New Clause 6 - Charges for the collection of household waste

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:40 pm ar 1 Chwefror 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

'(1) Section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is amended as follows.

(2) Leave out subsection (3) and insert—

''(3) A charge may be made for the collection of household waste where this is directly related to the amount of waste collected from each household as prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.''.'.—[Paddy Tipping]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Llafur, Sherwood

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Ceidwadwyr, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 9—Incentive schemes for collection of householder waste—

'(1) The Environmental Protection Act 1990 is amended as follows.

(2) For section 45, subsection (3), substitute—

''(3) No charge shall be made for the collection of household waste except in cases that are—

(a) prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State; and in any of those cases—

(i) the duty to arrange for the collection of the waste shall not arise until a person who controls the waste requests the authority to collect it; and

(ii) the authority may recover a reasonable charge for the collection of the waste from the person who made the request; or

(b) under the provision of subsection (3A) below.

(3A) The Secretary of State may authorise a waste collection authority to operate in all or any part of their area an incentive based household waste collection scheme, a proposal for which  has been submitted to the Secretary of State, to reward householders who separate their waste for recycling and who minimise their residual waste.

(3B) Before any authorisation may be given under subsection (3B) above, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that a proposed scheme—

(a) has identified and addressed the particular needs of low income households;

(b) has identified the needs of households with particular problems reducing residual waste;

(c) will only operate in areas with adequate provisions of recycling collections;

(d) will only operate in areas with either composting collections or a home composting scheme; and

(e) has adequate measures to address potential increases in fly-tipping.''

(3) In section 51, at end of subsection (2), insert—

''(2A) Where the Secretary of State has authorised a scheme under section 45(3A) above, that authorisation may include specific exemptions to subsection (2)(c) above in all or part of the area of that authority.'.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Llafur, Sherwood

New clause 6 provides the Committee with the opportunity to talk about how we charge for the disposal of domestic household waste. Typically, at the moment, we charge through the council tax, but new clauses 6 and 9 allow the discussion of alternative methods of charging for the disposal of such waste, which is variously called directive, variable or incentive charging.

The new clause is straightforward. Existing legislation does not permit such an approach. Indeed, section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 forbids local authorities from taking such an approach. New clause 6 takes away that prohibition and gives the Secretary of State a permissive power to bring forward schemes to allow direct charging. New clause 9, in the name hon. Member for Guildford, does the same thing, but rather than giving a permissive power, it gives indications of how that might be done. I would characterise the situation as my taking, on this occasion, the more liberal, permissive approach and the Liberal Democrats being more restrictive than permissive. It is nice to get one up.

There have been widespread discussions about direct charging, and I would be grateful if, during our debate, the Minister could bring us up to date with the discussions that I know are taking place between his Department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasury.

There is widespread support for the proposal to move towards direct charging. Let me quote from the Prime Minister's strategy unit's report, ''Waste not, Want not'', in 2002:

''Local authorities that wish to take forward household incentive schemes to help reduce waste volumes and increase recycling should be allowed to do so.''

The Minister will be aware that prominent, distinguished members of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are present. My hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Mr. Hall) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and myself were involved in   report, called ''The Future of Waste Management'', which was published by that Committee in May 2003. It said:

''We regret that the Government have not yet decided whether to allow local authorities to introduce household incentive schemes.''

There is already a body of evidence available to draw on, and local authorities are best placed to judge what it suitable for their areas. The report added:

''We are strongly in favour of local authorities being given the ability to introduce incentive schemes if they so wish.''

As well as the scheme finding support from the strategy unit and the Select Committee, local authorities are in favour of experimenting and piloting an approach to direct charging. In a letter, the Local Government Association stated that it is

''in favour of councils being given the power to introduce incentive schemes. We would not support the introduction of a duty in this respect, but we would welcome local authorities being given the freedom to introduce incentive schemes if they wished to do so.

This reflects the LGA's underlying position on freedoms and flexibilities for councils, and proposes councils should have a power—rather than a duty—to charge.''

There is a growing body of opinion in favour of direct charging in this country. We can set that against examples in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, to a lesser extent in France, and more recently in Ireland, where direct charging has been introduced. The Socialist Environment and Resources Association, a body that my right hon. Friend knows well, undertook a study in the United States in 2000 in which 6,000 communities used direct charging.

It is now possible to draw some lessons from that body of evidence and experience. Experience shows that there are advantages to incentive charging. Most importantly, it makes local residents and householders aware of the costs and consequences of waste disposal. At the moment they are not, because the costs are hidden in the council tax.

Photo of Patrick Hall Patrick Hall Llafur, Bedford

I am very interested in what my hon. Friend is saying, and he is talking now about evidence from elsewhere—largely from the continent—about how incentive charging works. Is there any evidence that charging individual residents leads to an increase in fly-tipping? That point may crop up and be made by those who oppose such charging.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Llafur, Sherwood

There is widespread research on the subject. I am delighted that we are discussing the new clause in the context of this Bill, which is very much about fly-tipping. We have had long discussions about fly-tipping, and it is important to change the culture surrounding it. The evidence from the United States and mainland Europe suggests that although the introduction of direct charging led to short-term problems, in the medium term when new standards were set and new levels of behaviour were expected, there was no increase in fly-tipping. We can resolve the problem of fly-tipping and encourage people by making them aware of the cost of waste disposal.

We can also reduce the amount of waste produced. All the evidence suggests that if people are responsible for the volume and weight of the material in their   dustbin, they will be more careful and will reduce the amount of waste. In Ireland, there is a big financial incentive from direct charging. The waste bills of people from Monaghan have reduced; they saw that they would save money and so changed their behaviour. The amount of waste has reduced, the amount they are paying has reduced, and the amount that the council is paying for waste disposal has reduced. It sounds to me like a win, win, win situation.

Another win is that people are more careful about what they buy. Some of us—not me frequently—will have bought small bottles of perfume in large packaging. If people are responsible for paying for its disposal, they will buy less packaging. The large supermarkets, particularly Tesco, are undertaking some interesting work on packaging. I am very much of the opinion that an approach that measures the amount of waste—makes the disposal directly at waste cost—is going to reduce waste across the piece.

Finally—I have an exciting life—I went to Bradford recently, to have a look at their dustbin lorry. The dustbin lorry can weigh the amount of waste in the bin, can tag the bin and knows where the waste is coming from—each particular household. A picture of waste disposal in Bradford can be built up.

Increasingly, we need to be more aware of where waste is being produced and how we dispose of it. That is a big issue for local authorities, because of the landfill tax. We need better data and methodology. Such an approach would give us that. The result in Sweden, Holland, Germany, Ireland and, more locally, the Isle of Man has been waste reduction. In Germany, Denmark and Ireland recycling through direct charging has risen by 90 per cent. There is a lot going for that approach.

I am pleased that the Committee will have a chance to debate direct charging. Both new clause 6 and new clause 9 give very permissive powers to the Secretary of State. Should a scheme come forward later, the Secretary of State is given considerable flexibility to take such an approach. On new clause 9, I was interested that the hon. Member for Guildford spelt out some of the criteria that the Secretary of State might like to consider in bringing forward such a scheme. For example, is it possible to design regulations that take into account household size or the ability of people to pay?

Finally, when the Minister comes to reply, could he update the Committee about what is happening in the real world, outside this place, with waste disposal? A lot of local councils are piloting such an approach, which seems to show a willingness to go in that direction.

Perhaps he could also tell us what has happened since December 2004, when the Government announced £5 million for local authorities to provide incentives for households to recycle waste. The money is available and local authorities are in a position to bid for it, giving the clear indication that, despite—or perhaps as a result of—the discussion that is going on between Departments, there is a feeling in Whitehall that we should look at the approach seriously.

I am pleased that we have discussed this issue once again. Last time I moved a similar clause in Committee, I was told that it would not be long before we went down this road. I believe firmly that we will. The Minister, I suspect, will tell us not today, but I look forward to the next Parliament. I look forward to the manifestos of the individual political parties. If I was looking in my crystal ball, I would see not waste, but a more sustainable way of waste disposal through direct charging.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 3:00, 1 Chwefror 2005

I very much welcome the remarks made by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who set out the case very clearly and constructively. The Liberal Democrats, too, have been following the debate after the publication of the strategy unit's waste development report, because much can be done. We have talked about charging, which does not necessarily mean a bill through the door. It can mean discounts and vouchers, and the opportunity to partake of council services using those vouchers. There is a whole range of schemes, but the clause does not define the sorts of charges or discounts that should be created. It is very much a matter for the local authority to decide what works in its area.

The whole purpose of the schemes is to encourage local authorities with good waste management strategies to take them one stage further to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, which we all agree must be reduced in one way or another. The best way to do that is by encouraging and persuading, rather than by what is being done under the current system. The report ''Waste not, Want not'' suggested that, by 2006, 30 per cent. of collection authorities would have tried incentive-based schemes to reduce their waste. With 11 months to go, however, that is simply not happening. We have not yet reached the point at which local authorities can move to the freedom of direct charging, which I suspect is because of current legislation and Treasury rules, although again I would welcome the opportunity for local authorities to consider it if they believed it to be the right thing for their waste strategy.

The Government need to work with waste disposal authorities to implement a range of pilot schemes. The new clause very much assumes that pilot schemes will be advanced, that the Government will want to review them, encourage them and promote best practice. In a parliamentary question on 10 March 2004, the Liberal Democrats asked whether that could happen now. The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment replied:

''Amendments to sections 45 and 51 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 would be required''.—[Official Report, House of Commons, 10 March 2004; Vol. 418, c. 1546W.] 

We therefore tabled an extra paragraph to allow for that.

We want a variety of schemes to be implemented. We want to know how we can make progress with the best schemes and to see how we can deal with the scourge of landfill and the whole problem of waste. I quite accept the point made by the hon. Member for Sherwood that waste reduction, improvements to packaging and all the other strategies about which we talk so often in our debates are a part of the strategy for reducing waste.

The new clause is an interim solution in that it allows pilot schemes to be carried out. Eventually, it would probably allow the Minister to say that further legislation was required in the light of those pilot schemes.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 3:23, 1 Chwefror 2005

I was discussing why it is important for local authorities to be able to undertake pilots in this area, and why the clause enables those pilots to take place. We must get some clear measurements, so we know where we are going with variable waste charging, and how we might make improvements. It is strange that other countries seem to be able to get substantial decreases in landfill but we are not taking the opportunity to get those decreases for ourselves.

There are ''what if'' questions. What if fly-tipping increases? We need to get some hard information, so we know what is happening, and what steps can be taken to decrease fly-tipping. We also need to know whether the measurements are volume or weight based. We have had debates on that before; local authorities sometimes get worried because volume measures of waste disposal would help them—particularly in dealing with plastics—but weight is generally the way that we measure waste at present. What if the costs are too great? Much of the research by Eunomia and others suggests that costs tend to neutralise as landfill tax increases; it is not a great cost on local authorities because if they can reduce landfill tax charges, that in itself will pay for the scheme.

Section 76 of the Local Government Act 2003 should in theory allow councils to give local council tax discounts, but it has not yet been used. One council wanted to use it to give council tax discounts to pensioners, but it had many problems with a legal quagmire. We must explore the problems associated with section 76.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the hon. Lady agree with me that it was a far-sighted, radical—and Conservative—county council that initiated the proposal to help pensioners' council tax payments?  

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I would like to agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I should say straight away that I am not an expert on the 2003 Act. I have been referring to it only in the context of this legislation. I cannot quite give him the satisfaction that he seeks, but I hope that he is following the argument about how the legislation would play a part in terms of council tax discounts in waste management. The fact is that that facility has not been used by councils: it seems to have led to a legal quagmire and has not been implemented.

We should like to know where the Minister believes that waste collection authorities are planning to use powers for council tax discounts, related to the amount of waste that households produce and how much recycled composting they carry out. Does he really think that councils can use existing legislation, or do we need our new clause if we are to avoid getting bogged down in legal problems? The Department does not seem to have issued guidance for collection authorities suggesting how existing legislation can be used. Is it going to do so?

The Minister was asked, in a parliamentary question in March, about the matter and he said:

''In its response to the Strategy Unit Report Waste Not Want Not, the Government undertook to carry out further work before a decision is taken on whether to enable local authorities to introduce pilot direct and variable charging schemes for collection and disposal of household waste. In cooperation with the Local Government Association and other stakeholders, and drawing on international experience, work is being undertaken to consider the practicalities of operating such schemes and how potential disadvantages could be overcome. The Government will consider the results of this work during 2004.''—[Official Report, 1 March 2004; Vol. 418, c. 1632W.]

We had all that consideration, but in response to another question asking for a statement on work investigating the possibility of direct and variable charging schemes, he said:

''The Department's work on variable household charging and household incentives for waste recycling and reduction is based on the body of existing, publicly available, research, supplemented by investigation into specific examples of such activity.''—[Official Report, 27 January 2005; Vol. 430, c. 458W.]

That is not satisfactory. It looks as if nothing is being done. Is anything happening? Other countries are able to get on with this, but we are not receiving enough encouragement from the Government. If they and the Minister are not going to accept our new clause, we should like to know what he will do to develop the issue. The hon. Member for Sherwood has hinted that he hopes that there is more in the pipeline, and if we cannot have it now, we might have it tomorrow. I hope that the Minister will be able to encourage us. Will his manifesto say that there are clear plans, perhaps not yet, but in the future? We need to know what direction the Government are taking.

There is tremendous potential for waste reduction and increases in recycling using the techniques that I have described. We know that such schemes work: over 1 million households in Europe are already using pay-by-weight systems. We know from research undertaken by the hon. Member for Sherwood, and other research conducted by Eunomia, that households can decrease their quantity of waste by up to 40 per cent. in weight. It promotes the separation of recyclable and compostable materials. We all want   that and we need it to happen, and as we are moving towards more stringent European requirements, the Government need it to happen.

There are many good cases justifying our new clause. I want councils to have the opportunity of trying out different schemes and reporting back to the Government so that we can reconsider the matter. If the Minister will not accept the new clause, we should like to know what he plans to do.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, but first I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Forth. I think that this is the first time that I have spoken under your chairmanship and I am delighted to do so, especially as I followed you at the Industry and Parliament Trust event this lunchtime.

I shall make only a few quick points, because the excellent speeches from my hon. Friend and from the hon. Member for Guildford have said it all. I hope that the Government can give us an idea of the possible time scale for at least the introduction of some pilot schemes. If we do not consider the proposed approach at least worthy of experimentation, I do not understand how we shall address some of the exciting new ideas on recycling, composting and reclamation.

Reclamation is often left out of these discussions, but the reclamation industry could be one of the major industries in this country, because we have so many old buildings and facilities of which we could make much more use. That industry could punch well above the weight that it is currently punching at, but that will not happen unless people are actively encouraged to think of how they can dispose of things in positive ways, rather than, as they currently do, just sticking them in the dustbin and hoping that they get taken away or, at best, taking them to the tip and hoping that they get put in a hole in the ground. I hope that the Government realise that my hon. Friend's proposal is an idea whose time has come. As he said, the Select Committee sought at least an assurance that there would be a time scale.

The proposal underpins the point about fiscal incentives. If we are to change people's mindsets and the culture on waste, we must do something significant. As on climate change, we keep warning people and saying that things must change, but we must recognise that there will be some pain as well as pleasure. People have grown accustomed to creating more waste year by year, but we all know that that cannot continue.

The hope is that variable charging as a regime would concentrate the mind. To begin with, it would have to be implemented through pilot schemes. There would have to be incentives and allowances for those who could not afford to pay, whether they were lower-income families or pensioners, but, as my hon. Friend said, that is not beyond the wit of those who would have to think through the regulations. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will indicate that the Government are listening and keen to take this proposal forward, if not now, within the foreseeable   future, and that we might be able to append at least some ideology to the Bill, if not practical ways of implementing the idea.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:30, 1 Chwefror 2005

This has been a fascinating debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Sherwood on raising the issue of direct charging. It has been considered on a number of occasions, but perhaps this is the first formal opportunity that we have had to discuss it. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) said in an intervention: many of the best proposals in this regard have come from Conservative councils. I think that the Minister will confirm that, according to the last available figures, the 10 best-performing councils for recycling were Conservative-controlled. I am sure that he would wish to record his personal congratulations to those councils on properly promoting the strategy of the Government and, indeed, the Conservatives of encouraging recycling as and when appropriate.

I shall raise a number of concerns with the Minister. In particular, what would be the administrative burden on the householder and the local authority? Surely we should start from the premise that most householders—and probably most businesses—believe that they pay, via their council tax or business rate, towards the cost of collection and removal of their refuse. This would be an additional burden.

The Minister will be aware that in certain circumstances the householder will, like us, be away from home. Many of us are, of necessity, away from our constituency homes and at the House of Commons during the week. Where recycling is provided for by the council, but the refuse collectors fail to observe common courtesies and minimum security measures such as replacing the box from which the compost, waste paper, plastic or glass has been removed, that should be a defence should the Minister go down the path of claiming that minimum security has been breached.

I recall from my time in the European Parliament, Mr. Forth, as you will from yours, that in Belgium they used different coloured plastic bags for the various types of waste that were being disposed of. There was no risk of the householder's security being breached, because everything, including the waste container, was removed. However, the issue is of concern to me and many of my constituents. The one charge that could be made against the Government in relation to their introduction of variable charging is that it could be perceived to be an additional tax. How would the Minister rebut that charge, bearing in mind that most households probably consider that they are already paying handsomely for refuse collection?

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Is the hon. Lady aware that Blaby district council, under the Tories, was the first council to introduce a form of variable charging? It made householders pay according to bin capacity above a certain volume. That is already happening in some counties.  

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is obviously a matter for the councils. My question was to the Minister, in order to establish whether he has made up his mind about Government policy on what seems to have been an omission from the Bill.

Can the Minister say what the implications are for businesses of different sizes? Should waste be measured by weight or by volume, and what conclusion has he reached about it? The figures that I have seen on the experience in Sweden and Denmark suggest that variable charging works, while those of the Library show that Scandinavian countries are moving away from recycling—in Denmark some 58 per cent. of household waste is disposed of by incineration. Can the Minister comment?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has introduced an interesting debate on a fascinating topic. It is a pity that the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment cannot be here today, because he has a passion and an enthusiasm for alternative ways of doing things, and has taken a great interest in the subject.

The problem is that this is a complex topic. It is fraught with possibilities of unintended consequences. For that reason, I am pleased that both my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood and the hon. Member for Guildford have referred to pilot projects, and learning the lessons by trying things out. In this sort of territory, unintended consequences can be avoided if things are tried out.

The problem with variable charging is that while it can encourage different behaviour, sometimes that behaviour is benevolent and sometimes it is problematic. For instance, it can result in the dumping of rubbish rather than in an increase in recycling. I appreciate that the latter is the intention of the proponents of the new clauses. It can also have high administrative costs unless it is extremely well designed. Therefore, we would have to be very sure that the negative consequences would not follow. It is also true to say that there is the potential, as the hon. Member for Guildford said, for the expansion of composting. However, that cannot be done overnight. There are complications in relation to the types of waste that can be composted, so arrangements need to be in place at local authority level to cover various different circumstances and to cope with industrial and commercial as well as domestic waste.

I appreciate that those who have moved the new clauses want to see an increase in recycling and a reduction in waste. Of the two, new clause 9 is slightly more Stalinist and more centralist than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, because it would limit the use of the power to incentive schemes authorised by the Secretary of State, the principal incentive being, presumably, the minimisation or avoidance of charges. The provision in new clause 9 appears to duplicate powers in section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000, and to extend those powers to enable charging as part of an incentive scheme.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House. 

On resuming—

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:56, 1 Chwefror 2005

I was indicating that the provision in new clause 9 appears to duplicate the well-being powers in section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 and extend those powers to enable charging to take place as part of an incentive scheme. Within such schemes, the new clause would also allow a charge for the deposit of household waste at some or all civic amenity sites in an area. There seemed to be a suggestion that the existing legislation was not being used, but I understand that the well-being powers in the 2000 Act are being used.

It is correct to say that council tax discounts could be given, although I am not aware that they have been, in practice. We are keen to try that. A short time ago, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment announced that £5 million would be made available for pilot scheme work, which will give us the opportunity to experiment in that way. That goes with the grain of the introductory comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood and, indeed, with the references made to pilot projects by the hon. Member for Guildford.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister elucidate on the following point? Kent county council adopted the principle of giving discounts to certain council tax payers, although those discounts did not relate specifically to recycling. However, on counsel's advice, that was ruled illegal. The Minister's advice appears not to apply in the case of recycling; the burden of his comments was that, in relation to recycling, such discounts were legal and could be applied, but were not being used?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I cannot comment on the case of Kent county council, because I do not know what specific proposal was made. The hon. Gentleman indicated that the proposal was not in relation to recycling. To make a judgment about counsel's opinion, one has to understand the question being asked. Very often, if the question is asked in one way the answer is no, but if it is asked in a different way, the answer can be yes. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me with the precise circumstances, I will be happy to respond to him, but I do not think that that situation relates to the new clause.

It is difficult to know whether the Conservatives are in favour or against certain propositions. From the comments made by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), it would seem that it would be okay, or at least tolerable, if Conservative councillors introduced variable charging, whereas, for the sake of balance and neutrality, if that had been done by a Liberal Democrat council, the hon. Lady would have complained and whinged about it.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

The Minister may be interested to know that we understand that Conservative members on the Local Government Association were in favour of such schemes.  

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yes. In the LGA in recent times I have found a degree of willingness to think outside the box and to discuss issues broadly and constructively across political demarcation lines. I chair the rural central-local partnership, and that is certainly a very encouraging group with which to have meetings, because there is a lot of constructive discussion about how to make progress on a variety of issues.

It is clear that hon. Members seek progress on reducing waste and encouraging recycling. The Government are continuing to investigate options for influencing householder behaviour with particular emphasis on incentives. Research is under way on the extent and success of incentive schemes in England, which complements previous research on international schemes.

It is worth pointing out that in April 2004, the National Consumer Council published a report, ''Carrots not Sticks'', in which it said:

''It seems likely that punitive charging certainly without corresponding action against those responsible for packaging, and without safeguards that prevent dumping will be seriously counter-productive. Yet the behaviour of households is crucial when it comes to reducing waste. It is time to consider positive incentives to recognise the efforts people make to change their behaviour.''

That, of course, is the challenge we are trying to meet. I do not think there is a single ''stick'', or solution. There are big differences between circumstances in different local authorities.

There are local authorities that are already using the powers available to them to drive, rather than incentivise, householder behaviour. For example, the London Borough of Barnet has succeeded in significantly raising recycling rates with a pilot compulsory recycling scheme, to be rolled out across the borough in April. Clause 48 will give authorities greater flexibility to enforce compulsory recycling schemes, so DEFRA Ministers are watching Barnet's scheme with great interest, while noting that compulsory recycling will not be an appropriate solution for all councils. Blaby district council has been referred to, and it has pushed up recycling by providing a medium-sized bin free of charge and imposing a charge for larger or additional receptacles. Of course, businesses may choose who provides their waste collection service, so they can select the provider who offers the optimum services at minimum cost to meet their requirements.

There was also a reference to other European Union member states moving away from recycling, towards incineration. As far as I am aware, there is no general trend in that direction, but some have seen incineration—I visited plants in Germany under previous interests—as an element of the solution, along with recycling and waste reduction. It would be unwise, however, to regard that as a general trend.

Householder participation in recycling waste reduction is central to achieving the goals that the Government have set for more sustainable household waste management. That is a culture change that is, crucially, encouraged by practice and the availability of alternatives, and we must also look at what incentives and penalties can work in practice. There is   plenty of agreement in the Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood and others have spoken in favour of the direction of the amendment, and we heard what the hon. Member for Guildford said. What DEFRA is already seeking to do as a Department is to try to drive forward the use of alternatives and the reduction of waste.

There are concerns over a number of aspects of new clause 9. The part that would authorise a waste collection authority to run an incentive scheme appears to duplicate powers that are being used to test such efforts in a variety of places. I suspect that new clause 9's amendment to section 51 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990—enabling waste disposal authorities to charge for the deposit of household waste at civic amenity sites in all or part of their area—might turn out to be unworkable. It could lead to waste tourism, with householders searching for a civic amenity site that did not charge, or which could encourage the fly tipping that the clause seeks to avoid. Obviously, there is a difference between large rural authorities and, for instance, urban situations where there may be a variety of amenity sites in a closed area.

I am surprised that no provision is made to charge in respect of treatment and disposal of household waste, in addition to collection, given that those are the major contributors to the total costs incurred in managing household waste. In any event, the Government are currently focusing their efforts on incentives. That stance is backed by early indications from research undertaken for DEFRA which appears to show that most local authorities are focusing on incentives as the way forward. It is the method being chosen by local authorities to address the issues, as is underlined by the National Consumer Council report to which I referred. All that work will inform the £5 million pilot programme helping local authorities to trial novel incentives in 2005-06. That seems to address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood.

As a country, we are making great strides towards the goal of sustainable waste management. We are poised to confirm that we met our national target to recycle all compost and 17 per cent. of household waste in 2003-04. It is a joint achievement by local authorities and householders, with Government support and without recourse to charging. We need to experiment to find out what works best and to encourage local authorities to adopt best practice. I assure my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Guildford that we will vigorously do just that.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I thank the Minister for his reply, but I am not entirely comfortable with it because we seem to be in the usual cycle of the Government saying that they will have a look and do a bit more and incentivise. Councils are still waiting for details of how they will be allowed to calculate composting as part of their landfill schemes. We asked whether we could apply variable charging schemes, and the Government replied that an amendment would be needed to sections 45 and 51 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. We did not just dream that up. We based it on the Government's advice.

The clause addresses the spectre of people driving from here to there. We would expect the Secretary of State to look at that. We certainly would not expect him to encourage a scheme operated by a council that did not have adequate facilities. That would drive people to take their waste into other areas and would be counter-productive. I hope that the Secretary of State will take a view on that.

One of the interesting things that is happening at present with recycling, which the Government are ignoring to some extent, is that people already drive their waste over boundaries. In my village of Shalford we take Waverley's plastics recycling because Waverley, a mile down the road, does not recycle its plastics. Similarly, when I was at the Tesco recycling centre in Guildford yesterday, people talked to me about the difficulties of plastic recycling, and a lady from Camberley had brought all her plastic bottles because Camberley did not have the facilities.

Those are the sort of things that the Secretary of State should look at. No one would want to encourage an endless, long-term shipping of waste backwards and forwards. We would all like our councils to rise to the top as opposed to beating each other on which can throw the most waste over the boundary.

Much more needs to be done to encourage people to recycle. It is a pity that the Government are choosing to ignore so much strong research in Europe that identifies how that could be done. I hope that the Minister can say a little more than that they are encouraging everyone and that it is all about incentives, without saying what those incentives are and how they might work. Nothing in what he has said identifies the incentives. I hoped that he would say that the new clauses are both good and that he might be minded to table an amendment on Report. We would have expressed our gratitude and sat down immediately.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady might acknowledge that I referred to the pilot schemes addressing those concerns, the lessons of which should be built into any further developments. She mentioned awaiting details of composting; she should be aware that the Environment Agency is consulting on what proportion of product from mechanical biological treatment counts toward landfill allowances under the trading scheme. The waste and resources action programme is undertaking related work to measure the contribution home-composting makes to diversion   from landfill. Both issues are important, and I shall be happy to write to the hon. Lady to give greater detail. The reason that the information and a firm situation have not been given is that the consultation is not complete.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I thank the Minister. That information is being consulted on as a result of an amendment that the Liberal Democrats tabled to the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill, identifying a problem in that area. Ever since that Bill was enacted, we have been asking for further information, but whenever we ask the Government about this we do not get an answer. I press for an answer because the Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003 makes requirements of local government to which we all subscribed, such as the reduction of biological and municipal waste, but we need the relevant information so that councils can put adequate facilities in place. I would be grateful for a letter from the Minister, which will probably update the letters I have had from his colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment.

I am still concerned about this issue and disappointed by the Government's response. I am minded to push the clause to a vote because it is an important matter of principle. Many reasons have been given why we cannot go forward on discounts for council services, as have problems with other forms of charging, which need to be ironed out. By pressing for a vote, we will make the point that, while we accept that the Government are consulting, we feel strongly and want them to consider not only the incentives available but why some incentives are not working and what the legal drawbacks are. We encourage them to do what they can to remove the problems.

On that basis, I move the clause formally.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Ceidwadwyr, Bromley and Chislehurst

I remind the hon. Lady that the opportunity to divide the Committee on new clause 9 will come later. I will give her the wink at the appropriate time.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Llafur, Sherwood

We have had a fairly wide-ranging discussion, which has been slightly longer than others, and has heard more voices than is, perhaps, usual in this Committee. Our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger), will be pleased that we are due to finish the sitting at 5.30 pm; I do not think that he encourages behaviour of that kind.

Characteristically, the Minister told us that he is prepared to think outside the box and reminded us that the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment is fascinated by this subject—what a sad description—and is always prepared to consider alternate ways of doing things. That conjures up a lot of images.

The theme of the debate has been one of general support for our direction of travel—that there should be incentive charges and that we should move toward direct charging. Of course, it is not all one-way traffic. Hon. Members are right to say that there are administrative costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford asked about fly-tipping; clearly such issues need to be taken into account. It must be the case that,   by making people more responsible for their waste by ensuring that there are financial tools for reward or incentive, rather than penalties, we can make progress.

Several hon. Members rightly said that the legislative background is unclear, and it would be helpful if the Minister could assist us by explaining matters in writing. I am delighted that £5 million will be available next year to promote good practice and pilot schemes.

I will not support new clause 9, which has been characterised as Stalinist, which I would describe as restrictive and not particularly liberal. The hon. Member for Guildford may wish to reconsider her position later. It is important to learn from experience, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.