Gregory Barker: Would the Minister be open to the suggestion that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs press department might take on the responsibility of drawing the attention of local press to these specific infringements?
Mr. Meacher: I am a little surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of a rugged party of individualism, should want the nanny state to trigger the attention of local journalists. I would hope that those people are raring to go and that they know where to find local sources of embarrassing information, which is what interests journalists everywhere. If someone in public authority can be embarrassed because they have not done something that they should have done, or they have done something that they should not have done, that is immediately a story.
If the Bill passes through both Houses, we will have to publicise its main effects. We would certainly put all the new provision on a website, and we would state where the information could be obtained. To write to every newspaper in the country to alert them of that is going a bit far.
Mr. Wiggin: I took on board the comments that my hon. Friends and the Minister made in criticism of my choice of newspapers. Given my passion for Wales, I regret that the amendments do not refer to a Welsh edition. Perhaps The Western Mail should have been included. I thought it unwise to get into a dispute about The Daily Telegraph or The Guardian, so I named the papers that I believed were the normal way of announcing Government news items.
However, the Minister's remarks about naming and shaming are important, and I am grateful to him for being so positive about the principle behind the amendments. What he says about financial penalties is right most of the time, but in election years local authorities are particularly sensitive to public opinion. That is certainly the case in my constituency.
I think that, at the beginning of the sitting, the Minister was surprised by the vehemence and the strength of support for the Bill on both sides of the Committee. Once again, he has seen that that support is national, so by getting the whole population properly informed and behind the principle of the Bill, a great deal of good could be achieved. I am grateful for the Minister's principled support for my amendments. I urge him to take away the support that he has received from Opposition Members and to consider including a perhaps more appropriate way of publicising and naming and shaming, should infringements take place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Powers in relation to waste disposal authorities
Sue Doughty (Guildford): I beg to move amendment No. 14, in
clause 12, page 9, line 19, at end insert
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'equivalent to that specified in section 9'.
Mr. Meacher: I was slightly confused because the notice of amendments related this amendment to clause 14. That is obviously an error because it relates to clause 12. Once we get over that hurdle, the effect is to ensure that penalties under clause 12 for breaching rules of a scheme are equivalent to breaches of the landfill allowances. All civil penalties under chapter 1 of the Bill are determined by clause 26. The allocating authority will set out in regulations the penalty or the calculation to determine a penalty in each circumstance. The amendment is unnecessary because clause 26 applies to both clauses.
I welcome you back to the Committee, Mr. Amess. This morning, we had an interesting and lively debate about how, and at what level, the penalties associated with clause 9 would be set to ensure that a disposal authority was not tempted to pay the fine, rather than investing in appropriate technologies to meet its obligations. Clause 12 relates to the other side of that activity. What are the records? How do we know what people are doing? How can we audit the information that they have?
Another query is about the penalty if people fail to keep accurate records. We are concerned about that. On the face of it, one might think that keeping records might be like filling in a VAT return: if someone does not fill in their return properly, they might receive a small fine the first time and a bigger fine the next time. However, I suspect that that is not the case in this respect. I am interested to hear what penalties the Minister has in mind.
Of course, one way in which people can avoid the discovery of things that they have failed to do is by failing to keep accurate records. Records should be auditable. It should be possible to prove that someone has been working correctly within the scheme and that the records that they produce are accurate. It should be possible to measure their performance using open and transparent information, to ascertain whether they have exceeded the allowances.
One might find, however, that operators have a little deal going on the side and that things are not audited correctly. Someone may attempt to cover something up in association with a landfill operator or someone else. Clearly, a local authority that failed to keep records might be unable to identify where it was failing in its duty, and what it was doing on landfill.
We are particularly concerned about any cooking of the books, as opposed to people just being uncertain about what box to fill in, which should be perfectly easy to do. Where people are prepared to commit fraud to cover up the fact that they have failed to meet their obligations, the penalty should reflect the penalties that would apply under clause 9. It should be a hefty penalty. If someone covers up the fact that a disposal authority has failed, the penalty should reflect that.
The hon. Lady made a fair point. There is a great difference between breaches in respect of landfill allowances and those in respect of rules and we would not expect the same penalty to apply to both. Breaches of rules might for example be to do with
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record keeping, which is obviously important, but no one suggests that that is as serious as breaching the landfill and putting targets at risk. I take the hon. Lady's point and when we determine by regulations what the powers in clause 26 permit us to do in respect of setting penalties, we shall consult and take into account the different types of activity.
Norman Baker: The central point is that there must be no incentive to falsify or obscure records on the grounds that the penalty for that offence is less than that which would apply if the obscured offence were revealed.
Mr. Meacher: Once again, this goes back to the basic principle, which the hon. Gentleman raised on Second Reading and which is right, that the penalty for non-compliance must exceed the cost of compliance. That must be true at all points. There must be a sizeable rather than a marginal difference between complying with, often, fairly minor costs and breaking the rules, for which there should be a significant deterrent penalty. That is the basis on which we should determine the penalties. I hope that the hon. Lady is satisfied. She made a fair point that there is a major difference between the two and that there should be adequate penalties for each, but I assure her that clause 26 governs both the clauses, so I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Sue Doughty: I thank the Minister for his reply and the intention behind it. I am still concerned and hope that clause 26 will put in place appropriate penalties for trying to cook the books through failing to keep correct records and hiding evidence of a breach of clause 9. However, having listened to the Minister's words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Powers in relation to landfill operators
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 64, in
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No.65, in
clause 13, page 9, line 42, leave out from 'premises' to 'for' in line 43 and insert 'only'.
Mr. Hayes: The amendments deal with a tightening of the regulations that I hope is practical. They would prevent an opportunity for a miscreant—someone who is not abiding by the terms of the Bill—to store evidence somewhere other than in the place where the offence was committed. That seems to strengthen the provisions in an important way. The process of enforcement will not always be easy or comfortable. If people are determined not to abide by the requirements of the new regulations, they will be both clever and manipulative in going about their business. We need to be absolutely clear about how we are to implement the provisions in order to minimise the opportunities for abuse. The amendments do precisely that.
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Amendment No. 65 deals with premises on which inspections take place and the removal of material for inspection elsewhere. It is important that we send out a signal to anyone who is intending not to play by the rules that there will be no easy escape. The two amendments send that signal and give additional powers to those who will enforce the Bill. I hope that, in tightening the provisions, they go some way towards closing the loopholes to which we have referred.
Norman Baker: I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and read the amendments, but unless I am missing something, I do not believe that the amendments will strengthen the Bill. In fact, on my reading, they will weaken it. Amendment No. 64 would remove from line 37 the words,
''or for removal for inspection elsewhere''.
There is an argument about whether it is appropriate or fair on the person involved for their records to be removed and examined elsewhere—and, perhaps, even falsified by the monitoring authority. It is unlikely, but theoretically possible, although I do not buy that argument myself. If that is not the argument, prohibiting the removal of records makes the task of the monitoring authority more difficult because it will have to attend the premises where the records are kept and stay there for as long as it takes to examine them. It might be a long process and the representatives of the monitoring authority might need to stay overnight. Alternatively, if they leave the premises and return, and if wrongdoing is occurring, there is a real possibility that the records will be falsified between the first and second visits. The amendment does not make sense and weakens the Bill, so I cannot support it.
Amendment No. 65 would also weaken the provisions, and I find that curious. It would remove the words in brackets in line 42:
''with or without a constable, with any necessary equipment or material and, if need be, by force''.
It would also insert the word ''only.'' Two separate amendments seem to be incorporated into one, and I shall try to deal with both parts. The first part would prevent the monitoring authority from attending with a constable and being able to seize records. If someone has been up to no good and has been falsifying records in a serious way, which has led the monitoring authority to conclude that it needs to attend, and to attend with a constable if it believes that there will be resistance to its attendance at those premises, removing the ability to attend with a constable and to use force in those excessive and unlikely circumstances will mean that the persons who are suddenly sprung upon may say, ''I am sorry, but I am not going to show you my records now.'' Where does it leave the monitoring authority in such a situation if it cannot enforce its will?