay in post long enough to learn how to handle the job, and who are then moved on? This is true of DEFRA and of the Environment Agency. Waste management has been the Cinderella for too long.

It is fair to say that the Department needs to consider the skills that it has, reinforce them and take people forward. We need to reflect on the fact that the Department is relatively youthful—it is two years old—but my hon. Friend is exactly right that we need to ensure that those of the right experience do particular jobs for a prolonged period. There are certainly issues here.

The private sector will invest if there is a clear view of the future. Regulation needs to be clear before investment takes place. I remark on the fact that we are four years on from the landfill directive, and it is still not clear what material is to be counted as hazardous waste or whether the new standards will be introduced in 2004 or 2005. What signals does that send to the private sector, which wants to invest? Uncertainty will delay the much needed investment in this area.

Local authorities, of course, are another partner. There are excellent examples of good practice in local authorities, but a shortcoming of the Government and of us all is that we do not focus on good practice enough, or promote and praise it. There is excellent practice about, but there is poor practice as well, so we must work hard to bring the worst up to the best.

During our inquiry, we were told that, of course, money is not a problem as there is plenty available for local authority waste management functions. Local authorities have a structural problem too, as many areas such as shire counties have a collection authority and a disposal authority. We must look closely at joint planning and a more unified voice for the public sector. It is important that local authorities have the tools to deliver the tasks, but the Committee is not convinced that allocation through revenue support grant makes sufficient money available.

One needs to consider the money that goes into local authorities for waste management processes through the environmental protection and cultural services block. There is a lack of transparency here, and no one really knows how much money each local authority is being allocated.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis, but is not the situation even worse? Local authorities, perversely, are still given an incentive to landfill and no incentive to recycle compared with landfill. On too many occasions, it is still cheaper to dispose of unwanted material to landfill than to recycle, and there is no market for the recycled material. Beyond that, there is no incentive for local authorities to minimise waste. The hierarchy is not being enforced through economic measures from the Treasury in respect of local authorities.

I agree entirely. If there is time, I will develop those points, but the essential argument is that landfill is still cheap here compared with other countries. Until we can find fiscal mechanisms to resolve that, the problem will persist. A lot of local authority time is spent bidding for money—challenge fund and private finance initiative money, for example. I am not convinced that that is the best way, in the long term, to achieve effective solutions.

On environmental protection and cultural services, I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the same budget heading provides local authorities with the ability to pay for landfill and the ability to invest in machinery, plant and activities that divert waste. Therefore, on the face of it, there appears to be a perverse incentive: the more local authorities pay for landfill, the less they have available for waste diversion. Did the Committee consider that point, and what view did it take?

The Committee took the simple view that investment is needed to make better progress and achieve better standards, but it will not come from that block fund, so local authorities are forced to bid for challenge funding and PFI schemes. Until we can give local authorities the tools that they need, problems will continue.

I know that my hon. Friend sets great store by the knowledge and expertise of the private sector. Did the Committee receive any evidence specifying the amount of investment that the private sector considered necessary for the fulfilling of our obligations? According to the parliamentary sustainable waste group, between £3 billion and £5 billion is needed. That is wildly beyond any amount that the Government have mentioned.

That is true. Companies have told the Committee, "We are prepared to invest, but we want"—as they say nowadays—"a road map for the future. We want to know what game we are playing in. Until there is security, we are not prepared to make long-term investment decisions."

If we are to carry out recycling and composting more effectively, we shall need different collection systems. Local authorities told the Committee that that would cost two or three times more than the black-bag collections that take place now. There is a wider issue here: are we prepared to pay for more effective waste management and disposal? According to figures from France, the cost there is £105 per person as opposed to £60 in this country.

The hon. Gentleman is making some compelling points, but given the huge divergence between the performance of local authorities here—some do relatively well, while some do abysmally—it must not be just a question of resources. It must also be a question of political will.

It is a question of many things, including resources. There is good practice around, and we need to use local authorities to develop it. I see nothing wrong with the notion of setting targets and measuring against them. If we are to make progress, we must combine all those elements. I referred a few moments ago to best practice on the part of some local authorities and very poor practice on the part of others, and it may well be a question of political will in some parts of the country.

I want to talk not just about the infrastructure, but about the policy instruments that the Government are currently using to promote change. It would not be fair to say that they have a one-club approach, but it is not a great deal more than that. We depend heavily on the idea of a landfill tax, and we need to develop other policies such as emissions trading. The landfill tax on its own will not bring about change.

One of the most remarkable examples of consensus at present is the belief that an increase of £3 a year will achieve nothing until the rate reaches about £35 per tonne. I am surprised that the Treasury has not taken more note of that, and I look forward to this year's pre-Budget report.

Apparently the Treasury is saying that the £3 a year is not really £3 a year—that it is aiming for £35, and can increase the £3 a year. Two things would make a difference: the £35 rate, soon, and a strategic waste authority bringing all the players together and introducing some focus and direction.

I suspect that the problem may not lie entirely with the Minister or the Department. The Department has to talk to friends and colleagues in other Departments, particularly the Treasury. If we want better waste management we must pay more for it, though, and by definition that means raising the landfill tax.

We need to go further than that. We need to look at a graduated disposal tax and at taxing the various forms of disposal according to their environmental benefit. Good schemes that are environmentally friendly should be subject to less tax than environmentally bad schemes. Plenty of European examples need to be examined. If we were to take that approach, we would be in a position to tax incineration.

I know that many Labour Members and other hon. Members are interested in incineration. I understand the concerns that exist throughout the country about that. We need to reflect that that public concern basically springs from public health worries and the scare of cancer.

The Government told us in their evidence that they did not believe that there would be a great expansion in incineration. The Select Committee made a simple point: the Government need to set out their position on incineration. Why are they saying that? If one could, for example, develop a locally based, efficient, energy-from-waste scheme, there would be some mileage in looking at that, but we need to be clear why there is opposition to incineration. To take incineration entirely out of the equation would be short-sighted.

The hon. Gentleman has pointed out that people have concerns about the health aspects of incineration. Those concerns are real, but does he accept that people have other concerns about incineration: while we burn things, we are not using those resources in other ways? There is increasing concern about that, too.

There is concern, but we need to be clear on what grounds we are opposing incineration. There are plenty of grounds to do so, but if the Government are opposing incineration, they need to be clear why. The Select Committee made a simple proposition: the Government should make their position clear on incineration, addressing particularly the health and environmental implications of that type of disposal.

Does the hon. Gentleman include incinerating waste in power plants, thereby recycling a lot of fuels?

I thought that I made that point earlier. If I did not, I make it clear now that I believe that the only way forward for incineration is locally based, efficient, energy-from-waste schemes. If a scheme came forward on that basis, rational people would find it hard to oppose it.

I make a point on another policy strand: household charging and the possibility of direct charging, or variable charging. I feel strongly that local authorities should have the opportunity to experiment and to pilot that. Part of the problem at the moment is that people feel that they are getting waste disposal and waste collection for free. They are not. They are getting it through the council tax. If the link were clearer, if there were some direct charging or, more particularly, some experience of direct charging, perhaps we could make progress.

There seems to be a strong case for the Government to conclude their reflection on that. They have not ruled it out. They are looking at the issue but there is a strong case for allowing some local determination and local decision making on that matter.

Does my hon. Friend agree that at the heart of the issue is the central concern that the general public see waste as someone else's problem, rather than their own problem, and that the best way of bringing it home to them as their own problem is to grasp the nettle and to look at direct charging?

I agree entirely, although I would offer a slightly different description. I am not advocating universal direct charging; at this stage, I am advocating what the Select Committee argued for—the opportunity to experiment—because there are pros and cons. However, my hon. Friend makes a very important point about waste disposal being detached from us, and not our concern.

These are real concerns in my own county of Nottinghamshire. Local people are vigorously opposing new landfill sites planned at the Bentink void and at Bilsthorpe. But the real way to fight landfill schemes is to recycle more and compost more. In Nottinghamshire, it looks as though we will have real difficulty in achieving the 17 per cent. target next year.

Perhaps I can help Nottinghamshire. As my hon. Friend knows, I chair Urban Minds, which builds sustainable growth parks. The real answer that Nottinghamshire is looking for is a 38th themed industrial park. Such sites not only create jobs; all the businesses—small, medium and large—on our sites use waste as their raw material. That is the way forward and I recommend it to my hon. Friend.

I am very grateful for that offer of assistance—in fact, I was about to ask for some help from the Minister himself. When he has the chance to look up from his desk, perhaps he will note the £32 million bid for a private finance initiative scheme in Nottinghamshire.

I commend the Select Committee's report, and I firmly draw the Minister's attention to the letter from Nottinghamshire county council.

4.41 pm

It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who has a long record of service to this House on environmental issues. I should perhaps begin by following his example in referring to absent friends. I want to pay tribute to the work of the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam). He was unable to join us today, so I am deputising for him.

It is important that we debate the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report and the Environmental Audit Committee report, because there is a huge amount of common ground between them. I should of course point out that the Environmental Audit Committee ranges across all Government Departments. In dealing with waste issues, it is important that we have the whole picture, and that we ensure that environmental issues are at the heart of each Department. It is therefore significant that the House is debating the two reports jointly.

Before discussing in detail the points that I wish to make—this is my first opportunity to do so—I want to put on the record my personal thanks, and the thanks of countless others who care about the environment, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), the former Minister for the Environment, who is a very good friend of mine. He showed commitment and dedication, demonstrated a grasp of the complicated environment agenda, and enjoyed the trust of environmental groups throughout the country. His contribution was second to none, and I hope that he can in some way continue to play a constructive role in environmental policy. I wish him well. I am sure that we will never know the detail of the many battles that he fought on our behalf.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) to his new role as Minister for the Environment. He, too, is a very good friend, a very old friend and a very green friend. I share the view, publicly expressed, of the former Minister for the Environment that if someone else has to do the job, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe is a good choice. I wish him well.

As the new Minister is such a good friend of my hon. Friend, perhaps she should check out his health, as we go in for very robust debates on these issues.

I did begin by pointing out that there is a great deal of commonality in terms of the work of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee. Just because we are in a congratulatory mode, no one should believe that we will do anything other than carry on being the terrier that bites the Government's heels, keeping a close watch on everything that happens.

I do not expect for one moment that the new Minister for the Environment will have had the chance, during the few days that he has been in his post, to be 100 per cent. up to speed on the detail of the estimates. I hope, however, that in his reply today and in his day-to-day work—in the House, in his Department and across Departments—he will grasp the fine detail of his brief. I have to tell him that on this subject the devil is in the detail, and we desperately need him to be a green champion in the Government.

That brings me squarely to this afternoon's debate. Many of us have an overwhelming sense that time is running out: we are up against the clock in respect of the number of hon. Members who want to speak in the debate and in respect of getting the agenda right. We cannot afford to get it wrong. Today, the Select Committee report should make an important contribution to the case for proper funding across the Government for waste management. We may be aware that the Government are listening and making all the right noises about tackling the issue, but when we survey the scale of the problem and the need for urgent action—stressed by just about all the witnesses who gave evidence—we know that time is running out. We have to take the pace of change into account. The most important recommendations are that the Government take urgent action and that our green Minister ensure that all Departments take urgent action.

We assessed the progress made towards achieving sustainable waste management since the launch of the Government's waste strategy in 2000. We audited performance in recycling and recovery, and found that, based on current trends, the UK is not likely to reach the target set in the waste strategy, which is a matter of great concern.

That should be set against the background of why it is so important to deal with waste. In every hour of every day, enough waste is produced in the UK to fill the Albert hall—and I do not know how many Chambers of the House of Commons could be fitted into that hall. Every year, England and Wales throw away 470 million tonnes of waste—a rate 22 per cent. higher than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. We face the startling fact that the UK's waste mountain, already large, is growing. The annual rise in the amount of municipal waste has been 3.4 per cent. since 1996–97. That provides us with a clear picture of why it is so important that the Government estimates are seen as reflecting the need to act urgently and boldly.

We agree with the view stated in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), that the Government are being too timid. We used the word "timid" in our report, too. The Government have certainly been too timid so far in their combined response to the waste mountain.

I can also tell the House that I am in 100 per cent. agreement with our Prime Minister on the need to be bold in our handling of the public service agenda. Just this week in his speech to the Fabian Society, setting out his reform agenda, the Prime Minister said that public services were just not moving rapidly enough with the times to meet rising expectations in a modern consumer society. In such a society there is so much throw-away and so little consideration of the longer term or the longer lasting. Nowhere more than in respect of waste management has the impact of the legacy of decades of underspending in the Tory years been greater.

Did my hon. Friend congratulate the Labour Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, on being bold in getting rid of the landfill tax credit scheme? That has meant the end of hundreds of little environmental groups, which did so much good work throughout the country, and led to the unemployment of many working in the environmental sector. Is that boldness at its best?

My hon. Friend's interventions show how well he understands the waste agenda and the importance of not confusing boldness with the long-term changes that we want. When we act, we must remain consistent with our principles on the environment and remain aware of the importance of employment at a local level. We should ensure that the work carried out under previous arrangements is not just obliterated overnight. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister responds, he will be able to give a little more information about the new guidance that will apply, so that we do not lose all the best practice that has been built up over the years.

We need to be bold, in a way that is sustainable in the long term and environmentally correct. Waste minimisation must be a priority for action. The importance of waste minimisation was one of the key findings of our report. Following the Committee's recommendations, we also want to see the immediate introduction of measures to ensure the delivery of targets on recovery and recycling. We had some reference to those measures earlier in the debate.

However the Government decide to achieve those targets, we have to ensure that we involve and empower local government, as well as provide incentives for it. We cannot succeed in our agenda without local government playing a key part. An early report mentioned the importance of incineration, but one of the recommendations in our report was a moratorium on incineration plans, at least in the short term, because of concerns about public health. The Treasury review is welcome, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address it when he winds up.

We must also accept that the future of waste management will involve many more smaller, specialist waste disposal facilities and that there will be greater pressure on the waste planning system and the land use planning system. It is important that the Government accept and facilitate that. Many of us who are involved with the detail of policy in our constituencies know only too well how waste disposal licences and planning do not always go hand in hand. We want the Government to get it right.

We shall want a full reply to our report in due course, over and above the Government's response to the waste strategy unit's report, "Waste Not, Want Not", which was published on 6 May. That response will be the real key to how the Government will be able to deliver the means to achieve our recycling targets, reduce volumes of waste, and encourage the starting of new businesses that can use new technologies and innovation to make a real difference. The report makes 34 recommendations for action as part of a waste implementation programme. Those are all well and good, as is the acceptance that more co-ordination within and between Departments and stakeholders is necessary. That makes particular sense to the Environmental Audit Committee, because it is our brief to scrutinise policy across all Departments and view the whole picture.

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether he intends to focus all waste policy in one Department, which would make sense, but which the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seemed to rule out when she appeared before our Committee in February. We would be interested in discussing that point with the Minister in the long term. We really need to know details of the Government's response to the strategy unit report, which until now has sidestepped calls for further Government funding. Will the Minister reject the report or will he call for a fundamental shift in strategic direction, including the recommendation for lower VAT rates on recycled products, and for statutory waste reduction targets for councils?

Having concentrated so far on the purpose and findings of our inquiry, I shall now address the issue of how the Committee's report fits into the wider picture. I wish to impress on the Minister why it is so important that we press the Government to use the opportunity of this vote on estimates to do the right thing for next year's funding.

We cannot afford to get this matter wrong, because no elected representative—whether elected to this House, the Welsh Assembly or some local government body—has to deal with bigger issues than fly tipping, rubbish and litter. Constituents care about those problems more than any other. They can see that something needs to be done, and there is a real danger that they will lose trust in public representatives if action is not taken.

We must meet our environmental obligations and responsibilities, and no issues provoke a bigger response, as our mailbags show. We must do something about antisocial behaviour and illegal operations that pollute and foul our countryside and urban spaces. Those actions turn our environment into an eyesore and undermine our quality of life, so it is really important that all Government Departments are involved.

The Committee's report highlights the valid concerns of local councils, such as mine in Stoke-on-Trent. Although the environmental protection and cultural services block in the standard spending assessment has been increased slightly above the rate of inflation, it is by no means enough to enable councils to allocate the amounts that they would like to allocate to deal with this most pressing of problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) noted earlier. The increase is above the rate of inflation, but is still not enough, especially given the problem of fridges that has been described already.

The Committee therefore concluded that inadequate funding and a lack of clear Government guidance have made it harder rather than easier for local authorities to reach the targets that they have been set. The measures taken to date do not reflect the urgency of the need for improvement. I recognise that the most recent statistics from the municipal waste management survey showed that the proportion of household waste recycled in England, including composting, rose from 11.2 to 12.4 per cent. between 2000–01 and 2001–02. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will refer to that when he replies to the debate, but the figures are not sufficient cause for celebration, as the overall amount being sent to landfill is still increasing.

There is also the matter of garden waste, on which I sometimes wonder whether the Government's policy is not somewhat perverse. When we talk about recycling, we must make sure that we are talking about additional recycling. We must not talk about what is already happening just because that puts the figures in a more attractive light.

In evidence to the Committee, the Environment Agency said that it had made two proposals to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for additional funding—for a fly tipping abatement taskforce, and for a national waste data centre for England and Wales. The National Audit Office has endorsed the proposals already, so I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell me, when he replies to the debate, that both applications will be funded in full. If so, it will be possible to make the necessary changes.

I know a little of the difficulties being experienced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) in securing support from the Treasury, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and DEFRA for her current private Member's Bill. I therefore want to inform our new Minister that we expect him to overcome any resistance that there might be in the Treasury in respect of funding in full the two Environment Agency applications that I have described. Will he assure the House that, when the estimates are agreed, there will be a clear commitment to funding both the fly tipping taskforce and the data centre? Is the Treasury on board when it comes to those projects? If not, I hope that he will convey to the Treasury that the Environmental Audit Committee will keep on and on about the matter until we get some progress.

Full funding for both projects makes sound economic sense. They go hand in hand with the precautionary principle, which we have been assured underpins the Government's environmental policies these days. I hope that the Treasury will understand that, for the very good reasons that we have heard already.

The Treasury must understand that landfill costs will increase, and that the landfill directive will impact on the banning of certain waste streams to landfill as the ban on co-disposal of hazardous waste comes into play. The producer responsibility regulations will also have a huge impact. We have heard already about how we need to deal with European directives and ensure that they are co-ordinated properly with everything else that the House does.

The Treasury must understand, too, that the European waste catalogue changes the definitions of waste and materials, and that reclassification will have an impact on waste as well. All those pressures will mean more waste, less cheap landfill, higher disposal costs, more illegal activity and organised criminal dumping. If I had time, I could give examples of dumping all round the country for which the clean-up costs far exceed the small amount needed to fund those Environment Agency initiatives.

There are pressures on responsible operators, and we need to make sure that they can flourish. We need to get rid of cowboy operators and others who seek to exploit the situation. We can no longer afford not to fund in full what we need now. The longer we leave it, the more costly it will be in the long term, and we run the risk of further undermining public trust and confidence in our services and our ability to clean up our towns and cities.

I hope that the Minister and the Government appreciate the urgency required. We cannot wait for real action until the next spending round, the effects of which will not show until 2005. Before the House is a catalogue of detailed work by two Select Committees. We want a commitment from the Government to show that they take seriously the work of Back-Bench MPs charged with scrutinising their work.

5.1 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) on her speech. She has been consistently sound on the environment, and I, like many others, am disappointed that she has not been given a job in the Government. Her expertise should have been put to more constructive use than it has been.

I welcome the Minister to his post and congratulate him on his promotion. When he comes to understand the scale of the waste and GM problems, he may want to scuttle back to the common fisheries policy.

Well, time will tell. The Minister certainly faces major challenges, not least in taking on the Treasury. Even if he sorts out his own Department, big problems elsewhere have to be solved. That will be a key matter for him. If his predecessor, for whom I have tremendous respect, was not able to do that, it will be a real challenge for the Minister, and the success or failure of his time in Government will depend on it.

The waste problem is enormous, and the Government face several prongs of attack. First, there are the EU directive requirements on landfill. Secondly, the Government's own recycling targets are difficult to meet, given the base from which they are starting. Thirdly, the cost to UK industry of disposing of solid wastes, liquid and gas is £15 billion a year, which is 4.5 per cent. of annual turnover. That is a gigantic cost to industry. Peter Jones of Biffa Waste Services has said that waste management will be in crisis in five years and that it will cost the UK economy an additional £2 billion a year.

The problem exists and is running away with us. The Government do not have time to take a leisurely approach. They need to move up a couple of gears, as the two Select Committees have said. The Minister does not have time to set up a couple of task forces and working parties that will return in 12 months to tell him what we already know. He must get moving, and we need action from DEFRA this year and from the Treasury in the next Budget.

The waste that is being generated is increasing. Our first problem is that we are not cutting waste, but getting further from the European landfill directive targets. The proportion of municipal waste is declining, according to the Environmental Audit Committee report, but the overall amount of waste sent to landfill is increasing: it was 21.9 million tonnes in 1999, and 22.1 million tonnes in 2000. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said, every hour of every day, enough waste is produced in the UK to fill the Albert hall. We know, at least, courtesy of the Select Committee, how many waste holes it takes to fill the Albert hall.

Some 65 million tonnes of rubbish was dumped or buried in this country last year. That is a gigantic amount. There is a whole series of waste streams, and I fear that each must be tackled individually. There is no simple answer; the answer differs for each waste stream. Some 6 billion—I have checked this figure to make sure that it is right—disposable nappies ended up in landfill sites last year. Some 24 million car tyres and 94 million fridges were dumped. About 5,500 tonnes of furniture—equivalent to 82,000 double beds—and 226,000 old cars were dumped in the countryside and elsewhere. Around 32 million printer cartridges were buried. The list goes on and on. The problem is enormous, and we must stem the waste stream. Unfortunately, a lot of the waste is ending up in the countryside. In an answer from the Minister's predecessor to me on 4 March, fly tipping last year led to 600,000 tonnes of waste being deposited on agricultural land alone, never mind all the bits and pieces around our towns and cities. That is an enormous amount of waste. I could list what that constitutes, but time does not allow.

Fly tipping is getting out of control. One of the problems is the lack of enforcement. People fly-tip because the Government are, correctly, increasing the cost of landfill, although I should like to see it increased faster, but they are not putting in place simultaneously measures to ensure that those who fly-tip are, if possible, caught, prosecuted and fined. That does not happen. A further parliamentary answer on 20 March from the Minister's predecessor showed that in 2001 there were only 225 prosecutions for fly tipping although 600,000 tonnes of waste was fly-tipped. It does not take much imagination to work out that it is in people's interests to fly-tip because they are not likely to be caught, and even if they are caught, they will probably get away with a minuscule fine. We must clamp down on fly tipping more effectively.

The Government have the hierarchy right and so far they have been good in theory, but not in practice. Everybody in and beyond the House is signed up to their hierarchy. It puts waste minimisation first. We all agree that we should cut waste, but we know that that is not happening. Waste is increasing in volume. What are the Government doing to minimise waste? We hear a lot about recycling, and we hear about incineration and landfill, but we do not hear anything about waste minimisation. I see no indication that the Government have grabbed hold of this at all.

It is difficult because some of these matters are EU competencies and many Members do not want to see any taxation on virgin products, which would go some way to dealing with waste minimisation. Instead, the packaging directive simply encourages more recycling. That is good as far as it goes, but it does not deal with the volume of packaging produced in the first place. We must improve on waste minimisation.

The report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee at paragraph 17 states:
"measures to encourage waste minimisation [in the UK] remain very weak."
I hope that the Minister will pick up that specific point when he replies. The Environmental Audit Committee report states:
"No target has been set for waste minimisation. The resources available under the National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Fund have been largely directed at recycling projects rather than waste minimisation efforts. Few other levers to stimulate waste minimisation exist to compensate for this. We agree with the OECD's assessment that UK measures to encourage waste minimisation are very weak."
The description "very weak" is given by both Committees in terms of the effort to minimise waste. We have to get to grips with that. The Government must start leading by example and say how they will minimise waste.

Reuse is the next part of the strategy. It has its merits. There are still reuse schemes. I am happy to say that there is an excellent one in my constituency for Harvey's beer. The brewery has returnable bottles, which are still used by large numbers of my constituents, myself included, so I declare an interest. I know that it is not possible to have reuse schemes across the whole country. The long distances and the environmental life cycle analysis would not justify it, but surely we could do more to encourage it. What are the Government doing, for example, to ensure that we do not lose our milk rounds? Plenty of milk is still delivered in glass bottles. The average milk bottle has a life expectancy of 17 trips. The same does not apply to plastic bottles from supermarkets, yet supermarket plastic milk is cheaper by and large than milk delivered in glass bottles on the doorstep. That is a perverse economic incentive not to use the best environmental option for buying milk. What are the Government doing about reuse?

The Government's concentration on recycling has not always been successful. In 2002, we recycled only 5.7 per cent. of organic waste, compared with 75 per cent. in Austria. We recycled 47 per cent of card and paper, compared with 90 per cent. in Germany. We are near the bottom of the EU recycling league table. It gives me no pleasure to say that, and it is no reflection on a particular Government: that is where we are as a nation and we must address the problem much more effectively.

When I visited the constituency of the Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), I was astonished to find that Oldham borough council, in a building that it was demolishing, had to pay £9 per window to recycle the window and reuse the pieces but only £5 to landfill the window. What kind of incentive is that? It is, again, up to the Treasury. The economics must be right so that individuals, businesses and local authorities can take the right environmental decisions. Currently, they take decisions that are financially, not environmentally, beneficial.

The Treasury has a major role, which it is not discharging in the way that many of us want. It must ensure that the environmental option is always the cheaper one. That is not the case at present.

The Government should say firmly that they are in favour of doorstep or kerbside recycling for every household in the country and ensure that they will the means for it. My local authority in Lewes is struggling to introduce doorstep recycling: it is trying to roll out a scheme but finds that it is cheaper to carry on using landfill. That is mad. We have challenging targets and EU regulations, with penalties for non-compliance, yet councils have to landfill because they do not have enough money to set up doorstep or kerbside recycling schemes.

I am sorry to hear what the hon. Gentleman says about his constituency and about Oldham, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats and has one of the worst recycling records in the country. How does he explain the fact that there is a doorstep recycling scheme in my constituency and that an excellent one has recently been introduced in Wandsworth, where it has proved extremely popular?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman intervened to make a party point, because I have scrupulously tried not to be party political in my speech. I could give the House examples of Lib Dem authorities that have extremely high recycling rates as well ones where the rates are lower. It all depends on when contracts were changed, on the direct labour force and on the rate support grant and the finances available to the council. A combination of factors is involved, as the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge. The fact remains that it is cheaper to landfill than to recycle, and that is part of the problem.

The hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically modest about his constituency. A large part of his constituency is, like a large part of mine, run by Conservative-controlled Wealden council, which has an excellent recycling record.

Yes, it does. Furthermore, Lewes's record is considerably better than it was. Again, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman made a party intervention. I am happy to accept that Wealden council has a good recycling record. Equally, I am happy to accept that the London borough of Sutton led the country on recycling. All parties can offer good and bad examples. It does not profit us in this important debate to pick on particular councils. The point is that the Treasury must ensure that the economic indicators are right, and it has not yet done so.

I have some comments about incineration. The Government are bringing in legislation merely to meet EU directives. The Waste and Emissions Trading Bill, which should be about delivering a sensible waste strategy, in line with the Government's policy, is actually the EU landfill directive implementation Bill. The Government are running after all the EU directives, saying, "What do we have to do meet this target from Brussels?" instead of getting properly involved. One of the criticisms made by the Committees was that the Government did not pick up on EU directives and targets quickly enough.

The Government have to cut drastically the amount of landfill. They are going to up recycling a bit, although not as much as they might—their targets are modest. What will fill the gap? Incineration. The Minister's predecessor constantly told us that the Government were not in favour of a massive increase in incineration. Well, they may not be in favour of it, but they are going to get it. The logical conclusion of the Government's policy of capping landfill at 35 per cent. and increasing recycling to 35 or 40 per cent. is that everything else will be incinerated. Local authorities are currently taking decisions to meet the Government's targets and they are opting for the simple solution: incinerators.

Unless the Government quickly get their act together on recycling, reuse and waste minimisation, a chain of incinerators, approved by local councils and the Government in accordance with their waste plans, will cover the country. We shall replace landfill capacity with incinerator capacity. The Minister will have to deal with that problem unless he wants incinerators all over the country. It is no good his shaking his head. Those are the facts. I suggest that he talk to his colleague, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who decimated the Government's arguments on that point on Second Reading of the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill.

I congratulate the two Committees on their work. They have made some pertinent points and the fact that they both considered the issue shows that a major issue is facing this country, and I very much hope that the Government will take on board the points that they have made. The Minister's previous comments and those of his predecessors demonstrate that they are committed, but we have not yet seen the action to realise their commitment.

Order. Very little time is left for the remainder of this debate. I cannot expect hon. Members to cut their speeches to ribbons, so I suspect that some will be disappointed, but I hope that they will nevertheless try to bear it in mind that we want to get in as many speeches as we can.

5.15 pm

On behalf of my constituents, I thank both Select Committees for their excellent reports. There is much to be learned from them. In particular, I refer to the report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which has been quite harsh in its judgment of the Government. In paragraph 20 of its report, it says 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 in this country."
I suspect that that is a little harsh, because we are all in this together. In fact, we are all green now, and there is a lot to be gained from the vote motive that is involved, as we discovered at the recent district council elections, when the Conservatives on Salisbury district council had a recycling policy as a major plank of their election manifesto, and I am glad to say that they won handsomely.

I was very attracted by the fact that, in paragraph 56 of the report, the Committee said that it agreed
"with the Local Government Association that variable charging for household waste collection should not be regarded as an additional source of revenue for local authorities but primarily as a means of changing householders' behaviour."
That is absolutely crucial. We all have to mend our ways when it comes to recycling. We have fallen substantially behind most of our European partners in managing household waste. For example, just across the water in France, there is a twice-weekly recycling service and each household divides its waste for recycling into four bins or receptacles, three of which are collected twice a week and the other fortnightly. It is a question of what people are prepared to pay for and of changing our own habits.

Before I go any further, I should like to remind the House that none of this esoteric discussion in which we are indulging this afternoon would make a hap'orth of difference if it were not for the men and women of the refuse collection services who go out in fair weather and foul, summer and winter, doing a filthy job. Whatever the weather, they are among the most cheerful, loyal and hard-working people who vote for us—or not—and they serve the whole community so well, and I give my thanks to them.

Something else that matters—the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) referred to this—is the fact that there are huge variations across the country, often depending on the sort of authority or council that collects and gets rid of the waste. The county council does so in my case. In countryside areas, such as Salisbury and south Wiltshire—which covers an enormous area, 400 square miles, with 48,700 domestic properties and 114,000 people—it is very difficult and expensive to organise waste collection and transport. In fact, that is an absolute doddle in the inner cities or for many of the unitary authorities, which are just a couple of miles square, and that is very important to bear in mind.

In my constituency, the district council, which is small but covers a huge area, has certainly done very well, but it still has huge and growing volumes of waste. Last year, 39,420 tonnes of household waste went to landfill. Kerbside collection recovered 4,361 tonnes of paper and cardboard for recycling, and 2,847 tonnes of mixed recycled materials were recovered at the 41 mini recycling centres throughout the district. Some 16 per cent. of household waste is recycled. The targets are achievable for our local authority. We are determined to achieve them. We will do it. We will go right up to the 36 per cent. recycling target by 2010. That is pretty good, and I suspect that the target will increase to 45 per cent., as it is on the district council's wish list to aim high.

One of the big problems is the expense of specialist recycling and collection, particularly of refrigerators. Some extraordinary activity has occurred over the past couple of years—I will not go into it, because the Government know very well what I am talking about—but meeting the increase in the disposal of refrigerators is costing my local authority at least £11,000 a year. In relation to fly tipping, my district council has spent a further £11,000 this year on keeping three or four regular—in the irregular sense—sites clear, and it has spent more than £30,000 in the past year on removing fly-tipped waste, which is a huge additional cost. In 1998, it had to deal with 170 abandoned vehicles, and in 2002, 598. Two members of staff are engaged full-time in investigating those incidents and administering the procedure for abandoned vehicles. Incidentally, one of those staff is a dog warden who has been taken off dog warden duties and put on abandoned car duties, which has upset quite a lot of dog walkers. Just dealing with abandoned vehicles has resulted in a huge additional cost of £86,000 a year.

A lot of good has also come from this policy, however, and the community projects are very important locally. Talking about Government policy is one thing, but what is really important is changing the mind of the local community. The St. Edmund's ward in Salisbury comprises about 1,200 households. In June last year, it formed a community association to tackle some local problems, one of which was lack of facilities for local waste recycling. It therefore started work with the district council's waste minimisation and recycling officer. It organised a mini recycling centre, a free-to-use community notice board to allow for exchange of unwanted items, a community recycling directory distributed to all households, composting bins, dry receptacles for recyclable goods, reusable kerbside waste paper collection bags, and so on. A great deal can be done, and is being done, at local level.

I want to commend the work of the Wiltshire wildlife trust because it too has a recycling officer who has been working with the district council in an innovative way. There is a home composting officer, as well as 22 volunteers who advise local households on how to set up proper composting bins at a reduced price of £6 a bin, and they organise shredding events, country and garden shows and goodness knows what. Community composting is therefore a serious part of the agenda.

The county council too has been working hard, and I wish to commend its policy. Although it does not do the collection, its forward planning and waste programme is absolutely crucial, because without it none of the desired results will be delivered. It has a pooled recycling system and a pooled recycling target with the district council, and is one of only six waste disposal authorities to be granted a target to achieve 33 per cent. recycling by 2005–06. It is also looking at waste-to-energy programmes, reuse and above all reduction, because time and again the onus is put back on individual households—on you and me, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and education and awareness are part of that.

I do not want to continue at greater length, except to touch on a serious waste issue on which the Government have been consulting: chewing gum, and whether it should be regarded as waste. As the Minister will know, his Department is consulting on whether it should legislate to define chewing gum as waste in these circumstances. It does an enormous amount of harm to our environment, to streets, to pedestrianised shopping areas and even, I notice, to the colonnade between Portcullis House and this House, which is now spotted with chewing gum, which is an expensive problem. A month or two ago, I sought the advice of the Wrigley Company, with which I had a heated discussion. I was told that I had it all wrong, and that it was not the fault of the chewing gum because
"chewing gum is no different from any other kind of litter".
The company said that the disposal of gum is at fault because that is the way in which it becomes litter. I am sure that that forms part of the problem, and we know that the company has worked for many years with the keep Britain tidy campaign and its successor. Yes, public behaviour must change, but I do not want to go down the Singapore route of making chewing gum a controlled substance that cannot be sold, and nor do I think that it would be practical to issue huge fines—but why does north America not have a large chewing gum problem? People in New York and Washington do not complain about the problem of chewing gum on the streets, but the problem is serious in this country.

English Heritage told me that chewing gum causes an expensive problem in several of the properties that it manages. My district council says that it causes an expensive and time-consuming problem in our historic city because only a short time is available to get the slow and cumbersome machines that deal with the problem on to the streets before businesses open. We must pursue a solution—I know that the Government intend to do something about it.

I was most disappointed by the Wrigley Company's attitude. It has 90 per cent. of the market in this country—Cadbury Schweppes has only a small market share because it has been at it for only a couple of years. The companies cannot ignore the problem that they are creating and for which we are paying. I accept that we are grateful to the Wrigley Company for providing employment in Plymouth, but the impact of the pollutants that it produces is o at of all proportion compared with the benefits for our economy. It is no good for the company to say, "Well, biodegradable chewing gum is very difficult and nobody's going to like it." We had better find out about that, because the House will otherwise have to consider more seriously whether chewing gum is a desirable product at all.

I am not against chewing gum—I chew gum myself. I think that it is quite a good idea to chew gum in the car to maintain one's concentration. However, I do not throw gum out of my car window. I wrap it in a nice bit of silver paper and put it in a receptacle when I reach my destination.

I ask the Minister to take the issue seriously. I know that people sometimes laugh about it, but chewing gum causes a huge unsightly problem that is expensive to deal with. Speaking on behalf of managers of the centres of historic towns such as Salisbury, I hope that the Government will consider the problem in the wider context of the future of waste management.

5.27 pm

May I add my tribute to those that have been paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) and welcome his worthy successor, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment?

Hon. Members have talked about departmental weaknesses and the problems of pinning down responsibility for waste and waste management, which the two reports before us highlight. The reports also question the political will and resources available to deal with those important issues. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) spoke about another aspect of the problem, which is summed up by a quotation in the report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Southwark borough council was quoted in the report as saying:
"In some respects, you could throw loads of money at us and we would set up all the infrastructure, we would have all the vehicles, all of the equipment, but it all comes back to changing people's culture, changing people's habits."
I do not want to let the Government off the hook in terms of policy and the availability of resources, but the statement makes an important point.

I want to concentrate on good practice that can be used to change people's habits by citing examples from my constituency, I am proud to say. Perhaps we should start changing people's habits at birth. I am pleased that Brighton and Hove's real nappy promotion project won an award last year from Biffa and the Women's Environmental Network. Seven councils, two hospitals, 10 businesses, a nursery and the National Childbirth Trust are involved in the project, which tries to persuade new parents to use reusable nappies. I understand that reusable nappies today are nothing like the squares of terry towelling that I recall from the days when my children were young.

The issue is important. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) will know that every year East Sussex county council and Brighton and Hove city council dispose of 15,520 tonnes of nappies in the Beddingham landfill site in his constituency. I welcome the fact that DEFRA has provided support for our local project to appoint a project officer to expand its work. It aims to increase by 5 per cent. in one year and 10 per cent. in two years the number of parents with new babies who use reusable nappies.

I mean non-disposable nappies.

Let me move from birth to children. Our report highlights one anomaly. Environmental Campaigns Ltd.—Encams—has done a great deal of work on encouraging schools to become eco-schools and to think seriously about recycling. But a letter to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee from my constituent, Rob Stephenson, who works for Encams and is quoted in our report, highlights the anomaly that for many local authorities schools are regarded as commercial enterprises and cannot take advantage of participating in local recycling schemes. The report makes a recommendation on dealing with that which I hope the Minister takes into account.

When the Select Committee visited Denmark, one of the interesting projects that we saw was involved in recycling waste from construction and demolition sites. We were told that 90 per cent. of such waste in Denmark is recycled in some way or another. That is because of an agreement between the Danish Government and the Danish Construction Association. Nothing like that exists in this country and I recommend the idea to the Minister.

My constituency has the Brighton and Hove wood recycling project. It won the national social enterprise award 2002, awarded by the Department of Trade and Industry, NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland for entrepreneurial thinking, environmental concern and social change. It began because Richard Mehmed dug around in skips, as he put it. He now runs a major local recycling business.

I recommend to my hon. Friend the Minister the excellent work by the university of Brighton's environmental body under its chief executive, Marie Harder, both to monitor recycling work going on in the East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove areas and to examine important issues, such as recycling end-of-life vehicles, so that the metal and the plastics are reused—good practice that I commend to the Department.

5.33 pm

May I also start by paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher)? He and I crossed swords numerous times during my short two years in Parliament, both in the Chamber and in Select Committee, but my respect for him grew steadily in that time. Although at the outset of this Administration, the Prime Minister's regard for the environmental agenda was not sufficient to persuade him of the need to put the right hon. Gentleman at the head of a Department, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton was nevertheless able to achieve far more in his six years in government, and leave a better legacy, than many of his nominally more senior colleagues inside the Cabinet. His departure from the Government will leave a gaping hole in DEFRA, and I fear it may signal a further downgrading of the environmental causes that he so ably championed

The Environmental Audit Committee's waste inquiry is, without diminishing the other reports that it produced in the past 12 months, the most important document that it published in the past year. Why? Because waste touches every one of our constituencies and waste is inextricably bound up with the daily lives of each and every one of our constituents. Some 30 million tonnes of waste are produced annually in UK. According to the most recent but still relatively dated figures, of that, 80 per cent. goes to landfill, 12 per cent. is recycled and a growing 8 per cent. is incinerated. Far from reducing the amount of waste we produce, it has grown at an average rate of 3.4 per cent. per annum in recent years. Between 1999 and 2001, it outstripped the growth of our gross domestic product, so we are throwing away our rubbish faster than we are producing it. On current trends, the total amount of waste that the UK produces annually will double by 2020. However, the EAC found that 25 per cent. of local authorities were likely to miss statutory recycling targets in 2005 and 2006.

In my Bexhill and Battle constituency no single local issue has created greater public anxiety or generated more spontaneous demonstrations of concern than the threat of landfill or incineration. The vast majority of my constituents are not narrow-minded nimbies seeking to duck the big issues created by the Government's failure to curb the year-on-year growth in waste. Energised by the threat of an incinerator at Mountfield, the continued existence of a waste plant at Pebsham or the proposal to create a massive landfill site at the top of Bexhill at Ashdown brickworks, they all want a solution that is better than simply saying, "Not in my backyard."

My constituents, like millions of people up and down the country, want an ambitious, forward-looking programme of environmental action to deal with the whole problem. They want an over-arching holistic solution to the modern-day multi-headed Hydra of waste. The Government's singular lack of a convincing and sufficiently ambitious, coherent strategy is clearly illustrated by the EAC report. We concluded at the end of our investigation that, based on current performance, improvement would not come close to meeting any of the national targets on recycling or recovery. The targets set for 2010 and 2020, as has been noted, will be missed by a wide margin and do not appear to have a cat in hell's chance of being met.

Inadequate and, in my view, overly complex and Byzantine funding, coupled with a lack of clear Government guidance, was cited in the Committee's conclusions as making it harder for local authorities to reach targets that have already been set. The EAC was extremely concerned that the measures taken to date do not reflect the urgent need for improvement. I am not suggesting that the Government are closing their eyes to the problem, and I give credit where credit is due. Progress has been made in the past six years. This Administration has gone further in several directions than any Government, Conservative or Labour, have gone before, but that is not enough. One cannot escape the conclusion that, at the very top of DEFRA, at the heart of Government and around the Cabinet table, the issue of waste and many other aspects of the wider environmental agenda simply do not get the priority that they deserve. The problem needs more than just a safe pair of hands. It needs conviction, imagination and ambition.

The last appearance of the Secretary of State before the EAC on 12 February was a depressing affair. She displayed her usual sure-handed control of her brief, but exuded a wanton lack of ambition or, indeed, any sense of urgency about the issue. In a slightly petulant intervention, she said:
"I am getting the distinct impression that an awful lot of people"—
a reference to our witnesses—
"who have come to see you have all got very good excuses for why they are not doing enough to tackle the problem of waste. They are all saying if only the Government did something different, but that none of them needs to do anything different."
Perhaps the Secretary of State should listen to Baroness Young, the new Labour-appointed chief of the Environment Agency, who recently said:
"We need some overarching leadership to take us forward. There is no overall group with this responsibility. Let's look to government to fill this gap. It is not a case of all of us leaning in to fill this space."
When I asked the Secretary of State whether she would support universal doorstep recycling, she was distinctly cool. I am glad that she has since had a rethink and supports, albeit tacitly, the excellent measure introduced by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). Once again, however, the Secretary of State's response shows that DEFRA is on the back foot, reacting to the debate, not leading it. There is simply a lack of leadership and resources to tackle the problem.

I am afraid that because of time constraints, I have to cut to ribbons the speech that I intended to make. In conclusion, we need to go further on the landfill tax, which will not work without an incineration tax because, as has already been mentioned, we will upset the waste hierarchy and push more municipal waste into incinerators.

A lack of coherent, enforceable, ambitious strategy ran through our investigation, like a blue vein in English Stilton. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton was fond of "Waste 2000", but it lacked legislative force. The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs remains a muddle of mixed targets and priorities and the new Minister will have his work cut out in re-establishing faith in what the Department can do to meet the challenge.

5.40 pm

My speech will be in shorthand. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) suggested that I had decimated the Government's arguments on the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill. I interpret that in the Roman sense—that nine of the 10 Government arguments stood after I had finished my speech.

Although the changes that the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill proposes are important and supportable in instituting a trading mechanism to decrease landfill, as matters stand, landfill will probably be replaced by incineration. The survey of local authorities that I conducted—it is on my website—suggests that by 2012, approximately 78 per cent. of the population will live in areas where waste disposal authorities undertake total or partial incineration. Incineration will double rather than remain the same if nothing further is done. There are several instruments, such as an incineration tax and separation of waste collection, that can deal with the matter.

However, I do not envy the task of my hon. Friend the Minister because it involves not only managing the waste mountain but reducing it radically. That will require radical measures. Even if incineration is avoided, a recent report by the south-east regional assembly suggested that, by 2025, approximately 192 large material recycling facilities—MRFs—and 92 new composters will be needed in the south-east alone. Will they get planning permission? That they may not is due not simply to NIMBYism but to the use of brownfield sites for housing and industrial development. That is important in the south-east, but it removes the ability to place waste management facilities in those areas. Some form of assistance may be needed to ensure that local authorities get planning permission and find the sites for the facilities if incineration is to be avoided. I hope that the Minister takes that seriously into account in his future strategy.

5.42 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) on being telegraphic and none the less conveying a couple of useful messages. The debate has been especially interesting, well informed and balanced, with interesting speeches from Members of all parties. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not refer to all the speeches but lump them together. One of the advantages of such a debate on a Thursday afternoon is that we can speak from knowledge and, to some extent, wisdom.

I congratulate both Select Committees on their excellent reports, which are timely, hard hitting, seminal and, in some respects, worrying. I look forward to the Minister's inaugural outing, at least in this part of his portfolio, and his response. I suspect not only that his speech this afternoon will be important, but that the Department's formal responses will constitute important documents. Sometimes such responses are lightweight, but I hope that the Department will take the opportunity of answering the points in both Select Committee reports in some detail.

We all agree that the Government's waste strategy is not working. That is not a party political point. The Environmental Audit Committee report states:
"The UK's waste mountain, already large, is growing."
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report begins:
"Until now, the Government has been too timid in its waste management policy … Despite warm words from Defra ministers, the Department does not seem to have a real sense of where it wants to go".
I could quote extensively from both reports, which are critical of the Government's waste management policy so far.

More and more waste is produced and far too little effort is being expended on its minimisation. There is no real commitment to recycling—lip service is paid to it, but there is no real financial commitment to it—and the landfill sites are overflowing. The truth is that the country is getting dirtier and dirtier.

I call on the Minister to acknowledge the scale of the crisis, and to acknowledge that the Government's waste strategy is, so far, clearly failing. I hope that he will come up with a few answers this afternoon and tell the House what they are going to do about this. After all, if we do nothing, we shall face large EU fines. I would rather see the taxpayer's money spent on achieving solutions than on paying out fines to the European Union for not doing so. Quite frankly, given the way that we are going at the moment, there seems little chance of achieving the EU targets.

The Government love targets, whether they are achievable or not. It is instructive to note, however, that the one target that they have not yet set is for waste minimisation. There is no point in working out wonderful strategies for getting rid of waste without attacking the root cause of the problem and doing something about waste minimisation. Most of the Government money made available for the national waste minimisation and recycling fund has gone into recycling; very little has gone into waste minimisation. We must find a way of persuading householders that they can do a great deal more to cut back on waste. Companies are doing that to a degree, although more education is needed, but householders have very little incentive to minimise the amount that they are putting into their dustbins. The Government must do more to encourage waste minimisation.

It is also important that we should do a great deal more recycling and recovery. The Government's record on recycling so far is a disgrace. The average increase in recycling of 1 per cent. per annum means that they stand absolutely no chance of achieving their target of 25 per cent. recycling by 2005–06. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), I congratulate Wiltshire county council on the work that it is doing, and on the very successful programme that it has brought in. A number of other county councils across the nation—controlled by all three political parties—are doing similar good work, and I congratulate them on that.

There is still not enough being done, however, and the Government are not giving people enough incentives or help in that area. We need to find ways of increasing recycling. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on getting her Municipal Waste Recycling Bill out of Committee more or less undamaged, and I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the Government will not put any blockage in its way when it comes back to the Floor of the House for its remaining stages.

A number of hon. Members have reminded us of the diminishing availability of landfill, and of the ever-increasing use being made of it. Of course we all approve of the landfill tax; it is a useful initiative. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)—whose special adviser I was at the time—on introducing it. It was a most useful idea, and I am glad to be able to claim a tiny part of the credit for it.

I fear that I do not have very much time. If I may, I shall rush through a few more points like a butterfly hoping to pollinate two or three of the flowers on which I land.

The landfill tax will only work, however, if it changes human behaviour. It will be no good if it simply becomes a cash cow for the Treasury and the money goes to hospitals and schools. It must be designed to change human behaviour, and that can occur only if the size of the tax goes up at a reasonably speedy rate. However, that must not be allowed to happen at the expense of small and medium-sized businesses, which might be unable to afford it. The Government have said that the landfill tax is to be revenue neutral; they also said that about the energy tax. We want to know how they are going to achieve that, as we have yet to hear how they will change the tax system so that the increase in the landfill tax will become revenue neutral. I regret that the landfill tax credit scheme has disappeared. It was particularly useful for all kinds of splendid local environmental schemes, such as those involving village halls. Simply using the money for things that the Government and the taxpayer would normally fund seems quite wrong. I am a strong supporter of the landfill tax credit scheme.

I want to hear from the Minister what he intends to do about hazardous waste. A real worry is that there has been a sharp increase in the number of things that are going to be counted as hazardous waste. Televisions, oil, fluorescent lights and discarded vehicles are among the 400-odd things shortly to be listed. However, the number of sites that will be allowed to be used for hazardous waste is to decrease from 184 to only 14 by the end of 2004. So there will be a sharp increase in what may be considered hazardous waste, but a massive decline in the number of sites that we can use. The animal by-products regulations will affect that to some degree, which means a sharp increase in agricultural waste going to landfill.

The Minister knows that, earlier this afternoon, we raised the issue of why the ash from the 250,000 tonnes of beef that will be burned as a result of the animal byproducts regulations has to go to landfill when human ash from crematoriums can be scattered on gardens if that is what we want.

A number of Members spoke about the problems of incineration. My instinct is to be very worried about it indeed and to hope that some moratorium, or at least some limit on its increase, can be put on it. There is a natural incentive: if people do not want to use landfill, they will go for the next cheapest option, as the report says, which is incineration. That would be particularly worrying. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about that, although these remarks do not apply to energy-from-waste schemes, which are to be encouraged in every possible way.

The reality is that we face a severe crisis in our waste management strategy. The Select Committee said, in straightforward terms:
"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 truly sustainable waste management to this country."
I hope that the Minister will give us some of that vision, sense of urgency and political will.

5.51 pm

I am delighted to respond to this thoughtful and detailed debate, which has involved contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) and for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Salisbury (Mr. Key), my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper), the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and, indeed, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray).

I am privileged to follow in the footsteps of my friend and colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). I make it very clear that I share his commitments in relation to environmental issues and, indeed, to tackling this key environmental issue. Waste and waste management are at the heart of resource productivity. They are part of the matrix of moving us through to sustainable development and tackling climate change. Reflecting that, waste is one of six strategic priorities set out in my Department's corporate strategy, which was published last month.

This is an issue not only for the Government, although I am in no way ducking either our responsibilities or taking the lead that we must give. I endorse what the hon. Member for Salisbury said: waste minimisation is an issue for councils, industry, business, the Government and individuals. Nobody wants a new landfill site or incinerator to be sited near them, and the constituents of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle need to ask themselves what they are doing to minimise waste in terms of their individual activities, because that is an issue for us all.

That is why the Government welcome the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee choosing to investigate waste, and why I welcome the thoughtful, detailed and, in some cases, critical speeches such as those from my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, North and for Sherwood. They have a good record on green issues, and they are right that we go back a long way. Our interests are not particularly new.

My hon. Friends also know that we take seriously the content of their reports, which are a challenge to the Government. We need to respond to them and to the reasonable and fair points that have been raised in some detail, and we will do so, but I am sure that Members understand that, given the time, I cannot enter into a detailed discussion of all the specific recommendations and conclusions.

I absolutely accept that more needs to be done. I also accept that there are issues raised in the reports that we must take seriously in terms of meeting the objectives that we want. For example, I can say that the Cabinet Office is considering whether all waste issues can be managed by one Department and that measures proposed on fly tipping will be strengthened in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. We are also considering further measures, because we accept the points that have been made on enforcement and dealing with what is a despicable activity in the countryside. I really cannot understand how people can do this.

In view of what he has just said about fly tipping, would my hon. Friend be kind enough to write to the Environmental Audit Committee about the new enforcement measures?

The new measures are still being considered, but I can certainly cite the issues relating to the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.

As has been said, our key aim is to meet our targets—to boost household recycling and composting to 17 per cent. by 2003–04 and 25 per cent. by 2005–06, and to reduce the amount of biodegradable household waste going into landfill to meet the requirements of the landfill directive by some 65 per cent. by 2020. Those are challenging targets by any standard, but I do not go along with the doom and gloom that we heard from the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). I do not wish to duck the difficult issues that have been raised, but we think that the 17 per cent. target is within reach, and hope that the 25 per cent. target constitutes a minimum.

The results of the latest municipal waste management survey, published in May, are not all bad news. The proportion of household waste being recycled is increasing. In 2000–02 it was 12.4 per cent., up from 11.2 per cent. Some 58 per cent. of households in England now benefit from some degree of kerbside collection of recyclates: in many instances, that has happened in the last 12 months. Things are moving in the right direction, but I know that more needs to be done. The less good news is that the amount of waste is increasing year on year, although the rate of increase slowed in 2001–02. We are reducing the proportion that goes to landfill, but the total amount is increasing. It must decrease quickly in order to meet the landfill directive targets. We are doing a great deal in that regard.

On 6 May, the Government published their response to the strategy unit's report on waste. The timing of the inquiries meant that they could not consider their response in the context of the reports we are discussing today, but I am confident that what we have said in "Waste Not, Want Not" addresses many of the Committee's concerns. We have accepted the great majority of the recommendations and support the direction or intent of many of the others.

The Waste and Emissions Trading Bill constitutes a direct move to reduce reliance on landfill. We are not just being driven by European directives. The Bill introduces a system of landfill allowances that will help local authorities to reduce their reliance on landfill in a cost-effective and innovative way. We will consult on the details of the scheme later in the summer. The Bill also contains a provision allowing waste disposal authorities to direct waste collection authorities to deliver waste separated. That will help waste disposal authorities to manage waste through recycling rather than disposal. We have announced our intention to table amendments on Report to make municipal waste management strategies mandatory in two-tier areas. That will help to ensure that authorities work together to plan for sustainable waste management. The Bill is a regulatory measure, but we accept that a balance is needed. We have also introduced fiscal measures to reduce reliance on landfill.

I take the point that was raised about the role of financial instruments. We have applied a number of instruments, including statutory recycling targets, landfill allowances, the enforcement of producer responsibilities in, for instance, the waste packaging regulations, resolutions, and the waste and resources action programme. We are also considering pilots of other financial instruments.

I am afraid I have only two minutes left.

The Chancellor announced that the landfill tax would rise by £3 a year from 2005 to a medium to long-term level of £35 per tonne. I listened carefully to what Members said about the level and rate of the increase, and I have some sympathy with it. I assure them that I will give it some thought.

We are addressing the issue of waste minimisation. I have mentioned the doubling of household recycling rates. We aim to strive for that higher point in the waste hierarchy with renewed vigour. The expansion of our waste and resources action programme is the first step in that direction. It will boost waste minimisation. A quarter of a million more bins for home composting have been made available, for instance. We have a retailer initiative to reduce the amount of waste entering the waste streams. We are working with the re-usable nappy scheme. I congratulate councils that have been involved in promoting the re-use of nappies among new parents. It will help existing and new—

It being Six o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(4) and (5) (Consideration of estimates etc.) and Order [29 October 2002].