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Household Rubbish

Volume 468: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2007

6. What discussions her Department has had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on charges for the collection of household rubbish. (168026)

My Department has kept in close touch with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during the development of its proposals for waste incentives.

The Minister will know that large families are likely to produce the most household waste, and are least likely to be able to afford additional charges. Already, three out of four fly-tips are household waste, and this policy is likely to make that problem worse. Will he join me in congratulating the London borough of Havering, which has decided not to make any additional charges for waste collection, and will he recommend its decision to other local authorities?

I say to the hon. Lady, as I do to other Members, that it is up to local authorities whether they want to be among the five pilots. Before we roll out the pilots, we have to ensure that there are strong strategies in place to prevent fly-tipping, and we will do that. This process is being led by the Conservative-led Local Government Association, which is keen on incentive schemes. We need to get behind the idea because it could make a real difference to the reduction of household waste. If authorities want to leave out certain groups, such as disabled people, pensioners or family groups, it is their right to do so. We are talking about pilots, after all.

My hon. Friend will realise that we all pay for household collection through the council tax. Does he recognise that improving recycling is one the main contributory factors to reducing household waste? Will he re-emphasise that and send out one of his circulars to each council saying that it is up to them to decide their policies, and not this Government?[Official Report, 6 December 2007, Vol. 468, c. 7MC.]

We want to work with local authorities and, as I say, it is up to them if they want to be among the five pilots. The mood that we sense among local authorities is that this process is a positive way of reducing waste, increasing recycling and having more money to return as rebate. This will not be a profit-making exercise. Any savings made have to be paid back to the electorate through a rebate.

The Minister will know that council tax has increased substantially in recent years, and that in those areas that have introduced two-weekly collections, an additional problem has occurred because of vermin. Will he accept that if charges are made for the collection of refuse, there should be a reduction in the council tax?

In some cases, it is the right of local authorities to ensure through such incentive schemes that there is no additional charge at all, but an incentive to produce less waste. That could be done through smaller bins, or in other ways. The hon. Gentleman talks about non-weekly collection. He will be aware that in many cases, it is not just a question of fewer weekly collections, but of more collections of other types of waste, which is important, and of more recycling taking place during those fortnightly periods.

Would not many local authorities like the opportunity to experiment with variable charges? Provided that the pilots are cost-neutral, should we not be backing them?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has concerns about this; I read about them in the Sunday Express this weekend. He said

“Submissions from the Environment Agency warned: ‘We are concerned that the proposals may lead to increases in fly-tipping of household waste’”.

If the hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned about increases in fly-tipping, as he said in the Sunday Express, perhaps he should have supported the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which introduced stiffer fines for people who fly-tip, five-year prison sentences for those who are caught and tougher enforcement. If he is talking about catching such people, more of them are being caught than before.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary can explain how the policy is a positive one to reduce waste when his experts and advisers suggest that it will increase fly-tipping by 155,000 tonnes a year on top of the 186 per cent. increase over which the Government have presided in the past three years. Are the pilots to be kamikazes?

I shall be nice and charitable to the hon. Gentleman, because I find him amusing. However, he is wrong. Let us consider examples in other parts of the world. We have not taken such an approach yet, which is why the Conservative-led Local Government Association wants to try it. In the United States, where waste incentives have been introduced, fewer instances of fly-tipping have occurred in many areas because people are taking a greater interest in recycling.