Desmond Swayne: Weaning parents off disposable nappies

We must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice.

Sir Desmond Swayne is a former International Development Minister, and is MP for New Forest West.

The message from the Budget is clear: consumers have made their views known on plastic packaging. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s empower people to cut down on other single-use plastics to benefit the environment, reduce waste and emissions in our over-stretched waste systems, and support household finances.

Both Defra and the Treasury have spent considerable departmental time and resource exploring how to influence consumer and industry behaviour when it comes to cutting plastic consumption, and rightly so.  For now, Philip Hammond says he is content to rely on industry to drive plastic use down rather than resort to taxation. Industry, especially hospitality and independent food retailers, have taken proactive steps over the last twelve months. I’m pleased to see that extraneous packaging has been banished from the majority of fruit and veg in our supermarkets, and plastic straws have been replaced by waxy paper ones in pubs and bars across the country.

But this is only the start. With a recent UN study finding that we have only twelve years to prevent irreversible damage to the climate, people are only now realising it is their own responsibility to limit their impact on the planet – and that they must do this by making real changes to their daily routine.

The good news is that changes can be made quickly and to good effect – and this is why I was pleased to see the subject of reusable nappies being raised by Michael Gove at Party Conference this year. We’ve targeted straws, cotton buds, balloon sticks and shrink-wrap. Disposables, which currently make up four to six per cent of household waste, are the obvious next step.

The average baby uses 4000 nappies up to potty training, the majority of which will go to landfill: eight million of them every day in the UK alone. As well as taking up a large proportion of limited landfill space and putting significant pressure on our waste-collection services, disposable nappies typically contain around 30 per cent plastic material which can end up polluting land or water resources.

Whilst it would not be a very Conservative measure to ban disposables, especially given the other pressures young families have to contend with, we must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice. The time is right for Government to support this with practical and effective policy. Defra is consulting about how to end the use of single-life plastic straws and plastic-handled cotton buds which is important.

But it should also address two aspects of the use of disposable nappies. First, it should consider how to ensure that the plastics used in disposable nappies are as biodegradable and as harmless to the environment as possible. I understand that is something manufacturers are considering, but the development of a realistic disposable recycling system is still at a nascent stage.

Second, we need to look at how to share adequate information with consumers to enable them to make informed decisions – particularly about the impact that disposable nappies will have on the environment, even when they are responsibly removed to landfill. How long do disposable nappies take to biodegrade? What are the products of that process and what are their effects on the environment? What happens to nappies that are not responsibly disposed of, but end up in our watercourses and seas?

Parents should also know how modern reusable nappies work. I understand that nowadays reusables are light-weight and easy to wash – far removed from the heavy terry towelling models of days gone by. This is information that new parents could receive when they are given their Bounty packs during maternity care. Most importantly, parents need to know that it doesn’t have to be a case of all or nothing. An Environment Agency study found that, if parents swap to just one reusable a day, they can save using 800 nappies over the first 2-3 years of a child’s life, and make significant reductions to their own carbon footprint, not to mention savings to the household purse.

The Government has a tremendous opportunity here: better information for consumers; more biodegradable and safer plastics; less plastic going to landfill; reducing the emissions created through waste management; and a burnishing of the government’s green credentials. This policy initiative would be entirely consistent with the Environment Secretary’s record of green pragmatism and with his determination to make a difference to our environment; a small but impactful step that chimes with the growing traction of consumer responsibility.

Nicky Morgan: The Budget – and a Government that failed to listen to the country over problem gambling

We need to be alive to adding to the impression that the fixing of a social harm can wait a few months while we find a way to replace lost revenue.

Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.

Yesterday was the Sunday closest to All Saints Day. Since the Loughborough church that I attend is called All Saints (with Holy Trinity), the day and its aftermath assumes greater significance than it might for other churches. And the sermon referenced the work of saints, including Saint Theresa of Avila.

The key message was that being saintly is about doing good things, and our curate acknowledged that this could include doing good things in the world of politics. I believe that most elected politicians enter politics to do good things, though of course we can all argue about how different ways of doing so, and how successful we are in trying.

Now, earlier this year, after much cross-party lobbying, the Government made the right decision, and did a good thing – by agreeing to cut the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals.  But last week, it appeared to undo much of its good work, and bow to pressure for the cut in the maximum stake to be delayed. These machines have become known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling world, and we know that they can cause addiction, misery and even death.

In its impact assessment last year, the Government said that –

“following further engagement with independent bookmakers at the consultation stage, we have explored a number of options to mitigate any disproportionate impact on small and micro-businesses and will be taking forward the following…we will engage with industry further on an appropriate implementation period, which is initially expected to be 9-12 months, based on consultation responses we received from gaming machine suppliers.”

But I am told that, in reality, implementation actually involves changes to software which can be done speedily.  In any event, “9-12 months” would take us to May 2019 – not October 2019, as Philip Hammond announced in his Budget last week. So why the delay?

Close observers of the Budget announcements would have heard the Chancellor say this last Monday: “From October next year, I can confirm that we will increase Remote Gaming Duty on online games of chance, to 21 per cent…in order to fund the loss of revenue as we reduce FOBT stakes to £2.”

In the future, we may find out why this happened –  but we do know that one Minister has already resigned over it. I hope Tracey Crouch enjoyed her first weekend without a red box for ages.  I can speak from experience in saying that it is a real treat!

But a deeper conclusion is that a good thing that this Government decided to do, in orderto address a known social problem, has been at least partially undone by either the economics of the decision, or by lobbying from vested interests, or perhaps both. And that doesn’t look great. Last year, I wrote on this site, in the context of the number of ‘Dubs’ child refugees the UK that would be offering a home to –

“As a party known for strong economic management, the Conservatives must work doubly hard to avoid appearing to know the price of everything and the value of nothing…The announcement about the Dubs scheme has, so far, sounded as if the costs of the scheme and the perceived capacity of local councils are enough for us to stop giving refuge, and the opportunity of a brighter and more secure future, to some of the most vulnerable children on the planet…”

“…Empathy, tone and explaining our motivations go a long way in politics.  If a tough decision has to be made, then Ministers have to explain why they have made their decision…”

“This announcement will not, on its own, make people decide which party they will or will not support at a future election. But it, and similar decisions, will have a cumulative impact on the future decisions made by constituents like the one who e-mailed me.  It will form the basis of the judgments they make about the motivations of the Conservative Party.”

Seventeen months on, in the Prime Minister’s words, ‘nothing has changed’. The Conservative Party still runs the risk of making decisions which stress head at the expense of heart, and which miss hearing the emotional heartbeat of the country.

That is a particular danger in any Budget that decisions can be set beside each other in an unfair way. Labour got into a mess last week with income tax cuts and benefits freezes, but came unstuck when they couldn’t agree between them a policy response to the income tax threshold changes.

The Chancellor set two decisions deliberately beside each other – Remote Gaming Duty vs maximum stakes in FOBTs. At a time when the Conservative Party is putting the rest of the country through its own ideological rabbit hole in the form of Brexit, we need to be alive to adding to the impression that the fixing of a social harm can wait a few months while we find a way to replace lost revenue.

Adrian Crossley: Crouch was right about Fixed Odd Betting Terminals – and the Government should follow her lead

The Government has been bold on this so far and now it must be bolder still. For some, this pause may have tragic consequences.

Adrian Crossley is Head of the Addiction Policy Unit at the Centre for Social Justice.

On Thursday, Tracey Crouch resigned from the Government as Minister for Sport and Civil Society because of its delay to changes on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs). The moral question is settled across the House that FOBTs exploit an addiction and cause terrible suffering to individuals, their families and the wider community. With the gross gambling yield from FOBTs for year ending March 2017 reaching £1.8 billion, this form of betting has been compared to crack cocaine, and is destroying families and draining them of much-needed money.

Parliament’s decision to set the maximum bet at £2, pulling it down from £100 every 20 seconds, was a bold assertion which made it clear that any fiscal advantage from taxes enjoyed by the Treasury could not defeat the moral duty to protect the vulnerable.

However, an urgent question on Thursday saw Parliament alive with members from both sides of the house expressing disbelief and frustration at the Government’s position. As matters stand, this change will not now take effect until October next year.  Jeremy Wright was clear that this was no concession to the gambling industry: no care was taken to protect their profits. It was explained that this delay to implementation was intended to help the industry prepare, and therefore reduce the risk of job losses.  The postponement of implementation is not without cause but neither is it without consequence.

Tom Watson left no room for doubt about the gravity of the current problem and the risks involved by waiting when he said: “This is extremely disappointing […]research shows that half of people struggling with problem gambling have had thoughts of suicide.” These concerns have foundation in fact. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has brought this into clear focus, highlighting the case of Wendy Bendal, a lady who tragically lost her partner to suicide after he incurred thousands of pounds in losses through these betting terminals.

Earlier this year, the Guardian explored the case of Martin Paterson, who candidly spoke of the effects of FOBT causing suicidal thoughts brought about, in no small part, by the guilt he often felt for losing money desperately relied upon by his family. I’m confident that the Government will join us all in the sincere hope that no such occurrence takes place between now and October 2019.

It is also a delay and harm that we would not accept in other areas of public policy. As recently as July of this year, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency advised pharmacies immediately to recall valsartan-containing medicines as a precaution. This precaution was in response to reports of an impurity with potential carcinogenic qualities. Yet in the case of FOBTs, the Government is prepared to accept a substantial and widely recognised risk and simply leave the baby by the fire.

The Chancellor has, only days ago, announced £2 billion towards mental health spending and a new 24 hour hotline. It seems completely at odds with this very welcome and compassionate approach to mental health to simply allow the continuance of this clear source of danger. Only immediate cessation of this exploitation can satisfy Parliament, the public, and social justice. The Government has been bold on this so far and now it must be bolder still. For some, this pause may have tragic consequences.

A popular minister resigns

Outside Westminster, Crouch’s resignation will make little impact on a Budget that has gone more or less according to plan. Inside, it may not be quite the same story.

If a Minister resigns, Downing Street and the Whips hope a) that he or she is unpopular with their colleagues – or at least not popular; and b) that she is easy to replace.

Neither of these conditions apply in the case of Tracey Crouch – who has just quit the Government over a delay to a cut in maximum stakes for fixed odds betting machines.  The former Sports Minister is liked by most of her colleagues and was rated as a Minister: she knows a lot about sport and is an enthuasiast for it.  These qualities are more rare among Ministers than they might be.

The Treasury will doubtless now be cast as dodgy and duplicitous, stealthily putting back the implementation of a policy that it has never liked.  It will surely claim that the timetable hasn’t slipped and Crouch will argue that it has.  She apparently said publicly that the reduction would come into force in April.  Philip Hammond set the month as next October during the course of the Budget.

Rumours of Crouch’s resignation have been floating about all day, having first appeared in the Daily Telegraph this morning, and we learn more in due course about what will have been a three way exchange between Crouch, the Treasury and Number Ten – or four-way, if you count in her former Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright.

Her resignation letter claims that Downing Street has been asleep on the job, and missed the Treasury reneging on guarantees previously given.  Well, actually, it doesn’t quite say that in terms, but such is the implication of Crouch writing that Theresa May’s “personal support” was “incredibly helpful” and evidence of a real willingess to support “vulnerable people against the power of big business”.

The former Minister attributes the delay to “commitments made by others to those with registered interests”.  Questions will be asked, as they invariably are, about how this political banana skin wasn’t spotted lurking on the floor.  Though maybe the Government will simply gird its collective loins, and press on.

Crouch threw herself heart and soul into the campaign for reduction, and will have taken this week’s news as a breach of trust.  Outside Westminster, the news will make little impact on a Budget, and its aftermath, that has gone more or less according to plan.  Inside, it may not be quite the same story.  The Government has no majority, after all.

In today’s Budget let’s send the world a message that we will thrive outside the EU

The last Budget before Brexit is a spectacular opportunity to send a message to the world that the British economy will not just survive but thrive outside the EU. In order to do that, some very clear messages need to be sent out. This is the vision thing which neither the Prime Minister or the […]

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The last Budget before Brexit is a spectacular opportunity to send a message to the world that the British economy will not just survive but thrive outside the EU. In order to do that, some very clear messages need to be sent out. This is the vision thing which neither the Prime Minister or the Chancellor seem able to do.

We need a vision of a low-tax, low-regulation economy, which will overpower Germany and France as the largest economy in Europe. The number one lesson of economic history is that freedom works: there is no more robust an economic relationship than that between economic freedom and prosperity. And if you’re going to make a statement, it needs to be a big one – because economic behaviour doesn’t change with small tweaks to the system.

So how does the Chancellor make a big statement with very little money? When I worked at the Institute of Directors, we lobbied the previous Chancellor to pre-announce cuts in Corporation Tax. This made business happy about tomorrow, even though they weren’t that much better off today.

The rate of Corporation Tax stood at 28 per cent in 2010 and has been progressively reduced to 19 per cent today, with a commitment by the Government to reduce it to 18 per cent from April 2020. This what we need now: a promise from the Chancellor to deliver progressive reductions in Corporation Tax until the rate reaches just 10 per cent in 2025. Outside of tax havens, that would be the lowest rate of corporation tax in the world. This is a tax cut as much about the message as the money. Moreover, it is doable over that timeframe because each percentage point costs around £2 billion in lost tax revenue – before taking into account any dynamic supply-side effects which might increase (not decrease) revenue.

HM Treasury in part justified the previous Corporation Tax cuts in the wake of the financial crisis, as being necessary because of the economic shock the economy had experienced. Well, the Treasury seems to think both in the short and long term that Brexit is a negative shock to the economy; and so on the basis of its own argument, it needs to reduce Corporation Tax again, and in the same pre-announced manner.

I’m happy to use the Treasury’s argument against them, even though I fundamentally disagree with their long-term assessment of the economic consequences of Brexit. The problem here is that it’s very difficult to critique the Treasury’s assessment because it seems to have recognised the flaws in its previous methodology – published before the referendum – and abandoned it, but refuses to provide any detail of its subsequent approach and the assumptions behind it.

If HM Treasury is so confident in its analysis, why be afraid to publish it? The suspicion must be that they’re not confident and are only coming up with big negative numbers because of the questionable assumptions they employ about the post-Brexit world.

Research published by Economists for Free Trade (of which I am a part) shows that with the right policies, GDP could be 7 per cent higher – not lower – by 2030 as a result of Brexit. We can argue about how big that number is, but the key point is that it is positive not negative. With regard to no deal, other commentators, such as Open Europe, have recently published research which essentially says, yet again, that all the gloom and doom and Project Fear is way overdone. And they’re not advocating the domestic and international policies of economic liberalisation advocated here, which would increase the benefit of Brexit.

The most important supply-side liberalisation in the wake of Brexit is international, not domestic. It would mean that the UK could use exit from the Customs Union and the Single Market to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers on imports from all over the world. The static (consumers and intermediate producers pay lower world prices) and dynamic (competitiveness and productivity are raised) gains from this liberalisation, in combination with domestic economic liberalisation, would set Britain on the road to far greater prosperity in the coming decades.

With negotiations not concluded, the Chancellor probably doesn’t want to say too much about the future of the City, but one thing he should be saying in private is that HM Government will unleash the City to ensure that it remains the number one financial centre in the world.

And if the Chancellor wants to make sure just-in-time logistics continue to work smoothly after Brexit, why not spend some more money on road investment to make sure overall transport times are reduced? As with pre-announced tax cuts, pre-announced road infrastructure investment would not break the bank now, or in the future, but it would change the mood music and begin to help people catch the post-Brexit vision of an economy intent on maintaining and improving its status as an FDI magnet.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

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