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Charities: Plastic Bag Charges

Volume 799: debated on Monday 9 September 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Gardiner of Kimble on 17 July (HL Deb, col 232), how much income charities would have received since 17 July had a plastic bag charge on small and medium-sized enterprises been introduced.

My Lords, there is no legal requirement for businesses to donate the proceeds from the charge to charities; businesses are encouraged to donate. The Government’s proposals are at consultation stage and have always been due to come into effect in 2020. As such, charities have not lost any income from the charge. Our initial impact assessment estimates that small and medium-sized businesses, after deducting reasonable business costs, could generate approximately £59 million for good causes in the first full year.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is it not the case that this charge could have been brought in much more quickly and, as a result, charities would have been beneficiaries of a substantial sum of money? At the same time, is it not the case that by delaying the introduction of this charge until 2020, under the revised figures expected under the revised impact assessment something like 1 billion plastic bags will be used in this country in the next six months which would not otherwise have been used?

My Lords, I have looked into this very thoroughly and I understand concerns about the time is it taking, but we are required under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 to carry out regulatory measures and assess business impacts which are reviewed by the independent Regulatory Policy Committee. I know I am getting into the realms of Sir Humphrey, but it is about the detailed feedback on methodology. Given that this charge will affect every smallholder, market trader and charity shop, we are attending to the comments that have come back from the Regulatory Policy Committee. I would like to make progress, and we will do, but we have to go through the due processes. Also, the SI will be affirmative and that will take some time.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the issue of regulation with regard to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, but the scope of that Act applies to all devolved nations, yet Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already extended the plastic bag charge to small and medium-sized enterprises. What justification can there be for this? We are waiting only for England to catch up—everybody else has done it. Wales did it in 2011 and Scotland did it in 2013. It is now 2019. I would have thought that the scope of that Act would have allowed England to catch up by now.

The magnitude and quantum of the number of businesses that will be involved in England will, as I think everyone would agree, be much more significant. As I have said, we are working through the requirements as we understand and have been informed about them. The Regulatory Policy Committee has come back to us with detailed comments on the methodology. We have to receive a positive rating feedback from the RPC. We want to do that because we think there are significant benefits from increasing the charge from 5p to 10p and applying it to all retailers.

My Lords, the Minister said that it is not compulsory for retailers to ensure that the money goes to charities. Last year, 40% of retailers did not say where the money went. Why is it not compulsory for the money to go to charities so that we can be sure that it is going to good causes?

My Lords, from the very outset, this was for businesses, and all businesses—taking away their business costs—were encouraged to donate to good causes. As I say, significant sums have already been given, but we should be mindful, particularly when we go on from larger to smaller business, that this will undoubtedly have to be for businesses. I was very interested to find that the House of Lords last year raised £283.21, and I am pleased to say that we are phasing out our plastic bags. This is the sort of quantum we are talking about. We will be dealing with very small retailers, which is why the noble Baroness hits on something that would be very difficult to enforce.