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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I would not want to claim more for these regulations than they touch on. In the case of part-time workers, they simply enable ACAS to attempt conciliation in an informal way rather than going through an employment tribunal. I hope that the House will agree that arriving at an informal settlement is an excellent way of resolving disputes, regardless of how we feel about the part-time regulations. They seem to me to be very sensible; they have been handled well and have reduced the number of queries.
As to the national minimum wage, the regulations concern a specific technicality in regard to trainees. Whatever house sitters are, I do not believe that they come into the category of trainees. They are not even particularly affected by the changes to the national minimum wage that we have introduced; they simply come under the original legislation.
The debates that took place then were about whether or not a national minimum wage would lead to greater unemployment because some jobs would no longer be economic. The reality is that, since the legislation has come in, employment has increased; there is no evidence whatever that it has led to unemployment. As to the effectiveness of workers, it is desirable that people should always look at the effectiveness of workers to ascertain whether they are being productive. I think that I have answered the questions. I commend the regulations to the House.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he could answer a personal query. I had extensive experience of ACAS and its conciliation methods--which were extremely helpful but never successful--in the 1980s. Does the Minister feel that these regulations add anything new to what we were doing then?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, they allow conciliation to take place. Above all, they now allow the worker involved to give up the rights that he has under this legislation. He previously did not have those rights, which made matters more difficult. The regulations will make a difference. The process involves ACAS--it is voluntary; no one has to follow it--and these regulations will be helpful to that process.
The noble Lord said: The regulations before the House today apply the provisions of EC Directive 96/61 on integrated pollution prevention and control--commonly referred to as the IPPC directive--to offshore oil and gas combustion installations. These regulations follow on from similar regulations last year implementing the IPPC directive for onshore emission sources. Both sets of regulations are made under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999.
The purpose of the directive--and, consequently, of these regulations--is to enhance the protection of the environment as a whole by preventing or reducing emissions of pollutants to air, water and land. While the primary intention of the directive was to introduce controls on onshore sources, there are a number of large offshore oil and gas installations that require their own power generation plant in order to operate. These regulations therefore seek to introduce a similar level of environmental protection for offshore power production plant.
Unlike the onshore regulations, there is no existing system of permits on which to build. The regulations therefore set in place a new permitting system to meet the requirements of the directive. Under the regulations, operators of offshore combustion installations will require permits to be issued by the Secretary of State to cover the emissions from combustion installations; that is, gas turbines and diesels used for generating electricity or to power pumps and similar equipment.
The purpose of permits is to introduce controls that will prevent or reduce pollution to the air, water and land (which, in this case, is the seabed), but mainly to air. Operators will be required to apply the principle of best available techniques, which, of course, takes proper account of the need to make an appropriate assessment of the costs and environmental benefits of introducing such techniques.
In this respect, there are of course factors peculiar to the situation offshore that will have to be considered, not least the harsher operating conditions and the space restrictions on offshore platforms. There is also the fact that the quality of the fuel gas used can vary greatly as offshore platforms make use of the unprocessed gas produced as part of their operation. Such "raw" gas restricts the technology that can be applied to control emissions and the harsher environment and space limitations have an obvious effect on the cost implications for introducing such technology.
Initially, permits will be required only for new combustion installations exceeding a specified thermal threshold--which is 50 megawatts--or for existing combustion installations which undergo substantial change. Existing combustion installations which do not undergo substantial change will not need permits until late in 2007 in accordance with the provisions of the directive.
One of the main comments arising out of the consultations was what constitutes "substantial change". This is defined in the directive--and therefore in the regulations--as a change in operation which may have significant negative effects on human beings or the environment. In considering whether substantial change has taken place, it is necessary to review any changes to emission levels and their consequent impact on the environment. Where the impact is negligible or obviously minor, the substantial change provisions will not be invoked.
The cost of implementing the regulations has been extensively discussed with the United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association and the regulatory impact assessment reflects the best assessment that the Government and the industry could jointly make.
We believe that the regulations, which are a product of extensive consultation, strike a proper balance between protecting the environment and ensuring that the legitimate concerns of the offshore oil and gas industry have been addressed. I commend the regulations to the House. I beg to move.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that explanation. When these regulations were debated in another place, a number of queries were raised by my honourable friend Mr Gibb; however, I believe that the Minister, Mr Hain, gave entirely satisfactory answers. Therefore, I have nothing to add. I join the Government in commending the regulations.
Lord Biffen: My Lords, I owe an explanation to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, and to your Lordships generally. My late arrival was occasioned by my having spent four hours this morning in a dialysis chair. None the less, I am pleased to have arrived in time to make a brief observation. I apologise for not giving notice of this to the Minister.
These provisions have been widely discussed within the industry by the offshore operators. To what extent have we kept in step with, and consulted, our partners in Norway--partners in the sense that they share in the offshore exploitation of the North Sea? Do they have broadly similar provisions, so that there is no question of there being a significant difference in the operating regimes in the North Sea between those countries that are members of the European Union and those that are not?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising that point. Norway, too, is concerned to reduce emissions and is pursuing that end through its own measures, independently of the European Union directive. Therefore, I do not see that these provisions will have any effect on competitiveness. I commend the regulations to the House.
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