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Lord McNair: I should like to thank the noble Viscount for what he has said. I am not going to pursue this issue at this time and in this place, but I have written to the Minister and hope that we shall be able to discuss it at another time and in another place. I hope that the matter that I have raised will be taken forward as the consultation process proceeds.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 16.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Transfer of functions to the Agency]:

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 2, line 25, at end insert ("and waste regulation authorities").

The noble Baroness said: We return again to the question of how environmental protection is delivered at the local level and whether the EA can do everything that we hope it will do in relation to matters such as waste disposal. On Amendment No. 22 we shall be looking in due course also at air pollution. The monitoring and implementation of these environmental matters are more appropriately carried out at local authority level, under licence or with delegated powers from the central EA. This is a serious issue which needs to be addressed.

If the EA is to do all these things it will become an enormously bureaucratic, centralised, cumbersome organisation. It is therefore important that it retains its strategic role, its monitoring role and its setting-of-standards role but allows the hands-on carrying out of some of its duties to be done at a more local level. I should be grateful if the Minister would address the point of how he sees the role of local authorities in relation to environmental protection. Does he see them continuing to have a role? How are the mechanisms to be operated? How will we divide responsibilities between the centre and the local authorities? I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I apologise for splitting up my comments on this general area. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if some of the points that I make now should have been made on the earlier group of amendments. But the Minister has indicated that he is in listening mode, so I am sure that he will not discard arguments merely because they crop up at the wrong point.

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In looking in general terms at how the responsibilities should be split between the different levels of government, it seemed to me that there was clearly no argument over technical functions or that there should be accountability. The issue is the interface between those two aspects and whether waste regulation is best a matter for central or local accountability.

It is implicit in the amendments that public accountability for waste regulation lies best with the local authorities and with decisions taken within a structure where the public has rights of access and the decisions are made by locally elected representatives. I accept that the granting of planning permissions for waste operations will remain as it is now, but public concern is generally not just about whether the site is suitable but what the operation on the site does, how it will affect the neighbourhood and the potential for pollution. Those are of course matters of concern to local people who can best voice them through the local democratic structure.

On the previous group of amendments I referred to the principle of the polluter paying being a good one but it is a matter of concern that a standard-setting body may be dependent for its income upon the bodies for which it is setting standards. There is a concern that the separation may be done away with. I shall amplify that by saying that sometimes self-policing is criticised, as is a system where the greater the amount of transgression of pollution laws the greater the income of the standard setting body of the regulatory institutions. In suggesting a retention of a substantial role for local government, I suggest that that anxiety should also be addressed.

The London Waste Regulation Authority is not old but appears to have established a reputation during its 10 years of existence. It responds to the needs of people living and working in an area in which it is recognised that there is a need for a strategic approach. Greater London is a distinct area and particular needs must be met.

Comments were made on the fact that the public tend to understand where the boundaries of local authorities are. I say that hesitantly in the context of the local government review. At any rate, perhaps the political boundaries are easily understood and applied.

In the clear-out that I and, I suspect, other noble Lords had during the Christmas period when one tries to get rid of the paper that built up during the previous year, I was about to throw out the 1992 report of the London and South East Regional Planning Conference. The area of work has been superseded by the South East Waste Authority. SERPLAN set out its strategy for dealing with waste; that is, its reduction, re-use and disposal. I believe that it is helpful as an example of the way in which such an organisation can appropriately deal with waste regulation within the context of what one hopes to see as an integrated waste strategy, yet with a distinct and good role. Certainly, it is something that I should like to get on the record.

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Its policy guidance strategy is set out in six parts, which I shall summarise. The first is the objective of preserving and enhancing the environment. That is the correct context in which to base decisions. The second sets the priorities for dealing with waste: the waste hierarchy, with which your Lordships will be familiar, of minimisation; re-use; the increased use for energy production, and so forth, culminating with landfill where appropriate. It is understandable that that features within the strategy because it would be part of an integrated waste strategy.

The third strategy is that the south east should aim to make adequate provision within the region for the disposal of all its own waste. The fourth is that London should aim to reduce the volumes of wastes which it exports. London boroughs, in preparing their unitary development plans, should have regard to the need to facilitate waste reduction and bulk handling. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, is looking puzzled. I believe that this is the appropriate point at which to raise these matters.

The fifth strategy is that in preparing waste local plans, counties should aim to provide for the disposal of their own waste arisings and make an appropriate contribution to regional needs. The sixth is that SERPLAN will provide and periodically update guidance on the quantities of waste likely to require disposal within London and each of the counties of the region.

That neatly summarised the type of responsibilities that a waste regulation authority should address, together with the way in which they could be separated from the areas to be dealt with by the agency. I conclude by saying that if the whole of waste regulation is to be centralised I cannot see at what point it would stop.

Picking up the final point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, I do not know what role the Government see for local authorities. After all, if we are to have a completely centralised system, who should be responsible for collection? It is not simply a matter of emptying dustbins. The authorities which collect have to organise how they do that. For example, they may make arrangements for separating items and for collecting different items in order to recycle those which are suitable for recycling. That is just one example. Therefore, if we are to be centralised, are we to be centralised right down to local level?

10 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: First, I should like to consider Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. I was very surprised to see the amendments. They do not clarify the purposes for which the agency is to be established. Indeed, on the face of it, they leave an agency that has very little to do at all. Pollution control would not be brought together in an integrated way, which is one of the main reasons for establishing the new body, but would remain fragmented as now. The only body that the noble Baroness has targeted for transfer is Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and some functions

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of the Secretary of State. It would seem that those are to be divided between waste regulation authorities and the agency in some unspecified way.

We published the draft of provisions to establish the agency in October and discussed these proposals fully at Second Reading. On the whole, the agency was broadly welcomed. Indeed, at that stage the noble Baroness said that she welcomed the improvements to the Bill since publication and hoped it would be further strengthened. I cannot regard these amendments as contributing to a strengthening of our proposals.

Amendment No. 20 is covered by Amendment No. 18 and by Amendment No. 21 which we considered previously. It would prevent waste regulation being transferred to the agency. As I explained to the Committee, waste regulation is a fundamental part of the concept and purpose of the agency, and we could not accept such a change.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, expressed anxiety about the transfer of waste regulation to the agency which would mean a loss of local accountability and accessibility. I believe that those fears are unfounded. There is no question of the agency being a remote, unaccountable central organisation. In addition to its responsibility to Parliament through Ministers, the agency will have, as one of its main objectives set out in its management statement, the development of a close and responsive relationship to the public and local communities. That will involve establishing arrangements to consult and co-operate with local authorities, both to provide a channel for local anxieties and to ensure proper liaison and co-ordination with related local government functions such as development, control and planning.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, asked me what would remain with local authorities. They retain important environmental duties and even gain new ones in the Bill. The local authorities' functions in relation to air pollution are retained in England and Wales, as are those in relation to statutory nuisance, which are updated for Scotland. In Part II they have new responsibilities with regard to contaminated land. Therefore, the local authorities retain a considerable amount of influence in that area.

Amendment No. 23 would prevent abolition of the London Waste Regulation Authority under Clause 2(3). I can see that this amendment would be necessary if waste regulation functions were not being transferred to the agency. However, I hope that I have convinced Members of the Committee that this would be undesirable, and that this consequential amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Finally, I come to Amendments Nos. 24 and 27. Those would require the London Waste Regulation Authority to draw up transfer schemes in the same way as other waste regulation authorities. That would be inappropriate. The LWRA, like the National Rivers Authority, will be abolished once the agency is set up, and all its property, rights and liabilities will transfer. It will be clear at the point of transfer which property, rights and liabilities belong to, or are enforced against, the LWRA. There is therefore no

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need for a transfer scheme to identify those. In contrast, other waste regulation authorities are part of larger authorities and a scheme is necessary to identify and transfer the property, rights and liabilities appropriate to the waste regulation function. I listened very carefully to the remarks made by the noble Baroness. I am not persuaded that the amendments should be accepted. I, therefore, ask the noble Baroness whether she will be good enough to withdraw them.

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