With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government’s waste strategy for England, which I am publishing today.
Each year we generate about 100 million tonnes of waste from households, commerce and industry combined. Most of it currently ends up in landfill, where biodegradable waste generates methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, which accounts for about 3 per cent. of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile much valuable energy is used up in making new products that are later disposed of, thereby also contributing to climate change.
We need, therefore, not only to recycle and reuse waste but to prevent it in the first place. The waste strategy published in 2000 delivered a step change in performance. Twenty-seven per cent. of household waste collected by local authorities in 2005-06 was recycled or composted, compared with 7.5 per cent. 10 years earlier. Recycling of packaging waste doubled to 56 per cent. in the same period. There was a fall of 9 per cent. in waste being landfilled between 2001 and 2005, and household waste is now growing much more slowly than the economy as a whole, at only about 0.5 per cent. per year.
Despite that progress, England’s waste performance still lags far behind much of Europe. Other countries landfill far less, and recycle and recover energy from waste much more. However, all countries face a challenge in reducing the growth of waste; and it is waste reduction that produces the greatest environmental benefits.
The strategy published today sets out national standards, while increasing local flexibility over how to achieve them. It provides a range of tools for individuals, businesses and local authorities to do the job. Our key objectives set out in the strategy are simple: less waste, more reuse and recycling, more energy from waste, and less landfill. Each part of society can play a part in achieving those objectives.
We set out three steps in the strategy. The first is for producers and retailers to help prevent waste, and take greater responsibility for ensuring that waste is recycled. We have identified key materials where waste can be reduced or recycled, including paper, plastics, glass, wood, aluminium, textiles and food. To achieve that, we are establishing voluntary agreements with the industries concerned to reduce and recycle waste. For example, there are more than 350 million pieces of unaddressed direct mail every year, so we have agreed with the Direct Marketing Association to develop an opt-out service for mail of that sort and will consider an approach where people get direct mail—addressed or unaddressed—only if they choose to receive it. We will also reduce the environmental impact of carrier bags by 25 per cent. over the next 18 months—equivalent to 3.25 billion fewer bags a year, or the greenhouse gas emissions of 18,000 cars—and work for the end of free, single-use carrier bags.
The reduction and recycling of packaging is an important symbol of change. The Government will take action in two areas. First, in consultation with industry, we will seek further to minimise the amount of packaging used; for example, by setting optimal packaging standards for certain products, so that producers will be expected to use the lightest weight packaging wherever possible. In addition, I am writing today to Commissioner Dimas urging the European Commission to review the provisions of the EU packaging directive so that member states’ authorities can take more effective enforcement action against clear cases of excessive packaging. Secondly, we need further to increase the rate of recycling of waste packaging. Subject to analysis, the Government will propose higher recycling targets for the period beyond 2008 and I have also written to the commissioner about that.
The second step to achieving the objectives is investment in infrastructure. Our aim is to ensure investment in facilities that collect sort, reprocess and treat waste by local authorities, businesses and the third sector. Alongside kerbside recycling, we want to stimulate the provision of much better recycling facilities in places of public access, so I am delighted that many operators of airports and railway stations, as well as the royal parks, have signalled their support for a drive to make recycling easier in places under their management. We will also establish a “zero waste places” initiative to develop innovative and exemplary waste practice. Through the private finance initiative, enhanced capital allowances and the proposed banding system for renewable obligation certificates, we intend to support a variety of energy recovery technologies.
We expect energy from waste to account for about 5 per cent. of municipal waste by 2020, compared with 10 per cent. today. That includes anaerobic digestion, which creates energy from food and other natural waste. According to the early evidence, the separate collection of household food waste on a weekly basis results in higher levels of recovery; up to 20 local trials on best practice in that respect are being undertaken.
The third sector—the voluntary sector—has a significant role to play in waste management and in achieving social and environmental objectives. The Waste and Resources Action Programme will therefore be developing a new programme to build further capacity in third sector organisations to enable them to maximise their contribution.
The third step is to use incentives and regulation to divert waste from landfill and encourage recycling. In his Budget in March this year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a substantially higher and faster rate of increase for the landfill tax escalator, which is to rise by £8 a tonne per year until at least 2010-11. Partly as a result, we now expect to see levels of commercial and industrial waste falling by 20 per cent. by 2010, compared with 2004. Also, we are considering with the construction industry a target to halve the amount of construction waste going to landfill by 2012. A number of European countries have imposed landfill bans on particular types of waste. Subject to additional analysis, we intend to consult on further restrictions on the landfilling of biodegradable waste or of recyclable materials.
This strategy empowers local authorities to make the right decisions for local circumstances in consultation with their local population. However, they are currently banned from providing financial incentives for waste reduction and recycling, even though elsewhere in Europe this has been an important contributory factor to higher recycling rates. We do not believe that a new tax-raising power for local authorities is the right way forward. However, in response to calls from the Local Government Association, I am launching today a public consultation on proposals to allow revenue-neutral financial incentive schemes to reduce and recycle waste.
Local authorities will be able to decide whether to develop schemes that reward in cash people who reduce waste and recycle at the expense of those who do not. Good recycling facilities need to be the foundation of such schemes; and any authority introducing a scheme will have to provide a good kerbside recycling service, as well as taking steps to tackle fly-tipping and avoid unfair impacts on disadvantaged groups. In the end it is for voters at local elections to pass judgment on such schemes, as against the alternatives.
We are confident enough of the measures that we are putting forward to set new and higher national targets for recycling, composting and recovery of household and municipal waste. We intend to achieve at least a 50 per cent. average household recycling rate by 2020, as compared to 27 per cent. in 2005-06. Subject to further analysis we will be proposing higher recycling targets for packaging for the period beyond 2008. Government must play their part: the central Government estate has targets to reduce waste by 25 per cent. and recycle 75 per cent. of waste by 2020.
We expect the combined impact of our policies to be a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions from waste management of at least 9.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020 compared to 2006. This is equivalent to taking 3 million cars off the road for a whole year. These savings are before allowing for the additional carbon benefits from waste prevention. Action on waste can make an important contribution to tackling climate change and other environmental objectives. More and more people are concerned about living in a throwaway culture. This strategy gives people the tools to make a difference. It makes environmental sense and it makes economic sense. I commend it to the House.
It is a little ironic that a Government who have become a byword for wasting time and money have made such a hash of waste policy. Under Labour, as the Secretary of State almost acknowledged, Britain has become the dirty man of Europe. Yes, recycling rates have increased, but we are still faced with a growing pile of rubbish, and some three quarters of household waste is still dumped in landfill sites where it contributes to climate change. In France the corresponding figure is 38 per cent. and in Germany it is just 20 per cent. Why cannot we do better?
The Secretary of State says that household waste is growing at just a half a per cent. a year, but that represents less than 10 per cent. of the overall problem. Overall waste is increasing by 3 per cent. a year. Much of the pressure to improve our performance comes from the European Union. The Waste Strategy 2000 promised that in future the Government would meet the requirements of EU legislation “fully and quickly”. Shortly afterwards we had the fiasco of fridge mountains. Since then we have had delays and confusion over the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive and the end of life vehicle directive. The next one, I bet, will be a crisis over the new requirements to recycle batteries. Watch this space.
The huge media coverage that the issue of waste has attracted reflects real public concern. People know that there is a problem and they want the Government and local councils to help them solve it. I fear that there will be at best widespread disappointment at the Secretary of State’s statement today, and at worst a degree of alarm. Where the public, councils and industry were looking for and expecting at last some certainty, they will find vagueness and indecision.
The Secretary of State says that he will “consider an approach” to cutting junk mail. I wonder how that differs from the Waste Strategy 2000 pledge to
“develop an initiative on junk mail”?
He suggests increasing packaging recycling rates, but only “Subject to analysis”. After a year of reviewing the position, how much more analysis do we need? He says that he is “considering with the construction industry a target” to reduce waste sent to landfill. How much more consideration can be justified?
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman announced a “public consultation” on waste charging. What exactly does he mean by allowing councils to reward in cash people who reduce waste and recycle at the expense of those who do not? I think he means fining people. I am not in favour of fining people; I am in favour of rewarding people who do the right thing. The Government will not succeed by bullying, whether bullying local councils by imposing new burdens without providing the means to pay for them, bullying households with threats of fines, or bullying communities by handing decisions over the siting of new waste incinerators to an unelected national quango.
The Secretary of State says that he expects energy from waste to account for 25 per cent. of municipal waste by 2020. Can he say what proportion of energy from waste he expects to come from anaerobic digestion, and what proportion from mass burn incineration? Does he agree that in a properly structured waste hierarchy incineration should be a last resort, and that it should always, wherever possible, go hand in hand with high levels of energy and heat recovery? Why is he not taking the opportunity to set standards to ensure that that happens?
The Secretary of State has been tentative where he should have been decisive. He wants a voluntary arrangement with the industry to reduce hugely unpopular and unnecessary packaging, but a system of fines for households struggling to cope with waste packaging that they did not want in the first place. Where are the measures to tackle fly-tipping? Where are the incentives to help people do the right thing? Instead of a clear, straightforward strategy to deal with the rising tide of waste in this country, we have been offered yet more consultations—more dither. The Secretary of State has laboured and brought forth a mouse, or possibly, as some newspapers would have it, no doubt in the light of the concern about fortnightly collections, a rat.
That was an extraordinary performance. If only the hon. Gentleman could have seen the faces of those on the Back Benches behind him as he was giving that performance, he might have reconsidered.
I know that it is customary to send copies of a statement to the Opposition parties, and of course I did that in the time-honoured fashion. One would think that if I sent the hon. Gentleman a copy, he would be able to read out what I had actually said. From what he said about junk mail, I can only conclude that he had not read what I said. For his benefit, let me say it again. He claimed that we had said that we were considering further action on direct mail. He obviously neither read nor was listening to what I said five minutes ago. This is what I said: “For example, there are over 350 million pieces of unaddressed direct mail every year so we have agreed”—not considered to agree—“we have agreed with the Direct Marketing Association to develop an opt-out service for mail of that sort”. That is an agreement.
No, it exists only for addressed mail. Two thirds of direct mail is unaddressed. That is why I gave the figure of 350 million pieces of unaddressed mail. Two thirds of the total direct mail does not have an opt-out service. That is a new agreement.
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) claimed that this country was the dirty man of Europe, with 27 per cent. household recycling. We inherited a rate of 7 per cent. from the Conservatives. The quadrupling of household recycling in the UK in the past 10 years is the fastest improvement of any European country.
The hon. Gentleman said something extraordinary. He said that recovering energy from waste should be a last resort in the waste hierarchy. That is an incredible thing for him to say, and it is important that the House understands the implications of what he has said. He is right to say that there is a waste hierarchy, and prevention is the best option. However, the last resort is landfill, because landfill produces greenhouse gases that are so dangerous in a world of climate change. For him to say that energy from waste is a last resort demonstrates that he does not understand the issues.
This is the cheek of the hon. Gentleman—he complained that there is nothing on fly-tipping. That is from the party that voted against the provisions on fly-tipping in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. We do not need to legislate on fly-tipping, because we did it two years ago, when the hon. Gentleman voted against the provision.
On waste charging, the hon. Gentleman said—this is a very important moment in politics—that parties on both sides of this House say that they believe in devolution, local empowerment and local authorities being able to make their own decisions about what is right in their areas. On the Labour Benches, we not only say that, but do it. That is why I have said today that it is right for local authorities to have the power, if they so choose, to introduce a scheme that does not raise local taxes but rewards those who do the right thing. The hon. Gentleman has come out against that principle today. This is an important day to see the difference between rhetoric and reality on the Conservative Front Bench. On this side of the House, we are proud to say that accountability should come through local voters, and it is for local voters to pass judgment whether they like the schemes that local authorities choose to introduce or not.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to bullying. I can conclude only that there has been some bullying on the Conservative Front Bench. I have here a press release issued yesterday by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who speaks on local authority issues for the Conservative party.
The hon. Gentleman has chosen not to be here today. He preferred to get his press release out, perhaps to pre-empt the statement by the hon. Member for East Surrey, who said that there has been bullying. Under the headline “Join the winning team”, which must be ironic, the Conservative party has denounced the decisions made by 68 councils on bins. I am prepared to wager now that the majority of those councils are Conservative councils. It is significant that the Conservative party has refused to disclose the names of those 68 councils, but when we know the names, I will defend their right to make decisions that they believe are in the interests of local people.
The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar has warned that new stealth taxes are being proposed, but he is wrong, because today’s statement includes no new tax-raising powers. Far from the prediction that families would be quivering in fear as a result of the changes, we have the Opposition spokesman quivering in fear of other Conservative Front Benchers, while people in the country can look forward to the day when they can make decisions for themselves.
Contrary to what we have heard today in certain quarters, I warmly welcome the White Paper. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the ends and means issue in relation to climate change and the carbon content of waste, because one should have an eye on the means as well as the ends when supporting or not supporting that particular White Paper? What provisions has he made in that context specifically to enhance the effective use of the carbon value of biomass waste through waste management protocols and arrangements for co-firing—not incineration—where suitable residues are available? In that context, does he agree that there is the remaining problem of when waste is not waste and becomes a resource for further use? Has he made provisions and considerations in the White Paper to resolve that particular problem?
My hon. Friend is an acknowledged expert in this area. He knows that we need to see today’s announcement in the context of yesterday’s significant announcements about renewable obligation certificates and the higher valuation given to anaerobic digestion, which is known as biomass. It is only in the past 12 months, since I entered this job, that I realised that there is an argument about when waste is waste, and I assure my hon. Friend that we will develop clear protocols to address the definitional problems. I know that he has raised anaerobic digestion before, and the Environment Agency is proceeding with due speed to get that definition done, so we can make progress.
The Secretary of State is right to point out the considerable improvement under this Government, although he has perhaps underestimated the extent to which we still have to catch up, given the state in which the recycling industry and waste collection were left by the previous Conservative Administration. Britain is still the dirtiest rich country in the European Union. Every British person throws away 0.5 tonnes of waste each year, which is 15 per cent. more than 10 years ago when this Government were first elected.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that on the internationally comparable figures we still have the third worst recycling record of all the old EU members? Shamefully, only Greece and Portugal have worse records. The Netherlands and Germany recycle three times as much as we do on the latest figures, and even if the Government were to meet the target that they set in the documents issued today, we would still be recycling substantially less than either Germany or the Netherlands. The statement says: “We intend to achieve at least a 50 per cent. average household recycling rate by 2020”. The current rate in Germany is 58 per cent. The Government need to be far more ambitious. Will they commit to achieving the best standards in the EU within 10 years, instead of achieving the worst?
We need to work on every aspect of the problem. Will the Secretary of State help to curb excess packaging by introducing a right to return at retailers? Will the Government recognise that trading standards officers are under-resourced to prosecute users of unnecessary packaging? And will they ensure that a central agency can also take on the task? It is no use just buck-passing to discussions with Commissioner Dimas, as the Secretary of State has attempted to do today.
Will the Government argue for an EU-wide colour coding scheme for recyclables, so that householders know whether their council collects such material, which will put further pressure on councils to expand recycling? Will they encourage weekly collections of food waste, which is set to provide 17 per cent. of Germany’s electricity by 2020? Will they boost reuse schemes for bottles and other products, perhaps even with a German-style “help yourself day”, in which people leave things outside their houses that they want to give away? Will they trial a plastic bag tax, as in the Republic of Ireland, to encourage the provision of reusable bags?
We agree that local councils need to have the freedom to tailor waste collection to the needs of their areas, including the ability to give discounts for good recycling. That is a welcome enabling power that will encourage experimentation. However, will the Government recognise that there should be clear incentives on all authorities to recycle more by passing on the cost of the landfill tax and the current limits on landfill, which is not currently the case in two-tier authorities? When I have raised that point in the House, Ministers have pooh-poohed it, but 17 per cent. of the English population, which is 8.4 million people, live in two-tier authority areas. A district authority responsible for—
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will finish with one more question.
I shall try to be brief and to follow your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Anyone listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman would realise that he supports our announcement today, and I thank him for that. I agree with him that we must do much better. We have the third worst record on landfill as opposed to the third worst record on recycling, but his basic point is a good one. It is worth pointing out in that context that sometimes people think that if one obtains more energy from waste, one is bound to have less recycling. The countries with the least landfill in Europe also have higher levels than us of both energy produced from waste and recycling. We must—excuse me for saying this—dig ourselves out of the hole left by the Conservative party on recycling. I certainly do not underestimate the catching up that we have to do.
The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the lack of prosecutions in respect of packaging; he mentioned trading standards officers. I am happy to correspond with him further about that. He rather pooh-poohed the idea that it was sensible to involve the European Commission. In fact, all our evidence is that the vague wording of the packaging directive is a significant hindrance to effective prosecution. That is the reason for engaging with the rest of the European Union, which is a sensible approach.
The hon. Gentleman talked about a plastic bag tax. We should remember that all disposable bags are important in terms of their environmental impact: the carbon content of paper bags is often higher than that of plastic bags. I hope that that was shorthand on his part.
On two-tier areas, I agree that there are significant issues in 34 counties of England where district councils collect and county councils dispose. That is why we have made provision in the Local Government Bill for joint waste authorities. Although the hon. Gentleman is not smiling about that, Members behind him are nodding vigorously.
I warmly welcome the waste strategy. I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my concern that my local council, North Lincolnshire, received the worst rating in the country in terms of satisfaction with its waste collection service. He is right that people pass judgment on their local authorities. I am sure that he would want to join me in welcoming the new Labour administration elected this May, which has pledged to consult local people about improving waste collection, options and costs. It is extraordinary that the official Opposition seem to be against consultation and engaging people in this debate.
I have two quick points. First, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of phasing out plastics that cannot be recycled? Secondly, anaerobic digestion is a very welcome development. Farm facilities such as pig units would like to invest in such facilities and could incorporate waste food. Will there be measures to support such investment?
I am sure that the whole House recognises that my right hon. Friend speaks with considerable authority on this subject. The short answer is that I am happy to consider his proposals on plastics. On anaerobic digestion, there are significant capital and other allowances. The renewables obligation announcement made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry gives a clear financial boost to anyone thinking about investing in anaerobic digestion. There are 3,000 such facilities in Germany but fewer than 100 in the UK. I am determined to help British farmers to exploit that big opportunity.
Order. May I ask for crisp questions and crisp answers?
Fylde borough council recycles at 40 per cent.—a tremendous achievement. It would like to do better but wonders where the additional resources will come from, bearing in mind that the Secretary of State’s strategy acknowledges the rising cost to local authorities of improving their performance and the fact that his Department’s Gershon savings are predicated on local authorities reducing their expenditure. How does the strategy address that?
On commercial waste, the authority would like to offer recycling for that waste stream but is inhibited by the county council and cannot charge for it. What does the strategy say about overcoming that problem?
As ever, the right hon. Gentleman makes two good points. On the second, he is right to say that the Berlin wall that seems to exist between commercial waste and municipal waste does not make sense. I am not suggesting that he has not gone through the whole document yet, but I assure him that it contains clear measures to make it easier for local authorities and commercial operators or premises to be brought together and for local authorities to play a bigger role in that respect.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the strategy does not set out the Department’s spending patterns over the next three years—that will be done in the spending review in the autumn in order to take forward our proposals.
My right hon. Friend probably knows that I have been involved in this matter for a long time in connection with an all-party group that knows a lot about it. I assure him that there will be much more all-party support for the measures announced today than he might think given what has been said so far. Does he agree that it is a question of getting the balance right between recycling, generating energy from waste and all the other ways that we can treat waste? The document is right about that. If we get the balance right, do not get carried away by fashions and fads—as with packaging, for example—and carry on with good national leadership, stressing innovation and getting local determination, we will win this battle.
I am surrounded by authorities on this matter from all parts of the House. I agree that it is a matter of balance, not of fads, and that comes through in the document. I would point out to the House the consensus that has emerged across local government, environmental groups and the business community. As ever, they do not say that the strategy is the best thing since sliced bread and award 10 marks out of 10 to the Government, but there is unanimity among them that it represents a significant step forward. My hon. Friend is an important part of that consensus; it is a pity that Opposition Front Benchers have not chosen to join it.
A key part of the document is the ability to apply incentives and levies on those who do not recycle. Fiscal neutrality at the level of every local authority will be quite a big ask in the case of some local authorities; it will depend very much on the sociology of their areas. How does the Secretary of State envisage local people deciding whether they want to apply the scheme? Will there be a local referendum? If the vehicle for payment, incentives and fines is the council tax, how will that affect people on benefits, particularly council tax benefit? If he wishes to visit Chateau Curry at any time he will see a very good state-of-the-art compost heap.
I look forward to seeing the chateau and the moat as well as the compost heap.
There is a detailed consultation on the choice that we are giving to local authorities. Because we want to give them choice, we are not prescribing the way in which they consult, but elections are obviously the ultimate form of consultation. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is an important decision that a local authority would want to enter into only after careful thought, but we think it right to give them the ability to do so. He will see from the details that we do not propose a rebate scheme through the council tax system. We have kept the scheme separate from council tax. I am told by those who know more than I do that council tax is complicated enough as it is, so it will sit in parallel and not add to the complexity.
I welcome the statement but remind my right hon. Friend that the waste collection service is probably the single most important universal service that most households get and pay for through their council tax, and Labour Members know to our cost that it is a politically sensitive one. What guidance will he provide to local authorities to ensure that in their consultations they do not just listen to what the majority say but provide a flexible service? My local authority makes fortnightly collections, which, while they work for some people, make life a complete nightmare for many others. [Interruption.]
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) pointed out, Conservative authorities have felt the pain of voters’ anger.
Surely my hon. Friend and I agree that this is a matter of local choice and implementation. It would be wrong for me to say that I believe in devolution and then tell every local authority—urban, rural or suburban—exactly how they should do their waste collection. It must be right for authorities to choose how to do it and then gain the plaudits or suffer the consequences. We have presented new evidence today about food waste and the benefits that can come from collecting that separately. Different parts of the country do this in different ways. Alternate weekly collection has caused difficulties in some areas but has not given rise to the same concerns in others. That is local democracy and local politics, and it is important that we should defend that.
Besides fly-tipping, the other great scourge of the countryside is litter. The Secretary of State will know that Bill Bryson, the newly appointed president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and Jeremy Paxman have great concerns about this, but so have all our constituents. We all accept that it is partly a matter of education, but is there anything in the strategy that will assist local authorities not only to pick up litter but to prevent it?
In the gentlest possible way, I remind the hon. Gentleman that we debated the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 in the House at great length. It gave local authorities a wide range of powers, and no one has subsequently claimed that we need new or additional powers. The simple answer is therefore that today’s announcement proposes no addition to the 2005 Act.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of litter. I ran into, and have written to, Bill Bryson, and I look forward to meeting him to discuss his new role in the CPRE. Jeremy Paxman’s figures are, as I think that he himself would admit, anecdotal. The independent survey evidence suggests that the amount of litter is reducing. I do not minimise the significance of litter for people, the image that it gives of the country or the spirit that it fosters. The hon. Gentleman used the right word when he said that “culture” is important, as well as laws. I thoroughly agree with him that we must get the culture right.
I call Keith Vaz. I beg your pardon—I call David Taylor.
This is the first time that I have been mistaken for my near colleague, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am flattered.
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) clearly decided not to continue standing to be called.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State deserves congratulations from hon. Members of all parties on the White Paper. I am sure that those who serve on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be impressed by the rapidity with which he has got to grips with his brief on such an important subject.
For revenue-neutral incentives to reduce or recycle waste, there will be a need for some form of technology to ensure efficiency. Computer chips in bins will be part of that. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the story that some of the more excitable tabloids are enthusiastically peddling—that the chips will track every last baked bean can, gin bottle and Focus leaflet that are put into bins—is way off the mark, and that they will contain only an address and possibly some sort of weight indicator?
As my hon. Friend says, they are rubbish even before they go through the letter box. We do not need a definition of waste to know where to put our Focus leaflets.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) has raised a serious point. Although the document makes it clear that some local authorities may want to use the modern technology, that is not a requirement to introduce a financial incentive scheme. Simple bin-based or sack-based schemes are perfectly usable. The technological solution is a separate issue and not a requirement of the financial incentive schemes. I am sure that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will want to consider different methods of applying the schemes in due course. However, it is right that we do not prescribe from the centre one way of organising the financial incentives. Local authorities should get the gain and take the blame.
May I point out that at least Focus leaflets, unlike some others, are non-toxic?
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement about making it easier for local authorities to deal with small-scale commercial waste; that is long overdue. In many rural areas such as mine, fly-tipping is a genuine and growing problem, not only for people who enjoy the countryside but for landowners who end up with a bill. The White Paper makes some suggestions about better prevention, detection and enforcement action, and making existing legislation more usable and effective. What ideas has the right hon. Gentleman to prevent fly-tipping at source?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the content and tone of his remarks. Prosecutions for fly-tipping have doubled. That could mean either that there is much more fly-tipping or that the authorities are getting better at prosecutions. I agree that the courts have an important role to play in taking fly-tipping seriously. Few things disfigure an area—urban or rural—more than fly-tipping. We need to try to work with local authorities, and give them the right range of powers and the support from the centre from all parts of Government. We have set out some ideas in the document, about which I would be happy to correspond or talk to the hon. Gentleman further. Fly-tipping is a scourge that penalises the vast majority for the benefit of a tiny minority. That is why we believed that it was right to raise that subject as a foundation of waste policy in every local authority in the country.
Will my right hon. Friend assure hon. Members that he will ensure that there are no unnecessary regulatory barriers to the use of waste as a form of energy locally? Accepted technologies now include using tipped car tyres and fuel substitution using innovative fuels in the cement industry. Will local, community-based combined heat and power programmes have their regulatory burden minimised?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, because he links policy on waste, planning and housing, especially new housing. I agree with everything that he said. We are determined to ensure that the sort of regulatory barriers that got in the way in the past no longer exist.
I am proud to be a member of Kettering borough council, which has increased its recycling rate from 4 per cent. in 2003 to 46 per cent., and climbing, now. There are two specific problems in Kettering. One is maggots and the other is fruit and vegetable peelings. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what the DEFRA guidelines are on preventing outbreaks of maggots, with alternate weekly collections in hot summer weather? Will he also confirm that the DEFRA guidelines on fruit and vegetable peelings are that even from uncooked fruit and vegetables, the waste now has to go into the non-recycling bin?
I do not recognise the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. Our guidance on food waste is common sense: you tie up the bags and make sure they are in bins. I am happy to send him the rather more extensive and formal version, which may not use such blunt language. However, common sense goes a long way—in Kettering as well as anywhere else.
Given my comments on the importance of devolution, it would probably be wrong to claim credit on behalf of central Government for the astonishing improvement in Kettering borough council’s performance —but I cannot help but reflect on the help that may have been given in the past few years.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments that local authorities will be responsible for the way in which they collect waste—weekly, bi-weekly or even daily. Will he assure the House that no financial penalties will be imposed on any local authorities when they determine the way in which they should collect waste, as long as they meet their targets? Does he recognise that the route that he is taking, with individual penalties and rewards, may lead to perverse incentives? Would not it be better to reward or penalise the local authorities, and give them bonuses, when they exceed their targets?
We are absolutely clear that there is no question of prescribing specific forms of waste collection or disposal by local authorities. Instead, we prescribe the outcomes that we seek, in diversion from landfill. The landfill allowance trading system contains precisely the sort of reward that my hon. Friend mentions. It rewards the authorities that do best at diverting from landfill, as he describes. I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend previously, and it must be right for central Government to set the national objectives, give local government all the relevant tools to fulfil them, and ensure that we have a financial system that rewards them for doing so. That is what we have put in place.
Waste giant SITA is about to put in a large planning application for a giant incinerator in mid-Cornwall. It breaches Government planning guidance on the proximity principle for dealing with waste and assumes that our country will never match the best in Europe for waste recycling and minimisation. Does the Secretary of State agree that, given that he believes that today’s announcement will greatly increase recycling and reduce the amount of waste that enters the waste stream, it would be appropriate to re-examine the plan? And as a public inquiry is the only way of doing that at this stage, is that not the best way forward, given that the proposal is already budgeted and timetabled?
Because that is a planning issue, I obviously have to be extremely careful about what I say, but there are two relevant points. First, Liberal Democrat Cornwall county council put forward the proposal, and local Liberal Democrats, who are no doubt in touch with local feeling, have decided that that is the right thing to do. Secondly, it would be wrong for me to pop up and announce a public inquiry today, and to interfere with the due processes. The demonisation of energy from waste is not sensible, not least given the discussion that we have had about anaerobic digestion and the waste hierarchy, and given that the hon. Gentleman, his party and I are in complete agreement that landfill is the last resort. All the evidence from Denmark and Sweden shows that we can get landfill rates down to less than 10 per cent. if we have high levels of both energy from waste and recycling.
I thank the Minister for the 2020 targets for Government Departments, but could we not be more ambitious for the Parliamentary Estate? Every day we see Order Papers, Hansards and early-day motion booklets that are not only unread but not even unpacked. Each MP’s office receives a great deal of literature, including thick glossy pamphlets that are even less read than Focus leaflets, if that is at all believable. Is it not possible to persuade some of the organisations concerned to use electronic means of getting in touch with us? At least the delete button on the computer is fairly carbon-neutral.
The House of Commons Commission.
I stand corrected. Having just picked up the Order Paper, I notice that it does not say anywhere on it that it is printed on recycled paper, so that will be an early task to consider. In my own office in the House, which is far from palatial, I have a green waste paper basket with a special plastic cover, and any Order Papers, plus any speeches by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), or anyone else, that I feel need to be recycled can go straight into that bin. That is a step forward.
A surprisingly high proportion of food purchased by households and commercial caterers ends up as waste, and if it goes into landfill it produces a lot of methane, which is very damaging. I welcome the announcement yesterday in the energy White Paper about the increased support for anaerobic digesters. Has the Secretary of State made any estimate of the amount of food that could go into such systems, and the amount of renewable energy that would accordingly be produced?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. I think that I am right in saying that over one third of household food is wasted. Not all of it is edible, as some of it is past its sell-by date; none the less that is a remarkably high proportion. Let us understand what that means, and not just in terms of the environment: about £400 a year is being wasted by families, so that waste is actually hitting people in their pockets, as well as affecting their local environment. Our country has now started out with real drive, thanks to the energy White Paper and the announcements that I have made today on food waste. I would not want to start to suggest figures, but the potential is very great indeed.
May I press the Secretary of State a little further on the issue of resources, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack)? In response to my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State conceded that the White Paper was silent on resources. Until that issue is resolved, there must be some doubt about the attainability of the measures set out in the strategy. Does he believe that the ambitious target can be reached from local authorities’ existing baselines? Does he anticipate getting additional grants from the Chancellor, or will any additional costs be borne by the council tax payer?
I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman, as a former Minister for local government, speaks with authority on the subject. I think that it is recognised on both sides of the House that waste costs are one of the larger pressures on local authority funds. No one would say that there were not real pressures on local authorities to go above their current spending in that regard. Obviously, we need to study the exact nature of those pressures. Of course, there are savings to be made as a result of some of the announcements that I have made today. The diversion from landfill and the avoidance of landfill tax fines is an important way of minimising the extra costs, and obviously we are looking into those issues. I am happy to write and give the exact figures, but I point out that there has been a very large increase in both the revenue and the capital support provided to local authorities to take care of waste infrastructure. There is further to go, but we have made big strides over the past 10 years.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the transport over long distances of lorries full of household rubbish is not a good idea environmentally? Does he therefore agree that we should encourage local authorities to have smaller, local disposal units, rather than using just a handful of large units? If he does agree with that, will he encourage London boroughs to set up incinerators in which to burn their rubbish, instead of dumping it in Essex?
The hon. Gentleman is correct that, all other things being equal, fewer transport miles—especially by lorry—are desirable. He mentioned London; the use of barges on the Thames to take a significant part of London’s waste to the Belvedere plant is an important step forward and a good use of one of London’s obvious natural resource. Behind his question was the important point that Gargantuism is not the answer. Decentralised local solutions are important, including composting, to which the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) referred. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is right to say that we need the right balance between strategic large-scale investment and more local activity, and that is what we hope to promote.
There is much to welcome in the White Paper, including the retention of waste prevention at the top of the waste hierarchy. We must judge whether the tougher measures on wasteful packaging recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) are needed, or whether the current largely voluntary regime is working, so I am sure that the Secretary of State will be able to tell us whether we are set to meet the very first voluntary Courtauld commitment target to design out packaging waste growth in just seven months’ time, and exactly how that is being measured.