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31 Oct 2006 : Column 159

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we do not know that they are chewing gum; it might be something else.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, for some time I have felt that a levy or tax should be placed on gum to the tune of, say, a penny per piece, and the revenue raised then distributed to local authorities to help them to fund the clear-up of the mess. Will the Government give that consideration?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we have, and it has been dismissed on the basis that people who are anti-social enough to dispose of gum this way will have their conscience eased on the basis that they have paid for it to be cleaned up. We want them to change their behaviour in the first place. We do not think that a tax is the right way to do it.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the cost to Westminster City Council, which has one team working on this with what is called a “gum blaster”, is £100,000 per year? The estimate is that it is able to clean only one-12thof what is required, but 12 teams would cost £1.2 million per year, just for that one local authority.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am aware of some of the details. I did not catch the question, but I am aware that it is very expensive for Westminster Council as, indeed, it is for some of the big urban councils. Obviously too many anti-social, uncaring people are disposing of gum this way when there are other ways of disposing of it. Some local authorities have gum stickers on lamp posts and other kinds of things where you stick the gum and it then gets cleared up. So there are disposable products that local authorities can use to assist people and direct them in the right way to dispose of the gum.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that chewing gum can get on to the grooves of wheelchairs, pushchairs and prams? If there is a problem with infection, has there been any research on it?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. In some ways, gum might be an anti-social product, but it is the disposing of it that is anti-social. There is no question about that. I can well understand that getting it on the wheels of wheelchairs is far more serious than getting it on the soles of one’s shoes. I am unaware of any research into the health issues, but since they have been raised in two different connections I will have some questions asked.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, bearing in mind the answer that my noble friend gave to the noble Baroness about disposal, does he agree that it would be helpful if the Government could have some negotiations with chewing gum manufacturers with a view to their sponsoring rubbish bins in which their product could be disposed after people had finished with it? It is almost impossible to see anywhere except the general litter bin where used chewing gum could

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go. This problem will clearly get worse as more people chew nicotine replacement gum as they attempt to give up smoking.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will ensure that that is put on the agenda of the chewing gum action group—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will be honest: that was in my original Answer, and I took it out because I could not read it aloud. This is a serious issue, and I took it out to make it a serious issue. But I have been asked the question. There is a chewing gum action group, made up of the gum manufacturers, Local Government Association and other bodies. It is chaired by Defra, and I will see that my noble friend's suggestion is put on the agenda.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, perhaps I may make a simple and practical suggestion. When the Government introduce their next public order Bill—I think that there is one every Session—they should include provision whereby the police have authority to issue a fixed penalty of four hours of litter picking to any litter lout.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, legislation was introduced to enable fixed penalty notices to be issued. I do not have any figures, but I understand that some people have been issued with fixed penalty notices for dumping gum. It is classified legally as litter. Some people have been given on-the-spot fines. I cannot say that it is working—although it has started operating—as you can clearly see from the mess that is around us.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, many local authorities now are looking to do just that. They have fined some people and publicised it locally to deter this appalling habit. Does the Minister agree that, if there is to be sponsorship from chewing gum companies, an appropriate place for the sponsorship would be on the little machines that go around clearing up the stuff? Perhaps he would be interested to learn that in the borough of Pendle, where I am a councillor, there is an excellent little machine called Doris, which goes around removing all the graffiti. It is accompanied on its tour every week by the gumbuster. Doris and the gumbuster do a brilliant job, but it is very expensive. If it could be sponsored by the people who are basically responsible for the gum; that would certainly help local authorities throughout the country.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I understand that one company has 98 per cent of the market, so we do not have to talk about the “companies’” sponsorship—it is one company.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, who chairs the chewing gum action group?



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Lord Rooker: My Lords, it is Defra-chaired. It was invented by my right honourable friend Alun Michael. I hope that I do not chair it, but I suspect that if there is a Minister responsible it would be the Minister for waste, Ben Bradshaw.

EU: Budget

3 pm

Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord McKenzie of Luton:My Lords, the Government were disappointed that the ECA report on the 2005 EC budget was again unable to provide a positive statement of assurance on the majority of expenditure. We are considering with the National Audit Office how member states and the European Commission might better manage EU funds at the national level and so provide the ECA with the assurances that it seeks. We also look forward to the recommendation of your Lordships’ European scrutiny committee inquiry into the management and audit of EC expenditure and accounts.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister said that the Government were disappointed, but were they not appalled at the evident waste, not to mention fraud, in the Commission’s spending, with, for example, payments on non-existent farm animals and material errors in over two-thirds of structural funds? Will the Government now concede that the climb-down last December, which resulted in our pouring more good money into a wholly unreformed EU budget, was the wrong result for UK taxpayers?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness’s latter point; I do not think that she seriously expects me to. We are not complacent about the issue. Important steps need to be taken so that assurance can be forthcoming in due course. The target date for the European Commission is for a statement of assurance to be positive by 2009—still too far in the future. Developments have taken place recently—for example, the new accrual accounting system, the integrated internal control framework and the single audit concept—but there is still more to be done. Although I do not have time to deal with the issue now, the suggestion that 65 per cent, or two-thirds, of expenditure is subject to material error needs to be seen in the context of the criteria used for materiality.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, how long has this appalling situation lasted? Would it be accepted in any company in any major land?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it has lasted since 1994, I believe. We need to understand exactly what the process is. The assurance considers two things. The first is whether the financial statements of the Commission fairly reflect its financial position. By

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and large, that assurance has been forthcoming. The difficulty has been with the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions and the process—which, I suggest, is not an integral part of most company audits. Here, the materiality concept is important because the Commission considers samples of expenditure, and, if the error rate is 0.5 to 2 per cent, the whole expenditure is counted as not approved. We need to understand how that judgment is made.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the two examples given by the noble Baroness were thoroughly bad ones? Agriculture and the structural funds are two of the large areas of expenditure in the European budget dispensed through the member states. If we are to get that correctness in the statement of assurance, much greater responsibility lies with the member states, which are responsible for 80 per cent of the disbursement of the European budget. We ought to be pointing the finger at where the responsibility lies, not just using the European Union as an alibi for our prejudices whenever it is mentioned.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right, which is why the UK is working with Denmark and the Netherlands to provide better assurance for funds at member level. There have been developments. For example, Wales entered into the first contract of confidence with the Commission, which concerned improving the internal control systems and having those approved in advance, an audit strategy agreed for the whole period and an annual report of the implementation strategy. My noble friend is right: member states are responsible for the bulk of the expenditure, and it is there that most of the problems lie.

Lord Newby: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Sir John Bourne, head of the National Audit Office, said last week that if he had to apply the same system as does the Court of Auditors, he would have had to qualify all aspects of UK Government expenditure? Will the Minister urge the UK presidency to bring the Commission and the auditors together so that they can deal with that methodology to give us a better picture of where the remaining problems lie?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the Government are discussing with the National Audit Office the proposal for an audit of a single EU account, although that may not be the precise mechanism adopted. This is about ensuring that the systems that operate at member-state level are an integral part of the overall systems that the Commission seeks to apply. They are important matters, and the Government are addressing them. The Wales example that I cited earlier is one approach to tackling that problem.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, is not the Commission’s excuse for this deplorable state of affairs that, in a community of 25 countries with different accounting systems and different levels of transparency and honesty,

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it is impossible to account accurately for such vast expenditure? Instead of trying the impossible, why does the Commission not stop or try to limit the spending? For example, what is the point of the EU rather than the Spanish paying for Segovia cathedral to be done up?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, there is a process for setting the budget; I am sure that the noble Lord is aware of it. It is important that part of the new financial framework that was put in place as a result of pressure from the UK Government in particular covers new standards of financial accountability, objective setting and evaluation of budgets with SMART targets. That goes part of the way so that we can secure a positive assurance in future years.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is the Minister aware—

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

3.06 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the London Local Authorities Bill [HL], which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 24 January 2005, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons desiring their agreement thereto.

Transport for London Bill [HL]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [HL], which was originally introduced in this House in this Session on 23 January 2006, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons desiring their agreement thereto.



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Whitehaven Harbour Bill [HL]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the Whitehaven Harbour Bill [HL], which was originally introduced in this House in this Session on 23 January 2006, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons desiring their agreement thereto.

London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill

3.07 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the fourth Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill, which was originally introduced in the House of Commons in the previous Session on 25 January 2005, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, before we go any further, what is the difference between the London Local Authorities Bill, the Transport for London Bill and the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill? Can we have some sort of explanation? I ask because, as the Chairman of Committees well knows, I was involved in sittings on the London Local Authorities Bill that lasted for about nine days just before Easter.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, there is a difference between all the Bills. The London Local Authorities Bill, as the noble Baroness said, was considered in depth by the Opposed Bill Committee, so she will be aware of some of its provisions. The Transport for London Bill is at a slightly different stage; it has also been considered by the Opposed Bill Committee in this House but not yet by the Unopposed Bill Committee. The same applies to the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill. They simply deal with different issues.

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.



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Violent Crime Reduction Bill

3.09 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move that the Commons reason be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

commons DISAGREEMENT AND REASON

[The page and line references are to HL Bill 41 as first printed for the Lords.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton:My Lords, I beg to move Motion A, that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 27, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason 27A.


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