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Power To Apply Section 45A To Welsh Waste Collection Authorities

Volume 408: debated on Friday 11 July 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

'After section 45A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as inserted by section 1 of this Act) there is inserted—

"45B Power to apply section 45A to Welsh waste collection authorities

  • The National Assembly for Wales may by order made by statutory instrument provide that section 45A above shall apply, subject to subsection (2) below, to all waste collection authorities whose areas are in Wales, as it applies to English waste collection authorities.
  • Where the Assembly provides as mentioned in subsection (1) above, the reference to the Secretary of State in section 45A(5) above shall be read for these purposes as a reference to the National Assembly for Wales.
  • Section 161(3) below (which relates to ordermaking powers) shall not apply to the making of an order under this section.".'.—[Mr. Morley.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 1.

    The amendments have been tabled in response to concerns raised in Committee that the National Assembly for Wales should have the power to apply the Bill to Welsh local authorities.

    Before I go into detail, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on the enormous amount of work that she has put into the Bill with my predecessor as Minister and groups such as Friends of the Earth, which supports the Bill. The Bill, as amended in Committee, addresses a great many concerns and makes a very important contribution to waste minimisation and recycling.

    The Government amendments that were accepted in Committee were not applied to Wales because waste is a devolved matter and it would not have been appropriate to impose requirements on Wales. Initial contact with the National Assembly for Wales had indicated that it did not want the provision to be introduced because this is a devolved matter, and because it has its own waste strategy, "Wise About Waste". Through that strategy, it seeks to work in partnership with local authorities to achieve improved recycling and diversion from landfill. For example, the Assembly has not introduced such recycling targets under the best value provisions in the Local Government Act 1999, but it is working with local authorities, using voluntary targets under policy agreements.

    Current indications are that local authorities are working successfully towards delivering the first round of targets within the waste strategy for Wales. Under those agreements, which will require 15 per cent. composting and recycling by the end of 2003–04, we have already seen a significant increase on the 5 per cent. figure of only a few years ago. "Wise About Waste" recognises that kerbside collection is the best way of separating viable materials for recycling, and encourages local authorities to introduce it. However, the strategy also recognises the need for local authorities to be able to respond flexibly to local circumstances: in the very rural parts of Wales, alternative arrangements may be preferable, recognising the different circumstances of local authorities.

    The National Assembly for Wales is understandably concerned that the current successful and flexible voluntary arrangements in Wales be retained, and we understand that. However, Committee members made the reasonable point that the Assembly does not have primary legislative powers and therefore could not apply those provisions to Wales at a later date if it considered it useful to do so at some stage. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) agreed to write formally to the Assembly to ask if it wanted the power to apply the Bill to Wales. I am pleased to say that the Assembly has agreed that that would be useful, so we are introducing these provisions.

    New clause 1 will allow the Assembly, by order, to apply the requirement that Welsh local authorities collect at least two recyclates, separate from residual waste, by the end of 2010. The Assembly will then have the power, equivalent to that of the Secretary of State, to grant an individual local authority an extension beyond that for up to five years. We have not included Wales in the requirement to report to Parliament because that would clearly be inappropriate. However, if the Assembly decides that it needs to introduce the Bill's provisions in respect of Wales, the Assembly's normal arrangement, whereby the relevant Minister reports on progress across his or her portfolio, will of course apply in such circumstances.

    I am very pleased that the Welsh Assembly has given its support to the principles behind the Bill. I am also pleased to move these amendments, so that we can extend the provision to include Wales, and I commend them to the House.

    I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on the way in which she has steered this Bill through the rapids of the private Members' Bill process; indeed, she had previous experience of this process some years ago. She has a well-established commitment to this issue, and rather than allowing the Bill to go down in flames by sticking rigidly to the points that she wanted to make, she has shown a willingness to be flexible. She has worked with the Government—always a sensible move when it comes to business on Friday—and as a result we have a Bill that we all hope will become law.

    I want to make it clear that the official Opposition entirely support the Bill, just as we supported the previous version. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), who did speak for the Opposition on this issue but resigned from the Front Bench over the issue of Iraq, on a matter of principle. He left a real legacy by getting the Conservative party to take an even greater interest in green and environmental issues.

    That said, we very much welcome the extension of the Bill to Wales, and we shall support new clause 1.

    I should say at the outset that I, too, support the Bill. I can well understand why the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), having looked at the Order Paper, might have become a little nervous at seeing a rash of amendments in my name. I appreciate that we are not discussing them at the moment, but I just wanted to put it on the record that I do support the Bill. I say that in the hope that the hon. Lady will call off the hounds and my e-mails will go silent, so that I can perhaps have a quiet weekend.

    I support new clause 1. It is entirely right that the people of Wales be consulted as to whether it is a good idea to extend the provision to them. If they say that it is, then far be it from this Englishman to prevent that from happening. However, on looking at the new clause I discovered something quite interesting. Subsection (1) begins with the phrase:
    "The National Assembly for Wales may by order made by statutory instrument".
    I do not want to start the "may" versus "shall" debate in the pedantic, legal sense. [Interruption.] I hear someone ask, "Why not?" from a sedentary position, but on this occasion there is a somewhat more significant point to make. This House is saying that the Assembly "may" apply the provision, so I imagine that the Assembly will debate the matter and ask itself the very simple question: is this in the best interests of Wales? It will come to a conclusion and have a vote, and it will be Members of the Welsh Assembly, from Wales, who will take the decision.

    I have one worry about the new clause. The Government rightly say that the provision should be extended to Wales if the people of Wales want it, and that in the end, the vote shall be taken by people from Wales. So why did the Government mobilise Scottish MPs the other day to interfere in an English matter, unlike in this case, where the people of Wales can decide for themselves? On the question of foundation hospitals, surely the English should have decided what happens in England.

    I welcome new clause 1. Wales is absolutely committed to playing its part in recycling, and as the Minister says, we in Wales have our own strategy, which has been agreed to by the Welsh Assembly and in consultation with local authorities. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on introducing this Bill. I was pleased to take part in a previous stage of its legislative progress, and I am very pleased that new clause 1 respects the spirit of devolution, enabling the Assembly to take appropriate action, rather than imposing a duty on it. We support the new clause.

    I thank all Members for their comments and the appreciation that they have shown today. It has been a joy to work on this Bill, despite the many difficulties that arose. It was always my wish that the Bill should extend to the whole of the UK if possible, notwithstanding the devolution arrangements. I hope that the assemblies and the Parliament in the other parts of the UK will be able to adopt such measures, because I believe very strongly that the people of those countries want to contribute to environmental sustainability, just as the people of England want to so contribute. This legislation enables one of the obvious ways in which ordinary householders can make a very significant contribution.

    At one point, the Bill was in a form that set UK targets of 50 per cent. for recycling. That was an attempt to bring the Government on board, because they had not been able to support the original Bill. Unfortunately, I then found that the Government could not support the new form of the Bill either, so it took all my wit to produce it in yet another form. That was done successfully in Committee. It then became necessary to limit the Bill to England, and it was proper of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), who was one of my sponsors—and, indeed, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), who was another sponsor—to raise the question about Consultation with the National Assembly for Wales.

    11.30 am

    The Minister undertook in Committee to write formally to the Welsh Assembly, and I am delighted that it has come back with a positive response. This is the best of all worlds. We in the House today offer the Assembly primary legislation, which it can bring into force if it fits its requirements. I congratulate the Assembly on the progress that it has made so far, but I say to its Members that, as in the rest of the UK, recycling levels are still far too low. Much more still needs to be done, and the Bill offers local authorities an incentive and an opportunity for people to lobby their elected representatives to ensure that more progress is made. I greatly welcome and support the new clause, and I hope that it will be accepted as a way forward for the people of Wales. As someone born and brought up in Pontypool, the Welsh environment is close to my heart.

    Can the Minister clear up a point about the new clause? Am I right that the requirement on Wales would have to be abided by on the same terms that apply to the English provisions—no later than 31 December 2015? We understand why such a long time frame has been built into the Bill, but we also partly regret it. Can the Minister let us know within what sort of time scale he would envisage Welsh authorities and the Welsh Assembly complying with this part of the Bill?

    Briefly, new clause 1 extends the same provisions to Wales. Of course, it can choose not to apply them. As I said earlier, if the provisions are not accepted now, no primary legislative powers would apply and it could not enter into the provisions later. My understanding is that the Welsh Assembly is keen to apply these measures, just as we are, so the time scales are the same.

    May I point out that the Bill's provisions are for 2010, although there is an opt-out potential for 2015?

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.