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Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 217:

Page 33, leave out line 15.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 217 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 218 to 221. This group of linked amendments seeks to clarify the scope of the charging schemes which are to be introduced by the agencies. I reassure your Lordships' Committee that I do not question the intent of the clause or indeed the creation of these powers.

The constituent bodies that will be united into the agencies already operate a variety of charging schemes in respect of the various licenses, consents and so on which they all differently administer. Therefore, Clause 39 is sensible and welcome. As I read it, it is an attempt to harmonise the different provisions that exist in other previous legislation. However, we have to be careful that in trying to simplify these somewhat complex provisions we do not confuse matters even more. It appears to me the drafting of Clause 39(2) introduces duplication and some overlap of powers. For example, where an agency modifies a licence on its own initiative as part of its ongoing supervision of a licence activity a separate modification fee may be charged. On the face of it, this seems to be somewhat unfair. Surely, if the licence-holder has already paid a fee for the monitoring and supervision in the form of a subsistence charge he should not have to pay again.

As far as Amendment No. 218 is concerned, this goes a little deeper than the others in the group. The amendment is intended to prevent the repetition of an anomaly currently found in the charging scheme for waste management licences. At present licence holders are required to pay an annual fee for the waste regulation authority's ongoing supervision and monitoring. However, in practice a licence may be dormant. It may be some years before disposal commences on the site. Even when that happens there is nothing for the authority to inspect. Therefore, the fee for inspection and monitoring remains and, although there is nothing to inspect, it cannot be waived. That does not seem to be terribly fair. If we modify Clause 39 I hope that we shall not repeat the same mistake, because mistake I think it is.

Even if the words of my amendment fail to meet the intent, I hope that the intent will be recognised by my noble friend and will find favour with him.

Viscount Ullswater: In replying to Amendment No. 217, I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 219 to 221. These amendments redefine the matters in respect of which the agencies may prescribe charges in

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1391

respect of environmental licences. They reflect provisions currently in force which relate to waste regulation.

The intention behind Clause 39(2) is to encompass the whole range of matters in respect of which charges for environmental licences may be prescribed. This is not to say that individual charging schemes will encompass them all. But our aim is to include all the matters in respect of which charges may currently be prescribed and, at the same time, give the agencies scope to develop charging schemes in ways appropriate to the manner in which they carry out their functions in the future, including, for example, a more unified system of charges than exists at present. We would not wish to restrict the agencies' freedom to propose new schemes in this way. The legislation does not, however, permit the agencies to charge for whatever, and however much, they like. Under the provisions of Clause 40 charging schemes will be subject to approval by the Secretary of State following consultation with those likely to be affected.

An amendment restricting the matters to those which now apply only to waste regulation would also cause particular problems for certain charges relating to other functions of the agencies. For example, the proposal to delete subsection (2)(b) would be inconsistent with provisions in the Water Resources Act relating to discharge consents under which the NRA, and in future the environment agency, might in certain circumstances grant or vary licences without an application. That said, our intention that the clause should cover all activities relating to environmental licences for which a charge may currently be made means that we shall consider carefully whether it should be amended to refer explicitly to applications for transfer, renewal or surrender of a licence, as well as the transfer, renewal or surrender itself.

The provisions of Clause 39 relating to subsistence charges encompass all the existing provisions in the various charging schemes for the different pollution control regimes. Amendment No. 218, moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas, would prevent a charging scheme from prescribing subsistence charges for environmental licences where the activities authorised by the licence had not yet commenced. It would thus reduce the scope for charging compared with the existing provisions.

In the case of waste management licences, the need for waste regulation authorities to supervise licensed facilities begins before the actual disposal or recovery of waste commences. High quality site preparation is essential to ensure that sites are able to meet their performance standards for pollution control; and Section 35(3) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 provides that a licence may impose requirements which are to be complied with before the disposal of waste begins. That is why the agency will have a duty to supervise all licences which are in force. That duty needs to be reflected in its powers to prescribe charges. It is not for the Bill but for charging schemes made in accordance with its provisions to determine details such

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as the appropriate level of charge for a site where a licence is in force but where the authorised activity has not begun.

The particular issue raised by this amendment is being reviewed in the context of the preparation of a revised waste management charging scheme under existing legislation. We have received a number of representations on this matter, including one from the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, which we will take into account in this review. I hope that I have said sufficient to expect my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply and I take some encouragement from his remarks on Amendment No. 217. He said that he will consider the matter carefully. I appreciate that the authority may need to carry out some pre-operational inspections—my noble friend suggested site preparation and the like—but the problem, which I do not think my noble friend has addressed, is that a licence may be applied for and be granted but no work of preparation or usage may take place for some years. Meanwhile, the subsistence fee cannot be waived and therefore is payable although there is no intent, perhaps for some years to come, to use the site. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 218.

As soon as an operator gives notice that he intends to use the licence and start operating—he may be talking on 1st February 1995 and say that he proposes to start operating in July 1995—I would expect the agency to set down the conditions of site preparation, access roads and so on, and the fees would then become payable. However, that is not what the Bill says. I rather think that my noble friend has missed that point. However, since he assures me that a consultation process is going on, I shall be happy enough to leave the matter there for the moment, but I shall probably want to come back at the Report stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 218 to 222 not moved.]

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 40 [Approval of charging schemes]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 222A:

Page 35, line 12, after ("to") insert ("Scotland or").

The noble Earl said: The first three amendments in this group would enable the Secretary of State for Scotland to recover his costs through SEPA's charging schemes in relation to the discharge of his new functions under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. Provisions for these new functions are contained in Amendments Nos. 387 to 393. They ensure that the provisions which we are inserting into the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 relative to consultation on certain authorisations under Section 13 of that Act will apply throughout Great Britain.

At present, the Bill's provisions require the agency in England and Wales to consult the relevant Minister before granting or varying an authorisation in respect

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1393

of the disposal of radioactive waste from any premises situated on a nuclear site. The amendments will require SEPA to carry out similar consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 223:

Page 35, line 37, leave out from ("take") to ("for") in line 38 and insert ("all reasonable steps, in accordance with the appropriate procedure under section 39 above").

The noble Lord said: I apologise to my noble friend the Minister if I have confused him. I think that at one time Amendment No. 223 was grouped with the others. However, I took it out of the group as I felt that this matter was quite separate from the generality of charging schemes.

The amendment has a very simple purpose: to ensure that the regulations which the Secretary of State will issue and which will prescribe the steps the agencies must take before they revoke a licence will also set out the methods by which they should publicise the charging scheme. The Bill carries forward provisions in existing legislation which enable a licence to be revoked if the operator fails to pay the annual subsistence charge. Quite clearly, the non-payment cannot be condoned, and in no way should it be made easier to continue to be in operation without having paid the appropriate fee. However, mistakes sometimes happen. Mistakes happen by accident. Revocation is a serious matter and for a smaller operator can possibly lead to the complete loss of a livelihood. Therefore, any regulations which set out the steps to be taken and the procedures to be followed before this ultimate sanction is employed are a welcome solution. However, proper publicity for the provisions of the scheme and the consequences of non-compliance and non-payment would go a long way towards preventing problems in the first place. Prevention is better than cure. If the publicity surrounding a revocation for non-payment is made abundantly clear, that has obvious advantages for everyone concerned.

In the past there have been some rather hit and miss, ad hoc arrangements which by and large have worked. But the new agency will have a good deal more responsibility placed upon it than the old WRAs. I am not suggesting that the old WRAs did not carry out their responsibilities properly, but the new lease of life given by the formation of the agency will have a much greater impact.

I think that the amendment is drafted reasonably well. I hope that I have persuaded my noble friend the Minister of the advantages of having a formal procedure that can be understood by all and undertaken by the agency. I beg to move.

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