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Carrier Bags

Volume 473: debated on Thursday 13 March 2008

As announced in the Budget, the Government will introduce legislation under the Climate Change Bill to enable us to require certain retailers to charge for single-use carrier bags if sufficient progress is not made voluntarily.

I am sure that we all welcome the Chancellor’s announcement. Clearly, he had seen my question on the Order Paper and wanted to ensure that my hon. Friend had a positive answer to give. Given that this is a useful, although small, step along the road, would it be possible to announce the date of the death of the single-use carrier bag and perhaps run a competition to find the best ecological alternative?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interesting suggestions. We have had a voluntary agreement in place with 22 major retailers and six trade associations for the past year to bring about a 25 per cent. reduction in the environmental impact of plastic bags. We have found that only a 7.79 per cent. reduction has occurred in the total number of plastic bags. That is clearly not good enough. So that is why we intend to legislate if we do not make sufficient progress. We will not legislate until such time as we have given the opportunity for that agreement to run its course, but we are very determined to see the end of the single-use free bag at the point of shopping.

Does the Minister not understand that the Chancellor’s proposals would be much more welcome if the tax raised was ploughed back into environmental charities? Otherwise, it will just look like another stealth tax.

I need to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, of course, this is not a tax; this is a charge—[Interruption]that retailers would be obliged to make. It is very important that he understand that point; it is really important. However, the point that he has spotted is that, of course, that could lead to a serious increase in revenue for those who make the charges. We have had discussions with them. A very good example has been set already: Marks and Spencer, where the money raised is going to environmental causes. That will be what we insist upon.