Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: Order. I remind hon. Members that interventions must be short.

Mr. Meacher: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I do not have those figures to hand. I can give only the real-terms increase over the baseline 2000–01, up to the last financial year, which is a fairly short run. I do not know what the rate of inflation will be in the rest of the spending review 2002 period. One can measure that against extra functions, and the main one, which is a statutory recycling target, is the requirement to meet the mandatory performance standards on recycling, reuse, recovery and composting that the Government have laid down. We have provided an extra £140 million for that. In the light of that, many local authorities believe that they can meet those targets, whereas previously they did not. The hon. Gentleman can of course ask a parliamentary question to request similar information, but I shall try to provide him with information in due course.

We are working with the Treasury to try to find a way to hypothecate the penalties laid out in the Bill back to waste disposal authorities. That would help to ensure that money is not lost to the local authority system as a result of the allowance scheme. We shall debate hypothecation later.

The amendment would also remove the provision that would enable regulations to provide for waste disposal authorities to be liable to a penalty when they failed to comply with a requirement to provide allocating authorities with the information that they required in relation to acquisition and disposal of allowances. That is necessary—the hon. Member for Lewes is right about this—to underpin the effectiveness of any trading scheme. The information is vital in order to ensure that the trading of allowances between waste disposal authorities and across scheme years is recorded and monitored.

I hope that I have persuaded most if not all hon. Members that although funding is an important issue on which it is virtually impossible to get total political agreement, the Government's case is nevertheless less sufficient in terms of what we have done. I hope that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings can therefore withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Hayes: I am conscious of the fact that there is a real difference of opinion among members of the Committee on the funding and resourcing of local authorities in general, and in particular on their responsibilities for waste and the new responsibilities—I hesitate to say new duties: I was going to say burdens, but I know that that is contentious—that they will have as a result of the Bill. I am inclined to share the views of my hon. Friends the Members for Bexhill and Battle and for Mid-Bedfordshire on the impositions on local authorities.

I await the evidence from the series of parliamentary questions that the Minister has invited

Column Number: 086

my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire to table, which will no doubt tease out the cumulative impact that I described of these things. However, the eloquence of the case put by the hon. Member for Lewes has strengthened my conviction that these are important matters. I did not intend to press the matter to a vote, but the hon. Gentleman has persuaded me to do so.

Norman Baker: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments, which are kind, as always. I gently suggest to him, however, that although I have sympathy with his broad point about the support for local authorities and the consequences of the Bill, the matter on which he seeks to divide the Committee is extremely narrow and the implications for local authorities are very small. He is therefore choosing the wrong place to press the matter to a vote.

Mr. Hayes: Unlike the hon. Gentleman, my support for local authorities is whole and real. I do not qualify my support in the particular way in which he does. I am a robust advocate of local democracy and a sturdy defender of the interests of local government. The hon. Gentleman is rather more shaky on this issue, and perhaps more equivocal. I, however, do not share that equivocation, and it would be wrong of me to deceive members of the Committee into believing that I could. There are important new responsibilities. To be serious for a moment, of course we are not talking about a major additional burden—that would be a calumny. However, it is important to note that paragraph (h) states,

    ''to provide information in relation to their acquisition and disposal of allowances''.

and that clause 11(2)(b) talks about maintaining registers. Clause 11(2)(e) talks about

    ''evidence as to amounts of waste, or of waste of any description, sent to landfills'',

and clause 12(1)(a) makes provision for maintaining prescribed records. Clause 12(1)(b) makes provision for gathering prescribed information, and clause 12(1)(c) provides for making prescribed returns. I could go on and on quoting clauses on the maintenance of records, the gathering of information, the keeping of information and the storage of information. Some of that information must be supplied in a form that can be inspected.

Gregory Barker: My hon. Friend further strengthens his case. I urge him to press the matter to a vote, because although it may not be a major issue in isolation, it is typical of the inconsistent imposition by the Government of yet more regulation, which comes unfunded and without resource, and which, ultimately, is a form of stealth taxation on local council tax payers.

Mr. Hayes: I see a Tory split emerging. Some members of the Committee are urging me to press the matter to a vote, while others are more reticent. All hon. Members, certainly in the Opposition, are wholly committed to the case for local democracy as I described it, but clearly there are differences of nuance.

Mr. Sayeed: I suggest that my hon. Friend reserves his big guns for the big questions. This issue is very useful for teasing out a general concept. The Minister

Column Number: 087

has been good enough to agree, as far as possible, to draw a comparison between real funding increases and new duties imposed, and on that basis, I urge my hon. Friend not to press this particular matter to a vote.

Mr. Hayes: I am on the horns of a dilemma: I must choose between my hon. Friends the sedate Member for Mid-Bedfordshire or the fiery young blood from Bexhill and Battle. On balance, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is right. However, it is important that we are clear that this will be real additional work and that we know whether an additional person will be employed to do it or whether someone who is already employed will be allocating a proportion of their time to it.

10 am

A cursory examination of the responsibilities is not enough. Some of the information must be kept in a form that can be presented and inspected; copies of records must be produced, and the whole process must be audited. It would be inappropriate for local authorities not to allocate sensible resources to that. They could allocate a member of staff or they could employ someone to do the job, and that has a cost. It is not unreasonable for that cost to be met.

Given the Minister's comments and because I do not wish to embarrass the hon. Member for Lewes more than he has already been embarrassed, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Offences under regulations under

sections 6 and 7

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I beg to move amendment No. 40, in

    clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 23 and 24.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 46, in

    clause 8, page 6, line 26, leave out from 'amount' to 'or' in line 27 and insert

    'which may be set by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument.'.

No. 41, in

    clause 8, page 6, leave out line 29.

No. 42, in

    clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 33 and 34.

No. 43, in

    clause 8, page 6, leave out line 39.

No. 44, in

    clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 42 and 43.

No. 45, in

    clause 8, page 6, leave out line 45.

Mr. Wiggin: The reason for the amendment is that it touches on the very serious nature of some of the offences in clause 8 and on the response to them. I was of the opinion that the Bill was all about filling holes in the ground rather than filling cells. Therefore I am

Column Number: 088

unhappy with the idea that councillors or employees of a council should face up to three months in prison for committing an offence under the regulations in clauses 6 and 7 or for failing to comply with them.

Clause 6—''Borrowing and banking of landfill allowances''—and clause 7—''Trading and other transfer of landfill allowances''—deal with offences for which we should not be considering imprisonment. There is a fantastic painting behind you, Mr. Griffiths, of at least five Members of Parliament fleeing the wrath of the King. That is the sort of thing for which we should consider imprisonment. Consider the possibility of a similar painting in 100 years' time of four or five Liberal Democrat councillors from Herefordshire unitary authority fleeing because of an offence that they committed in failing to comply with the landfill tax credit scheme or the trading and transfer of landfill allowances or even the borrowing and banking of landfill allowances.

This is a serious Bill and it is incumbent on all of us to improve it. I have done so by tabling the amendments. I would happily imprison people for serious offences, but this is not the sort of message that the Committee should be sending out. That is why I tabled the amendments. We must enact positive, helpful, clear and sensible legislation. The Opposition have a duty to question the motives of a Minister who seeks to imprison people for such offences. What sort of person would the Minister seek to imprison under the regulations? I began to picture, almost like a Radio 4 show, who would be imprisoned. Would that be the whole authority? If so, that might make the Bill considerably more popular. It would be a Paul Merton-type answer that if it put loads of councillors in prison, it could not necessarily be a bad thing.

However, we should consider the problem that the Government have had with parish councillors. It has been difficult to find parish councillors as they feel that what they are allowed—[Interruption.] No, they are put off by the £25 limit on the presents that they can receive without declaring them, which puts some of their Christmas out of reach. Considering how difficult it is to find parish councillors, it is no surprise to find out how difficult it is to find county or unitary authority councillors. I know that that is true, because we have council elections in May, and the Labour party and Liberal Democrats have struggled to find enough candidates in my area. The idea that we will put them in prison for failing to comply with the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill is extraordinary. Given the nature of the Bill and of the people whom I understand would be imprisoned, community service would perhaps be a more appropriate punishment.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will calm my fears about who will be imprisoned and outline the type of person whom he feels it would be appropriate to imprison. It is entirely reasonable to demand fines, but it is bizarre to wish to lock up people. We will debate hypothecating fines under a later clause, and that must be a better way of dealing with such an offence than worrying about prison sentences. I hope that the Minister will answer some of the probing questions and that the Committee will accept that the amendment would make the Bill less draconian.

Column Number: 089

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 8 April 2003