§ 8.7 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22 June be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said
My Lords, we are considering the Landfill (Scheme Year and Maximum Landfill Amount) Regulations which set the maximum amount by weight of biodegradable municipal waste allowed to be sent to landfill in the UK. The instrument is made under the Waste Emissions Trading Act 2003.
The regulations set the maximum amount of biodegradable waste that the UK will be required to landfill over the next 15 years. They then divide the UK's obligations under the Landfill Directive between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by setting targets for 2010, 2013 and 2020. These target year dates take into account the four-year derogation available to the UK under the directive.
In order to encourage a steady reduction in landfilling and so reduce the risk of the UK breaching its targets, this instrument sets maximum amounts which can be landfilled for the years leading up to the first target in 2010. Thereafter straight-line reductions to the latter targets will apply. Separate national regulations will be made in each country to implement landfill allowance schemes. The regulations for landfill allowances and a trading scheme in England will be laid before Parliament shortly. In Wales the National Assembly has already approved the Welsh landfill allowances scheme and similar regulations are being drafted for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
This instrument also amends the definition of scheme year in the Waste and Emissions Trading Act from 17 July to 16 July and from 1 April to 31 March. As noble Lords will remember, this was a matter of some debate during the passage of the primary legislation. However, this change brings the scheme year onto the same footing as the financial year for central and local government. For Wales the scheme has been further amended to allow the scheme to start in October this year part way through a scheme year. In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland the schemes will start on 1 April 2005. 1211 The instrument has been drafted in consultation with Scottish Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales and the Department for the Environment of Northern Ireland. It has been agreed by them. I commend the order to the House.
Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 22 June be approved. [22 Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the regulations and particularly for the knowledge that the scheme year is to be the same as the financial year. As the noble Lord said, it was a fruitful source of debate when we were dealing with the Bill.
These regulations are going to bring about a really major change in the way in which we handle waste in this country. While the Bill provided for the establishment of this scheme of targets for each year, the only target that I am really concerned about is the one at the end. Given that we are postulating a major change in the handling of waste and given the complexities and delays imposed by the planning system which can take a long time, and the difficulties that authorities have had in making up their minds as to how they are to handle these problems, I hope that there will be some sympathy from the Government if waste disposal authorities fail to meet the interim targets, provided that the Government can be confident that they are going to meet the final target, because that is the one which matters.
It has to be said that the change to be brought about will be very expensive. One looks at what is spent at present in this country on waste collection and management. It amounts to £1.8 billion. If one extrapolates from the Dutch experience which already meets the 2015 target, our expenditure needs to rise to £3 billion. If one looks at what has happened under the Comprehensive Spending Review, the fact is that the increases in expenditure do not suggest that the money will be available. The particular figure which causes me concern is the extra Private Finance Initiative credits for investment to increase to £155 million by 2007–08. My own local authority will require to spend £200 million in order to meet this target. If one extrapolates from that level of expenditure, the PFI credits presently being provided will not prove adequate to enable these targets to be met.
None the less, we have to accept that the effort has to be made because there is the threat of fines of £500,000 per day in 2018 or 2019 if we fail. But I am bound to say to the noble Lord that in my view, horrendous though that fines is, it is less than the cost of financing the improvements which will need to be made in order to avoid paying the fine. That is quite an interesting calculation.
That said, I would not advocate being in the position of having to pay the fine because that would be dead money. At least if you are investing, you will get something back for what you are paying out. 1212 We support the order and will not be objecting to it.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, we welcome the order and the targets it will lay down. It will ensure some certainty about what the targets are for those who will need to work towards them. After hazardous waste, biodegradable waste could be said to be the most difficult kind of waste to deal with because it is hard to persuade individual householders and commercial interests to separate it. I believe that further work needs to be done in this area. All too often the answer has been to give householders subsidised compost bins. Biodegradable waste deposited in such bins turns into a very unpleasant sludge which puts everyone off trying to make compost.
The future may lie in more widespread municipal composting. Can the Minister tell me whether BSI standards have been set for compost? If the end product were proved to be truly useful, that would mark a good step forward. If householders are enthusiastic about separating their waste, perhaps the Government might like to encourage local authorities to give the resulting compost away. I realise that that is a matter for individual authorities, but it is a proposal which needs to be considered.
Has any work been undertaken on the link between this order covering composting—by which time biodegradable waste has ceased to be a waste product and has become a resource once more—and the European Union soils directive, which requires a great deal of soil improvement to take place?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of both opposition Front-Benchers for the order, and in particular for the recognition of the need for a substantial shift in the way in which we deal with waste in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, also recognised that the redefinition of the financial year will be helpful to local authorities and others. Although I was slightly startled at one point when I thought that he was about to advocate nonpayment of fines and civil disobedience, it is undoubtedly true that this work will be expensive. The fines reflect the importance of potential breaches. However, it is important that we recognise the benefits both to society and to the environment from achieving these targets. It is an expensive effort for local authorities and will mean a change in behaviour on the part of both householders and commercial bodies.
The noble Baroness asked about the issues surrounding the separation of biodegradable waste and composting standards, how to persuade householders to separate their waste and then how to treat it. Discussions are going on between ourselves, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the various municipal authorities to review Defra guidance on municipal waste management strategies, as well as on the guidance that is appropriate for the planning system, a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. That work is ongoing. I cannot 1213 answer directly the question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about BSI standards, but if there are any developments, I shall let her know.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was correct to say that the end target is the most important thing, but it is also important that local authorities are kept on a trajectory towards that end target. That is why the directive has been drafted in this way and why we are specifying the targets for the interim years as well.
Turning to the point about an overlap with the EU soils strategy, I think that that is slightly limited in relation to the provision before us because we will be dealing with different methods of disposal of the waste created in fields and elsewhere. However, there may be some crossover and I shall look into that.
I repeat my appreciation of the support of the opposition parties.
On Question, Motion agreed to.