Municipal Waste Recycling Bill

I, too, shall keep my comments brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on introducing the Bill. I confess that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), who is no longer in his place, I have been unlucky in the ballot for private Members’ Bills in my two years as a Member of Parliament. Had I come as high as the hon. Lady, I would probably have considered a recycling measure. She will know that in October, I introduced a debate in Westminster Hall on recycling of household waste by individuals.

Much of the effort must come from the heart. Although the Bill refers to powers and duties for local authorities, we have to inculcate a sense of responsibility among the population at large. Inevitably, a carrot and stick approach will be used – the stick of higher taxes, which might be levied on supermarkets and manufacturers, and the carrot of encouraging people as far as possible to do the right thing. All MPs who visit schools or have school parties visit us here will know that young children have a positive attitude towards recycling, which is heartening.

When I was growing up and as a young adult, I was fairly indifferent to recycling. As has been said, the big push towards recycling has become a mainstream political activity only in the past decade or so. Many of us remember the European elections of 1989, in which the Green party scored great success. That heightened awareness of environmental issues, of which recycling is one. I take it to be part of my responsibility as a local Member of Parliament to avail myself of the recycling facilities in the City of Westminster. I probably cut a rather sad figure as I go to collect my newspapers on a Sunday morning carrying a basket – courtesy of Westminster city council – full of newspapers, bottles and other paraphernalia, which I dump into the various bottle banks and other recycling sites. That is a positive thing that all Members of Parliament should do, and it is encouraging that it is now being done by far more people generally.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) commented on the European position. Although I accept that we have to compare like with like, there is little doubt that this country’s figures are extremely disappointing. Some weeks ago, I went to Germany on a short lecture tour. I was struck, especially in the former East Germany – a socialist command economy from 1945 to 1989 – by the enormous strides that had been made in recycling. The people with whom I stayed made it clear to me that what we call recycling they call secondary raw materials; they took the view that recycling was essential in view of the scarcity of raw materials. On every railway platform, and throughout all the main towns, are large bins segregated for paper, plastics and other types of waste.

We in this country should look at the example set by much of Europe, because we are to a large extent the dirty man of Europe. Various statistics have been quoted. At the time of my debate last year, about 10 per cent. of our household waste was recycled, and the figure of 12 per cent. has been mentioned today. Those are extremely low rates compared with those in much of the rest of Europe. In places such as Germany, roughly 50 per cent. of household waste is recycled, and I imagine that the rate for municipal waste is similar.

The Bill sensibly calls for doorstep recycling to be introduced by 2010 – an ambitious but none the less realistic target, which focuses our minds firmly on what we need to do. I am slightly concerned about one or two of the caveats mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, especially those relating to clause 3. I have reservations about the costs and the provision of funding to local authorities, especially in a general economic climate that might become more difficult for this country in coming years. As a London MP, I was disappointed to see that the new funding formula might result in several London boroughs of all political colours suffering as the funding for environmental, cultural and protection services is cut. That is the experience in the City of Westminster, and I hope that all London MPs will do their bit, irrespective of party allegiance, to ensure as far as possible that as the new funding formula hits the capital and the south-east, funding for environmental and recycling services is ring-fenced.

My focus is on London, and is not party political in nature. I am a great walker throughout London, and I have seen the successes that we have achieved. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) is no longer in the Chamber, because she is right to say that Camden is a terrific success story. As one walks though the streets of Camden, one sees the many households that have recycling paraphernalia outside and are committed to recycling. The same is true of the London borough of Haringey – another Labour authority – and the borough of Lewisham. Similarly, one can see a strong commitment to recycling when one walks the streets of Blackheath, Deptford and down into Catford.

We have to do more. In London there is a high level of education on the subject, which is a positive starting point. I hope that the Bill will play its part in ensuring that we put some pressure on local authorities. However, to return to my initial point, much of the effort must come from the heart; there must be a sense, shared by everyone, that this is our responsibility and that we have only a leasehold on this planet. As the hon. Members for Lewes and for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) said, parts of the country outside London feel that over the decades they have been treated as dumping grounds. In Essex there are many landfill sites, and an increasing number of incinerators are planned. As far as incineration is concerned, we are at a crossroads. Let us hope that the Bill will play an important part, and that we make the right decision for the future.