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Lord Greaves: I support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in this little group. The noble Lord spoke widely about local government finance and the financial effects on local government of implementing this legislationperhaps quite rightly, because this is the first time we have had an amendment that has addressed the issue of money, although the amendment itself is drawn rather more narrowly.
First, I support what the noble Lord said about the general financial implications of the Bill for local government. It would be very helpful if at some stage during our discussionsand I do not expect to have this immediatelythe Government would tell us clearly what effects they expect it to have. It would be very helpful if the Minister could provide us with that information. It may be that the Government expect waste disposal authorities to absorb the costs of this in some way and are not expecting to make provision in whatever the local government support settlement is now called. If that is their view and intention, it would be helpful to understand that.
It would also be helpful to understand the implications for two-tier areas. We keep returning to the problems of two-tier areas, because this legislation is about waste disposal authorities, but to be successful it will have to have the full co-operation and assistance of waste collection authorities. I am not sure that the Government have fully understood that these are different tiers of authority. Although an increasing number of different co-operative and consultative arrangements are being developed in different areas to try to bring the two together, only an optimist would say that those arrangements were all working perfectly, or could be expected to work perfectly during the time when this Bill is being implemented. That is the first major point that has been raised.
These amendments are more narrowly drawn because they are about the costs of providing information into certain specific instances. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on tabling quite neat amendments that delete the penalties for not complying with the rules and replace them with resources in order to allow the authorities to comply with the rules. I do not expect the Government to accept that, but we must ask why these penalties are here.
Local and public authorities generally have a vast number of duties laid upon them by legislation. It is not normal for specific penalties for non-compliance to be laid down in the legislation imposing those duties. There is a series of general ways in which citizens, the Government or whoever may take action against local authorities for not doing what the Government want them to do or what the legislation tells them to do, but it is not normal for detailed penalties of this kind to be attached to particular requirements. It is not clear to me why the Government feel it necessary to attach penalties in specific cases of duties to provide information which are not unusual or particularly onerous. Perhaps this is part of a growing tendency by the Government to want immediate powers to force people to do things even if they are not being very efficient in doing them. If that is the case, one increasingly asks why the Government do not take over the whole damn thing, close down elected local authorities and do it all themselves. There is a clear, specific question as to why these penalties are thought necessary in the Bill in this instance.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I, too, support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. Those of us who have been in local government know all too well how authorities are saddled with legislation and duties placed on them by the Government with the assurance that the Government will see that they are properly financed. However, when the time comes, they are not properly financed and the cost is left with the council tax payers. There is no doubt that the burdens being placed on council tax payers, particularly in the South of England, are considerable. Those of us who pay council taxand I presume that is all of usknow perfectly well that over the last years council tax in many areas has gone up by four and five times the rate of inflation. Of course, the Government get away with that as they have not imposed the tax directly, so the poor old local authorities get the blame for it.
As the Cabinet system spreads its awful tentacles around the country, we increasingly find that there is less accountability. You have nine people making all the dispositions and the rest of the membersthere are 57 in my local authorityhave nothing to do and are supernumerary. Any protest they make will be squashed by one group or the other and they will be silenced. Therefore, there are real difficulties of meeting costs in the local areas.
We have not discussed enforcement yet. It is difficult for an ordinary Member of this Committee to understand exactly how it will work and how the various complicated provisions will be enforced. Perhaps we should have some idea of that and of the costs of the enforcement. One could go on about that but I shall not do so tonight. No doubt other points will be raised later on.
We come now to the question of penalties on local authorities. Who will pay those? Presumably there will be a system of fines so that local authorities, which are already under pressure, will be finedgoodness knows how muchfor doing what the European Union and the Government want them to do. That will mean that their council tax payers will have to pay even more. What about penalising properly elected local authorities? Local authorities and governments will be fined for not doing what the bureaucrats, if I may put it that way, consider they should do.
The amendments are important and should be supported. This is the first Grand Committee that I have attended and I understand that we do not take votes in Grand Committee. What a pity. I believe that we would pass many amendments, particularly this one. I support the amendments. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy the Committee that they are not necessary because he will do something about them.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I support my noble friend Lord Hanningfield and everything said in his support on these two amendments. It will be remarkable if the Minister can reassure the Committee on the financial front; it has never happened yet so I do not expect him to be able to satisfy us on that point.
At Second Reading in regard to penalties I said that my view of the penalties on local authorities was to fund the deficit position that the Government may find themselves in at the end of the period. That raised a hollow laugh at the time but it was not entirely an inappropriate comment. I certainly do not want to pick up on the way in which local authorities work. There was enough debate on that subject when the Local Government Bill went through in, I believe, 1999 but sadly, much of what we predicted is now coming true with what I would suggest is maligned effect. Those are basically sensible amendments and although I do not expect the Minister to satisfy my noble friend, I look forward to his response.
Lord Whitty: The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, correctly discerns that I am unlikely to be able to accept these amendments. They concern resources, but I repeat that in this spending round there has already been a significant allocation of resources. We also have the National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Fund, which has approved 142 bids for a wide variety of projects£76 million in all.
In addition, there are the PFI provisions that many of the capital projects will want to consider and there are other sources of funding. Thus, there is no problem of funding in relation to this scheme as a whole. However, we clearly need to keep that under review, as we and the Treasury shall, not least following the publication of the waste strategy that was produced the other week at the same time as the pre-Budget review. We shall need to reassess the funding implications of that.
Funding is, however, an issue which the Government have to take on as one of their responsibilities to ensure that this is delivered. But in these amendments we are talking about compensation for running the scheme.
I find the amendments slightly odd in that they relate to waste collection authorities rather than waste disposal authorities, whereas all the obligations are on waste disposal authorities. There are no obligations in any direct or indirect sense on waste collection authorities. An issue may arise as to whether a two-tier system exists between the waste disposal authority, which has to meet the obligation, and the waste collection authority, which is judged not to be helping to meet those obligations. That then becomes a matter for joint determination rather than compensation from the Government for the costs of meeting the operation of the scheme.
Even in relation to the objectives which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, sought to achieve, the amendments are misconstrued in that one can only compensate for something that is being done to a disposal authority. It is not sensible to do that. The obligations are to meet targets which are not only a European and a government requirement; I believe that all parties recognise them as being desirable. Therefore, it is not sensible for the Government to undertake to compensate the cost of authorities administering a scheme to meet that outcome.
The penalties referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddartother than those for exceeding targetsare imposed on the waste disposal authorities in order to act as an incentive to comply with the requirements. Overall, I believe that all political parties are committed to those requirements. Therefore, we are arguing only about means. Penalties are one way of ensuring that the delivery takes place. Obviously individual local authorities will try to avoid the penalties. That means that the penalties must be more substantial than the cost of compliance.
None of that requires compensation. It certainly does not require compensation to collection authorities; nor, in my judgment, does it require compensation to disposal authorities. I would therefore resist the overall idea of compensation. However, in any case, the amendments are directed at the wrong tier of authority.
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