Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hayes: I want to press the hon. Gentleman on this important point. I do not like to defend the Minister too robustly in Committee, but I like to find common cause where I can. The hon. Gentleman should say precisely what he would recommend to a small authority without such expertise. He is right to say that expertise gives a competitive edge, and authorities that do not have such experience would not have that edge. Where would those authorities go if the amendment were accepted? They would not be able to go to another local authority, which would be my ideal, and they would not be able to go to a private third party.

Norman Baker: There is a potential difficulty for a small authority, but it would be less of a difficulty than the one that would be caused by the structure that will be created through the use of brokers. A small authority, faced with a large WDA with brokers, will have no alternative but to employ brokers to try to even matters up; its costs will then increase accordingly. Opinions might differ, but that is my honestly held view.

My other concern is about what will happen to the authorities that work together, which was referred to last week. That has not been thought through in this context. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will regulate to ensure that conflicts of interest are prevented in this situation. I simply ask him to consider whether conflicts of interest that affect waste disposal authorities should be covered by the regulation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 38, in

    clause 7, page 6, line 1, leave out from 'for' to end of line 3 and insert

    'the allocating authority to make available to each waste disposal authority full financial resources for it to comply with any requirement imposed on it by or under provision of the kind mentioned in paragraph (h) together with all regulations as set out in sections 11 and 12;'.

We move to a different aspect of the clause. We have spoken a great deal about the extra obligations and new responsibilities of local authorities. There has been a general acceptance that that will require the acquisition of expertise. We know that there will be obligations to collect, to register and to record various

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bits of information. Those are covered in this clause and in clauses 11 and 12. There is no doubt that it will be important to keep the records in a way that ensures their probity and efficiency.

The amendment deals with the additional cost of that process. I am sure that local authorities are already worried about the matter. I do not want to make an overtly party political point this early in the morning, but this has to be seen in the context of the seemingly ever-increasing number of unfunded statutory requirements. They have a cumulative effect. We have spoken about regulatory impact assessments. The cumulative regulatory and financial impact of measures such as this have to be taken into account. I worry that the process will create an extra burden and put an extra strain on the already tight budgets of local authorities.

We argue in the amendment that full financial resources should be made available for the waste disposal authority to comply with the requirements imposed on it under the provisions of subsection 3(h), and in clauses 11 and 12. That is not unreasonable. It will give an important signal to local authorities that the allocating authorities are planning to support them and to work in partnership with them to help them to meet the targets.

I have spoken before about the trepidation that will undoubtedly be felt by those authorities that are not at the forefront of performance in terms of the objectives outlined in the Bill. We need to reassure local authorities, and we certainly need to signal that the collaborative approach, which I have constantly advocated in Committee, is genuine. To that end, we need to consider the resource implications of the collection, registration, storage and use of information and other responsibilities outlined in the Bill. I hope that the Minister agrees. It is never easy for a Minister to make such a commitment, but I know that he shares my view that it is vital that this is done properly and co-operatively. In that spirit I urge the Committee to support the amendment.

9.30 am

Norman Baker: I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with Conservative Members on amendment No. 38, although we have found common ground in relation to other amendments. Waste disposal authorities must be required to provide that information and must be subject to a penalty for not doing so. That is straightforward. If there were no such requirement or no such penalty, what would prevent them from not providing any information at all? We must have freedom of information so that we know what is happening. The acquisition and disposal of allowances must be an open process, because if the process is closed, it has the potential to be corrupt. The protection against corruption is openness, so it would seem to be perfectly proper to require such information and to impose a penalty if it is not provided. It does not seem to be an especially onerous task for waste disposal authorities to collect that information and make it available. We are not asking them to do a great deal.

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Mr. Hayes: I am uncertain whether the hon. Gentleman has become a little confused on his long train journey. Is he talking about penalties or the additional resources required to meet the statutory requirements to collect, register and maintain information? They are separate issues. If he is talking about penalties, we may be moving on to another debate, but I do not want to do your job for you, Mr. Griffiths, because that would be impertinent. I just want to help the hon. Gentleman to collect his thoughts after his, clearly arduous, journey.

Norman Baker: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for my journey. I am talking about both the penalty provision, set out in clause 7(3)(i), and the second part of the hon. Gentleman's amendment, because the two are linked. Let me turn now to the issue of resources for local authorities, with which the hon. Gentleman wants me to deal.

As I was saying, I do not believe that the provision will be terribly onerous for waste disposal authorities. The collection of information about the acquisition of disposable allowances would not seem to require a huge amount of paperwork, copious numbers of staff or people beavering away while burning the midnight oil to fulfil their obligations. It seems to be a simple matter. However, I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's general point that a huge amount of bureaucracy and extra cost should not be loaded on to waste disposal authorities, which is why, as the hon. Gentleman may have noticed, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) has tabled an amendment to hypothecate the moneys from fines and return them to waste disposal authorities.

Mr. Hayes: I want to be absolutely clear about what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I am unsure whether he is saying that the requirement will be a burden, which needs to be covered by what he describes as hypothecation—indeed, the Conservatives have tabled a similar amendment—or whether he does not think that it will be a burden. He says that people will not be burning the midnight oil and authorities will not require extra staff and, presumably, extra expertise, although he told us previously that expertise would be very important. So is he saying that the provision will or will not be a burden on local authorities and how does his opposition to our amendment fit with the amendment tabled to a later part of the Bill by the Conservatives?

Norman Baker: I do not know whether my argument lacks clarity or whether the hon. Gentleman is being obtuse. Either or, perhaps, both is the answer. I am saying that waste disposal authorities will face a general increase in responsibility and a greater administrative burden. Taking all those things together, it is right that there should be some financial support for waste disposal authorities, and I suggest that it should come from the hypothecation of fines and penalties. That general proposition covers the whole Bill. I happen to think that this particular administrative burden is light, so it need not worry us too much, but in so far as it exists it would be covered by the hypothecation of fines.

I shall not pursue the matter further except to say that the amendment will remove the sanction should

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waste disposal authorities not report information. That is wrong. The requirement is not onerous; and if there is to be no penalty, why should the authorities comply? I hope that the Minister will agree that the provision should remain in the Bill.

Mr. Sayeed: Speaking specifically about amendment No. 38, the duties required under paragraph (h) stipulate that WDAs should provide information on the acquisition and disposal of allowances. Likewise, clauses 11 and 12 impose burdens regarding the administration of the system—for example, monitoring duties, having to make evidence and information available, the maintaining of records and so on. I understand that failure to comply would lead to a penalty being imposed on the WDA—another fairly extensive burden. It will not be without cost, and although one upholds the concept of such a burden in the interests of transparency and the accountability of local government, it bothers me that nowhere in the Bill can one find any mention of funding being made available to WDAs to comply with those requirements.

I believe that the Bill needs an extra provision to make clear that adequate resources will be made available to WDAs to comply with the extra requirements that the Bill imposes on them. Friends of the Earth has estimated that the total additional cost of separated collection will be £17 per household per year, which is a total of just under £400 million a year for the whole of the United Kingdom. Councils are already spending £200 million a year, which leaves a shortfall of about £200 million. Will the Minister tell us where the extra resources will come from? That is a particular problem in the light of the local government settlement for rural authorities, as they often find waste collection much more difficult than urban authorities.

 
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