§ Mr. Gummer
When my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I launched the producer responsibility challenge on 17 July 1993, we took the view that only industry could provide the leadership and know-how necessary to achieve a successful UK initiative on recycling and recovery of packaging waste. Nearly two years later, that industry-led approach has enabled us to meet many of our key objectives. The producer responsibility group of leading businesses involved in packaging has achieved widespread industry support for its plan to secure the recovery and recycling of 58 per cent. of United Kingdom packaging waste and create close to home recycling facilities for eight out of 10 households by the year 2000. After extensive negotiation, in which the UK played a leading part, the European Community has adopted a packaging and packaging waste directive which we now need to implement.
A major challenge remains. In its first report, the producer responsibility group made it very clear that the initiative could not be successful without legislative underpinning to deter "free riders". Enabling powers to provide that legislative underpinning are included in the Environment Bill, now being considered by Parliament. But we need to specify precisely who in business will be subject to a legal obligation and what action is required to satisfy it. Such an obligation must be simple and clear if it is to be effective and enforceable—in industry's interests as much as Government's. It must also be consistent with wider Government policies, for example on ensuring competition and minimising burdens on business.
The Government are today publishing, "Producer Responsibility for Packaging Waste—a Consultation Paper", which sets out a variety of options on how such a legal obligation might work and includes a compliance cost assessment. Copies are being placed in the Library. These options have been the subject of lengthy and detailed deliberation by different industry groups in the light of the legislative tests set out in the answer given by my hon. Friend the Minster of State to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on 2 February, Official Report, columns 763–64.
Several of the options have been put forward by the VALPAK—working representative advisory group— V—WRAG—the industry body which has succeeded PRG and which will continue to be a focus for discussions. Alternative approaches may emerge in consultation but they will need to demonstrate that they have been widely publicised in industry and tested against the same criteria as the options in this paper. The Government will need to make a decision to adopt 791W a proposal based on one of these approaches and are keen to have the views of all sectors of industry and commerce, and others who will be involved in achieving our aims, including local authorities and consumers.
What is most needed now is further work by the proponents of different approaches to help build a consensus behind the best option. The Government would prefer to proceed on the basis of a board consensus on an approach which best meetws the test we have published. We invite all those involved in the production, distribution and use of packaging to meet this challenge.