Tuesday, 8 July 2008.
The Committee met at half-past three.
[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Colwyn) in the Chair.]
Before the Minister moves that the first statutory instrument be considered, I remind noble Lords that in the case of each statutory instrument, the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the statutory instrument in question. I should perhaps make it clear that the Motion to approve the statutory instrument will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way.
Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008
rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008.
The noble Lord said: The order was laid before the House on 9 June. It is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act, which allows for necessary or expedient changes to UK legislation in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament.
This order is made in consequence of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006. The purpose of that Act is to address concerns about the condition and quality of private sector housing in Scotland. It implements the recommendations of the Housing Improvement Task Force established by the Scottish Executive in 2001 to look at factors that impeded improvements to housing stock. The task force noted the £5 billion worth of disrepair in Scotland’s privately owned housing and made over 150 recommendations after two years of research. These included the need to improve the information available to home buyers on the condition of properties. The 2006 Act gives Scottish Ministers the power to require sellers to provide specified information to prospective buyers.
The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Prescribed Documents) Regulations 2008 were passed by the Scottish Parliament on 7 February 2008 and will come into force on 1 October 2008. These regulations make provisions within devolved competence to specify the documents that a seller or a selling agent must possess and provide in response to a request from potential buyers. Together these documents are called the home report. Currently most purchasers in Scotland rely on a scheme 1 mortgage valuation report that contains relatively little information about the condition of the property.
The purpose of the home report is to improve the information available to purchasers and improve the quality of housing stock. For houses put on the market after 1 December 2008, the home report will provide information about the condition, energy efficiency and value of the property at the start of the buying and selling process. For the first time, all sellers will have this information before proceeding with marketing and all prospective buyers will have it before deciding whether and how much to offer.
At the core of the home report is a survey and valuation prepared by a qualified surveyor who is registered with or authorised to practise by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Any other providers approved in the future will have to reach equivalent standards. The survey will be commissioned by the seller and made available to all potential purchasers. It is clearly important that buyers should be able to rely on the survey provided in the home report. That means making provision to ensure that a surveyor has a liability towards a buyer in the same way as at present a surveyor has a liability towards a seller.
This Section 104 order is expedient as the Scotland Act lists consumer protection as a matter reserved to this Parliament, so it is beyond the competence of the Scottish Parliament to make provisions of this nature. Therefore Article 3 of this order establishes the liability of a surveyor towards a buyer. If the buyer’s claim is successful, the courts will determine the amount of damages in the usual way.
The Scottish Executive conducted a lengthy consultation on the home report and the majority of respondents have welcomed its introduction. The Scottish Consumer Council has said that the changes which the home report will make,
“are in the interest of buyers and sellers and what consumers want”.
The consumer organisation Which? has said that,
“the Home Report will have an immediate benefit to first-time buyers who often have to spend hundreds in order to find out whether they can, or indeed should, buy a home”.
The home report has also been welcomed by the Energy Saving Trust and Friends of the Earth Scotland.
The Scottish Executive have received constructive feedback on the terms of the home report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. We also understand that the Law Society of Scotland has plans to become a provider of a Law Society of Scotland-branded home report.
The order also amends the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 to reflect the fact that the 2006 Act changes the name of the rent assessment committees to “private rented housing committees”. Members of the former body were already excluded from sitting in the House of Commons and the order will make modifications to reflect the change of name and ensure that members of the renamed body will also be disqualified.
The order demonstrates the Government’s commitment to working with the Scottish Executive to make the devolution settlement work. I hope that the Committee will agree that the order is a sensible use of the powers in the Scotland Act and that the practical result is something to be welcomed. Accordingly, I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008. 22nd report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
I declare my interest as an owner of housing property in Scotland. The Minister will be aware that here in Westminster my party has opposed large parts of similar legislation. However, such legislation now exists in Scotland and was passed by the Scottish Parliament, so it is important that this measure has come before both Houses of this Parliament. If there is to be any right to damages occasioned by it, it is necessary that they can be pursued wherever the various parties find themselves within the UK, without any border demarcation. Consumer protection is a UK issue, and that is very proper.
This is bound to be a tricky area; one tries to think how a claim like this will be triggered. It will probably be mainly as a result of discovering some defect in the property, such as dry rot or something like that. It might equally be when the purchaser is quickly remarketing the property and finds that he is liable to make a big loss on the resale. It could be argued that that is part of the market mechanism, but he is very likely to try to raise a claim.
Surveyors will mainly have to act as if they were acting on behalf of the buyer, and they may get limited co-operation from the vendor. The inspection will tend to be fairly rigorous, and the costs will all have to be met by the vendor. The only other aspect that is slightly worrying, with the market in its present state, is that this may cause a weakening of the housing market in Scotland. I do not know if the Government have any views on the effect that this small measure may have.
I welcome this order. I inquire, however, partly for historical reasons, whether the arrangements which are made more effective in Scotland as a result of the order were subject to discussion with the Government before the implementation of the Housing (Scotland) Act. As the Minister said, this is a good example of co-operation with the Scottish Executive, but I take it that Her Majesty’s Government do not simply try to rationalise something of this nature after the event, particularly, as the noble Duke said, when there was some controversy about the substance of it in the context of the English debate.
There is a great deal of sense in consumer protection matters being decided on a United Kingdom basis; indeed, there may even be sense in consumer protection law becoming more standard across the entire European Union. It would not worry me unduly if that were the trend, because consumers have a right to have a simple system of protection that is as widespread as possible where they are likely to be making purchases or sales. Of course, many people now purchase second homes in countries overseas, where standards of protection are not necessarily the same, but that goes wide of the order.
It is a matter of some interest to know whether the substance of the home report to which the Minister helpfully referred was sprung as a surprise on the Government or whether there was a consultative period prior to implementation of the Act. I can see no possible disadvantage in the provisions of the order, which beefs up considerably the effectiveness of the provisions for reports and acts as a strong disincentive to give shoddy or inadequate valuations and reports. I welcome the order in those terms.
I am grateful for the welcome of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for the order, and the rather more muted enthusiasm of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. I recognise that his party had some reservations about the English version of the measure, but, as he rightly acknowledged, this is an issue of consumer protection, which is why it is on a UK-wide basis.
I accept exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said: not only is it to be welcomed that consumer protection measures should be UK-wide, but we ought to expect such measures to form part of European initiatives as time goes on, against the background where people purchase across frontiers and need defences for any wrongs that may be done to them as they do so. The noble Lord is right to say that second homes are involved. What enthusiasm I am meant to express from the Dispatch Box for second home purchases in other countries I am not so sure, but I recognise that those who do purchase need to be fully aware of what they are doing and need all the protection that we can provide. In so far as we see extensions of that in due course, so be it.
The purpose of the order is to introduce into Scotland an opportunity for greater awareness of the position on the part of the purchaser, because of the additional information in the home report. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked what impact it may have on the housing market. He particularised it at first by asking whether it will lead to claims such as, “I have bought the house, but now it does not look to be as valuable as when I bought it”. He is right to say that that looks to be more of an issue of the housing market than of the surveyor’s report and the home report to which scrutiny is given. It is much more likely, rather than being on the global value of the house, that the claim will be that the surveyor had failed to identify a serious defect with the house which was causing the loss of value. It would not be the price and the loss of value that was the issue but the defect that had not been identified by the professional, in which case there might be a question of a claim. We have said that any such claim of a failure in that respect must be able to be pursued across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I am sure that he recognises the value of that. The order covers it.
On the more general point about the effect on the market, the order will come into play this December, a month in which the housing market traditionally is dampened down and a relatively small number of transactions are concluded.
The noble Duke also talked about anxieties that have been expressed about the home report dampening the market. First, the home report is a particular service to the consumer that is meant to give the purchaser of a house, where purchasers are involved, greater security in what is probably their most substantial transaction ever. Protection is necessary. Secondly, I doubt whether this legislative change for benign consumer protection will be particularly marked, given that, as we all recognise, the housing market is changing in fairly significant ways and may do so for the foreseeable future. It is therefore highly unlikely that the order will have much to do with market conditions. I think the noble Duke will appreciate that rather bigger forces are at play with regard to house prices, so he should not expect too great an impact in those terms.
Again on the more general issues that have been raised, I emphasise that the reason for the order relates to an important dimension of the housing market in Scotland in that it seeks to improve the condition of Scottish housing, which we all recognise falls below the standard that we would wish to see. This measure is therefore brought before the Committee because of its consumer protection dimension, which is a UK-reserved issue for the very reasons to which the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, referred.
I hope that noble Lords who made points about the order will feel reassured, and I commend it to the Committee.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2008
rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2008.
The noble Lord said: We meet today to debate a proposed technical change to the UK’s packaging regulations. I assure noble Lords that I have checked this. It is not an underhand fiddle; it is a purely technical change to the regulations. The regulations remove an administrative burden from exporters of metal packaging waste intended for recycling overseas. After the packaging regulations came into force in 1997, the UK's packaging waste recovery rate rose from 30 per cent to around 63 per cent by the end of 2007. This is an excellent achievement by all sectors involved in the packaging chain, and all parts of the industry deserve congratulations.
Alongside the overall directive target of 60 per cent for recovery and recycling, the UK also has to meet a 50 per cent recycling target specifically for metals. The amendment will ensure that we are able to count eligible packaging waste towards the achievement of the packaging directive targets for recovery and recycling. I emphasise that it does not reduce the level of environmental protection contained in the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations.
Metal smelting is a relatively clean process, and market intelligence suggests that most of the metal exports are reprocessed at the top of the range of industrial plants. These are often owned by major multinational companies. The environmental benefits of recycling metals are beyond doubt. As scrap metals have a high intrinsic value, there is little or no risk that shipments would get dumped. We are confident that the metals are going to the right places and are being handled in broadly equivalent conditions in modern facilities, but exporters cannot always obtain the evidence to show that this is the case. This places the achievement of the packaging directive’s recycling target for metal at risk, as we cannot meet it without export. The amendment that we are proposing to the packaging regulations would ease this problem. It gives the Environment Agency more discretion in assessing what sound evidence of “broadly equivalent” would mean.
The original regulations seemed to be accepted by the industry without complaint. This measure may appear to be an example of typical Defra gold-plating, but it is proposed with the best of intentions. The industry was relaxed about the original regulations and believed that it could cope with them. However, since their introduction, complaints have arisen with regard to metal. Therefore, we need to make this technical adjustment. As I say, it meets all the environmental aspects and targets. The Environment Agency is in charge of this matter, but the amendment gives it more discretion. I commend the regulations to the Committee. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2008. 23rd report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Rooker.)
I declare an interest as my family horticultural and agricultural business is an obligated producer under these regulations. I am also co-chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group. I hope that this gives me an insight into how these regulations will work. Although no one in business welcomes the administration and cost that they will entail, the greater purpose of resource conservation—that is, waste recovery and recycling—is well served by the system. However, the imposition of detailed record-keeping imposes a great cost on business and we should be mindful of this in how we implement these regulations.
To what extent does the Minister think that the 2007 regulations have been successful in reducing the overall amount of waste? The new regulations continue the process of seeking to increase recycling rates. The business targets are higher than the target set under the EU directive to allow for the substantial number of small businesses excluded from the obligations. Do similar arrangements operate elsewhere in the EU? Will the business targets set meet the EU targets in a direct comparison?
However, as the Minister said, the principal purpose of the new regulations appears to be the need to tackle the slippage which occurs through the export of metals. It is surprising that aluminium recycling is at a remarkably low level at around 30 per cent. The PERN, which forms part of the waste export industry’s vocabulary, has to compete with the very high value of metals themselves and the difficulty of getting sound evidence that the recycling meets the criteria. To the extent that the regulations recognise that difficulty and seek to find a more flexible method of providing sound evidence through the discretion available to the Environment Agency, we understand their purpose.
However, we remain concerned about them. I hope that the Minister will indicate what guidelines might be followed. We cannot be relaxed about the way in which less valuable recovered products might be dumped in landfill or even at sea. The news of police raids today shows that there is cause for concern that criminal gangs may have infiltrated the genuine waste recycling industry, and local authorities are losing the battle against the theft of road signs and street furniture. If it can be lifted, it is a potential target for thieves.
The Government may believe that the regulations will be used mainly for high-value metals. I understand that thinking, although I am less sure of how it can be achieved. It could extend the possibility of disreputable activity here and abroad as we export our waste responsibilities. Indeed, it could be an open invitation to cheats and rogues. I look for the Minister’s reassurance in this regard.
I certainly welcome the Minister’s confirmation of the increased percentage of recycling, rising from 30 to 63 per cent, which marks an important improvement over quite a long period, but still leaves room to make further progress. It shows how bad we were at recycling in the past, and how much we are mending our reputation.
On consultation with the European Union, how certain are we that under the Commission’s purview of the implementation of these directives this will be an acceptable new definition? When reading through the Explanatory Notes to the 2007 regulations, I was slightly perturbed by paragraph 7.5, which gives the Environment Agency more discretion on the sound evidence that exported packaging waste will be reprocessed under conditions that are broadly equivalent to EC requirements. The regulations seem to follow that. It is almost a way of changing the rules in order to meet the target, and I am concerned that there is a little of that flavour here.
I would be particularly interested to hear from the Minister what proportion of these metals are being exported and what he believes is our potential to move that trade back for processing in this country. In terms of miles travelled in export and the resultant energy used and the carbon footprint, that would be a much better solution. Also, I would be interested to know about the destinations for this waste. Does it go to the other side of the globe or elsewhere in Europe? In his introduction to the regulations, the Minister used the phrase, “market intelligence suggests”, which is a slightly inexact form of appraisal of where the waste is going. Is there an inspection regime to check where the waste is destined for? Given the rise in the value of recyclable metals, it is unlikely that they will be thrown away or disposed of in an inappropriate fashion.
I am also interested in the Minister’s answers to the questions put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who asked whether the goods are completely legitimate and what the Government are doing to ensure that only legal waste is being exported. However, I welcome the regulations and hope that this regime will prove to be a more effective way of dealing with recycling, but I hope it is not a means by which to change the rules just to meet the targets.
First, I shall answer one of the latter questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which was also implied in what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said. In effect, I admitted in my opening speech—although it was not in my text—that there had initially been an element of gold-plating in the regulations. We are now bringing our regulations more directly in line with the wording of the directive. That is the point about paragraph 7.5. I asked colleagues, “By the way, if these were done in 2007”—when I was at Defra—“did I put them through?”. Apparently that was consolidation and they went through in 2005, so I plead not guilty. I also suspect that I would not have spotted it anyway, but I tend to ask about over-regulation and gold-plating. By bringing our regulations more into line with the directive, we are giving flexibility to the Environment Agency. We are not cutting corners; we are taking out what could have been classed as gold-plating.
With regard to the actual metals, it is true that the overall figures are a success. The directive target for the UK, which we have to meet by 31 December this year, sets a minimum of 60 per cent recovery of all packaging waste and a minimum of 55 per cent recycling. The breakdown of that is 60 per cent for glass, 60 per cent for paper and board and 50 per cent for metals. We cannot achieve that without export; that is part of the issue before us. The target for plastics is 22.5 per cent, quite a precise figure, while for wood it is 15 per cent. The UK has an overall business target of 72 per cent recovery of packaging waste in 2008, of which 92 per cent must be recycling.
The noble Lord is also quite right about the cost of some of this. One probably would not get the metal dumped; it is only the people dealing with metal recycling who have made the point to us that there is a difficulty. I have the figures here, but I cannot find them. Aluminium is running at about £1,000 a tonne and steel at £200 a tonne, so quite a lot of money is involved. The energy saved by recycling aluminium is enormous and apparently you can continue to recycle it; it can be recycled an infinite number of times, as I deployed in answer to questions in the House.
With regard to where material is exported to, I am pleased to see that at least one of the places is in Europe: Germany, China, India, Thailand and Malaysia are the areas. These exports are regulated by the Environment Agency, which operates in a sense like a local authority by going out to check the environmental conditions. Metal would not be dumped anyway—it is too expensive, and one can get one’s money back. Where other waste is concerned, there are checks and balances to ensure that there is no dumping. Waste going abroad for dumping is illegal. That is crystal clear.
Here we are dealing essentially with metal. The noble Lord asked about what he heard on the news this morning. I regret to say that that is nothing new. I myself have noticed reports over the past two or three years about church roofs and other areas being affected by what I describe as spivs and malcontents. The idea that they are taking out the copper wires of railway signalling systems is just appalling, and it is right that there is a complete clampdown on that. But the fact is that the stolen metal is being exported; it is not for dumping. That is the point. We need to be able to meet the targets we have been given and that we have accepted. That is the issue here. The Environment Agency is involved in that. It has to be satisfied.
The wording in paragraph 7.5, as the noble Lord picked out, is more akin to what is in the original European directive. We have taken out the bit that we found to be impractical. It was shown in the further evidence note of the Explanatory Memorandum that the cost to industry of producing the paperwork and tracing compared to the cost and the value of the business with regard to metal was so tiny that it would be difficult to achieve it. If we can give the Environment Agency a bit more discretion and it sticks within the rules of the directive, everyone is a winner. The Government—indeed, all of us—want what is exported within the rules to count against our target. Some of the metal is exported and not set against our target because it is too difficult for the end user to organise the paperwork and the certificates. If we can get that into line, what is exported will be counted against the directive and we will be less likely to suffer infraction proceedings. That is the whole point of the exercise.
That was exactly what I suspected: that far more than 20-odd per cent of aluminium is being recycled but is not being recorded because it is not worth the hassle of having these chains of movement certified all the way along the line. In addition, I notice in the Explanatory Memorandum that there is sometimes a break in knowledge because an agency is involved that does not want to reveal where it is moving the stuff on to because it is making a profit out of it; it is then commercially confidential information.
In many ways, I am reassured that the Minister has been able to place on the record the background against which this regime operates. Opening the thing up is possibly quite wise because otherwise we would probably never achieve the targets as the exporting would go on but would never be recorded as UK recycling activity. However, I hope the Minister will agree that a careful eye needs to be kept on this in case it opens the door to illegal activity and to the pirates just as much as to the legitimate operator.
The noble Lord is absolutely right that we need to keep a watch on this. I take that on board completely. Parliamentary scrutiny of the effect of the regulations will be pretty crucial.
I gave some figures when I talked about the targets, but I did not say what is being done and what is being sent abroad, although I gave rough locations. I shall give round figures. In 2007, 2.26 million tonnes of packaging waste—the regulations apply only to packaging waste—were exported for reprocessing, as were 1.5 million tonnes of paper, 217,000 tonnes of glass, 19,000 tonnes of aluminium, 164,000 tonnes of steel, and 320,000 tonnes of plastic. The figure is zero for wood, which I find difficult to understand. Perhaps it is not packaging, but it is on the list. Forty-two per cent of all aluminium was destined for recycling, as was 43 per cent of all steel.
We have a long way to go in many ways. I have no idea about the weight of aluminium cans, although I once did my sums for Parliamentary Questions. I had to work out how much energy recycled drinks cans would save to power a light bulb for a bit because we did not have to use the energy to smelt the bauxite. There is a big bonus here, but we have a long way to go. I am told that by and large, without the regulations, we do not have a prayer of meeting our targets on metals. We are not shifting the goalposts, we are bringing the rules more into line with the original intention, but I fully take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that we need to see how the regulations are implemented and what their effect is. As he said, the stuff is being exported, but we want it to count towards our targets.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008
rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008.
The noble Lord said: The draft order sets out the proposed constitution and membership of the London Waste and Recycling Board. The purpose of the board is to improve the environmental sustainability of waste management across London.
I am reminded by officials, by the way, how much the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Hamwee, pressed the point when the original legislation was going through. They got that spot on.
The order takes forward the Government’s commitment, following the review of the Mayor of London’s powers, to set up a pan-London body including the mayor and the boroughs. During the passage of the Greater London Authority Act through Parliament, the Government agreed to put the body on to a statutory basis, and provision is made for this in the GLA Act. This has support from all interested parties, in particular from London Councils and the Mayor of London.
The board will be able to look strategically at waste and recycling issues across the capital, and help drive improvements. In particular, it will aim to improve environmental performance in waste management, increase recycling and decrease the amount of waste sent to landfill to ensure that London is well placed to meet European and domestic targets. In view of the importance of tackling the top of the waste hierarchy, the board’s objectives also focus on minimising the amount of waste produced and increasing re-use.
The Government have always considered that the board offers an excellent framework for the mayor and London boroughs to work together to achieve these objectives. We recognise that the mayor sets out the pan-London vision in his regional strategies, but also respects the boroughs’ role in delivering waste services to residents.
The mayor and London Councils have recently written to us with a joint proposal for an eight-member board, chaired by the mayor or by a representative appointed by him. The remaining members of the board will be four councillors from London boroughs, chosen by London Councils, and three independent members from the private, community and academic sectors, two of whom will be chosen by London Councils and one by the mayor. The order reflects this jointly agreed proposal, and has been welcomed by all parties in the other place. Unlike the first order, this one went through the other place last week.
The Government have announced that we will make £60 million available to the board over the next three years. The fund will be managed by the board in whatever way it sees fit to meet its objectives. There is widespread agreement that London needs additional infrastructure, in particular for organics and food waste, and that the fund can facilitate this.
We very much welcome the new mayor’s personal interest in giving the board strategic direction. I also welcome his commitment of £24 million to the board, which has been set aside for commercial waste projects by the London Development Agency. It is therefore expected that the board will be able to work on both commercial and municipal waste streams and, we hope, to identify synergies and opportunities.
The board will be able to identify where partnerships will be beneficial, and potentially to promote and facilitate them. These could be partnerships between the boroughs, or between the commercial and municipal waste sectors, where economies and efficiency savings can be made, or which realise the potential for making things easier for residents.
We have adopted a flexible approach to the board determining its own proceedings and operation, including the ability to appoint staff and sub-committees to consider particular issues as it sees fit. In order to ensure proper accountability and transparency, the board must set out its priorities and strategy before it can award any funds. It must also provide an annual report on its activities.
In order to promote openness, we have also proposed public access to the board’s meetings along similar lines to those used by local authorities. I am always reminded that the access of the public to local authorities was the result of a Private Member’s Bill proposed way, way back by a very young Member of Parliament then called Margaret Thatcher—a good case of freedom of information there, when you think about it. I shall not say anything else. The board will be audited by the Audit Commission, and its accounts will be published.
Although London’s recycling continues to improve, much still needs to be done to transform London’s waste management to an environmentally sustainable operation. There is agreement on the need to move forward and on the direction of travel, and the order will make that happen, and I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008. 22nd report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Rooker.)
We welcome this proposal. Within the UK, the Greater London region poses particular challenges as regards local decision-making and regional co-ordination and strategy-making. I understand that various options were considered to find a way forward. The trick is not to divert waste authorities from their task of increasing waste recovery and recycling while reducing the use of landfill in line with the EU landfill directive and providing a co-ordinated waste strategy.
What assessment has been made of the ability of the London Waste and Recycling Board to meet these challenging targets? How does the Minister envisage that it will interact with the borough waste authorities to ensure that that strategy is reinforced and that investment is made without deflecting them from their key role? Presumably, dialogue will take place between the board and the boroughs.
I am sure that the Minister recognises the delicate balance that this order represents. We believe that a single waste authority which undermined the progress made by London boroughs would be a mistake. The advisory and co-ordinating role of the London Waste and Recycling Board is a sensible compromise and, like the Minister, we are delighted that London’s mayor will chair it. If we get this right, London can become a world leader in urban waste management.
We on these Benches welcome this order. As the Minister said, my noble friend Lady Hamwee very much welcomes it. She has asked me to remind the Committee that the board should be, in her words, “tough and ambitious”, and I am sure that will be the case.
I may have failed to hear the Minister mention the relevant figure as regards the Government’s financial backing for the board and I should be grateful if he would repeat it. Under Article 4(7)(c) of the order, the mayor’s representative may be removed if the mayor believes that he has,
“become unable, unfit or unsuitable to carry out that person’s duties”.
Does that mean that the mayor can more or less get rid of that person as he or she sees fit, or would these criteria be applied much more tightly? In what circumstances would that sub-paragraph be used?
What criteria will the Government use to judge the success of the board? What do they expect it to achieve in the next couple of years?
Article 4 applies specifically and exclusively to the mayor’s representative. However, the mayor must act reasonably at all times. You cannot act on a whim or a hunch. The mayor has appointed the representative and therefore must give a reason why he subsequently considers that the latter,
“has become unable, unfit or unsuitable to carry out that person’s duties”.
As I say, the mayor must act reasonably at all times. The important point to note is that the mayor will be given the power to appoint the representative. It will be his choice.
The overall figure for the current spending review period is £60 million. There is no commitment as regards funding under the next Comprehensive Spending Review, but that is the case as regards all other departments. This one is no different. The current profile spend of that £60 million is £19.8 million, £22.8 million and £17.4 million. That has been adjusted from the initial announcement, being mindful of pressure on the board in its crucial first year. Over half, some 52 per cent, will be capital funding.
I turn to the test of success. The London boroughs are all on board with this, which is crucial, and the mayor has embraced it; I understand that he said so in his manifesto and gave a firm commitment. We are very pleased about that. We fully expect to see him in the chair, at least for the first meeting, and that he will have a representative appointed. I understand that procedures are under way; announcements have not been made at present, but they will be made quite quickly once Parliament has approved the order. The recycling rate in London has increased by more than 14 percentage points since 2001, so there has been success in the London boroughs. The inner ones are more difficult. I myself in the past 12 months have transferred from an outer to an inner borough, and I know how much more difficult it is to recycle. It needs to improve significantly.
Twenty-two London boroughs have agreed to local area agreement targets that would result in an average recycling rate of more than 36 per cent between them by the year 2010-11; 10 London boroughs have proposed targets that would see a reduction in residual waste of around 10 per cent; six London boroughs aim to achieve an approximate doubling of their recycling and composting rates by 2010. In some ways the test is going to be, we hope, a dramatic improvement in recycling rates. The point is that the board can take a strategic look at London; it is not one-size-fits-all. That is the beauty of it. These waste authorities work hard and efficiently in the hands of the boroughs, but we need a pan-London view to ease their activities. Boroughs can work in combination where otherwise, if they worked without this kind of operation, one can imagine the paperwork that would flow between the treasurers about the split of money and so on. The private sector is also involved in these operations, so the board has incredible flexibility to get people to work together. I understand that the money is not new money; it is what goes to local authorities, many of which already receive it. In this case, it is sliced off for London so that we have a strategic pan-London view. That is quite important.
Regarding our overall recycling rates, some boroughs will move quicker than others, but they have all been set targets. For the board to be in line for money from the next Comprehensive Spending Review, operated by the Government in three years’ time, it will have to show success in what it has done with the £60 million—or, effectively, £84 million, because there is about £20 million more coming from the London Development Agency. That has to be the test. The boroughs and the board are better placed than central government to decide these actions. That is crucial, and it is what came across in the Greater London Bill. It is important, we thought, for the mayor to be involved and to take that pan-London view. I do not want to go over all the debates about one London authority for everything. One size does not fit all; that was our view.
There was a stakeholder event in January that showed support for the board and the associated fund. It identified some key priority areas, such as organics and food waste, as I have already mentioned, where there was an opportunity for the board to make a difference in London. It is the case that there is food waste—or, rather, surplus; “waste” is a bad word. There is at least one experimental plant in the country where food waste mixed with local authority green waste is running an anaerobic digestion plant of some 5,000 tonnes a year to see, experimentally, what the optimum size is. The person running it said that they thought that the optimum size would be about 15,000 tonnes a year. That needs to be organised. However, given that the waste is there anyway, the prize is electricity back into the grid and a product that can be used on the land. It is environmentally friendly all round. In other words, there is no incentive whatever to go to landfill. That really is a big prize. One would not imagine—I am thinking aloud—such plants in every borough. It would not be justified, given the planning conditions, the location and the amount of product. One has to look at that. A pan-London board could take a view on these issues. With a fairly substantial amount of money over three years, our expectation is that it could deliver real change. That will be the test: has there been real change over the three years?
On Question, Motion agreed to.