Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hayes: My anxiety about the Minister's rejection of the amendment is that it will send out an unhelpful message. In addition, if the Bill were to be amended in the way that we are proposing, and we were left with the words

    ''to enter premises . . . for the purposes of finding records . . . inspecting . . . and copying them'',

that would not preclude, in extreme circumstances, the means of doing so including the use of other agencies such as the police. Am I right in making that assumption, or is it necessary for the Bill to stipulate precisely the means that the relevant authority can call upon to implement the provisions?

Mr. Meacher: Clearly, where there is the chance of a breach of the peace, an enforcing authority might wish to take with it the means of enforcement, which normally means a police constable. I assure the hon. Gentleman that those powers are not without precedent. Similar powers for regulating authorities are to be found in Section 108 of the Environment Act 1995. I do not see that there is any other mechanism by which a regulation can be enforced.

4pm

Mr. Hayes: The Minister misunderstands me. My point is that we could remove the stipulated means of enforcement, and leave the Bill in a more naked form. The hon. Member for Lewes referred to that earlier. Clause 13(3)(d) would then say that entering premises for the purposes of

    ''(i) finding records relating to the operation of a landfill,

    (ii) inspecting them or removing them for inspection elsewhere, and

    (iii) copying them;''

would not necessarily preclude taking a constable but would not send out the signal that that was likely in normal circumstances. If we removed that wording, would those steps necessarily be precluded? Do we have to stipulate the enforcement powers precisely for them to be available for those who implement the Bill? Is the Minister with me?

Mr. Meacher: I think that I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I should have thought that the answer is probably yes. If legislation enables enforcement or the use of power for a particular

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purpose to take place, it is important, under our system, that it says what the mechanisms are. That way one can ensure that the mechanisms are necessary for the purpose but not unreasonable or excessive. Therefore I do not think it appropriate to remove the definition of the mechanism. Keeping the power of enforcement in the Bill but not saying how it would be effected would make me uncomfortable. It is the most minor use of force to obtain a result, and I think that the clause strikes the right balance.

Norman Baker: I have to agree with the Minister. He is right to say that the provision is copied from other legislation and that it is standard. If we removed the definition now, there would be a danger of sending out a signal that we wished to dilute that definition in previous legislation.

Mr. Meacher: Those who spend all their time reading and comparing legislation may draw that conclusion. It is a relevant point.

The second intention behind amendment No. 65 seems to be that monitoring authorities can enter the premises of a landfill operator only for the purposes of finding, inspecting or copying records. I am advised that the amendment is not necessary because the list specified in clause 13(3)(d) is not a list of examples. It is not purely a list of hypothetical actions that could be added; it is a definitive list of the purposes for which the monitoring authority or persons authorised by it may enter premises. That is an important point. The use of the word ''only'' is not necessary. Equally, the use of word such as ''reasonable'', which the hon. Member for Lewes suggested, is not necessary either.

The hon. Gentleman asked what the words in line 34 in clause 13(3), an ''allocating authority'' or

    ''persons authorised by the monitoring authority'',

referred to. He suggested that it could mean a debt collection agency, for example. That is not the intention. I understand that the relevant monitoring authority in Northern Ireland carries out some of its operations through a group of inspectors who are attached to it but are not necessarily its employees. I am unsure of the detail. It allows for a slightly different situation that applies in one of the devolved Administrations; it is not intended to allow the monitoring authorities to detail very different kinds of bodies or institutions to have those powers.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Minister for that elaboration. My concern is that the allocating authority or, by extension, persons authorised by it, will have potentially unreasonable powers. Under subsection (3)(b), they can

    ''specify the form in which, the place at which and the time at or by which records are to be produced''.

They will be able to act in what many would objectively regard as an unreasonable manner because there is no constraint on those powers. The word ''reasonable'' or some other constraint would limit those powers; otherwise, they could specify that records should be produced in three hours. It is unlikely, but it is possible under the Bill. However, it

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would certainly be unreasonable, even though it was consistent with the Bill's provisions.

Mr. Meacher: I understand the hon. Gentleman's logic, but we are talking about the monitoring authority, which for England is the Environment Agency. In practice, what the hon. Gentleman suggests means that the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency could use the powers under subsection (3)(b) to expect landfill operators to provide information in an unreasonable form, excessively fast or in a thoroughly unreasonable manner.

Unless we are to use the Bill to specify absolutely and down to the last minutiae the detail by which those authorities should work, we must have a measure of trust in them. They are not Government Departments, but they are second best; they are closely associated with the Government. I hesitate to say it, but the authorities are also at arm's length. They are independent and sovereign bodies, but they have a close relationship with Government. The suggestion that they would behave in a thoroughly unreasonable way and that we should specify in excessive detail what they can or cannot do is going too far.

Norman Baker: I am sorry to delay the Committee further. First, this applies not only to the Environment Agency but to all persons authorised by the monitoring authorities, which is one stage further away from the agency. Secondly, as the Minister knows, the concept of reasonableness pervades our legislation. Why should he resist it here?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman has gone back to the phrase in subsection (3),

    ''or persons authorised by the monitoring authority'';

the suggestion being, in effect, that the Environment Agency can pick on another organisation to carry out some of its key responsibilities on landfill allowances. That simply will not happen in England. It is a job for the agency's own officers. I am told that one of the devolved Administrations has a slightly different organisational pattern, and the provisions is designed to allow for that. There is nothing beyond that; there is nothing sinister about it, and it is not intended to harness or manipulate other organisations to do that rather sensitive work. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that explanation, and that he will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hayes: I do not think that we need to spend much more time on this amendment. We have important matters to deal with in later clauses. The Minister used the word ''trust''. Trust is vital, because compliance will be founded on it. The messages that we sent out about trust are important, but one needs a stick as well as a carrot. The hon. Member for Lewes, in his rather befuddled state, which is understandable, given the tortuous train journey that he has to make—he said earlier that he was confused—said that he wanted to be harsh in respect of force and constables, but that he did not want to be too harsh about precisely what the monitoring authority did in carrying out its work.

There was a certain confusion in what the hon. Gentleman said, but notwithstanding that I thought

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that clarity had developed between the principal parties. For that reason, I happily beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15

Monitoring information: registers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hayes: I want to repeat a point that was made earlier. It also relates to clauses 14 and 16, but I did not want to delay the Committee more than necessary, nor to rush through these brief and fairly uncontroversial clauses.

With regard to information and its publication in the registers, and particularly where public access is concerned, it is important that the form is constant. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire used the term ''common'', but common is not something that I would ever aspire to be, and so let us say that the registers should be of a constant or uniform nature, and that they should also be explicable, comprehensible and clear. That is not a minor point, because, when dealing with such matters, we must be mindful of our concerns that Government and local government information is not always like that.

If we are to enforce the legislation in a way that encourages scrutiny, not simply by the bodies designed for that purpose, but by the wider public, as referred to earlier in our proceedings, we need to ensure that the information is readily available, easily compared and comprehensible. That point applies to clauses 14 and 15 and, perhaps particularly, to clause 16. However, I make the point at this juncture, so that it may be applied across the three clauses.

 
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