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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the order. We do not find anything boring about sustainable development or about reducing the level of waste produced by industry and consumers throughout the country. We welcome the underlying objectives of the order. I merely wish to make a number of brief points, partly general and partly related specifically to Northern Ireland.
As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, suggested, it is a matter of achieving a balance between imposing burdens on business and promoting sustainability. I notice that Article 3(b)(d) refers to minimising the bureaucratic burden on firms. We all recognise that that is exactly where the balance has to be struck and that is where detailed regulations prepared for specific industries have to be implemented. We welcome the idea of regulations tailored to specific industries.
Secondly, the definition in Article 3 of the re-use, recovery and recycling of products implicitly extends to encouraging extended use of materials. It is often much more environmentally friendly simply to extend the use of something rather than to waste resources by providing packaging which is re-usable and which is then re-churned through the system.
Thirdly, Article 4(5) specifies that the revenue from any fees or levies raised under regulations shall be paid directly into the Consolidated Fund. As the Minister will be aware, my party has spent some time thinking about the need to increase trust in the tax system by providing a greater degree of visibility between what is taxed and what taxes are spent on. There should be a degree of hypothecation here; for example, the extent to which taxes raised on producer responsibility should be related to cleaning up the rivers. That is very much the way forward.
Lastly, Article 6 deals with the liability of the Crown. We are all conscious that the Crown is a rather larger element in the Northern Ireland economy than in the rest of the country. I ask the Minister for reassurance that Article 6 will be interpreted in such a way as not to let the Crown off the hook in terms of its responsibilities in producing waste.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I welcome the ideas behind the order and the objective it is trying to achieve. The order results from long and good consultation started under the previous government and carried on by the present one. But, from the parliamentary point of view, this is a very unsatisfactory way of legislating. The order is subject to the affirmative procedure, which is what we are now engaged in, but the sole purpose of the order is
There is little detail in the order. The Minister referred to quite a number of matters which are not in the order but which will appear in the regulations to follow. One example is the matter of small businesses, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. The Minister referred to a 50-tonne limit. That is not in the order but it is intended to be in the regulations. However, the regulations may not be introduced into this House at all. By that time responsibility may have passed to the Assembly; it certainly will a short time after, if all goes smoothly, as we hope it will. It is not insignificant that many regulations set up offences for which people can be charged and fined, which is usually but I always think amusingly described as, "On summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum." I am not sure why it is necessary to express the matter that way. It is one of the disadvantages of not being a lawyer, although, on the whole, I find that an advantage in parliamentary discussions.
The order opens up the way for a whole series of regulations which we have not yet seen. That is the important part of the order. The regulations are clearly intended to do things which we support, but the detail of them will also be important to, among others, small businesses.
I have one other point. The Minister may not be able to deal with it straightaway but it arises indirectly from the order. I am told that planning permission has been given for a waste incineration plant on Belfast Lough which is expected to deal with much of the waste that comes out of Belfast. That will be a major matter. If the Minister is in a position to update us on how that is coming along and what is now expected in respect of the plant, it would be helpful background information in considering the order.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their general support for the order and what it is intended to achieve. Perhaps I may deal with the specific points that were raised. My noble friend Lord Randall was quite properly concerned about the effect on small firms. I shall explain how the system will work.
Small firms which have a turnover of under £5 million a year and which create packaging waste of under 50 tonnes a year will not be subject to the regulations. The point about the exemption scheme is that large firms may either collect their own packaging waste and deal with it in accordance with the regulations or they may use other firms who specialise in that activity to collect it for them. The firms can be exempt from having to collect the waste, but they must ensure that they comply with the need to meet the percentage targets. For example, a firm in the retailing business might use a lot of packaging which is taken home by consumers and disposed of. Therefore, it would be difficult for the firm to go to the consumers to collect
However, I very much hope that small businesses will act in the spirit of the regulations and do their best to minimise packaging waste. After all, the object of the regulations is not to impose a financial burden on businesses but to give them an incentive to produce less waste in their activities. That is the desired aim.
Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that answer. The micro-companies and the small SMEs would be protected, which shows considerable insight. Nevertheless, information regarding the structure of the fees associated with the exemption scheme for companies above the £5 million and 50-tonne figures would be helpful to the House.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, it would be best if I were to write to the noble Lord and send copies to other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The issue is complicated and I am not sure that I can deal with it accurately. It would take a lot of time to do so. Perhaps my noble friend will bear with me and I shall write to him.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am sorry for interrupting him. Can he confirm that as regards small business exemptions below 50 tonnes and so forth he is stating the Government's intention for the regulations? No limit is specified in the order; the figure could be 1 tonne or even nil. The order does not specify 50 tonnes; the Minister is merely telling us that that is the Government's intention as regards the regulations. The information is valuable--I asked for particulars of the regulations--but it is an example.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. In answer to another question which he posed, the regulations are likely to come before Parliament, not before the new Assembly, as we hope to have them laid before the end of the year. He will be able to take part in further debates about the regulations before they come into effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked about the general progress of the regulations. The draft regulations were published for consultation on 26th June and consultation is taking place with a wide range of interested parties, including industry and district councils. More than 500 companies have been consulted. We are undertaking a proper and widespread consultation on the regulations which will come before this House, all being well, before the end of this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, also asked about the regulations. They will encourage the re-use of packaging by exempting re-used packaging such as bottles which are returned and refilled. We wish to encourage such a process. It may seem old-fashioned to return to bottles which are used more than once, but it is a sensible way forward. I hope that the regulations will give full effect to that.
The noble Lord also asked about the position of the Crown. Article 6 applies the order to the Crown. That means that there is no exemption for government departments or other Crown bodies. In practice, it is unlikely that they will be conducting a business to which the regulations would apply. However, I take the spirit of the noble Lord's comment. In this, as in other matters connected with the environment, it is important that government departments should set the lead and set a good example. Other people can then say, "If Government do that, it is reasonable for us to follow." I refer to a whole range of issues concerned with sustainable development and the "greening" of government generally. However, it is unlikely that such regulations for businesses will apply to the operation of government departments.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about the Consolidated Fund. I hear what he says, but I am not sure that I can change Treasury policy quite so easily. I note his point, which is that any moneys going to Northern Ireland should stay there for Northern Ireland purposes.