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Commons Chamber

Volume 408: debated on Friday 11 July 2003

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House Of Commons

Friday 11 July 2003

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

Prayers

[SIR MICHAEL LORD in the Chair]

Mr Speaker's Absence

The House being met, and the Speaker having leave of absence pursuant to paragraph (3) of Standing Order No. 3 (Deputy Speaker), SIR MICHAEL LORD, THE SECOND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, proceeded to the Table.

Orders Of The Day

Ragwort Control Bill

Order read for consideration, as amended.

9.34 am

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order is about Wednesday's transport statement. As you will know, Mr. Speaker has always taken the view that the House must be informed of important statements before the media and the outside world. It has become clear to me from discussions with members of the media that information that was made available to Members only after the Secretary of State's statement, in line with normal practice, had been available to journalists some time before by means of an embargoed statement.

I raise with you as a matter of principle the question of whether the provision of material on an embargoed basis to members of the media some hours in advance of a statement being made, so they have information that they can use—no doubt they can write their stories without having access to the views of Members, other than Ministers—is a practice that is consistent with Mr. Speaker's view that Members should be informed before the media. I should be grateful for any advice that you can give on this matter.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Mr. Speaker's views on these matters are well known, and the hon. Gentleman's points will no doubt be noted.

Clause 1

Control Of Ragwort

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 4, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in page 1, line 7, after 'appropriate', insert—

'including the National Farmers Union, the Local Government Association, the Bridleways Association, the Pony Club, Riding for the Disabled, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the National Trust, and the Country Landowners Association.'.

No. 7, in page 1, line 9, after 'code', insert—
'at any time, but must revise it not later than five years after it has been laid before Parliament'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 14, at end insert—
'(7) The requirement in subsection (1) shall apply from 31st March 2004.'.

The Government's attitude to private Members' Bills varies. In some instances, they say no and scupper a Bill. In other instances, they say yes because they have written the Bill, or they say, "Perhaps," because they quite like the Bill but they do not want to do too much to it. Sometimes, as on this occasion, they scupper the Bill by putting in the word "may". My amendment would change "may" to "shall".

My thinking is to a large degree informed by background in agriculture, albeit not in this country. The accent keeps creeping out no matter what I do. I think my country benefited from immigration, although I accept that one or two of the Maoris might not agree with me. But with immigration came bits and pieces of debris from this country. We did not get foxes in New Zealand, but we got many other pests. We got gorse—that was one of the classics—and we also got ragwort. I am therefore somewhat familiar with ragwort and with the struggle to deal with it in New Zealand. When I came to the United Kingdom I was astonished to find that exactly the same problem existed here.

When I came to this country I was disappointed to find that there was a much less positive attitude towards dealing with ragwort than existed in the antipodes, where it was recognised as being especially damaging to cattle and horses. It was not so damaging to sheep, although I understand that there is evidence in this country that it can be damaging to them.

In New Zealand, ragwort was less important when we were predominantly farming sheep. However, as the wool price dropped—likewise the meat price—there was a swing away from sheep, with changes in style and changes in pumping water. The result was huge cattle stations. One of the areas where I worked and where I went shooting had been predominantly engaged in sheep farming, but moved across to cattle. There had been very few sheep to the acre, but the number of cattle per acre was enormous. Whereas the sheep cropped the grass quite low and tight—effectively they prevented ragwort by eating it—ragwort was extremely damaging to cattle.

Until fairly recently, the care of horses was vital. Horses in Australia and New Zealand were used on farms. They were not used for pleasure to the same degree as in the United Kingdom. Their use in farming is not so widespread since the advent of motorbikes and helicopters.

In dealing with noxious weeds in a country that is predominantly agricultural, there is a real determination to succeed. Given the measures set out in the Bill, it is clear that that determination does not yet exist in the UK. As I have said, I am always suspicious when the Government say "may". Even when they say that they will—I have in mind a Bill that recently passed through the House, with support from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber—

Given the hon. Gentleman's antipodean experience, he may be familiar with a paper produced by D. A. McLaren, entitled "Biological Ragwort Control in Victoria". The process of control is there described, and particularly biological control, which I would like to mention later if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In his paper, D. A. McLaren says specifically that landowners who do not control ragwort "may" be served with a land management notice. The hon. Gentleman is trying to draw parallels with the antipodes, but as I understand the published data, a "may" is associated with the Australian regulations.

There are two problems with that. First, Victoria is not the same as New South Wales or other areas of Australia where farming is extensive. Secondly, the relationship between Australians and New Zealanders is traditionally a difficult one. My daughter, who has just returned from New Zealand, stuck a big postcard on my wall which says, "I support two teams—the New Zealand All Blacks and anybody playing Australia." However, in the parts of Australia where farming is important—in Victoria, dentistry seems to be more important than farming—the hon. Gentleman would see that there is a firmer policy.

To return to my main argument, "may" suggests that the Government do not really care.

The hon. Gentleman is being a little disingenuous about his neighbours in Australia. There are 825,000 hectares of Victoria where ragwort grows, so the problem is serious.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek. The relationship between Australia and New Zealand is in fact very good, and I utterly denounce the rumour that the Australians think that the word "aperitif" means a set of dentures.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the House may benefit from a prolonged visit of several months to the antipodes by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), who could then report on his experience?

That is probably a very good idea. If the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) went during our winter and their summer, I would be more than happy to accompany him as a translator, as the phraseology there is rather different from the phraseology here. We could even make use of the practice commonly called pairing, which was used in the past and will be used again very soon, I suspect.

To return to ragwort control, a key part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—that measure was introduced before the election under the aegis of the Home Office and deals with commercial interests and is vital to the police—has been sat on. It looks as if its provisions will not be enforced, so questions need to be asked—and that is leaving aside the use of wishy-washy words like "may".

Order. I am following the hon. Gentleman very carefully, and trust that he will now come on to the amendments before the House.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Your timing was perfect, as I was just about to deal with the use of the word "may".

In my area, the Mole Valley and, in fact, all the way down the A3, we have difficulties with ragwort. The prospect of the Bill being enforced is extremely positive, as landowners can then be pushed to deal with the problem of ragwort. Such enforcement is needed, and I was intrigued to learn how it would be done. However, when I picked up the Bill, I saw the word "may", which should be changed to "shall". My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and I felt that we needed to go a bit further, so we tabled amendment No. 4, which specifies that the measure shall apply from 31 March 2004.

There has been a huge effort to try to get individuals to try to deal with the problem. I have worked closely with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for a long time, but there has been no action from the Government. I urge the Government either to change "may" to "shall" or to explain clearly the timetable for the Bill and how long it will be before its provisions are enforced. I wish them to say, in no uncertain terms, that they really mean action.

9.45 am

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) for expressing his interest in, and support for, this important Bill. I agree wholeheartedly that action needs to be taken.

As for the question of whether the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality should be under a statutory requirement to issue a code of practice or whether the Bill should be permissive, we considered that in Committee. I made a joke that the Minister and I, when we both had the home affairs brief—we were in government and he was a shadow home affairs Minister—had many arguments in Committee about the use of "may" and "shall". It is an old device for taking up time but, equally, it is a valid argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley was essentially asking whether we can trust the Minister to introduce a code if we use the word "may" instead of "shall". I should like to give him some encouraging news, as I believe very sincerely that we can trust the Minister. We have discussed the matter at length, and he is as committed to doing something about it as me, my hon. Friend and other Members who are here to support my Bill.

I am tempted to tease the hon. Gentleman, and remind him that we often argued about "may" and "shall" when the Conservatives were in power because getting action on law and order was like pushing rocks uphill. However, work on the code is almost complete. We have been working closely with the British Horse Society, and I intend to publish the code so that it can be consulted on and discussed by everyone who is concerned about the issue before the Bill becomes law. It could then be implemented in the shortest possible period, because we will already have had the opportunity to discuss and improve the code, should that be required, before the formal consultation required by the Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that point, which is also relevant to the question of whether the Bill should specify 31 March 2004, as specified in amendment No. 4. I hope that we will have action before then. Indeed, the Minister was unnecessarily modest in his intervention, because I know that he intends to make an announcement about the code within a matter of weeks, if not days. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend is reassured that that amendment is not necessary.

On the issue of whether or not the Bill should be permissive, when any piece of legislation requires a Minister to consult, one should never pre-empt the outcome of that consultation. My hon. Friend did not refer to another amendment that he tabled in which he lists a number of organisations that should be consulted. I agree that they should all be consulted, as we need a broad consultation. However, the problem of putting lists in Bills is that some people who ought to be consulted, but are not included in a list, never get consulted. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend accepts my assurance that we intend to consult widely, and listen to all the interested parties.

In conclusion, my hon. Friend's amendments have served a useful purpose in teasing out just how definitive is the Government's commitment to doing something about the problem. We have made tremendous progress in the six months since I first announced that I would use my place in the ballot to introduce the measure. On Third Reading, I shall pay tribute to various organisations, but at this juncture I simply say to my hon. Friends who have tabled amendments and to others who will shortly try to catch your eye to speak to them, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am grateful for their support for urgent action, but ask them to accept that the Bill will provide the way forward that we seek. Tricky as it is to get a private Member's Bill on to the statute book, I am optimistic that, before long, the Bill will receive Royal Assent and the code will be introduced, making a significant difference to the control of ragwort in Britain.

We are in danger of a mass outbreak of agreement on this issue. I agree with the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) that we want to see action, not delay, and I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) that the Bill is a useful vehicle for moving in precisely that direction.

On the issue of replacing "may" with "shall", I hope that the hon. Member for Mole Valley will accept that we are moving ahead of the necessity to do that in legislation. We are working closely with the British Horse Society to produce a draft code, which I had undertaken to do in advance of the opportunity for legislation arising. The draft code has been prepared and is a reality, so there is no need to impose an obligation on the Secretary of state to produce a code; we are already virtually there. It will be published on a voluntary basis in advance of the legislation. Nor do I believe that a mandatory requirement is necessary for the future. There will be a code, and statutory obligations need to be proportionate. None of us knows what the future may hold and circumstances may change. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the modern approach to legislation is to be permissive rather than prescriptive, and that is the approach that we should follow in relation to the code of conduct.

Amendment No. 6 refers to
"including the National Farmers Union, the Local Government Association, the Bridleways Association, the Pony Club, Riding for the Disabled, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the National Trust, and the Country Landowners Association"
in consultation. It is already a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult those bodies as are considered appropriate. The Secretary of State must consult; it is not discretionary. But including a list of bodies to be consulted is a bit of a hostage to fortune, because those bodies not specifically included may well be offended and feel that we value their comments less. The amendment is slightly inappropriate in that it omits not just several of the key stakeholders but the British Horse Society, which has done most to produce the Bill and has done a great deal of work with us on the preparation of the code. I hope that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) will agree that it would be rather unkind to the British Horse Society to include others in the consultation and to leave it out. However, I undertake specifically to consult those named in the amendment, along with others that it is appropriate to consult on the code.

As the author of that list, I think the Minister is right to chastise me for leaving some organisations out, and when I speak to my amendment I shall explain why it is there. No offence was intended to those that I should have known about but did not include in the list.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification and I am sure that various organisations' feelings will be assuaged by his comments. As I say, we are perfectly prepared to give the undertaking here today that each of those organisations in his list will be among those consulted, as well as the British Horse Society, which has been working with us already on this, and any other appropriate bodies, so that all those who have an interest in the matter have an opportunity to comment fully on the code, initially on the voluntary basis to which I referred and subsequently in the formal period of consultation that is a requirement within the Bill.

Amendment No. 7 refers to revision after five years. It is appropriate for there to be a capacity to revise the code of practice, and that is allowed for in the Bill, but it does not lay down a time scale for doing so. It may be necessary to revise the code from time to time, but that should be based on the experience of those who are concerned with the issue, and it should be proportionate. In other words, if it ain't broke, we should not bother to fix it. If there is a need to update and revise the code, that should happen, and it should happen in less than five years should that be necessary, but I am not convinced of the need for a statutory time scale.

Amendment No. 4 is linked to amendment No. 3 and requires the code to be laid from 31 March 2004. As there is no requirement in the Bill to prepare a code, the amendment would automatically fall. An obligation to make a code by a specific date would not be consistent with the permissive power to make a code. It is worth pointing out that, were it successful, the amendment could hold up our proceedings, which I am sure is not the intention. As I have said, we have already prepared a code and a draft is being published shortly. I hope that we will be in a position to lay the code before Parliament early in 2004 consistent with the Bill and to introduce it in spring 2004. If we were required to make the code from 31 March 2004, we would not be able to lay the code before Parliament before that date and that would risk holding up the timetable of events. I am certain that that is not the intention and I explain it merely to encourage hon. Members to agree that we should complete the informal work on the code as quickly as possible, obtain agreement on it, and then proceed at a fast clip through the formalities as soon as the legislation reaches the statute book. Because of the work that will have been done in advance, the ground will be clear for the code to come into effect in the shortest possible time required under the Bill.

When we discussed this some months ago, the Minister made it clear that he would ensure that Parliament would see a copy of the draft code. Will he place a copy in the Library of the House at the appropriate time?

As soon as the code has been finalised, we will publish it and place a copy in the Library, and we shall obviously be interested in the comments on it of hon. Members as well as of the bodies that have been formally consulted.

Given our proximity to Ireland and the number of horses that move backwards and forwards between the two countries for racing and so on, and the dangers of ragwort to horses, will the Minister consider allowing the Irish Government to see the code? That is not under the Minister's direct control, but it will give them some idea of what we are trying to do control ragwort on this side of the Irish sea.

The formal consultation will be with directly affected organisations in Britain, but the code will be in the public domain and we would be perfectly happy for it to be available to others in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggest.

I hope I have been able to reassure hon. members that it is our intention, as it as been the intention of the hon. Member for Ryedale, to proceed as quickly as possible to effective action in order to improve the eradication of ragwort and the nuisance that it poses to livestock in general and to horses in particular.

Given the more relaxed mood of a Friday morning, I am tempted by the last intervention about consultations with the Irish Government to say that formal consultations with a foreign Government, particularly when it comes to the Belfast agreement, do not appeal to me, but I am sure that I would be ruled out of order were I to develop my thoughts on that, so I shall resist the temptation.

I am wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill, although it could be made tougher than it is, and I have no wish to prevent it reaching the statute book. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) because being in the Opposition Whips Office means that one does not have the time to do some of the things that one would like to do, otherwise I would have been willing to be a member of the Committee had he been able to tolerate that. I shall not ask him to answer in public.

10 am

Nevertheless, having not participated in the Committee, I should like to explain why I feel strongly about the Bill. In doing so, I want for the avoidance of doubt to set out some information that is not quite a declarable interest, but which is relevant in that context. Some 10 years ago, I became the joint owner of four acres of farmland. Until I acquired my interest in the land, it had been grazed by sheep, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) has mentioned. I did not have any knowledge of farming and I acquired the land because it was attached to a house as part of a joint lot. I did not set out to become involved in such matters. When I bought the house, I did not buy the sheep, which had departed. As the sheep had gone, the grass grew, as did the ragwort. I did not know what it was at the time. I thought that it was pretty and that it would look decorative if one gathered it and put it in the house—an attitude of which I was soon disabused.

The problem was that the four acres with which I was involved were surrounded by lots of other fields full of horses. As is patently clear from the point made by the Minister, I am not a horse person, which is why I did not keep horses and why I do not understand who represents what in terms of riding. None the less, I rapidly discovered that ragwort is a problem. In that regard, I have some further observations about the Bill as a whole that I would have made on Second Reading if I had been able to do so. Perhaps I can do so on Third Reading, but I shall not try your patience just now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I need to speak about the amendments.

I should like to deal with the amendments in the order in which they appear on the selection list rather than to speak to my own first, as that seems the logical way of proceeding. Amendment No. 3, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, seeks to delete the word "may" and insert the word "shall". I always like the recurrent debate about "must" or "shall" in the context of time wasting, but that point does not arise in this discussion, and I am perfectly happy to settle for "shall".

The amendments raise a general issue. There are occasions when I thoroughly enjoy kicking the current Government around the place as hard as I possibly can. It would be possible to lay some blame at their door in respect of some of the amendments, but this is a Friday morning and I am in a more charitable mood. For the purposes of the amendments, my castigation of the Government is a castigation of all Governments. For 10 years, until I was put into the Whips' Office in the hope that it would shut me up, which it patently has not, I was a dedicated Back Bencher who was suspicious of all Executives, whatever their political colour. I still have that attitude in the back of my mind.

If we believe that it is worth having a code of practice—I believe that it is—we must be sure that the Government will proceed with it. I have never been willing to take it on face value that any Government will get round to something if it does not have to do so. Governments have far better things to do, such as social engineering, than worry about horses. Perhaps that it is not true of the Minister, who worries about foxes, but never mind.

Perhaps we can get the Minister off the hook. If he genetically modified the ragwort and the foxes ate it, would that help him in other deliberations?

I suspect that if I tried to answer that question, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not let me continue. I am a little disappointed that my hon. Friend is trying to get a Labour Minister off the hook; I would rather leave him dangling, if I possibly could.

The House agrees that the code of practice is a good idea, as does the horse fraternity.

Is my hon. Friend aware that anyone who drives down the A3 will pass on the left hand side a farm that predominantly farms sheep, but has introduced llamas to keep the foxes away. It is possible that ragwort is poisonous to llamas—hence the link to foxes.

Order. Sheep are one thing and foxes are another, but llamas are beyond the pale.

The best that I can say is that I understand the difference between them, but I know nothing about any of them. I shall not pursue that train of thought, partly because you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, do not want me to do so, and partly because I am not sure what I can say about llamas at this moment.

If a code of practice is worth having, the Government of the day must have an obligation to do something about it, and I wish to test the Minister on that point. He told the House that he had already acted, that there was no problem and that we did not need to worry. If we do not need to worry and he is going to proceed, why does he wish to resist an amendment seeking to insert the word "shall"? As he is going to proceed anyway, can he not make a gesture in accepting an amendment so as to indicate that his total commitment can be put beyond all doubt?

Amendment No. 6, which stands in my name, deals with this provision:
"Before making the code the Minister must consult such persons as he considers appropriate."
In my 16 years in this place, I have come across such provisions regularly. Falling back on my somewhat suspicious attitude to Governments of all persuasions, I am never quite comfortable with the idea that we should leave such matters to the Minister. We might be told that the current Minister is sensible and reasonable, but how am I to know that that is the case or be sure that his successors will not be entirely different? It therefore seems sensible that, as there are some obvious people who should be consulted, the Minister should have an obligation to consult them.

The fact that the list that I propose is not the right list does not affect the point that I am trying to make. I will not burden the House with the provenance of the list, but I point out that it was drafted in rather a hurry, which is why some people are missing. The fact that I am not a horse person means that I left out some people who should have been included, but that does not relate to the point that I am seeking to make. Initially, I thought that I would include only one organisation so that we could have a debate. If my list is wrong, but the principle is accepted by the promoter, the other place can put the matter right.

My hon. Friend should not be too hard on himself. By tabling the amendment, he has obtained from the Minister an assurance that the organisations that he did include in the amendment, albeit in haste, will feature in the list of consultees.

I am always glad to be rescued from my self doubt, so those are helpful remarks. None the less, whatever one makes of my particular list, the principle of making it an obligation for the Minister of the day to consult certain people is correct.

The hon. Gentleman admits that, as a country landowner, he did not know what ragwort was, and he gets his list wrong. He claims to represent the party that claims to represent the countryside. Clearly, he has proven beyond any doubt that that is a complete fallacy.

I set out at the beginning of my speech to be conciliatory and generous and to suggest that any criticism of the Government was a criticism of all Governments. If the hon. Gentleman wants to start along that track, however, I shall rapidly remind him of the iniquities of this Labour Government in its jackboot attitudes to democracy. If that is what he wants, let him say so, and we will have a good kick-about. On the specific points that he makes, I pointed out that I discovered what ragwort was 10 years ago. I may be a slow learner, but 10 years later, I understand the issue. Unlike the Labour party, which will not ever bother to listen and learn, I do so. He also spoke about my representing a party, but this is a private Members' Bill morning. That is why I am not down on the Front Bench. I am speaking in my own capacity, and, for better or worse, there are not many animals on the grass around the runways of Heathrow or in the gravel pits or reservoirs in the area that I represent. In fact, it is very difficult to find any green space left in my constituency.

I shall come to that in a moment, but I point out that, for practical purposes, I am an urban MP rather than a rural one. I shall put that to one side for a moment, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene again, I shall willingly listen and have another go at him.

The particular list that I proposed was an attempt generally to detail some agricultural and animal organisations. However, I included one of the organisations very deliberately, as I wished to comment on it—the Local Government Association. An important aspect of the ragwort problem is the amount that one finds, certainly in my constituency, in the middle and on the verges of dual carriageways. That should be a matter for local councils, but I am not certain who owns the land: is it the Queen or the local council? I do not know, but if we are to deal with verges and dual carriageways, the Local Government Association is likely to be the body that is most able to come up with a satisfactory way of placing an obligation on those councils that do not understand the problem and are not willing to do anything about it. I apologise for leaving some organisations out of the list—I am fully aware that some very deserving ones should be there—but that was my reason for including the Local Government Association.

It is sometimes not so much the case that councillors do not understand, although that may be so in one or two councils, but that they do not have the necessary money to deal with the problem, which will come way down the list of priorities in comparison with social services or transport matters. If we are to get councils to tackle it, we must ensure that they have a ring-fenced pot of money for the purpose.

I would enjoy a debate about the Government's failure to fund Spelthorne council and Surrey county council properly, but I suspect that even on a Friday, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would not want me to go down that route. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have to engage in the debate on priorities. All of us—whether Members, Governments or parties—are fond of saying, "This is a good idea: we must do it", then forgetting to fund it properly.

I want to make two points to my hon. Friend. First, the Local Government Association is being consulted. Secondly, because ragwort is a controlled weed under the Weeds Act 1959, local authorities already have an obligation on local authorities to clear it from their land. The code is merely intended to give them some help as to how they should do it and to provide that if they do not, they will find themselves in trouble.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. That is why I flagged up the fact that some matters—that is one of them—should be discussed on Third Reading rather than in the context of the amendment. If he will forgive me, I shall leave it until then.

Amendment No. 7, which stands in my name, would make it obligatory for the Minister to revise the code after five years. I have learned to distrust Governments of all sorts; if they say that they will or should revise a provision in future, history teaches that they sometimes never get round to it. Time moves on, science moves on, and the problem of ragwort will probably move on. There should be a cut-off point beyond which it is not acceptable for a Government to drag their feet. If the Minister, or any Minister, says, "We are on the side of this attempt to control ragwort", they should be willing to accept the amendment. If the Government say, "No, we are not prepared to accept that we have to revise this every five years", that suggests to me that they have no intention of doing so and that that possibility could disappear.

Given the Government's success with public service agreement targets over the past few months, is there an opportunity for a target for ragwort-pulling in England and Wales?

We have had numerous opportunities for ranging far and wide in the debate. I would love to have a debate about the Government's targets stupidity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I guess that you would rise from your seat to tell me that it is not a matter for today. I agree with my hon. Friend that there should be such a target: we could then mock the Government when they fail to meet it.

10.15 am

Amendment No. 4, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, would impose a time limit beyond which the code of conduct cannot be left unpresented to Parliament. That seems completely innocuous in view of the remarks of the Minister and the Bill's promoter. The code of practice is almost ready to be published in draft for us to comment on. If the Government are going to do it before 31 April 2004, why not stipulate it in the Bill? This Minister is a kind and generous man—he is smiling, as I thought he would, but perhaps he should worry about that remark coming from me—and I readily accept that he will do as he says. He has given us his word; I do not quarrel with that. However, he works for a Prime Minister who regularly botches reshuffles, and it is possible that he might be moved between now and the deadline that my hon. Friend suggests. The Minister could do us the favour of underscoring his sincerity by ensuring that any successor cannot wriggle in the way that he has promised not to. I am sure that he will recognise that I am trying to help him to go down in the annals of history as the person who actually put integrity before party politics.

The hon. Gentleman's kindness in trying to help me is transparent and greatly appreciated. I can tell him that the work has already been done, not by the Department alone, but jointly with the British Horse Society. It is not a question of giving undertakings to do the work—it is virtually complete.

Yes, I know that. When the Minister said initially that the work had been done, I wondered whether it was on ragwort or the next reshuffle, but he made it clear that it was the former. I entirely accept what he says. I know what is going on and what is going to happen. Given that, what is so objectionable about simply setting a date? That would help the Minister if, as he fights the battle to do it now, somebody else—his boss or Downing street—says, "No, there are other things to do; we want to put it off." If he accepts the amendment, it will be impossible for it to be put off, so it might help him to deliver what he has promised that he is trying hard to deliver.

All the amendments have merit, and none would weaken the Bill in any way or hold up the implementation of what we all want. On that basis, I sincerely commend them to the House.

I am relatively new to the Bill, which was previously dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George). That has advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps one advantage is that I am able to look at the matter objectively and afresh, whereas other hon. Members have been ensconced in it for some time.

Although I agreed almost entirely with the Minister—he is a very reasonable chap—I disagree with him profoundly about one point: namely, his defence of the word "may" rather than the preferable word in the amendment, which is "shall". If the word "may" survives, it is possible that nothing at all will happen. The Bill could be passed and become law, then, in theory, nothing might happen. The Minister said that he is doing the work, that it is nearly completed, and that we will have the code of practice—in other words, that everything that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and others want will happen. We can all agree that that is good news. Nevertheless, the wording of the Bill is such that there is no requirement on the Government to do anything when it becomes law: that cannot be right.

Why are the Government resisting the word "shall"? That is an important point not only in relation to this Bill and this amendment, but more widely, as the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) suggested. I would love to know how many pieces of legislation exist that, having had Members of Parliament agonise over their wording, have been duly passed into law, yet nothing subsequently happens: they sit there on the shelf with whole sections of good intentions gathering dust. I suspect that there are more such Bills or parts of Bills than we would like to think. That also brings me to question our use of time in this House.

As a matter of principle, notwithstanding the Government's preference for permissive legislation, we should insert requirements such as the word "must" or "shall" where it is clear that that is the will of the House. Not doing that leaves open the possibility that nothing will happen in specific circumstances. The Minister said in his defence of "may" that circumstances may change and that that was the reason for permissive legislation. Although that argument may be appropriate for some occasions, it is not for the Bill because we are considering a code of practice. The Bill requires the Minister to undertake now to act in the future. Once he has fulfilled the undertaking, the requirement is discharged. The idea that the requirement will present difficulties in future does not hold up logically.

I fear that I share the cynical view of Governments of the hon. Member for Spelthorne. They are always busy, full of good intentions and have something other to do than act when they have discretion to do nothing. That is the reality of government. If Governments have the opportunity to do something that is not a requirement, they might not follow through.

If the hon. Gentleman considers the general purpose of legislation, redundant parts require the use of parliamentary time to remove them. Permissive requirements can be used when appropriate. Earlier, I said that there was currently a need for the provision and that the Government will therefore act on the "may". However, the hon. Gentleman should reflect that it is bad parliamentary practice to make requirements when "may" suffices. We are considering a minor example, but it is not bad practice to ensure that legislation is generally permissive rather than prescriptive.

The Minister may have a case in specific legislation. I accept the point that legislation that provides for a requirement that becomes redundant takes up parliamentary time. However, the Bill places only a one-off requirement, to be fulfilled now, on the Government. It will therefore not become redundant. The amendment does not require the Minister to produce codes of practice continually but simply to introduce one when the Bill is enacted.

The Minister says that he will fulfil the requirement by the time the Bill becomes an Act. The hon. Gentleman's comments are therefore redundant. We know that the code of practice will be introduced; the Minister said that that will happen. We therefore get a finite conclusion.

That is true, and it reinforces my point. I do not want to take up hon. Members' time, but the hon. Member for Spelthorne asked about the Government's motivation in rejecting the amendment. It is not to be found in the Bill, which the Government are prepared to accept. However, they do not wish to concede the principle that the word "shall" should be accepted occasionally.

The Minister's comments on the other amendments made sense. There is no reason to include a date of March 2004, especially when the Minister has got so far ahead. He also gave a fair answer about consulting groups. I hope that we shall listen to other hon. Members and get on to Third Reading, and that the Bill is subsequently enacted.

I want briefly to contribute to the debate on "may" and "shall". Perhaps I can assist my right hon. Friend the Minister by reminding him of a specific case from the time when he was Opposition spokesman on Home Affairs and my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), the Whip, was a member of the national executive of the Fire Brigades Union. The case was the Crown v. the Home Office ex parte Fire Brigades Union and others. I was a solicitor in the case. The House of Lords, in ruling in favour of the union, also ruled on the definition of "may" in legislation. It said that if a Minister did not act on a "may" provision, an obligation remained to keep the power under regular review. I am sure that my right hon. Friend remembers the case because it led to the Conservative Government's introducing emergency legislation to correct their proposed changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman has legal expertise and I therefore seek some free advice from a lawyer. I should like some clarification. I understand from his remarks that the House of Lords ruled that there was an obligation to keep the provision under review, but not to do anything about it.

The hon. Gentleman is correct. I have often argued for similar "shall" or "may" amendments on Friday based on my understanding of the law as set out by the House of Lords in the case that I described. However, my right hon. Friend's earlier comments illustrate the point. He said that he would act on the provision. However, if there are special circumstances and he does not do so, the fall-back obligation to keep the legislation under review remains.

The next Bill that we will debate includes a provision that states:

"Not later than 31st October 2004, the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a report".
Is it a case of horses for courses?

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is a case of horses for courses. Their performance on the course may be affected by whether they have eaten ragwort. However, my right hon. Friend has explained why "may" is appropriate in the case that we are considering. We shall have to wait and see what happens to the next Bill.

Since it is my first opportunity to do so, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) on steering the Bill through our proceedings with skill, characteristic good humour and flexibility. Consequently, we have a Bill that we all hope will become law. My hon. Friend is too modest to say that he is the hero of the horse world for introducing the Bill, and too coy to say that, like some Greek warrior, he wants to receive his laurels at York races at lunchtime today. He is therefore keen for us to proceed quickly. I note that he is wearing a special tie, with horses on it.

I have been counting the horses on my tie while listening to the debate. There are more than 500 horses on it, and that is important because 500 horses died from ragwort poisoning last year and double that number will die this year.

My hon. Friend makes a good point and demonstrates another way in which we can pass the time in the Chamber when matters proceed slowly.

We should fail in our responsibilities if we did not give the amendments due consideration. Let us consider amendment No. 6, which my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) tabled. He lists the organisations that he would like the Minister to be required by statute to consult. As I said in an intervention, he is too hard on himself. He has secured an assurance from the Minister that the organisations will be consulted. I am sure that they will all be delighted about that. He made an error, to which he was happy to admit, in excluding the British Horse Society. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and the Minister said, that society provided much help in drafting the Bill. Horse owners and horses will benefit most from the measure.

My hon. Friend mentions errors. In the hope that it will save me a thousand e-mails, I apologise for not including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the list.

For reasons not connected with the Bill, I am currently keener on the British Horse Society than the RSPCA. However, my hon. Friend has done us a service in at least getting the Minister to assure us that the organisations will be consulted and he should therefore be proud of his work today through the amendment.

Amendment No. 7, which my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne also tabled, is excellent. It does not set an arbitrary time for reviewing the code of practice but states
"not later than five years".
That gives the Government much flexibility. Several uncertainties remain about the spread of ragwort and the best means of dealing with it. When I was preparing to speak today, I read the debate on Second Reading and learned all about the cinnabar moth and what has happened to the moth population.

Of course, we do not know how the code of practice will work once it is implemented. It would therefore be right to review it within five years to see whether it is having a significant impact on the spread of ragwort and whether it is imposing excessive regulatory burdens on local authorities and the rural economy. I know that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale introduced the Bill, he was particularly keen to minimise its regulatory impact on the countryside. Indeed, he presented the Government with a menu of options that they could discuss with him before choosing the most appropriate vehicle.

Amendment No. 3 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). I am not such a veteran of the "may" and "shall" debate as other hon. Members, but I have been told that I soon will be. It seems to me, as a novice, that my hon. Friends the Members for Mole Valley and for Spelthorne have made some very good points on this issue. If we are to take the Minister at his word—I have no doubt that he means what he says—it is puzzling that he will not accept the amendment, because he is going to establish a code of practice. Clause 1 contains many "musts". For example:
"Before making the code, the Minister must consult such persons as he considers appropriate.
The Minister must lay a copy of the code before Parliament."
It therefore seems strange that the only conditional provision is that
"The Minister may make a code of practice",
because that is the whole point of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister could give us a watertight assurance that the code of practice will be introduced, and that if it does not prove effective, he will look at the provisions again and revise them within five years.

10.30 am

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance now. It is our intention to publish the code within the next few weeks, so that it can be consulted on during the remainder of the summer. We shall leave the consultation period open-ended because the statutory period of consultation has to start when the Bill is enacted, but I can assure him that it will be completed at the earliest possible date consistent with the requirements of the Bill, so that it can have effect during next year's ragwort season.

It is good to have that assurance, and particularly good to know that that will happen before next year's ragwort season. It has been pointed out that the time to strike is before the ragwort comes into flower and everyone can see it.

I presume that my hon. Friend noted that, in the Minister's assurance, he said that it was the Government's "intention" to publish the code. He did not say "the Government will" or "the Government shall" publish it. He merely spoke of an intention, which is still dubious.

My hon. Friend is even more of a cynic than I am. Perhaps the Minister can clear this matter up.

I should be happy to do so. In this House, it is very unwise to presume that a Bill will complete its passage, but, so long as this Bill completes its passage, I am happy to use the words "the Government will".

I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance. I can see my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale getting all excited by this talk of the Bill completing its passage so that he can get on his train to York and go to the race meeting.

Today's debate marks the end of a long parliamentary campaign in which many Members—not all of whom are here—have taken part. We have had Adjournment debates on the matter, and early-day motions have been tabled. Today's debate has strengthened the Bill. I finish by passing on the apologies of the person who would normally speak for the Opposition on this matter, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). It is his wedding anniversary today, and he told me that if he missed that in order to be with us, Mrs. Hayes would cook up some ragwort and feed it to him for supper this evening. He therefore sends his apologies, and I am happy to have taken his place and to have spoken to these amendments.

Two organisations that affect my constituency quite a lot are not mentioned anywhere in the Bill. One is the National Trust, which has enormous holdings throughout the greater Exmoor area. The other is Forest Enterprise, the commercial arm of the Forestry Commission, which also has enormous holdings in the area. I am sure that the Minister knows that it is difficult to get ragwort out of woodlands, and I wonder whether there has been any consultation on the issue with either of those organisations.

I have the good fortune—or misfortune—to have an incredibly long coastline in my constituency, which I believe is Crown property, and we have a ragwort problem there. Who is responsible for dealing with ragwort on such Crown property? Speaking as a border Scot whose family farm crosses two miles over the border into Scotland, I am aware that the problems of ragwort do not stop at borders. My family's horses cross the border regularly. Unless Scotland adopts the same code in relation to weed control, it will not be bound by the code of practice. The role played by the British Horse Society crosses all borders, but, unfortunately, so does ragwort. Unless we can depend on the cinnabar moth or the ragwort flea beetle to deal with the issue in Scotland, we are going to have a problem. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that. I know that Wales is included in the provisions, but Scotland is not.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that ragwort is indigenous to the whole of northern Europe. On his logic, should we not have a European directive?

The thought of Mr. Berlusconi coming up with an agreement with the Germans on ragwort control is almost a complete new film. On that logic, I do not think that Herr Schröder will be holidaying anywhere in Europe. Perhaps Mr. Berlusconi and his marvellous media empire could publish Ragwort Weekly featuring those great stars, the cinnabar moth and the ragwort flea beetle.

There is a 22-mile steam railway in my constituency. Railways transport ragwort seed, and they travel quite fast—unless they are in west Somerset, where they travel quite slowly. The county council owns the railway, so the logic is that the council is responsible for the embankments—that is, when it is not setting fire to thatched cottages in my constituency. Who will be responsible for picking the ragwort? I cannot believe that the Liberal-controlled Somerset county council—which does not get many things right—will be able to get the ragwort problem sorted out. Has the Minister given any thought to the question of who will be responsible for railway embankments? This one does not come under the Strategic Rail Authority; it is run under an agreement between a voluntary body and Somerset county council. Twenty-two miles is an enormous distance in this context. The point also affects the North Yorkshire Moors railway and others.

We are seeking to deal with ragwort where it is a threat to horses and livestock. The issue therefore arises in a particular location only if such a threat is posed. We are not seeking to eradicate ragwort completely from these islands but to ensure that it is eradicated in the locations in which it could cause problems for livestock, which is particularly important for horses because of the impact that it has on their digestive system. I hope that that explanation assists the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the Minister for that. He will be aware that there are one or two horses, and one or two hounds, in my constituency. The railway that I mentioned runs through a large area of the Quantocks, greater Exmoor and the Brendons, where there are a great many horses, which I hope will stay there for a long time to come. The Minister is right that we are not trying to eradicate ragwort completely; we could never do that. It would be a fallacy to suggest that we could. Horses are prevalent in that area, however, and he should look at that area in particular, if possible, and include it in the code.

By and large, the people in my constituency look after their horses very well, but there are one or two who do not. We know that we can enforce a code because the legislation is there to do it, and a code is only as good as its enforcement. We could argue about "may" and "shall", the Fire Brigades Union, the Home Office, Berlusconi and everything else, but the matter comes down to enforcement. If an owner will not comply because he believes in organics or whatever, that will cause difficulties. That is a flippant point, but it will be difficult to achieve enforcement. Is the Minister prepared to put power behind enforcement?

My hon. Friend is making an important point that I was going to raise on Third Reading, but I shall deal with it now if I may. The code makes it abundantly clear that it may be taken into account in any court case and the power of enforcement already exists in the Weeds Act 1959. If somebody does not comply with the code, that could be used in evidence in any prosecution that followed under the 1959 Act. For that reason, the Minister and I believe that it will greatly strengthen enforcement. Equally, if someone can show that he has complied, he may wish to use that in his defence if he is prosecuted under that Act.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I do not want to prevent him from heading off to pastures north with his 500-horse tie. He knows that it is good when people will comply, but in places such as Exmoor, Dartmoor and the more sparsely populated areas of this nation it is sometimes difficult to achieve enforcement. Those areas are very large and people have an attitude that is not always, shall we say, compliant with the law. I know of people in the constituency up on Exmoor and the Quantocks who are not complying. Also, we have horses, and my wife, who goes across those areas, tells me that a lot of people do not comply.

The British Horse Society should be commended for all its super work. I have been a member of the society, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) for all his work with it and with the Minister to try to get this important Bill on the statute book.

The most fascinating thing about this discussion, which has been brief considering the seriousness of the matter, is that the Minister has learned. He recalls, from his time in opposition, why there is so much concern and a determination to try to substitute "shall" for "may". He has responded by increasingly moving towards accepting "shall", which is the logical conclusion of what he has said. One must recognise that he has moved in that direction and that he has been as firm as he is allowed to be. I cannot see his officials from this vantage point, but I suspect that there was some twitching as he moved closer and closer to accepting the proposal. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

10.43 am

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As much as I would like to catch an earlier train, I have resisted the temptation to move Third Reading formally because I think it important at the end of a long process to place one or two thoughts on record. First, it is obvious from the preceding debate that all Members present know only too well both the pernicious damage being done to our horse and pony population by ragwort and the urgent need for something to be done about it.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who has just withdrawn his amendment, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that I would have liked the Bill to have a few more teeth for enforcement, but in the practical world of private Members' Bills, I am satisfied that, with the Minister's help, we have gone as far as we can.

We want the Bill to go to the other place and return unamended, in which case it would get on the statute book by prorogation. That would be a great day for horse and pony owners throughout Britain. We should not underestimate the fact that the code will have teeth and that it will make a difference, as I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger). We intend to help public authorities and landowners to take their existing responsibilities more seriously. For example, they already have a responsibility to control ragwort.

I hope that as a consequence of the code, which the Minister will announce soon, we do not have to return to the matter in Parliament ever again. We want events to run their course and we hope that there will be no need for further legislation. However, if that does not work—I make no threat to the Minister, as it will take a few years to work things out and we may have a different Government if we ever have to revisit the matter—it is patently obvious that Members from all parts of the House will make a fuss for more to be done, as has happened in the past two or three years.

I commend the Bill to the House and to the other place, where Baroness Masham has agreed to promote it. I thank the Minister formally for his help and for his co-operative and flexible approach. I thank also my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and congratulate him on his appointment to the Front Bench. I do not know whether this is his first major outing, but he has acquitted himself extremely well. He has a rosy future in our party, not just in opposition, but in government, I dare say.

I thank Members who are here, and many who are not, for their support, as well as, in particular, the British Horse Society, the British Horseracing Board and the National Farmers Union. Everyone inside and outside Parliament who supports the Bill does so for one overriding reason—the welfare of the horse. The former Member for Ealing, North, Harry Greenway, whom you will remember, M r. Deputy Speaker, although he is not a relation of mine, was known in the House as the friend of the horse. It is a fitting tribute to his time here to say that I am delighted that another Greenway has followed in his footsteps by introducing this measure.

10.47 am

May I briefly indicate the Government's support for the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) on steering it successfully through the House of Commons? As he said, it is no small thing to succeed with a private Member's Bill, and I very much hope that this one completes its remaining stages quickly.

When the Bill started out, it was not at all clear that we would achieve such a happy result, but its fate in Committee shows what can be done when there is a will on both sides of the House to work together. The central measure is the authority given to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop a code of practice to control the spread of ragwort. I want to make one or two things clear. The Bill misleadingly refers to "the Minister". That is a legal quirk dictated by the fact that Weeds Act dates back to the 1950s, when the Minister responsible was the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. With the creation of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the functions previously exercised by that Minister transferred to the Secretary of State. Those include the ability to develop a code of practice under the Bill.

I said in Committee that we were already working with the British Horse Society on what would have been a voluntary code. Indeed, if anything happens to the Bill, there will still be the capacity for that voluntary code to come into being. The initial stage of the work has been carried out with the help of a small steering group, which has included representatives of the British Horse Society, local authorities, Network Rail and English Nature. That work has concluded, and a draft code of practice will be made available later this month. It will be a comprehensive document, and I intend to put it in the public domain at that early stage so that stakeholders and interested parties have plenty of opportunity to study its contents and comment on them. That will fulfil the indications that I gave in our debate on the amendments.

The Bill requires the Secretary of State to
"consult such persons as he considers appropriate".
before introducing a statutory code. We do not want that to delay publication of the final code, and the informal stage of consultation will expedite the Bill's eventual implementation. We shall have to undertake formal consultation on the draft code as a consequence of legislation, and will do so as soon as the Bill is enacted—which I hope will be soon after the summer recess.

I know that the Department is trying to deal with other invasive weeds, such as Japanese knotweed and other unwelcome countryside species. Will that work run in parallel with the Bill's progress?

We are working on the Bill separately and specifically. I shall explain why in a moment.

The Bill requires the code of practice to be laid before Parliament. That is a formal step that cannot be taken until the Act comes into force, three months after it is passed. We should be able to lay the code before Parliament early in 2004, thus ensuring that it is in place before the start of the 2004 ragwort season. I described that as an intention when I intervened earlier, but as long as we keep to the legislative timetable it will certainly happen. If anything prevented the Bill's enactment—after all, such things cannot be taken for granted—the code would already be available on a non-statutory basis.

To ensure that we meet our better-regulation obligations, a formal consultation on the regulatory impact assessment will take place later this month. Early publication of the draft code will ensure that comments on the assessment are made in the knowledge of the obligations that the code will place on statutory bodies and other businesses. An initial regulatory impact assessment has already been circulated informally among key stakeholders before the code's preparation, and they have indicated that they are broadly content. Again, we are moving expeditiously in the right direction.

The code will provide clear guidance for all landowners and occupiers, including local authorities and statutory organisations, on best practice in controlling the spread of ragwort. It will advise on how to develop a strategic and, we hope, a more cost-effective approach to weed control. That will enable organisations to focus their resources more directly, and to plan more effectively on a longer-term basis. The code will give information on all the different methods of weed control, and will advise on the most suitable method, taking into account efficacy of control, value for money and environmental considerations. I know that some people are interested in biological methods, and I can confirm that the code will take account of those.

I can tell those who are concerned about biodiversity that the code will not seek to eradicate ragwort—or, more accurately, common ragwort. It will recognise that in the right circumstances common ragwort contributes to the diversity of flora and fauna in the countryside. It will apply only to common ragwort, and will include advice on how to distinguish it from rarer types such as Oxford and marsh ragwort.

As I have said, the code will give detailed advice on control methods, risk assessment, environmental considerations and weed identification, but the Bill confers on it another useful purpose. The Bill enables it to be used as evidence in enforcement proceedings under the Weeds Act. Under the Act, the Secretary of State may serve notice on an occupier of land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of weeds. If the occupier unreasonably fails to comply with the notice, he or she will be guilty of an offence.

The code will provide a yardstick against which compliance with such a notice can be assessed. That will help both parties, who will know in advance what is considered reasonable action to comply with an enforcement notice, and a person who can show compliance with the code will be in a better position to defend himself against action taken against him under the Weeds Act.

Can the Minister clarify a point that I raised earlier? Who is the occupier of the central reservation of a dual carriageway, or the verge of the Queen's highway?

The point is that whoever is the occupier in any particular circumstances will be the person on whom a notice is served. I understand that in some circumstances the occupier will be the highways authority, while in others it may the local authority. It will depend on local arrangements. I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that there will be no doubt about the application of the Bill in either case.

The Bill is a valuable amendment of and addition to the Weeds Act. I earnestly hope that landowners and occupiers will act to clear ragwort before enforcement proceedings begin. We want to reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved in dealing with the weed. When such measures are necessary, however, the code will clarify the enforcement proceedings and make things more straightforward.

Questions were asked earlier about the code's application only to common ragwort. It does not extend to the other four injurious weeds specified in the Weeds Act—the curled dock, the broadleaved dock, the spear thistle and the creeping or field thistle. Ragwort is the subject of the vast majority of complaints received by DEFRA under the Weeds Act. The fact that the hon. Member for Ryedale has focused on it reflects the concerns of the wider public, particularly horse owners. Just 10 per cent. of the complaints that we receive involve the other four weeds, while each year ragwort generates numerous letters from MPs and members of the public. It has also been the subject of frequent parliamentary debates. In other words, ragwort is the colossus among the five weeds covered by the Weeds Act.

More seriously, ragwort is the only specified weed that poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of animals. We feel that that is where we should concentrate our efforts, and where a code of practice would have the greatest impact. The hon. Member for Ryedale has struck the right chord where priorities are concerned.

I agree with the Minister, especially about the threat to animals, but would it not be sensible to extend the code to enable it to deal with other species in the future? I am thinking particularly of Japanese knotweed, which I mentioned earlier.

I do not think that that would be appropriate, given that we are dealing with a specific element of the Weeds Act and a specific threat to horses. We wanted to co-operate with the hon. Member for Ryedale on this particular issue, and that is what we have done.

On Second Reading, I promised that DEFRA would review the way in which we investigate complaints under the Weeds Act. We are doing that, and will shortly complete the process that will enable us to implement a new approach. I hope to be able to give full details later this month. Our aim is to streamline our procedures, and to focus our efforts more effectively on where the problem is greatest. I am sure that that is the right way in which to eradicate the nuisance caused by ragwort, and the concerns raised with us by organisations such as the British Horse Society, which estimates that several hundred horses die every year as a result of ingesting ragwort. That means misery as well as costs for their owners.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Ryedale would want me to acknowledge, as he did, the role of the British Horse Society in pressing for action and in producing the Bill. It is largely owing to the society's concerns that concern has also mounted in the House, and that the Bill has reached this important stage. I know from the many letters I have received supporting the Bill that not just horse owners but farmers and other members of the rural community will be pleased with its progress. I hope that all landowners and occupiers will find that the code of practice helps them to understand their responsibilities for weed control, and will act on its advice.

I thank all who helped to draw up the code—the British Horse Society, Network Rail, local authorities, English Nature, and the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service. The co-operation shown by that diverse group suggests that the Bill and the code will be widely supported. I also thank the hon. Member for Ryedale for his co-operation, and I commend the Bill.

10.59 am

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I well understand why he would prefer not to be here at this moment but I am glad that he is here to hear people say, "Well done. Congratulations." The House is doing him a favour because, if he were to have caught the 11 o'clock train, he would have been in York in time to lose money on the 2 o'clock. At this rate, we will save him money on the 2.30. He will start losing at about 3 o'clock, or whatever time he gets there.

I support the Bill. I know from experience that ragwort is a real problem. My only reservations are as to whether the Bill will solve the problem as effectively as we all hope it will. When I look at the extent to which the Bill modifies the Weeds Act 1959, I personally think that there are one or two missed opportunities.

I understand why it is that a private Member can only go so far with a Bill. Therefore, I make no criticism of my hon. Friend for not going further. My main concern is that, although the Bill enables more effective court action to be taken by the code of practice being an admissible matter in any court action, it does not make it easier to take court action. The Weeds Act says that any court action must be authorised by the Minister. I would have preferred it if any principal council were able to do so. I accept that some councils are villains but some are not. If we are to tighten up and to use the Bill and the code of practice to take more effective action, the mind boggles at the Minister having to rush around the country signing orders all over the place. That could slow down progress. I would have liked to see some extension to the powers of various authorities to institute court proceedings.

I have not had a chance to talk to the Minister about the work that has been done on the code of practice but I sincerely hope that the main focus of parts of the code will be on the unthinking and the uncaring. I know the problems from bitter experience. I said on Report that I acquired some land. I am not a horse person and therefore do not keep horses on it. I am here so much of the time that I have not been able to keep any animals on it. Therefore, it seemed sensible to have a hay crop.

I had the misfortune to have someone next door who could not care less. The weeds just grew and the wind blew. If one is growing hay, the wretched stuff does not appear until it is very big and over the top of the crop. The problems of getting it out and of complying, if one cares about it, are enormous. I can assure hon. Members that my efforts with a fork to get the wretched stuff out was no happy experience. Therefore, I hope that the focus of attention will be on those who let their land run amok and just let the stuff grow, and that those who are already trying to do something, even if what they try to do is not as effective as some people would like, are not singled out. The real targets lie elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) asked why the measure applies only to England and Wales and not to Scotland, with his horses going to and fro. Unless the Scottish Parliament acts, we will do something in England and horses can be poisoned effectively a mile up the road. Earlier, comment was made about consulting with the Irish Government. I do not want to reopen the issue that I was tempted to reopen, but the measure does not apply to Northern Ireland. The point has been made about the Irish horse industry. If we are not to take the same view of the situation in Northern Ireland, particularly with Stormont suspended at the moment, are we missing an opportunity to do something in that part of the United Kingdom, too?

There is just one other thing that I cannot resist the temptation to mention. I think that it is the lot of most hon. Members to be bombarded from time to time by organisations that want to preserve the world as it is. My mailbag, postcards, e-mails, telephone calls and surgeries are full of people saying, "Please leave the countryside alone." It is interesting that no one, not even the great carers for the past and our heritage, have leapt to the defence of ragwort, saying, "It is part of our heritage, leave it alone." If that voice is silent, if those who would have us not do anything else ever again to upset the countryside are not prepared to jump to the defence of ragwort, it is entirely proper that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale is doing what he is doing. I congratulate him and wish the Bill well.

11.05 am

This could go down as the potential title of a J.K. Rowling novel: "John Greenway and the Ragwort Menace." I congratulate the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) on the way in which he has dealt with the Bill. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister not only for his positive approach to the Bill but for being proactive and dealing with some of the issues at an early stage.

I chastised the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) earlier but having listened to his Third Reading speech I could find barely a word with which to disagree. Clearly, he has learnt his lesson from his acquisition of land 10 years ago. I was going to offer him the services of Mrs. Miller, who could identify the plants on his land for him. I am sure that her price would be lower than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).

If the hon. Gentleman is offering the services of Mrs. Miller to help to dig the wretched stuff out, can she come round with her fork this afternoon?

No. Biological identification was what I was considering but, on a serious point, we should encourage landowners to look carefully at DEFRA's website, where the identification leaflet can be seen, including some pictures and line drawings of the plant. The hon. Gentleman is right. There are a lot of new landowners, people buying parcels of land, speculating about its future use in terms of construction and in some cases not looking after it terribly well.

I see the hon. Member for Ryedale acknowledging that. It is proving a problem where we have people who do not have the traditional husbandry skills and do not recognise the plant at an early stage. As a small landowner, I am in exactly the same position as the hon. Member for Spelthorne.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Tories do not have custodianship of the countryside. Considerably more Labour MPs fit the bill there. I say seriously to him and to landowners that, having taken care to identify the nature of the plant, one way of dealing with it—he is right that, if one leaves it until the grass is at the level of hay, it is a serious problem—is to get at it earlier. Walk the fields much earlier.

I will not. I do not want to go on for too long.

Inspect the fields very early and pull the weed at a very early stage. The alternative control methods raise some interesting points. There has been some interesting work on the use of the cinnabar moth, flea beetles and so on—biological control agents. I referred earlier to a paper published in Australia, where that is described in great detail. Those can be an effective biological control agent. Where there are horses on the land or nearby, the most effective method is pulling.

Herbicides can be used, and the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) may be familiar with a paper written in New Zealand not long ago that evaluated the trials of sulfonyl urea herbicide in some detail. That commercial product proved effective in respect of spot killing, but dangerous for widespread use on pasture because of the damage to the underlying grass. I urge landowners to concentrate on the physical methods, which are the most effective. But there are fallbacks, in terms of carefully controlled herbicides, that can be used. I should prefer the former method. We need more research on the biological control agents, and that will now start.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ryedale on proposing a particularly important Bill, given the change in ownership of land in the countryside. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that the code is in force at the earliest possible opportunity.

11.11 am

I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I see the Members whose Bills are next on the Order Paper are sitting in the Chamber. It was useful to hear the Minister's speech on Third Reading, in which he fleshed out what will be in the code of practice; we look forward to seeing it. The Minister is modest, because he is also Minister for the horse, which sounds like an 18th century court title. That is better than Roman emperors who used to make their horses ministers—[Interruption.] I suspect that was my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) disagreeing.

I am sure that I speak for everyone when I say that we are grateful for the support and help that the Government have given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) in proposing his Bill and in taking it through the House. We wish it speedy progress in the other place. I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about my debut at the Dispatch Box. By the end of the day, I shall be a veteran, because I am covering quite a lot of subjects. In opposition, we can handle these matters with one person, while the Government need several Ministers.

I shall end by saying that the entire rural community is grateful to my hon. Friend who, as I said earlier, is the hero of the horse world. I shall end with a quote from Kay Driver, chief executive of the British Horse Society, who said:
"This society has campaigned hard for the past five years for effective control of ragwort. It is the responsibility of every landowner to control ragwort and we hope that this Bill is the first step in ensuring that they recognise the need for that control. We are indebted to Mr. Greenway for his support for the Bill."
So is the House, and I hope that my hon. Friend can now catch his train and at least get to the latter half of the racing at York.

11.13 am

I can hear my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) sigh as the prospect of lunch disappears over the horizon. I am sure that the bar will still be open by the time he gets to the racing.

I genuinely congratulate my hon. Friend on this important Bill. I accept that it could have been stronger and that he would have liked it to be stronger. I am sure that my local branch of the National Farmers Union would back that, as well as those who are involved with horses. My constituency has a large number of horse owners and a local authority that is aware of the problem because it uses its property for cutting hay. I have cattle and dairy farmers in my area but, being close to London, we also have a number of very small landowners.

The problem is that ignorance can come with that. If one has horses—or hay, like the local authority—next to a small section of land that has become progressively dominated by ragwort, and the owner shrugs his shoulders and says, "So What?"—that has happened to me, and to the RSPCA and the local authority—one ends up feeling hopeless. We now have a code of practice and an opportunity to press the Minister. For once, I hope that when the season comes around the Minister is not reshuffled, so that we can approach him directly. I hope that he will remember his words and his almost-promises and that we can count on action. That action will be on the basis of the Bill going through, as I sincerely hope it will, and on the code of practice that comes from it.

I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale enjoys what is left of the day, even if it is just the evening.

11.15 am

I shall be brief, and I draw the attention of the House to my entries in the Register concerning agriculture and agricultural land.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, may I say how much we welcome the Bill? I congratulate the hon. Member for Ryedale on his work; certainly horse owners in Wales will be grateful for his efforts on their behalf, as will the broader population of the countryside.

Landowners have a responsibility to keep their land free from ragwort, particularly where horses can enter that land; sometimes that entry is accidental and everyone has a responsibility in these matters.

As I travelled down from Wales yesterday, on the English side of the Severn bridge people were vigorously digging up ragwort; at least I took it to be ragwort. That drew to my attention the fact that the Bill affects England and Wales. However, the Bill amends the Weeds Act 1959, an Act that was subject to a transfer order to the National Assembly for Wales. Perhaps the Minister could write to me on this point. Will the code that he intends to produce cover England and Wales or is the code just for England?

As I understand it, the Weeds Act is a devolved matter and the Bill amends a devolved Act.

The code of practice is intended for England and Wales. That was the basis of consultation, and is a matter that we discussed with the Assembly.

I am pleased to get that assurance. This is the first time I have taken part in debates on the Bill, but I am extremely supportive of it. Will the Minister add the Farmers Union of Wales to his list of consultees in drawing up the code, because obviously it would like to make an input? I wish the Bill well, and I am sure that it will make a major contribution to the countryside of England and Wales.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order to wish my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale a safe journey to York racecourse, to ask him if he has a good tip for the four o'clock and, if he gets there on time, to put a few quid on for us?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not expect the Chair to comment on such matters.

Household Waste Recycling Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 1

Power To Apply Section 45A To Welsh Waste Collection Authorities

'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.

    New Clause 3

    Definitions

    'In this Act garden waste shall not be included within "household waste".'.— [Sir Paul Beresford.]

    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 the following amendments:

    No. 7, in clause 1 page 1, line 13, leave out paragraph (a).

    No. 10, in clause 1 page 1, line 15, leave out 'two types' and insert 'one type'.

    No. 6, in clause 1 page 1, line 17, at end insert—
    '() For the purposes of subsection (3) above the types shall be—
  • paper waste;
  • metal food or drinks containers;
  • glass food or drinks containers;
  • plastic;
  • textile fabrics or clothes.'.
  • No. 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 19 leave out '2010' and insert '2007'.

    No. 11, in clause 1, page 1, line 19 leave out '2010' and insert '2015'.

    No. 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 5 leave out '2015' and insert '2010'.

    No. 12, in clause 1 page 2, line 5 leave out '2015' and insert '2020'.

    No. 8, in clause 1, page 2, line 7 leave out 'or composted'.

    The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) knows me well from when we did battle, in reverse position, on these matters. She knows that I am a supporter of recycling. I come from a county that is a leading light on zero waste and the techniques and methods of recycling. I do not know whether there are any incinerators there, though it looks as though there is an attempt to place one in my constituency, which is a great bother to me and the residents nearby. However, I have tabled the new clause as a probing one to give the Minister an opportunity to assist us and to recognise—as one would expect from someone in his Department—that there are both urban and rural areas, and urban and rural reactions to Bills such as this.

    When I examined a research paper from the Library, I was particularly disturbed to find that household waste included garden waste. If one has a couple of window boxes and a handkerchief garden out the back, probably mostly paved, the garden waste proportion put out for recycling is pretty small and the opportunity to recycle there on the patch is also pretty small. I have watched what has happened in one of the two local authorities with which I am associated, and Friends of the Earth got rather upset about the problem that I deal with in the new clause. The organisation obviously did not talk to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, who would have explained that these were probing provisions with no real intention to stop the Bill. The reaction was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) has already mentioned, a flurry of e-mails. People were calmed when I responded to them.

    One e-mail made an important point. The author was disappointed because she originally anticipated that I was attempting to stop the Bill. She said:
    "Here in your constituency we are trying and trying to increase our recycling percentage as we should be. The holes on the ground are full up and Surrey has more waste than any other counties in England"—
    though I am not sure that she is right about that.
    "On the doorsteps in our wards we meet residents who have waste from the gardens that need to go to Randalls Road"—
    or the dump, as we used to call it when I was a child—
    "for composting. All those cars queuing up along Randalls Road at the weekends, polluting Mole Valley's atmosphere while they take their sacks to the tip. We are working to increase the percentage we recycle, through doorstep collections. At the moment our residents have to pay for their green sacks (which is ridiculous) for it to go to composting. To have it collected from home makes sense, as does recycling plastics."
    As I see it—and I believe that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford would confirm this—the drive of the Bill is to hit the things that are really difficult to recycle, and to emphasise to those doing the recycling and those providing the opportunity for materials to be recycled, that it is the plastics, the metals, rubber and other such materials, some of which are covered by further amendments, that need to be targeted.

    In a constituency such as mine, if one wanted to lift the recycling level—and could put expenses completely to one side—one would concentrate on collecting garden waste. Before the local elections, Guildford council, then under Liberal control, did exactly that. It had a doorstep collection of garden waste as a pilot for an area in Guildford, which dramatically lifted the percentage of recycling.

    In my constituency, my own neck of the woods, is an area where there used to be an oak plantation. It is easy to tell that it is ancient by looking at the trees, some of which are bent in such a way as to form the wood for ships—obviously no longer needed. Many but not all of the oaks have gone. In respect of my own garden—here I declare an interest—I would be delighted if the Liberal idea from the Liberal councillor, to collect all our garden waste, were implemented. In the autumn or fall, the oak trees—I have three in my garden: two about 150 years old and one 450 years old—deposit vast quantities of oak leaves on the ground. I really mean vast quantities. I estimate that one tree produces about 31 cubic yards of leaves.

    I should be delighted if the council would take them, and I would be even more than delighted if it would take them for free. It takes me a good day to sweep them up, put them into bags and compost them. If I could stick them out the front, I could fill one or two trucks without any difficulty. That does not apply only to my house, but to every single house in the street. We need to recognise how the figures can be distorted and that many local authorities take composting exceptionally seriously by approaching it in a different way. Mole Valley district council is taking an approach to garden waste that is different from the approach of the Liberals in control of Guildford. It is trying to make people aware of the opportunities for composting on their own properties. The council provides, at low cost, special bins and know-how—it practically holds composting parties at the weekends. The roads are covered with signs protesting expansion at Gatwick airport, but under those signs are ones saying "Compost teach-in". That approach is starting to work.

    As a result, the local authority's percentage figures for composting will go down. I raised that issue under the best value indicators, and the Minister was a bit nonplussed. I got an answer, but it was inadequate.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that I agree entirely with what he says. What he describes is clearly the best environmental option and should be encouraged, but there is nothing in the Bill that would stop a council adopting the approach that he describes. We would all favour doing much more of what he proposes.

    I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and I would have been surprised if she had not said that. However, the Bill might be used by some local authorities and councillors to turn the system. It would be useful if we could get a sensible answer from the Minister, explaining his approach. The disposal of garden waste and composting are important, but they can be achieved in other ways. However, the drive of the Bill must be to recycle glass, paper, rubber, metals and, especially, plastics. That is the point of my amendment.

    I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned plastics. The arrangements made by local authorities for the collection of plastics vary greatly. One of the excuses that many local authorities use is that the markets do not exist for the recycling of plastic materials. My understanding is that that is a misinterpretation of the case and that local authorities are not aware of the markets that are available. Plastics are bulky, especially the bottles containing soft drinks and the like, even when disposed of in normal domestic waste. At home, I try to put out our plastic bottles separately and it is surprising how much room is left in the bin for other items. It makes a tremendous difference. If my hon. Friend cannot address that issue, perhaps the Minister can do so when he responds to the debate.

    11.45 am

    The other point that my hon. Friend did not touch on is the expense to the local authority of dealing with plastics, quite apart from the difficulty of disposing of them. Many of the plastic bottles have a different type of plastic in the top, so I hope that my hon. Friend takes the tops off the bottles he puts out, to make separation easier. That is an example of the real difficulties that recycling can present. Mole Valley has gone into the issue in detail and has set up special arrangements to tackle it—the composting of garden waste aside—and I applaud it for that. It takes courage to do that, although the council also provides the collection that the Liberal Democrat council is promoting.

    Because of the cost, Mole Valley charges £l for a green bag, although the bags are free for the elderly, people who have not got cars and those who live in rural villages. The other difficulty that I hope the Minister recognises is that in charging £1 the local authority is also subsidised by an environmental trust grant and has had to work in conjunction with Longbridge council next door to meet the demands and costs of the scheme. The council is unlikely to receive back the costs of the scheme, so the blithe reaction by local Liberal Democrats in rural areas—the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford will understand that emphatically—is the wrong approach. Those individuals need to recognise that what they intend to do would severely damage the pockets of people in rural areas, to no good advantage.

    The opportunity to promote composting at home must be the right approach. I accept that if I lived in Deptford, and had a large window box and a small garden, composting might be difficult, but individuals in that situation can try an internet site called Wiggly Wigglers, which breeds worms for composting and supplies the necessary equipment to compost almost everything that is organic in the back garden, even if it is tiny. In theory, therefore, all peelings and other kitchen waste can be shoved into a Wiggly Wigglers bin. Perhaps I should not promote Wiggly Wigglers, because I do not know the company personally, but many other groups and local authorities provide the same service.

    If we took the approach suggested by the Liberal Democrats—for their own propaganda reasons—we should recognise that it would affect the council tax. The council tax in my area has just gone up exorbitantly, for a variety of reasons that I shall not go into because I would be ruled out of order. If Mole Valley district council were to include garden waste in its recycling service without charge, to follow the trend promoted by the local Liberal Democrat councils, the council tax would be unbelievably high. One of the biggest factors in the increase in the local council tax in Mole Valley was that it had to resubmit the contract for waste collection, and costs went up dramatically.

    As I have said, I would love to have my oak leaves collected, but we will discuss shortly the High Hedges (No. 2) Bill, and that would mean an enormous increase in the amount of hedge trimmings. Grass cuttings would be another problem. In my street, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, everybody cuts the grass and the cuttings would probably fill one collection truck. I hate to think how much that would cost. In fact, what happens in reality is that people compost grass cuttings, because they have been to the local authority's teach-ins and have set up a composting area in their back garden. Some people may even have some live worms from Wiggly Wigglers to put in the compost to speed up the whole process. That must be the positive way forward.

    My hon. Friend makes a good point. Surely it is absurd that we should even be considering creating much more waste by ludicrously cutting down loads of hedges that are good for the environment, and then place duties on local government to get rid of the material.

    I entirely agree. However, I recognise that if I move into that area, I will get my wrists slapped.

    I am concerned that with recycling targets and so forth there seems to be an indication—the Minister can confirm or deny this—that the Government will take into account the proportions of the waste that are incinerated in such a way as to provide energy. To my mind, that is exceptionally difficult. I recognise that there is probably a percentage of household waste that may have to be incinerated. Huge efforts are being made by individuals, groups of people and Governments throughout the world to try to ensure that that does not happen. There is zero waste from the antipodes.

    It will not help if the Government continue as they are, as I understand it, and take energy from waste and insinuate that that is part of recycling. Given my personal situation, matters are made worse in that the Government have agreed to allow an incinerator in the countryside, or have given a nod to the local authority. However, that is another issue.

    I have already referred to amendment No. 8, which relates to composting.

    I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to amendment No. 7, which stands in his name. I am anxious to hear an argument in favour of removing the provision that makes the authority consider whether the cost is "unreasonably high".

    I am almost going to thank my hon. Friend. However, in the past, in various Committees, for example, the boot has been on the other foot. My hon. Friend has introduced amendments and new clauses that have not always won support from me. If he supported amendment No. 7, that would lead to some difficulty. I will not be pushing the amendment.

    I thought for a moment that my hon. Friend was suggesting that I had tabled amendment No. 7. I was wanting to disagree with it.

    It may be that I shall end up disagreeing with myself on that amendment. I will not be pushing it. Unfortunately, in putting the amendments together, and in my discussions with my researcher, my understanding of the English language was not sufficient. As a result, amendment No. 7 was included. I suspect that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford was smiling all over her face the moment she saw the amendment. It would be just about the last one that I would move in this place.

    As my hon. Friend has explained, these are probing amendments. Amendment No. 7 allows us to discuss the cost of the Bill to councils. It is a useful probing device.

    I thank my hon. Friend for his attempt to rescue me. I fear that I am being rescued from a boat that looks more like a sieve.

    My hon. Friend should not be so concerned about what he has done. If he had not tabled the amendment, it would not have been possible for us to refer to the marvellous and sterling work on value for money that he did in local government. I am sure that that is why he tabled the amendment. I am delighted to commend him.

    I think that we have reached the point of desperation. I shall move on to amendment No. 5, which, again, is a probing amendment. I would like to know why the year 2020 has been chosen. One of the things that I know about is value for money, and one of the ways of obtaining it, especially for local authorities, is using contractors. I have chosen 2010 rather than 2015 because it is a point at which most of the contracts would have come up for reconsideration at least once. The issue on which local authorities will be reflecting can be installed, as it were, in the new contracts as they go out. The House will be aware that contracts, especially for collection, although not necessarily for waste, mostly run for five or seven years. I recognise that some contracts for disposal run for 25 years or more.

    One would hope that the intellect of those drawing up those contracts would have provided for sufficient flexibility to allow a reaction to Bills such as this. I suspect that there is a possibility that that is not so, having examined Surrey county council's movements and actions with the county council contractor who will be disposing of waste. If we followed the lead of Surrey county council, we could be looking desperately to fill an incinerator. Demand could be put upon us as local council tax payers to fill these blessed incinerators when what we should be doing, and are doing, as can be seen today, is moving towards recycling. Possibly the judicial review that hit the incinerator plans in Mole Valley and therefore in Surrey, has brought the county council up short. It will be able to reflect on what we are saying today, and on what many of us have being saying for a considerable time, which is that recycling is appropriate and can provide much of the disposal that we seek along with a positive approach, bearing in mind that some of the materials that we want to recycle are finite. Both technically and in reality, we are going to run out of many materials that enable us to make plastic from oil.

    Bearing that in mind, as well as the fact that these are probing amendments, I hope that the Minister will respond positively to some of the points that I am trying to get across. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford may think that I am being tongue-in-cheek, but my amendments, as she will know from experience, are not. They are probing and thoughtful, tabled in the hope that we can get a more sensible, thoughtful and forward-looking reaction from the Minister that deals with rural areas, rather than just urban ones.

    I shall deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) from the Government's perspective, but I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) may have her own views.

    The hon. Member for Mole Valley asked what is being done to find markets for plastics. If we are to encourage recycling and re-use, we have to promote markets, and the Government take that very seriously. The economics of recycling plastics is much more problematic than that of other parts of the waste stream, but that does not mean that we cannot tackle the issue. The Government and devolved Administrations have set up the Waste and Resources Action Programme—WRAP—which is designed to tackle market barriers to increased recycling. WRAP has identified plastics as a priority area in its business plan to 2003–04. One of its priorities is marketing existing recycled plastic products and removing discriminatory standards, and that is linked to the development of policies on bio-recycled materials and a research and development programme to develop plastics recycling technology and support composite product development—I have seen one or two examples of that.

    One of WRAP's targets is achieving a 20,000 tonne increase in mixed plastics processing for industrial products by 2003–04, and it intends to award a grant to address the lack of infrastructure for sorting and processing plastics in the UK. Finance is therefore available to set up infrastructure to deal with the problem.

    Do the Government believe that recycling should be undertaken even if it costs extra, particularly for materials such as plastics, or do they believe that recycling should not be more costly for local authorities than disposing of, for example, plastics through landfill or incineration?

    The Government have established a waste disposal hierarchy, at the top of which is waste minimisation. If we can minimise waste, that takes a lot of pressure off the problem of disposal. The next level in the hierarchy is recycling and re-use. Incineration is next to bottom on the hierarchy, and at the very bottom is landfill, which itself involves costs. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point—of course, recycling involves costs that may be higher than those for landfill. However, the increased amount of waste that we are producing is simply not sustainable, so we have to tackle it by introducing a range of measures, including support, regulation and targets, to reduce the waste going to landfill. We are committed to doing so, because there is a great deal more to do about this serious problem. The Government strongly welcome the measures in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford, which help us to try to address that problem.

    My hon. Friend is right that it is not just a question of the costs of recycling: there may be energy and transport costs as well. We must also remember the depletion of raw materials and their replacement. That is an important issue—we must reuse things whenever we can. Plastics are one problem, and aluminium is another particularly acute one, given the costs of aluminium mining.

    12 noon

    My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Energy costs and materials used need to be taken into account. There is real potential here for a re-use and recycling industry. There is enormous potential in terms of new technologies, new industries and new companies. They are being developed now, and to give such industries a boost, complementary measures, such as landfill tax and others relating to targeting, are needed. There is no denying that there is a cost to recycling, but given the range of benefits, environmentally and in the re-use of materials, and in the development of new technologies, industries and materials for the future, it is more than justified.

    I am sure that it was an oversight, but the Minister failed to touch on the prospect of using alternatives as a form of prevention. Plastic is used extensively and we could use alternatives. The plastic disposable equipment used by the medical and dental professions, in the NHS or privately, is outrageously expensive. It is used once and then thrown away. For some equipment, such as needles, there is a health reason for that, but frequently other items, such as capules, can be made out of glass, used to be made out of glass and in some cases are still made out of glass. We need to make the effort to use alternatives and I hope that the Government will lead on that.

    I accept that there is a case for alternatives to the use of plastics and for the development of non-oil-based alternatives. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the Government are sponsoring work on alternative crops at the Central Science Laboratory in York. One area of research is into using sugars to develop biodegradable plastics, along with a range of other crops. At the royal show, I was struck by a jacket that appeared to be denim but was made out of nettle stems. Such industry crops and alternatives have tremendous potential in terms of biodegradability. We take seriously the replacement of finite oil-based products with renewable resources and we support research into that.

    Unfortunately, we are not there yet. I understand that reprocessing firms can take only one form of plastic and many other forms are thrown away. I imagine that the local councils will have to do the sorting themselves, and I am concerned about the extra costs that will be placed on rural authorities. What extra burdens will be placed on local authorities, such as those in our part of Lincolnshire, which has a sparse population, in collecting all that plastic?

    I accept that point, which the Bill recognises by giving local authorities flexibility in applying kerbside recycling measures. In the hon. Gentleman's area and parts of my own on the boundary with his constituency there are tiny isolated communities where the cost of such measures would be disproportionate. There are other ways of addressing this. My local authority of North Lincolnshire has set up excellent recycling sites. It is true that people have to travel to them, but at one, adjacent to my village, there are facilities for the separation of a range of waste streams, including textiles, metal, former electrical equipment, rubble and green waste. I use that site myself and it is much appreciated. Such sites do not exist in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, which is why we have had some problems with his constituents using our sites, although the problem of people travelling across borders to use facilities is not unique to our area. I urge him to encourage the Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire county council to provide similar facilities. I suggested to North Lincolnshire that it should speak to Lincolnshire county council about cost sharing, as the facility is important for the whole area.

    While the Minister is urging Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire county council to provide more facilities in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), will he also urge Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council to provide some facilities in the Derbyshire Dales area, where they would be very welcome?

    That shows why it is sometimes dangerous for Ministers to go down such paths. We are keen to encourage all local authorities to improve waste collection and recycling facilities. Of course, the Bill is a great help in getting local authorities to focus on those matters. A lot more needs to be done and it is true that different local authorities have different records. We want the records of the worst to be brought up to the same standard as those of the best, and we want to work with the Local Government Association in seeking to promote the issue.

    To return to the amendments, I was saying that WRAP's target is to achieve a 20,000 tonne increase in mixed-plastics processing for industrial products by 2003–04. As I mentioned, it intends to award grants that should result in diversion from the waste stream of an additional 20,000 tonnes per annum of post-consumer plastic bottles. Plastics recycling is popular and the message is increasingly being received and acted on by local authorities as an appropriate response to local pressure.

    One significant company to which I spoke when it came to exhibit at my exhibition of companies dealing in recyclates told me an extraordinary story. It said that it was importing plastic bottles in bulk from the continent to keep its processes going. Let me underline to my hon. Friend the fact that there is real scope for greater collection.

    I am amazed and quite disturbed to hear that that is happening, but it demonstrates the point that my hon. Friend is making. While I would not pretend that there are no costs to recycling—nor would I pretend at the moment that the landfill option is cheaper—I acknowledge that we need to change the whole economics and dynamics of the situation. It is outrageous that a company should be importing plastic bottles for processing when we should be separating them from the waste stream and dealing with them ourselves.

    I am not sure that that is outrageous. After all, waste disposal is a global problem. If recycling technology and recycling companies in Britain are ahead of the game and are importing waste from other countries, surely it benefits the planet on which we live.

    That is an interesting point, but I shall stick with my assertion: it is outrageous that we should let other countries apply such principles while not applying them ourselves. Incidentally, we want to develop a home-based industry in recycling and alternative use. There is potential for establishing one, and the measures before us are part of that approach.

    Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 seek to change the limited exemptions for which the Bill provides to a requirement that all waste collection authorities collect at least two types of recyclate. The exemptions currently in the Bill amount to a test of reasonable access—a point that I made to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh)—so the requirement applies except where the cost is unreasonably high or where comparable arrangements are available. I touched on examples in that regard that I think are reasonable and pragmatic.

    I should like to put a point on the record for the sake of local authorities in rural areas. Assuming that the Bill completes its passage and becomes an Act of Parliament, will a very rural authority such as West Lindsey, which currently does not have enough resources even to collect bin liners from people's homes—residents have to put them at the bottom of their drives—be able to point to the clause and say "This is all very well and we'd like to do it, but we simply cannot afford to do so" in the knowledge that that will be the end of the story?

    I would not wish to present the matter in that light, which I might say was rather negative. The provisions will encourage local authorities to have the flexibility to apply the waste and recycling measures that are most appropriate in their areas. Indeed, an example from Wales was also cited. It is certainly true that rural areas have particular problems—for example, small communities and houses with long drives. I have such areas in my constituency, and I know all about the time that it takes to walk up drives to knock on doors and the difficulty of finding people on the electoral roll. However, there can be alternatives. I gave the example of recycling centres that people can travel to; that is more cost-effective. Local authorities should address the issues in the most cost-effective and reasonable way, and they are being given the flexibility to do that.

    I am grateful to both hon. Gentlemen. In the case that my hon. Friend mentions, refuse collection already takes place. There is a danger that it may then be argued that it is unreasonable to collect separated rubbish from the same point.

    My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I do not know whether my example would apply in the constituency of the hon. Member for Mole Valley. It might be possible to have a larger vehicle for the weekly waste collection round—unless the current size is the maximum currently possible—with separate compartments to allow the normal rubbish collection to go in one compartment and recyclates for separated waste streams in another. That will not work in all areas, but the system can be adapted by local councillors, who are the best people to know about their own particular circumstances and needs. We want to encourage local councils actively to think about solutions, not to say that they are too difficult or expensive.

    The Minister is responding to my new clause as I hoped that he would. I am sick and tired in my area of listening to Liberal councillors whose knee-jerk reaction is to expect the local council to do it—"To hell with the cost" to use the phrase of one in particular—and to land the cost on the council taxpayer. Then, when it comes to setting the council tax, they blame independent and Conservative councillors for setting a high council tax. Alternative approaches—I particularly mentioned my oak trees—are vital. It will be helpful if I can take the Minister's words back with me to quieten the knee-jerk reaction of these local councillors in trying to further their own cause without thinking of the consequences.

    As the hon. Gentleman will know, I cannot comment on any individual councils or their circumstances. [Interruption.] I can comment on the circumstances of my own local council, as I know it pretty well—I would be a poor MP if I did not.

    In general terms, the Bill provides flexibility of approach. We as a Government are keen to encourage local councils to address seriously waste minimisation and recycling. Indeed, we are introducing measures such as the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill, which sets targets and caps on landfill. Local councils will have to take that seriously, and they know it. We want good examples to be applied across the country to all councils on the basis of the needs and requirements of their own areas.

    The Minister mentioned the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill, which deals with matters such as biodegradable municipal waste, including composting. We do not yet have a date for its return to this House from Committee. Yesterday, the Leader of the House said that it is in the Lords, which suggests that he is not quite certain of the facts. Can the Minister give us some guidance?

    I cannot give exact dates, as that is a matter for the business managers and the Leader of the House, but it is a Government Bill, we are committed to it, and it will proceed in due course.

    Amendment No. 7—[Interruption.] I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Mole Valley is not keen on that. Let us move on to amendment No. 10, which would change the requirement to collect at least two sorts of recyclates separately to only one sort. That is not ambitious in view of the need to reduce waste and encourage recycling, about which I hope all hon. Members agree.

    12.15 pm

    Hon. Members will recall the need to fulfil the landfill diversion directive requirements. We landfill more waste and recycle far less than most of the rest of Europe and we must increase doorstep collection to meet our recycling targets. That is a serious matter. Fifty-eight per cent. of households already have separate collections of at least one sort of recyclate and we must ensure that the Bill helps us to progress.

    We considered balance and recognised the need to encourage better performance without allowing collection systems to outstrip markets. We therefore believe that a minimum of two sorts of materials was a fair balance. We hope that many local authorities will collect more than two sorts. It is not compulsory to collect only two; we want as many sorts as possible to be collected.

    The Bill deals with the end of the problem. What pressure are the Government putting on companies to use less packaging? That is one of the biggest challenges. Waste collection is the responsibility of local authorities but some people put what appears to be a huge amount of packaging around small items and that is a large part of the problem.

    I freely acknowledge that. Companies come within the ambit of the packaging directive and there are increasing incentives for them to reduce packaging. They also have to pay landfill tax through commercial waste collections. This week, I saw a waste collection centre in Bristol for trade waste. It charges a slightly lower rate when traders separate the cardboard and packaging, thus enabling recycling to happen. I re-emphasise that waste minimisation is first in the waste hierarchy. That applies to packaging.

    We are keen to encourage as many different recyclates as possible. One sort does not go far enough. Amendment No. 6 covers the possibility of listing in the Bill the materials that a local authority should collect separately. We do not believe that it is helpful to be so prescriptive. The market that a local authority can find for the material is what matters. We are giving support to encourage that. The materials that local authorities collect need to adapt to those markets; they will change as technology changes, A list that is appropriate now may not be in future.

    We need to ensure that the material is properly recyclable. The Bill states that the material must be capable of being recycled or composted. Whether a material is considered to be of the same type or recyclate as another depends on the way in which it is recycled and used later. For example, we are clear that it is not sufficient for a local authority to collect two colours of glass and count them as two types. However, paper or wood count as two distinct types.

    Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 11 and 12 give a range of options for dates. That suggests that the dates for which the Bill provides are about right. The Government would be delighted if authorities could implement the provisions by 2007. There is nothing to stop them doing so if they choose. The fact that 58 per cent. of households already have a doorstep collection of at least one type of recyclate shows that people take the matter seriously. However, it takes time to establish the infrastructure and plans for efficient, successful doorstep collection schemes. Some local authorities may have other means of fulfilling statutory recycling targets. They therefore need time to change them.

    Amendment No. 8 would provide that compostable waste was not considered as a type of waste to be collected for recycling I understood the point about leaves and hedge clippings. There is nothing to stop people composting in their garden. Many people do that, including me. We need to encourage composting, and biodegradable waste—all compostable waste is biodegradable—is a vital part of the waste stream to tackle. That is the subject of the landfill directed diversion targets, because biodegradable waste forms methane in landfill sites.

    About 65 per cent. of the waste stream is biodegradable, and a large proportion of that is compostable. Compost, when processed, can be beneficial for conditioning the soil. I agree that home composting is important, and this provision should not discourage it. I reassure hon. Members that home composting will not be an alternative to the collection of a recyclate, and we would expect local authorities to promote it as a form of waste minimisation.

    New clause 3 would exclude garden waste from the description of household waste in the Bill. This occurs only in the context of its usage in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, where household waste is defined in section 75(5) and (8). The purpose is to ensure that one of the recyclates collected is not garden waste, and I can give some reassurance to the hon. Member for Mole Valley on that point. I understand his concern about this. It is true that, when local authorities provide a separate collection of garden waste, it tends to increase waste arisings, which runs counter to the need to minimise them. However, I am not convinced that we should deal with the issue prescriptively in the Bill.

    There are occasions on which the separate collection of garden waste is sustainable. The first choice of method for dealing with such waste would be home composting, but if householders were unable or unwilling to home compost, or if they had reached their capacity, it would be better for this stream to be collected separately. That is because it can then be composted and returned to beneficial use, rather than contributing to the formation of methane in landfill sites. I agree that there always seems to be more waste in separate collections than there would have been in a mixed collection, even when the same amount of home composting is going on.

    There is a balance to be struck between increasing waste arising, which is unsustainable, and dealing appropriately with waste. We think that the Bill has struck the right balance. I hope that I have dealt with the amendments in sufficient detail for hon. Members and I encourage the movers of the amendments to withdraw them.

    I would also like to comment on the amendments, all of which I oppose. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) for saying that they are only probing amendments, and it is valuable to have them. I became slightly anxious about the way in which he kept telling the House how well we knew each other. For the sake of clarity, I should say that he was once a Minister and I was his opposition.

    We have had a useful debate on these issues. In relation to new clause 3 and amendment No. 8—in which the hon. Gentleman seeks to remove garden waste from the provisions—I want to make it clear that the Bill deals with compostable waste, which covers more than just garden waste. We have some difficulty at the moment because there are issues relating to regulations on food safety and composting that have still to be debated and resolved. Compostable waste would include kitchen waste.

    The hon. Gentleman put forward a strong argument about the best environmental options available to be adopted by councils, and I entirely concur with that. I confess to having some difficulties with my home composter in the inner city area of Lewisham, Deptford, and I might take advice from the hon. Gentleman afterwards on how to improve my performance. I am with him on the argument that home composting is the most appropriate method. Perhaps in the kind of area that he represents, where people have very large gardens, and very large green waste arisings, it is most appropriate that they should compost them in their own home and on their own ground.

    Councils would do well to publicise how that could be done, and to help people to do it. Although I grew up with market gardening grandparents, I, like most people, have forgotten everything that I knew about dealing with the land, and with waste, in a natural way. We need education on these issues, and it is appropriate for councils to invest in such education to help us all to do better. As the Minister has suggested, there are circumstances in which the collection of green waste can be sustainable. For that reason, it would be wrong to exclude garden waste.

    The Bill has been designed to try to give local authorities real options on how they conduct their business and how to make the collection of recyclable materials most sustainable in their own communities. I want them to have flexibility and choice. I assure the hon. Member for Mole Valley that his amendment No. 7 is unnecessary—he was embarrassed to find that he had tabled it—as the Bill would build on the 1990 Act, which requires the collection of waste. However, that legislation allows for authorities not to collect waste if that is too difficult and unreasonably costly, although most Members will have little experience of households that do not have their waste collected.

    Where households have such a collection, the imperative, if the Bill is passed, will be for local authorities to examine how to make collections of recyclables in addition to the collection of regular waste, which they now undertake. The Bill makes no prescription for the doorstep, although we had a long debate about that. It expects that there will be a collection of the recyclates from the point at which the householder currently has his or her waste collected. That clarifies our expectations for the record.

    Some householders, particularly in my experience in the inner city, have to bring the rubbish from their flats down to the collecting point at the base of the tower block. They will continue to do that under these new provisions, but they will also important.

    The hon. Member for Mole Valley introduced amendment No. 5 to ask why 2020 has been chosen, but 2020 does not figure in the Bill. The major proposal provides for local authorities to undertake the new duties by 31 December 2010 at the latest. All that is permitted is the possibility of their being a circumstance in which the local authority could go to the Secretary of State and of there being a dispensation, which would have to be agreed. We think that that is extremely unlikely to happen, but the provision is there to reassure local authorities that they would at least be permitted to make their case if achieving that target were utterly impossible, although I cannot foresee circumstances in which that would occur. That is all the Bill says about such circumstances, and the relevant date is 2015.

    I believe, and I think that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees, that the powers that we want local authorities to exercise over collecting two separated recyclates by 2010 are entirely reasonable and practicable. I expect, further, that a local authority that sees its way to collecting two recyclates will probably go for three or four. That is how things work once local authorities have decided to put the infrastructure in place. They respond to the demand that comes, such as that from my constituents. We have had but a partial collection service in our borough, although it is improving and getting a roll-out to all parts of Lewisham. It was but a paper collection, and not from every household. Of course, once local authorities get into this business, they increase their uptake, which is crucial.

    As to the amendment that stands in the name of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), which suggests that only one waste stream should be collected, I find that difficult to understand. All our experience is that once a local authority begins the process, it sees that the economics dictate that it should move to two, three or four streams. That is extremely important if we are to deal with the huge and constant increase in waste arisings that we are suffering from in this country.

    12.30 pm

    During the preparation of the Bill, on Second Reading and in Committee, we discussed at length what we should prescribe for collection. Those of us who worked on the Bill—including local authorities, some 200 of which support it—reached a consensus that we in the House should not prescribe the types of rubbish and recyclates that authorities should collect. They should be able to decide what is right and economic for them, and identify the best environmental option in the waste hierarchy.

    We made clear in Committee that we did not want loopholes in the Bill. It specifies a minimum of two waste streams. Councils must not be allowed to define green and brown bottles, for instance, as two separate streams; it must be made clear that we are talking about different types of material, and the Minister emphasised in Committee that green and brown bottles, both being made of glass, constitute a single form of collectable waste.

    There are some minor amendments suggesting changes in dates. Two Opposition Members have diametrically opposed views: the hon. Member for Mole Valley wants to bring the dates forward, while the hon. Member for Spelthorne wants to put them back. This is, of course, an example of the disagreements on the Opposition Benches about which we are now used to hearing. As I have said, I want to secure a consensus.

    I imagined that some mirth might be generated by our differences of opinion. At least ours is a free-thinking party—and I doubt that this particular exchange of views between my hon. Friend and myself is likely to hit the Sunday papers in anything like the same way as news of Labour Members tearing each others' eyes out over Europe and so forth.

    I could not be more delighted if this spat got into the Sunday papers. I want the maximum publicity for this very sound measure, on which there is considerable agreement in the House.

    Early-day motion 46 begins

    "That this House believes that every house should have doorstep recycling by 2010".
    It was tabled by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), and supported by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire).

    Indeed. I suppose I ought to jump to the hon. Gentleman's defence and say that I understand he supports the Bill as well, or at least the principle.

    I am happy to place on record that I support the Bill and wish it well. The intervention from the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) just goes to show that Liberal Democrats have not the slightest idea of what actually happens in Parliament, and why Members table amendments.

    I assume that the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendments, and will let us proceed to Third Reading.

    While I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Mole Valley's wish to bring forward the date on which we could implement local authorities' duties in regard to separate collection, I specified 2010 because, following extensive consultation with local authorities and other interested bodies, with industry and indeed with Government, I concluded that it was the most realistic date. There is consensus on that, and despite my enthusiasm for the cause I do not think that the arrangements could be completed any more quickly.

    As I made clear when we discussed the Government new clause, the Opposition wholly support the Bill but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who is renowned for his green credentials, on at least allowing us to probe some of the issues to which the Bill gives rise. It is right to do so. It is quite brave to do so, too, I understand, because both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) have been deluged with e-mails and letters from people around the country. Obviously, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) has mobilised her army to put pressure—

    I would not like it to be thought that the deluge was from all over the country. Quite a few who have contacted me are my constituents. I am quite pleased to have the opportunity to demonstrate what a caring and efficient MP I am and I am glad to be in touch with them.

    My hon. Friend demonstrates that all the time and has used the opportunity to do so again.

    As I understand it, amendment No. 8 would have a similar effect to new clause 3. The amendment prevents compostable waste from being included under recyclable waste. New clause 3 specifically excludes garden waste. I have listened to the good arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley. My constituency is pretty similar to his constituency in character. I know that because one of my good friends lives in his constituency and I have spent many happy weekends there at a house called Goodman Furze. I think that the Bridges family are known to my hon. Friend. The collection of garden waste is a real issue both in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend.

    Of course, it is far better, as my hon. Friend says, to encourage home composting than to collect garden waste. Indeed, one could argue that a garden waste collection service discourages people struggling with the home composting kit, because they know that they can just put the garden waste in a bag and leave it outside the front door. However, it is worth pointing out, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford said, that not everyone is either technically capable of operating the composting kit, or prepared to go to the effort. In an ideal world, they would but that is not the case. Therefore, it may be appropriate in some areas, including areas with small city gardens, to have a collection of garden waste.

    There is a general point. Councils are probably best placed to decide these issues for themselves. They are closer to the ground. They understand their area better than we could ever understand it. The decision as to the kind of recyclable waste that should be collected should probably be left to those councils. I would not personally favour us directing from Parliament exactly what kind of waste is collected.

    Even if we accepted new clause 3, councils would still have to deal with garden waste. We may end up requiring three separate waste collections from local authorities. In an ideal world, that may perhaps be a good thing, but it may be a bridge too far at this stage for councils in their present state.

    I do not want to dwell on amendment No. 7 because my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley has made it clear that it was tabled in error perhaps, but it gives us a chance to discuss the question of what we can expect from councils. As the Minister said, there is a difference in the performance of councils. I understand the argument that, in sparsely populated rural areas, it is expensive to collect waste. Nevertheless, may I blow the trumpet of my own local authority, Macclesfield borough council? My house in Cheshire is in the Peak District national park. It is extremely remote as most houses go. It is at the end of a very long and ill kept path. I am still discussing the matter with my neighbour, who will pay for the upkeep of the road that leads to our houses, but the council sends a rubbish truck down that track every week and collects the bags, so it has not used the unreasonably high get-out clause that is already in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It is worth asking whether that is a good excuse for councils these days. Since a bit of party politics crept into today's otherwise happy and gentle debate, it is worth pointing out that 80 per cent. of Conservative councils—which tend to cover more rural areas—have separate collections for waste to be recycled, whereas only 50 per cent. of Labour authorities do. Most Labour authorities tend to be metropolitan authorities.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne tabled amendment No. 10, which would require authorities to have to collect just one waste. He has not spoken to the amendment and I would not wish it to be passed; he probably would not either if he was being honest. However, it gives us an opportunity to discuss the costs that this Bill and the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill impose on local authorities.

    The Minister will be aware that there is already substantial criticism that the Government do not cover the costs that local authorities incur in meeting the targets and obligations that Parliament imposed on them. There has been an increase in the environmental protective and cultural services block of the standard spending assessment, but the Minister will be aware that that does not cover only waste, but matters such as flood defences, libraries and emergency planning, a subject to which over the last year or two councils have devoted much more energy.

    Councils are struggling to meet the extra responsibilities and costs caused by a range of environmental obligations such as abandoned cars and fridges. We also have the implications for composting of the animal by-products order, which authorities must take into account. We should pause when considering the amendment and the costs that we impose on councils.

    It is unfair that high-performing authorities get a raw deal out of the system. They get much less financial support than low-performing authorities and are set harder and more ambitious targets. They have proved that they can perform well, but the system acts as a curious disincentive to perform well if one gets less support while being urged to go further. We should be focusing our ambitious targets on the poorer-performing authorities.

    I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 4, 11, 5, and 12, the contradictory amendments tabled by some of my hon. Friends. I suspect that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford would be tempted to accept amendment No. 4 if she had a free hand. Friends of the Earth—which has done a great job in helping her prepare the Bill—would have supported the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, but fears that Government support for the Bill would be withdrawn. We would probably find the Minister giving a lengthy speech and, perhaps, the hon. Member for Hendon doing likewise if we accepted the amendment.

    The hon. Gentleman will know that before I adopted this Bill, there was a draft Bill from Friends of the Earth that included the date of 2010. We all have aspirations to do more and faster, but 2010 is realistic.

    I suspect that 2010 is what we will get. I was just pointing out that some of us would be keen to accept amendment No. 4 if we had an assurance that the Government would then support the Bill.

    The amendments draw attention to the question of how ambitious the Government are, and whether they can achieve the relatively ambitious targets that they have set themselves. In the original Bill, there was a 50 per cent. target for the recycling of municipal waste by 2010. The Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), said on Second Reading:
    "The Government as a whole are not persuaded of the practicality of delivering a 50 per cent. target, given that resource allocations beyond the spending review of 2002 have not yet been determined."—[Official Report, 14 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 573.]
    I suspect that the purpose of the amendments is to tease out just how confident the Government are of meeting their recycling targets. As the Minister is more than aware, the Government want us to recycle or compost 25 per cent. of household waste by 2005, 30 per cent. by 2010 and 33 per cent. by 2015. However, the DEFRA-commissioned review of the UK landfill tax, which was published last year, found that a quarter of local authorities are likely to miss the statutory recycling targets by 2005–06. And this year's report by the Environmental Audit Committee—I probably speak for everyone in saying that the Committee has done a very good job in examining this entire issue—concludes that the UK will not come close to meeting any of the national targets for recycling, and that the 2010 and 2015 targets set by the Government will be missed by "a wide margin".

    12.45 pm

    In discussing these amendments, it is worth considering whether the Government are capable of meeting their recycling targets. Perhaps they should accept amendment No. 4 if they are to have a realistic prospect of meeting their overall targets.

    I shall not speak at length as I am aware that there is another Bill to debate, and I should like to reassure the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that I do understand the purpose of amendments. I support what the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) has said and I congratulate her on her work so far on the Bill. Although, as we all accept, it is not what we wanted, it is much better than nothing. Even though we are talking about collecting two sorts of waste, rather than four, that still constitutes progress. As she pointed out, because of the economics involved in collecting two types of waste, it will hopefully lead to the collection of three, four, five, six or even seven types. The principle of separate collection that she has so strongly established will make a great difference, and she has done a tremendous job in making so much progress. I look forward to the Bill's becoming law.

    I have some sympathy with certain of the amendments and new clauses, particularly new clause 3, which deals with garden waste. In a perfect world, all of us would say yes to compost bins and the use of green cones every Saturday; we would do things neatly, turn over our composting heaps and everything would be all right. But the reality is that, despite the extent to which councils have promoted such approaches—Guildford council has promoted them, and it, too, has had its composting champions over the years—a lot of garden waste ends up in dustbins, black plastic bags and landfill. That is unacceptable. If a council chooses to dispose of it in that way, we might say that that is not really what we want, and that we could have different, more imaginative schemes. Such issues are for a particular council to determine. A suburban London borough that has lots of trees and small gardens and generates lots of garden waste, but which has little opportunity to dispose of it, must decide what to do. The council concerned could say, "We will sell you a green bag for £1" and recover the cost; that would be a matter for it. The Guildford pilot examined the question of whether such bags should be provided free, or charged for. It considered the different options and how they would impact on councils.

    So, although I have a lot of sympathy for the intention behind new clause 3, I agree with those who have said today that in practice, councils must be able to make up their own minds about how they deal with this problem, which will get worse as the level of building increases across the country, particularly in the south-east. Higher housing densities and smaller gardens will leave less room for this sort of activity. But the most important point is to encourage householders to accept responsibility for the products that they use, to reduce use of products that go for disposal, and to ensure that they are disposed of in the most appropriate way.

    We have heard about plastics recycling, which Guildford has been doing for some while. When I visited Delleve Plastics, which was mentioned earlier, I realised that there were major issues about how that industry has priced the cost of the waste streams. Now that he is aware of the issue, I strongly urge the Minister to take it up and examine the underlying factors that affect the plastics recycling market. He could learn why it is cheaper to import from Belgium. It would be better to balance the books by using our own plastics.

    The Government need to do much more in respect of a Bill on waste management. The Liberal Democrats have called for a comprehensive waste Bill. We accept that, at this stage, we have the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill and the Household Waste Recycling Bill—

    Order. I remind the hon. Lady that we are dealing with a particular group of amendments, but her remarks are more appropriate to a Third Reading debate, which we have not yet reached.

    I thank you for, and respect, your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    Returning to the group of amendments, I support the objective of achieving recycling by 2010—the Bill's targets. I was surprised to hear that there appears to be some doubt about it. Those who have studied the issue at length and examined the targets placed on local authorities have sought to clarify how we achieve success. We do not want failure; we want success. I do not support the amendments, but the Bill as it stands.

    The whole House owes a debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) for tabling the new clause and amendments, because it has given us an opportunity to debate the issues in greater depth. It is particularly important for the House to debate how local authorities will meet their obligations under the Bill. My main concern is about garden waste and the date at which the provisions will become operative.

    I am also concerned that what may be easy to carry out in an urban environment such as Lewisham could be very difficult in a rural environment such as West Lindsey. I know that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) will acknowledge that she represents a tightly knit urban borough, perhaps 2 square miles, whereas I represent a constituency of 600 square miles. There are about 72 constituencies in London, but my constituency is about the same size as the whole of Greater London. The potential duties placed by the Bill on local authorities are enormous. As I have already said, my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley has done the House a service by proposing amendments, but I do not want the Bill to become any more prescriptive or descriptive than it already is. We have to allow considerable latitude to local authorities in meeting their obligations under the Bill.

    The issue of garden waste sums up the whole problem. It may be appropriate, as the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) said, for local authorities in an urban or suburban environment to collect garden waste, but I do not believe for a moment that it is appropriate for a rural environment in which people have much larger gardens and are far more aware of how to compost. People can put their grass cuttings in a pile in the corner of the garden without much difficulty. In that sort of environment, no rural authority wants to place on itself a duty to collect garden waste. In an area such as West Lindsey in Lincolnshire, that would be absurd. It will not happen there, but, as I said, it may be more appropriate for urban or suburban areas where there are smaller gardens, lots of trees and people stuff bits of branches and leaves into ordinary black bin bags.

    Local authorities have to given the freedom to decide. I am concerned about the Bill, particularly after listening to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford. When I intervened earlier, I said that West Lindsey was so starved of resources that it could barely afford to collect the black bin bags from people's houses, which are left at the bottom of the drive. The hon. Lady made the point that local authorities have a duty to go round once a week and collect black bin bags, so it would not be difficult for them, even in rural areas, also to collect a couple of other bags, perhaps containing plastic bottles or textiles. The Minister agreed and suggested that the waste disposal vehicle could have different compartments so that it would not have to go around twice to collect everything. However, it would be an enormous cost to a rural area if it had to re-equip its fleet.

    I do not want to throw too much cold water on the Bill, because we all believe in recycling as a worthy aim. It is ludicrous that such a small percentage of people recycle their waste. Many people, even in rural areas, are conscious of the cost to the environment of all our rubbish going up in smoke or being buried in landfill sites, and they would like to be given the choice. People in my area would like West Lindsey council to collect plastic bottles or whatever separately, and we should leave it to the local authorities.

    The Minister teased me about the lack of sites available in Lincolnshire. We do have an absurd situation, because people have to cross the county border and can be turned away. That demonstrates the resources problems that exist in large rural areas when dealing with waste, which are so much greater than in urban areas. It is important that someone from a rural area can describe to the House some of the difficulties that local authorities face.

    If the amendments are not accepted, we have time to think about the issue before 2010. Local authorities such as West Lindsey or Lincolnshire county council can point to clause 1 and the addition of a new section 45A—specifically subsection (2)(a)—and say that much as they would like to collect such materials, the cost would be unreasonably high. That is a get-out clause that could have various consequences. Either it means that the Bill will have very little effect—

    Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman what I said a moment ago to the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). He is referring to a clause that has already been dealt with. We are not on Third Reading yet, and the hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to this group of amendments.

    I am grateful for your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the amendments will be accepted as probing amendments and will not be pushed to a Division. We must respect the right of rural local authorities to rely on the provision that I just mentioned. They should be able to claim that the cost of collecting the materials would be unreasonably high. I know that my hon. Friend does not wish to push his amendments, and that he wants to leave that provision in the Bill. He is wise to do so. I suspect that many local authorities will rely on it, and it is only fair that they should have the ability to do so.

    I shall be brief, because the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford is looking anxiously at the clock. I am pleased to have obtained a reaction to my probing amendments. I received the reaction from the Minister that I wanted—to a degree—and I expected the positive reaction that I received from the hon. Lady. Rural local authorities will feel that the difficulties they face have been recognised, and therefore I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 3

    Minor Amendment

    Amendment made: No 1, in page 2, line 32, after "45A" insert", 45B".— [Mr. Morley.]

    Order for Third Reading read.

    12.59 pm

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    The Bill is a simple measure but one that I believe will have far-reaching consequences. Our deliberations in Committee produced a final outcome that has overwhelming support not only in the House but in the country at large. I am delighted that the Bill has remained intact today.

    Most people want to contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable environment, and they expect their elected representatives to provide them with a means of doing so. The Bill does exactly that. It places a duty on local authorities to provide for the collection of two separated recyclable materials by 2010. It gives local authorities just seven years in which to bring that about and to introduce this provision for all households. It further places a duty on the Secretary of State to report on progress.

    I thank all those who have helped me to bring the Bill to its final stage, including my local authority, Lewisham; the Local Government Association; the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee; British Glass; Alupro; the British Paper Federation; Recoup; the Environment Agency; and the Waste and Resources Action Programme. I am sure that there are others that I have not listed.

    My thanks go to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who was the responsible Minister for most of the life of the Bill. He played a very constructive role. I also thank the Minister for the Environment for his support today. I thank the civil servants involved and the Committee Clerk, who have been extremely helpful to me in this process.

    I thank as well the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench. Despite a significant number of changes of personnel and some reservations—

    Indeed.

    Despite the changes of personnel and some reservations, those on the Opposition Front Bench have consistently supported the principle of the Bill. I thank the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) for his support today. Similarly, I thank the Liberal Democrats for their constant support and in particular the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) for her support today.

    Thanks are also due to my 11 sponsors for their participation and strong encouragement. I thank my researcher, Heidi Alexander, for taking on all the extra work that a private Member's Bill entails. I thank also Martyn Williams and those in the parliamentary unit at Friends of the Earth, which has made sure that our postbags were constantly full. It obviously organised the most recent e-mail campaign, of which we have heard today and ensured that 360 Members signed the supporting early-day motion, as well as its amendments. The staff there provided me with valuable technical help throughout this process.

    Tackling waste is an environmental imperative, and Britain has lagged behind for far too long. This is our chance to do better. I believe that the Bill will give us all an opportunity to recycle more and to contribute to a more sustainable waste policy in England and Wales, and I commend it to the House.

    1.3 pm

    I put on record my thanks and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) for the deft way in which she has negotiated with the Government and steered the Bill through the House. It is complementary to the commitments that we have given through our waste implementation programme. We have to do a great deal more in the UK in reducing waste, and the Bill is an important part of that. I take on board the comments that have been made by bodies such as the Environmental Audit Committee. We take such comments seriously.

    The Committee made the point that we would not meet the targets that we have set given the present rate of increase in recycling. It is increasing, but not at a satisfactory rate. We can change that rate and hit our targets, and I believe that the Bill will help us do that. I genuinely call on all Members, given the connections that they have with local authorities and organisations, to encourage them to take the opportunities that are being presented to them through the Bill, and to reduce waste streams on the basis of sustainability, the damage that is being done to the environment and the need to have a much more sustainable approach in dealing with energy, waste, landfill and incineration.

    1.4 pm

    I, too, wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on behalf of the Opposition. As I said at the start of our discussions today, she had a choice between, on the one hand, being inflexible and seeing her Bill run into the sand and, on the other, being flexible about a Bill which, we all hope, will become law. I believe that it will make a genuine contribution to all our efforts to increase recycling and reduce landfill.

    Like the hon. Lady, I pay tribute to the organisations that have assisted us, especially Friends of the Earth. I hope that the Bill makes the targets that the Government have set themselves more achievable. As I have reminded the House, the Environmental Audit Committee fears that they will be missed by a wide margin, but let us hope that that margin is a little smaller as a result of the Bill.

    1.5 pm

    I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on taking the Bill forward. As someone who, in the past, has come fairly high in the ballot for private Members' Bills, I remember the immediate joy, followed by sorrow, as I was inundated by letters from all sorts of organisations on which subject to choose to pursue. A lot of those subjects are worthy, and it is always a difficult choice to make. I therefore congratulate the hon. Lady warmly.

    There is a wide variation in the amount of recycling that is done throughout the country. Daventry holds the record, recycling 44 per cent. of household waste, whereas the average council recycles only 13 per cent. Councils in the north-east have a much poorer record, collecting on average only 6 per cent. of recyclable household waste. Although Daventry's system costs money, it is a fact that waste collection does cost money, which we sometimes overlook. There has been a large recycling factory in my own constituency for many years which recycles 95 per cent. of lead in car batteries. It does an extremely important job, but it faces problems of marketability and profitability when there is a dip in the price of lead. There are difficulties in the economic process of recycling lead when it falls below a certain price.

    The hon. Lady's Bill specifies a time for the introduction of its provisions. Local authorities have an important role to play but the Government, as the Minister accepted, have a major role to play as well in making sure that there is an end use for recycled material. If we can find, end uses, there is no question but that recycling will be successful. I want to underline that, and urge the Government, whose commitment I do not dispute, to redouble their efforts to make sure that markets are found and recycling is practicable. Most people I meet want to recycle their household waste—they do not want it to go into large landfill sites when it could be used for practical purposes.

    I hope that this worthy Bill not only focuses our minds on the issue of recycling but sets us another target. I know that targets are not too popular with the Government at the moment. They are happy for them to be set for everyone else but, having listened to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry last week, it seems to me that they want to divorce themselves from their own targets. I hope that the Bill gives the Government a target so that they can redouble their efforts on finding markets so that recyclable material can be used.

    1.9 pm

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). In the 16 ballots in which I have participated since first coming to the House, I have never been placed at all, let alone achieve a position where it is possible to do any good.

    While we support the Bill and its implementation, I hope that it will not be offered as the sole solution to a serious problem. The removal of waste that can be recycled is part of the solution. I still think that there is a great need to focus on reducing the amount of material that is there to be recycled, because that will help to keep down the cost to the council tax payer and taxpayer, and probably keep down the cost to the purchaser of the product in the first place.

    I wish the Bill well. It is a sensible, practical, realistic measure. My only reservation is that there is more to do. I know that when the hon. Lady's Bill is passed, as I am sure it will be, we can count on her not to say that that job is done, but that it is partly done.

    1.11 pm

    I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on all the work that she has done and the opportunities that she has taken to overcome difficulties and continue when all was despair before us. I also pay tribute to the Minister and his predecessor for accepting that targets would be useful in this case, and for taking away the original targets and saying, "We do not want those targets, but we will not walk away from the Bill. Let's get together and see what we can achieve." That compromise will deliver real success. This is a Bill that we want and desperately need, which will make a real difference to sustainable waste management.

    None of us want incinerators in our constituencies. We all want to see waste reduction, more recycling and much more public awareness of sustainability. The Bill will do much to support the public demand that we do not have incineration.

    I thank all those who have supported the hon. Lady and all of us working with her, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on her work today.

    1.12 pm

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on the Bill and thank her for her tolerance of what she found a little surprising but at least understood. We got an impression of the importance of some matters to certain people a moment ago. That reminded me of some of my local government days, which in turn reminded me that when I first became a councillor recycling was called totting. The first time that I heard the word recycling used by the bin men in south London was when they were caught emptying a large storehouse of fur coats and fashionable gear: on being asked what they were doing they said that it was part of their recycling programme.

    The reality is that the Bill, which I hope completes its passage through Parliament, is another step. We could have gone further and we should have gone further, and I know that the hon. Lady would have liked to have gone further, but she was handcuffed and coupled to the floor by the Minister. That said, I congratulate the hon. Lady and wish the Bill well.

    1.13 pm

    With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to say a few words. Despite what the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) says, at times I thought that I had the Minister in handcuffs.

    I simply wish to thank all those hon. Members who have attended the debate today for the way in which it has been conducted, and, in anticipation, add my thanks to my noble Friend Baroness Gale who will sponsor the Bill in the other place. I commend the Bill to the House.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

    Female Genital Mutilation Bill

    Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

    New Clause 1

    Offence Of Advocating Female Genital Mutilation

  • A person is guilty of an offence if he advocates the practice of female genital mutilation for any reason other than those specified in subsection (2) of section 1.
  • For the purposes of determining whether an offence has been committed under this section, it is immaterial whether the advocacy took the form of spoken or written words.
  • For the purposes of determining whether an offence has been committed under this section it is immaterial whether there are any religious, cultural or ritual reasons.'.—[Mr. Wilshire.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    1.14 pm

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

    The events that take place on a Friday morning are many and various, and sometimes debates are held for reasons other than the real purpose of the Bill under discussion. On this occasion, I start by making it clear that the amendments in my name are in no way intended to delay or water down the Bill. I tabled them because I believe that some issues need exploring.

    Before I speak to the new clause, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on choosing a very worthy cause that has the support of the overwhelming majority of people not only in this House, but in the country at large. I have no hesitation whatever in supporting everything in the Bill. These are very serious matters. The Bill deals with what is, sadly, a growing problem in the United Kingdom and a huge problem elsewhere in the world. It is absolutely right that an individual Member should take it up in a private Member's Bill as a cause that needs our urgent attention.

    The various amendments, of which the new clause is the first, are attempts to explore whether even at this stage or in another place, there may be some scope for strengthening the Bill. I can always understand why private Members' Bills generally stop short of going as far as the promoter and probably a lot of other hon. Members would like. If that is so in respect of the amendments, it would be helpful if the hon. Member for Cynon Valley or the Minister could explain the difficulties associated with the various changes that I have proposed. I did so in order that we may discuss them rather than because I desperately want them to be accepted. I think that the underlying principle might be helpful, but if not, I shall seek to withdraw my proposals without hesitation.

    New clause 1 is about advocating the practice of female genital mutilation—or promoting it, if that word is preferred. I tend to be associated with promoting, as I was the hon. Member who introduced what is now known as section 28, which deals with the promotion of homosexuality. Any debate about advocating or promoting is therefore one with which I am horribly familiar, and I know that the matter raises some issues that have to be thought about.

    The Bill's starting point is to make it an offence to carry out any act of female genital mutilation. That is quite right: the act itself is the primary target. Clauses 2 and 3 address the issue of assisting, procuring, helping and so on. That is absolutely right. It is a separate issue to discuss helping and assisting in this country or abroad, so I shall come to that later. However, I wonder why the Bill is silent on advocating the practice with which it deals. One of my amendments focuses on mental health. If mental health is a justification for the practice of female genital mutilation, surely the Bill should take into account somebody who advocates the practice as relating not only to the cultural and ritual reasons to which the hon. Lady already refers, but to religious reasons as well.

    I wonder why the Bill as it stands shies away from any reference to religious justification. I know the sensitivities that are involved, but I have a sense that, if it is not made an offence to advocate, particularly for religious reasons, that this practice enables somebody to be more respectful to their god or guru, it might be possible that, at some stage, somebody will be so mentally traumatised by that advocacy and so committed to the beliefs that are being advocated that the result of it not being possible to go through the procedure will mean that she becomes mentally ill. If that is so, the person who has done the advocating should be caught by the Bill.

    That is the issue that I am raising. I am very conscious of the fact that, if we are to get involved in a debate about advocating or promoting—we can use whichever word is preferred—we will enter into a debate about the freedom of speech. I accept that we could also enter into a debate about the freedom of religion. However, in this country, we have no hesitation in saying that incitement to racial hatred is an offence. In a growing number of situations, freedom of speech is not absolute. There are certain practices that people should not be allowed to advocate; given the seriousness of the problem, this is one such practice.

    New clause 1 tries to strengthen the Bill by bringing another activity into the group of activities that it seeks to stop. It does not in any way affect the others: it has nothing to say about doing or assisting in the act. The Bill could contain a loophole; I am merely trying to close it. I shall be interested to hear the thoughts of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley.

    I am grateful for the spirit in which the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is approaching the Bill. I hope that I can assure him that the concern that prompted his new clause is unnecessary, because the criminal law on incitement is sufficient to meet it. To incite any of the prohibited acts in clause 1 would be an offence in common law, even if that incitement had no effect. For the purpose of determining whether a person is guilty of inciting a criminal offence, it does not matter what form the incitement takes, so subsection (2) of the new clause is superfluous. It is not necessary to go beyond what the law of incitement already provides, nor, given the need to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed by article 10 of the European convention on human rights, would it be appropriate to do so. I hope that in view of that, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his new clause.

    It is not my intention to detain the House, but I wish to confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) says about the sufficiency of the criminal law in this area. It does not matter what form the incitement takes, nor even matter whether it has an effect. Inciting any of the prohibited acts in clause 1 would be an offence in common law, as she suggests. Although I appreciate that the motivation of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is to try to improve the Bill, new clause 1 is unnecessary.

    I, too, appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is approaching the Bill. Perhaps I can put his mind at rest even further by saying that my experience in reproductive health and in international development—I share the latter with the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)—tells me that the practice is not advocated by religious groups, nor even by particular ethnic groups: that is what makes it so difficult to deal with. It is a practice that has grown up within family groups and village groups; nobody quite knows its origin. If we were to prosecute everyone who encouraged it, we would probably end up with prisons full of grandmothers. That is how the practice is perpetuated. It is important to say at an early stage of our deliberations that it is not a religious or a cultural practice in the sense of being confined to a particular group, but a tradition that has grown up in various parts of the world. It must be regarded as such and dealt with very sensitively; it is certainly not a practice that is publicly advocated.

    I am grateful for the contributions that have been made. If I had suggested that a specific religion advocated the practice, I would be wrong. I hasten to tell the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) that I did not intend to give that impression. I have been involved in such issues generally, although not in the specific matter that we are discussing. When considering matters of tradition, where does tradition end and ritual begin? Where does tradition end and cultural activity start? Where do tradition and religion merge? I would not care to reach a conclusion on those questions. I simply say that, in new clause 1, I would be willing to bracket religion with culture, tradition or whatever word the hon. Lady would like to use. As sure as day follows night, somebody will advance a religious argument one day. However, I do not suggest that any religion in the world is currently involved in the practice. I put the record straight on that.

    The experts tell me that the common law of incitement is adequate. Who am I to dispute that? I am not lawyer and if lawyers say that it is adequate, it is all right by me. However, I believe that it was also said that it would be better to use common law than to get involved in article 10 of the European convention on human rights. Perhaps Hansard will bear me out on that. That prompts the question of whether article 10 is justifiable if it allows someone to advocate female genital mutilation. I am not comfortable with that. If it was claimed that it would be better not to pursue the debate on freedom of speech, perhaps we should consider discussing article 10. However, that matter is not before us.

    I am glad that I raised the matter and that I was reassured that it can be tackled in a different way. If that is so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 1

    Offence Of Female Genital Mutilation

    I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 5, leave out "or mental".

    With this, we may take amendment No. 9, in page 1, line 21, leave out subsection (5).

    Amendment No. 9 would remove a subsection, thereby ruling out a specific defence. I want to make it clear that that is consequential on amendment No. 8. I do not want amendment No. 9 to be considered as a free-standing amendment. It flows from amendment No. 8 and I hope that no one would read anything more into it.

    I am not a doctor or an expert in such matters. I am not involved with psychology or psychiatry. However, over the years, one gets a sense of some of the relevant arguments and issues. Again, to draw out some of the reasoning, amendment No. 8 would remove the justification of carrying out female genital mutilation on the ground of mental health needs.

    I have no difficulty with the argument about physical health needs. The reasons that the Bill sets out are straightforward and sensible. Sadly, there are occasions when the procedure has to be carried out. A doctor is sitting near me and perhaps the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) will correct me. However, I accept that there will be occasions, when, with all the good will in the world and the different methods of tackling problems, there is no other alternative for the health and life of the relevant person. That must be a difficult decision for medical practitioners, the relevant person and perhaps the families, but I have no quarrel with that.

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    There have, however, been occasions on which practices with which we do not agree have been justified on the ground that they were carried out in the interest of the mental health of the person concerned. I sense a loophole there. As I suggested in relation to new clause 1, a girl or woman, or her family, might have considerable pressure brought to bear on them in this regard, on the grounds of ritual, custom, tradition or religion; it does not matter which. They could be told that if they did not do this, they would be letting the family down, letting themselves down or letting their guru down. Whatever the argument might be, I, as a lay person, suspect that there would be a real risk of mental ill health resulting from the repeated pressure and the repeated argument that a person would be a failure because they had not done certain things that we are seeking to make illegal.

    Can the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) reassure me and anyone else who shares my concern that it is possible to have a reason that I can understand as to why mental health could be relevant. I find it difficult to see how, for mental health reasons, a woman could be helped by having part of her genitalia removed. It puzzles me, as a layman, that that should be a justification. If there is a reason why that sort of thing has to be done for mental health purposes, I would bow to that superior judgment and would be happy to withdraw my amendments. For the moment, however, I put this issue in front of the House in order to ask what the mental health justifications are. How can I be certain that this is not a loophole? Would it harm the Bill if this provision were taken out?

    I should like to reassure the hon. Gentleman. The effect of amendment No. 8 would be that any surgeon carrying out an operation of this kind for which there was a genuine psychological need would be committing a criminal offence. As the hon. Gentleman said, amendment No. 9 is consequential on amendment No. 8.

    Operations that are genuinely necessary for mental health reasons might well be rare, but it would be wrong to criminalise them. That was certainly not Parliament's intention when the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 was passed, and there is no reason to suggest that the intention of this Bill is any different. In particular, we need to allow for the fact that gender reassignment surgery is less rare than it once was. That is a good example of an operation that may be necessary for mental health. The British Medical Association supported that view in guidance issued in 2001. I hope that, in the circumstances, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw amendments Nos. 8 and 9.

    I rise briefly to confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said. Surgical operations of this kind carried out for mental health reasons are extremely rare, but there may occasionally be strong grounds for allowing them to be carried out. For that reason, the Government believe that these grounds should be included.

    If the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) would like to see me afterwards, I could give him a whole catalogue of reasons why there might be mental health grounds for carrying out operations on the female genitalia. I understand his reservations, however. We have all heard stories about people having breast operations, for example, with mental health being given as the reason, when it probably should not have been. There are, however, genuine mental health reasons for carrying out operations. I assure him that there is a huge range of female genitalia out there, and sometimes they cause enormous problems, both mentally and physically, but primarily mentally. I want to reassure him that this provision is necessary.

    Earlier, I had some free advice from a lawyer, which is a rarity. I have enjoyed my free consultation, but I will pass on the offer of free medical advice. There are things in this world that I do not wish to know, and those may be some of them.

    A number of points arise from what has been said. I say to the Minister that I am sure that there are strong grounds. I think that he used that phrase, but I would have found it helpful had he said what they are. To assert that they exist is helpful, but to know what they are would be doubly helpful.

    I am not sure that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) necessarily reassured me as much as I know she was trying to. Again, I am happy to stand corrected, but I am not sure that I buy the argument that it is wrong to criminalise a surgical procedure. I think that that is what she suggested. I would be surprised if there are not surgical procedures that are already made illegal. I think of the abortion legislation. Under certain circumstances, late abortions, as I recall from the debates in the House, are indeed prohibited. That might not be the best example, but I am not sure that I buy the argument that we must not do this because we cannot make surgical procedures criminal offences. I think that we can, and there are occasions when we should. Whether this is one is a different matter.

    The hon. Lady then offered me the fact that gender realignment might be a justification. I tend to understand the term as sex change. I am not sure that I have got into the newspeak on some of those issues, but we shall let that pass. If this procedure is necessary for that procedure, it would be perfectly possible to make the procedure of gender realignment one of the justifications for it not being a criminal offence, rather than using the blanket argument of mental health reasons.

    I do not think that either argument that the hon. Lady offered in itself persuades me that the amendment is not worth pursuing. Fortunately, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who sits on the Liberal Democrat Benches, managed to save the day by saying that a range of other issues gives rise to mental health problems should surgery be necessary. Coming from a medical practitioner, I unhesitatingly accept that. She is an expert, but I ask her to spare me the gruesome details. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 3

    Offence Of Assisting A Non-Uk Person To Mutilate Overseas A Girl's Genitalia

    I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 10, leave out paragraph (a).

    The amendment raises the following issue, if I understand the Bill correctly. It will become an offence for somebody going abroad to carry out, assist in or procure—or whatever other phrase the Bill uses—this procedure in respect of UK citizens or people permanently resident here. The only question I would ask is, why stop there?

    Parliament has the power to legislate and say that acts carried out abroad by people who would otherwise be in this jurisdiction can be prosecuted in it. I wonder whether we should be singling out UK citizens and people normally resident here as those we are trying to protect and whether we should be considering the citizens of the world. I am not sure that I would like a distinction to be made in respect of somebody who goes abroad to get involved in this ghastly business, the victim of which might happen to be a Somali rather than a UK citizen. I think that the crime is the same in both cases.

    The only purpose of the amendment, if I have the wording correct, is to say that if anybody goes from this country to get involved in this business elsewhere, it is immaterial who the victim is. We do not seek any restriction that applies only to UK citizens. The Bill's promoter or the Minister may tell me that that is not possible because of how our legal system operates. If that is the justification, I will stand corrected. For the moment, I would like to know why we do not protect foreigners as much as our own people.

    I appreciate the strong wish of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) to protect every girl from this procedure. All children should be protected from female genital mutilation, whatever their nationality or residency. It does not necessarily fall to the United Kingdom, however, to legislate to protect all victims outside our jurisdiction, nor is it possible for us to do so. That is why the offence of assisting a non-UK person to mutilate overseas a girl's genitalia is restricted to cases in which the victim is a UK national or a permanent UK resident. Without such a restriction, we would be making it an offence to assist any female genital mutilation operation carried out abroad by a person with no connection with the UK, and in which the victim has no connection with it. Restricting application of the clause to victims who are UK nationals or permanent UK residents increases the connection to the UK, and lessens the risk that another state may object to the assertion of extra-territorial jurisdiction by the UK.

    It is, of course, desirable to protect all victims from this dreadful practice, and the Department for International Development supports a range of work throughout the developing world to eradicate female genital mutilation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is a limit to how far the UK can go in this regard, and I ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment.

    I want to join my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) in teasing out some answers.

    The new offence is intended to cover circumstances in which a family resident in the UK arranges for a girl to be taken overseas for the purpose of an operation of this kind. However, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) probably knows—it has been pointed out by the pressure group Forward—it does not cover those who are newly arrived in Britain. That includes many of those who are most at risk. The group believes that that could give rise to a fundamental inequality in the rights and protections of, for example, African girls in Britain. There could be one rule for those who have gained UK nationality, and another for those awaiting immigration decisions. Forward wants the Bill to be amended so that it offers protection to all girls, irrespective of nationality. I believe that that has been done in other countries, such as Norway.

    We are not talking about all girls everywhere in the world; we are talking about girls in this country who are awaiting immigration decisions and are then taken abroad. I should be interested to hear a response from the Minister or the hon. Member for Cynon Valley.

    I understand what the Minister said, but I am not sure that it covered the point that I was trying to make. Perhaps I did not make it as clearly as I should have.

    The reply that I received seemed to be that we might be seeking to become involved in acts carried out by foreigners on foreign nationals, which would be extending our attempts to legislate too far. I have no difficulty with that: I would deeply resent, as I hope the Minister would, some other country passing legislation and trying to control what went on in our jurisdiction. The clause that I want to amend, however, relates to a person who
    "aids, abets, counsels or procures a person".
    There is no attempt to say anything about the person carrying out the operation, or the procedure, if that person is not a British subject. There is no attempt to say that a foreigner who is not covered by our laws must not carry it out because we will prosecute that person if he or she does so. I understand clause 3 to refer to a UK citizen, who is prosecutable in this country, who goes abroad and aids, abets, procures or encourages someone else. What concerns me is the act of aiding and abetting, rather than the carrying out of the procedure. I am not sure that I understand what the Minister said about why, if someone who would normally be prosecutable in this country becomes involved in the aiding and abetting—rather than the carrying out—that should be offensive to a sovereign independent state.

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    To try to clarify the position, if the person in this country is the person who is aiding and abetting, they will be open to prosecution. That is the purpose of the legislation. What we are seeking to emphasise is that both the person who is doing the aiding and abetting and the victim need to have that close connection with the United Kingdom—that, in particular in relation to the victim, they must be a citizen of the UK or a permanent resident here.

    We have sought to take powers to treat certain things done outside this country—for example, acts of terrorism or murder—as prosecutable here. I hope that we will never get to a situation where we say, "We will prosecute you for murder if you carry it out abroad, provided it is a UK citizen whom you murder." I would have thought that where the victim is from was not as important as the Minister wants me to accept, but I do not want the Bill to get bogged down and disappear into a big black hole because of my being somewhat pedantic, as the Minister may see it. I would be grateful if he gave the matter some thought and, if there is anything more useful that he wants to say, wrote to me about it. If he does write to me about it, I am sure that he will put a copy in the Library.

    I will gladly write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify the position further. May I respond to the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who asked about people newly arrived in this country? Considerable thought has been given to the matter. Of course, those newly arrived in this country who may be subjected to the procedure here would already be covered by existing legislation. We regard it as highly unlikely that someone who has just arrived here who is perhaps seeking asylum will remove themselves or be removed from the country to go to another country where the operation could be carried out, because if they did that, their application for asylum would fall. Therefore, we believe that, in all the circumstances, we have the balance about right.

    In view of the Minister's offer to write, I do not want to detain the House any longer. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 8

    Short Title, Commencement, Extent And General Saving

    I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 13, leave out from 'on' to end of line 14 and insert

    'the day after this Act receives Royal Assent.'.
    The House will be relieved to know that this is the last of my amendments. Probably, it is the one that either the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), the promoter of the Bill or the Minister could accept because to me, the layman in all this, it is the obvious thing to do. Clause 8(2) says:
    "This Act comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint."
    It would be out of the spirit of the debate if I were to seek to repeat some of the things that I said earlier on the Ragwort Control Bill. Suffice it to say that I have throughout my 16 years here been deeply suspicious of Governments—all persuasions, I hasten to add for the Minister, if he did not hear me say it before—introducing such provisions. This is not an attack on his Government; it is probably an attack on all Governments. I am deeply suspicious of provisions that say a Government may do something, because experience teaches us that they usually do not. I would prefer "must" or "shall".

    We accept that the Bill is important and addresses a nasty problem that needs urgent action. I do not like the idea that we pass the Bill, it becomes an Act, we all say that it is wonderful, but there is a provision that says that it will take effect only as and when a Secretary of State gets around to saying that it will. I cannot for the life of me think of any good reason why the Bill does not say that it shall come into effect the day after, the day or even the moment that it receives Royal Assent. If it needs doing urgently and addresses a real problem, why not get on with it? Having passed the measure and applauded the hon. Lady, why have a provision saying that we must wait for a Minister, of whatever political persuasion, to do something about it? I should be grateful if the Minister justified why the amendment was not acceptable. If it is acceptable, I hope that he will say that he is happy to accept it.

    I understand the desire of the hon. Gentleman to make sure that the Act comes into force as soon as possible, but I hope that I can reassure him. We all want the increased protection that the Bill will bring to be put into place as soon as possible. The disadvantage of the commencement date proposed by the amendment is that it would allow too little time for law enforcement agencies, health professionals, social services and others involved with child protection—and, crucially, the practising communities themselves—to become fully informed about how the new law will operate.

    We take this issue seriously and we know from discussions with those who work with the practising communities that proper time for preparation and raising awareness is crucial. Bringing the Act into force by order means that the implementation period can be used for those agencies to promote the new law and its ef