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Household Rubbish (Charges)

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2008

5. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the relationship between charges for the collection of household rubbish and council tax. (206425)

Our Department is working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on policies to reduce household waste, including possible waste incentive schemes.

I thank the Minister for his response. Will not the Government’s plans for bin taxes simply harm the local environment by causing a surge in fly-tipping and backyard burning, as well as increasing bills for families? Is he aware that in the Republic of Ireland, which already has bin taxes, one in 10 people burn rubbish in their backyard? Surely the Government should be working with councils to extend recycling opportunities.

Of course, we are doing just that—extending recycling opportunities. The performance of local authorities in recent years—including the hon. Gentleman’s own, to which I pay tribute—has been extremely good. I recognise that fly-tipping is a concern, and we have made it clear that any pilots that go ahead would have to be in authorities that could show that they already had a good fly-tipping programme in place, as well as good recycling programmes. I think that we can reduce the risk, but this is clearly one of the things that we can test through pilot schemes, once we get them up and running next year.

In his discussions with his ministerial colleagues on how we manage household waste, will the Minister look at what is already happening in continental Europe, where biodegradable waste is being put back into the waste stream in order to deliver heat and electricity from biogas on a scale that the UK is barely even paddling in? When residents can be the beneficiaries of sustainable energy systems from their own waste, we see a profound change in the culture. Will the Minister explore that process for the UK as well?

My hon. Friend is right, and he knows a great deal about these things, including what goes on in many parts of the continent. My Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are encouraging local authorities to look widely into the kinds of investments and methods that are used—including on the continent—to make the best use of waste as well as to encourage recycling. Part of the provision that we shall put in place over the next three years will double the amount of private finance initiative cover to allow investment in a range of different techniques to go ahead.

May I caution the Minister? In some authorities, including my own—Liberal Democrat-run St. Albans—the literature that accompanied the waste collection was so badly worded that it caused utter confusion and had to be redrafted, rewritten and re-sent. [Hon. Members: “Recycled?”] Unfortunately, we have not had a Tory administration in St. Albans since 1997; otherwise, I am sure that we would have had a better service. Compounding that, we are now going over to a fortnightly putrescible waste collection, which is causing disturbance as well as raising concerns about smells, odours, flies and, indeed, infections. May I ask the Minister to keep a close eye on authorities that are going over to that system and to evaluate the situation after a reasonable time, as I am concerned that residents in my constituency are not being well served?

In the end, the decision on whether to move towards collecting mainstream household waste every other week—in many areas where that happens, they also collect the recyclable waste at the same time—is clearly one for local authorities. I am sure that the hon. Lady will keep a close eye on the situation. We in central Government are interested to see the impact of these schemes, but in the end it is properly a decision—all Members would surely recognise this—for local authorities to take in view of what is best for their area and what can best help them achieve the recycling rates that this country requires over the next few years.