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In relation to that, does the Minister, Defra or anyone else have an estimate of how many applications there will be? Is it thought that 10 or 12 vessels will be the level, or that it might be difficult to get to that level and that it might be more likely to be 20 or 25, in which case choices will have to be made? These are important questions on the practicality of how the measure will work in practice; but, having said that, we support the measure.

The Earl of Selborne: As the Minister reminded us, this is a small and well-targeted scheme. It is salutary to remember that previous decommissioning schemes have not always worked out as well as we would have hoped. Originally, those who offered ships for decommissioning did so when they had a ship that was no longer very effective, although I think that this scheme will avoid that. As my noble friend Lady Byford hinted, there was the danger that money that was received for decommissioning simply went to increase effort in replacement ships. It would be helpful if the Minister gave some assurance that that will not happen in this case.

The other factor that has to be taken into account to determine whether effort will indeed be reduced—which is, after all, the object of the exercise—is that some attempt must be made to quantify illegal fishing. It is a fact of life and happens in every fishery, not only in our own waters; it happens throughout the European Union and in other fisheries around the world. So to quantify how successful the decommissioning is in determining that the take has been reduced, someone must make some calculation about the quantity of illegal fishing at present and whether it is increasing or decreasing.

The ultimate aim is to manage each fishery and area effectively. That is part of a long-term management plan. As I understand the Minister, the decommissioning proposals will not be implemented if the long-term management plans for this area are not agreed. This plan must be welcomed, because all sectors are now involved in preparing these plans, which is highly important if they are to be effective. Can the Minister assure us that they will be in place by the appointed date, which I understand to be April?

5.15 pm

Lord Rooker: I am most grateful for the response and I shall do my best to answer the detailed questions. The central issue is the long-term plan, on which the noble Earl has just finished speaking. The noble Baroness raised that issue, too. Approval is expected at the April session of the Fisheries Council. It has been informally approved; in other words, it has been agreed by the Commission of member states, so there is every expectation that it will be in place. All the vessels are English-registered vessels. I cannot say who owns them, but they are English registered.

The noble Baroness asked a question that was almost answered by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Some 60 vessels are engaged, so the figure of 12 is out of that total. I said that up to 12 vessels would be

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engaged. We cannot be precise about this. We expect the number to be somewhat less than 12, because we have had considerable discussions with the industry, so there will probably be only about eight or nine. These vessels work out of Plymouth and Brixham, the two ports that are centrally affected.

Noble Lords referred to what has happened in the past. There have been general decommissioning schemes, but our evidence is that they have not quite delivered. Indeed, sometimes they have delivered almost the opposite of what was intended. That cannot be good for fish stocks or for public money. As for some of the details, there must be a way of ranking. We have agreed with the Commission to pay more than the current EU maximum to reflect market values. We will accept bids of up to £3,500 a tonne. Based on the average tonnage of vessels in this sector—93 tonnes—a successful bid of £3,500 would generate an average cost of £325,000. The top vessel in the fleet is 373 tonnes, so if a successful bid involved such vessels, it would generate more than £1.3 million, which is a large percentage of the money available.

There is a requirement on this, as I mentioned earlier. The vessels must have been there for a particular number of days for the past two periods of 12 months. The intention is that we get better value for money than from a general decommissioning scheme, because if we did not aim for the recovery of the stock, it would not be effective. By using a vessel-ranking system that takes into account the value of the bid per tonne of capacity to be removed, the fishing effort and the amount of sole caught in area VIIe during the reference period, we believe that we can remove from the fleet those vessels that have a greater impact on sole stocks in area VIIe, therefore supporting the new long-term management plan for the area. I fully accept that there is a considerable number of vessels under 10 metres that fish. We simply do not have knowledge and information about those, and we would be spending money on vessels that spend only a very limited amount of time at sea.

The noble Earl raised the issue of illegal fishing. I do not have chapter and verse on this, but I understand that there has been a big improvement in enforcement with regard to illegal fishing. It is believed that one consequence of that is the hardening of fish prices, which has been of considerable assistance to the industry. Apparently, people have seen a direct connection between improvements in enforcement and a hardening of fish prices, which has to be good for those who are operating legally.

The long-term management plan is being carried out in conjunction with the Commission and, of course, France. It has been negotiated for a while; we want a sustainable fishing industry in this part of the channel. The plan envisages a six-year period in which to bring the stocks back to a sustainable level, which should allow vessels remaining in the fishery a sustainable future. The quota would remain, so that when the stocks return to their levels, the quota is still

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available, having removed that capacity in the mean time. One does not want to chuck the baby out with the bathwater.

On option 4, the system ranking the bids will take into account the tonnage, the catch of sole and the effort in the fishing. A formula that calculates a ranking position will be made available to applicants. This will not be done in secret; they will know beforehand what they are doing. The formula puts a weighting on each of the criteria: 50 per cent on the tonnage and 25 per cent each on the catch and the effort. The figure arising from the calculation is then divided by the bid per tonne of the vessel, which gives a final ranking figure that could be made available to Members of the Committee.

The whole point about this is that the person making the bid has to know whether to make an economic, family or business decision to leave fishing, so they have to know what money is going to come back. This is therefore not a question of someone putting in a blind, sealed bid and then asking for the money; the person making the bid must know whether it is a viable business decision. After our discussions with the industry, we have said that the measure would involve up to 12 out of the 60 vessels, but our expectation is that it will be about eight or nine of the vessels. Because I do not have that information, I cannot give details of whether those vessels will be predominantly larger, more medium-sized or smaller, but if the average tonnage is 93 and there is a vessel of 373 tonnes, by definition there will be some smaller ones. That is a business decision for the fishing fleet to take.

Lord Greaves: Will the formula used to calculate the ranking be provided to people before they bid?

Lord Rooker: Yes, it has to be transparent. When the money runs out, that is the end. There is a limit on the finance of £5 million. Moreover, the scheme is not completely a UK one; there is European Union involvement with the management plan and everything else. The formula will be known, and they will know the tonnage of the vessel, how many days they have been at sea and what the catch has been. They have to meet the target of 75 days at sea in each of the two 12-month periods beforehand. So it is not a question of being able to manipulate the figures; the figures have to be up front. In other words, although it might be thought inappropriate, these are people involved in serious fishing. Even with the restrictions on the number of days allowed out, 75 days is serious fishing. Those people will know that if they have gone out on 150 days in one year and on no days in another year, they will not get in. All that is known up front, and, if successful, they will know to a fairly accurate degree how much money they will receive for the decommissioning bid.

I think that I have covered everything on my list of questions. If I have not, I shall stand corrected, and I will see whether I can get further information.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I should like a little clarification. Paragraph 5 on page 2 says:

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Does that mean that the vessel must be totally destroyed and blown up? That seems the most appalling waste and destruction. Could the vessel not be converted for a different use?

Lord Rooker: No, it is a fishing vessel. It has been decommissioned from fishing and is therefore scrap. They will not be paid the decommissioning grant until the vessel is scrapped. It is not possible to do it any other way. That is the normal procedure with the decommissioning plans for the fishing fleet, and part of the EU rules. It also makes common sense.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007

5.25 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007.

The noble Lord said: Again, I have a short and a long speech. For the convenience of the Committee, I shall use the short one. We are meeting here to debate regulations which make a number of technical changes, including amending some references in the 2005 regulations to reflect the original policy intention, as well as changes to allow for the electronic submission of data and the issuing of packaging waste recovery notes and packaging waste export recovery notes. An online system, the national packaging waste database, has been set up to provide an electronic system alongside the paper-based system, providing a more efficient way of doing business. The regulations before the Committee also contain other technical changes, including a proposal to change the criteria requiring an operational plan to be submitted by individually registered businesses.

Under the new rules, only businesses with an obligation of more than 500 tonnes must provide a plan. Fewer businesses—only 100—will therefore need to submit an operational plan. The proposals bring a further change that affects exporters, giving environment agencies the power to refuse accreditation to exporters who have committed, for example, Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations offences. The new conditions of accreditation will include a specific reference to compliance with the trans-frontier shipment requirements.

In addition, where material is exported for reprocessing overseas, the end destination reprocessor will have to be identified by the exporter, not just by the interim recipient. That is necessary for the exporter to comply with the packaging waste directive requirement that overseas recovery and/or recycling operations can count towards targets only if undertaken in conditions broadly equivalent to those in the EU. I have recently answered several questions

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on this in your Lordships’ House. It is not possible to export any waste for landfill; that is quite illegal. It is a question of recycling and recovery, and we must know what is going to happen at the end.

Subject to the House’s approval, the regulations will come into effect in the middle of this month. It is a pat on the back for industry that UK packaging waste recovery has risen by 29 percentage points—from 30 to 59 per cent—between 1997 and 2005. Recycling rose to 54 per cent, from around half that figure some 10 years ago.

The proposed changes, supported by a formal consultation last year, will, if adopted by the House, approve accessibility for stakeholders through electronic means, and give us greater confidence in the regulations’ ability to deliver the directive’s recovery and recycling targets which the United Kingdom must meet by 2008. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007. 9th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

5.30 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am pleased to speak on these regulations. I am afraid that I only have one speech on this subject; it is a little long, but I promise to be shorter on the next subject.

The regulations make changes to the producer-responsibility obligations, which are welcome. I particularly welcome the reduction of bureaucracy in the sense that a large number of people will no longer have to file a plan. I can speak to the regulations with some knowledge. Indeed, I have to declare an interest; my family bulb-growing, packing and distribution business is a registered producer and we are members of Valpak, an agency set up for the purposes of these regulations.

Speaking from that experience, I would say that generally the system works well. However, it is complex, and without the investment that we have made in creating a whole section of our IT programme to deal with it, we would find it almost impossible to monitor. Even as a medium-sized business, we have 2,500 product items, all with their own packaging formulations, with a very large number of many-to-many situations. These all require monitoring through the purchasing, packing and distribution process. We also need to pass on information to some of our customers to enable them to file their own obligations.

Even with the support of IT, two senior managers spent two weeks collating the data for filing with Valpak. When we talk about reducing the administrative burden and reducing bureaucracy, the regulations are a classic illustration of what it means to be in business today. The measure is well intentioned, properly directed and effective, but it is still one of those things that government send to test us. It is therefore important to bear in mind the impact of these regulations on business life. It is equally important that they are implemented with fairness and sensitivity.

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On the first point, I am not sure that all who might be under an obligation are being properly investigated and audited. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how satisfied he is on that point. He might also tell us how many man days it takes to do one audit, and how many man days of the Environment Agency’s officials are dedicated to that work.

We note the inclusion of producers registered overseas who will now come within the scope of the regulations in respect of their UK operations. At the same time, I wonder how strong a grip the Government have on the internet sale of waste to third countries, particularly plastic waste. What checks have we to ensure that waste exported to overseas sites conforms with the EU directive on those sites? Who does the checking?

I shall continue with some personal observations. We can recycle cardboard and paper quite easily, even though the plant is 20 miles away. We have both baling and shredding facilities, but plastic, particularly if it is dirty, is very difficult to dispose of as no one wants it. We also find some matters of definition difficult. The plant-pot issue is resolved, but we have curious anomalies in display stands, which are excluded, but which are included if the bin, crate or box is used to transport goods, as well as display them.

As I said, the system in the main achieves its objectives. We are given incentives to reduce waste, to recycle what we can and to think carefully about packaging decisions. We accept that the changes that the regulations bring about are designed to make the system work better. We welcome the consultation with the advisory committee on packaging throughout the process.

I turn briefly to the text of the regulations as there are a few anomalies, which I hope the Minister can explain. The sum of “£5,000,000” is mentioned at the bottom of page 7. We all know that there is a de minimis of £2 million on this programme. Why is that not included in the regulations at that point? It is referred to later, on page 31, where the threshold is described, but I am surprised that the £2 million is not included in the opening general comments of the regulations.

On page 17, one finds the same situation under Regulation 16(4)(a) where, again, there is no mention of the £2 million. Sub-paragraph (b) says,

but I cannot understand the relevance of “or” in that statement, because sub-paragraph (a) is totally different from what this power seems to be looking at.

I also find unusual the absence in the regulation, as opposed to the covering literature, of any reference to electronic inputting. There are references to forms as approved by the Secretary of State, so there are words about the forms. But I am surprised that, as far as I can see, the regulation does not refer specifically to electronic inputting, which obviously will be a great advantage. It may help in the prevention of fraud if PRNs, for example, are issued electronically. I welcome the proposal, but I am not sure where it exists in the regulations.

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I might have misread Regulation 36, entitled “Collation and provision of information”, but paragraph (1) states:

As I read it, every report that is filed with the agency will be placed in a common database. However, paragraph (3) states:

I wonder whether that means every report or whether it means the collation of the individual reports that have been submitted. Is it a summary or is it every report? If it is every report, my only comment is that if this information is in the public domain, we should be aware that it can be confidential; it is certainly commercially sensitive for those who are filing their reports. I would be grateful for the Minister’s observations on those points.

A table showing the targets for recycling is on page 34. The Minister has rightly drawn the attention of the Grand Committee to the success that we have had since 1997 in increasing the rates of recycling, and the role that business and industry has played. However, I am disappointed that the new targets leading up to 2010 are relatively modest. I am sure that the Government do not seek to be modest in their intentions, but I am disappointed that the figures are very low in terms of percentages. Take, for example, aluminium, which is a high-value product. We are recycling only 31 per cent of aluminium cans in this country, which is, I think, the lowest figure in Europe. Why are we expecting, even with effort and focus, to increase that by a modest 2.5 per cent from this year to 2010?

Lord Greaves: I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the regulations and the noble Lord for introducing some interesting and detailed questions on them. I shall range slightly more widely. I should start by saying that as the document is not a thin one—it is 50 pages long—it will contribute nicely to the recycling targets of your Lordships’ House in due course. But this is a serious matter.

These are amending regulations in many ways. They are the previous regulations from 2005 in a new form, with a certain number of changes, some of which are fairly minor but some of which are important. Particularly important is the ability of people to operate this system by electronic means; in other words, to submit data electronically and send in reports and information electronically. That in itself will help people to operate it more quickly, efficiently and cheaply. It closes some loopholes and reduces some of the burdens, and on that basis it is welcome. However, I should point out that it is about recovery and recycling targets. What it does not do is tackle the most fundamental problem of all—the quantity of packaging waste generated in the first place.

Despite the fact that the proportion of commercial packaging that is being recovered and recycled has

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gone up very significantly, having doubled since the original 1997 regulations came in so that it is now approaching possibly more than 60 per cent, which is excellent, the total quantity of waste is still going up. The figure I have is that, since 1999, packaging waste in the UK has risen by 12 per cent. Until we start to get at the origin of the waste, we shall not be tackling the problem.

Over-packaging remains a huge problem, as we all know. You only have to go to supermarkets to see the over-packaging of vegetables and fruit. Most ludicrous of all is the packaging of cucumbers, which come with the perfectly adequate natural package of their skin but which are nowadays invariably marketed in cling film. One could call them sheaths—but I am not sure what that would imply. However, electronic goods at the other end of the spectrum are getting smaller and smaller, while the boxes in which they come are not getting any smaller at all because the marketing of them is designed to make them look exciting, sexy and all the rest of it, whereas really they could be marketed in very much smaller boxes. In the days when I used to buy Hornby 00 railway engines and rolling stock, they came in boxes the size of the rolling stock, not in great big boxes with the thing in the middle. There is no reason at all why iPods and other things that I do not understand should not be marketed in the same way. So there is a lot of work to be done in that regard.

We must tackle these problems in a much more practical way. The Private Member’s Bill that my honourable friend Andrew Stunell presented yesterday or today would make it obligatory for supermarkets and similar shops to take back packaging that shoppers take and dump back on them. That is the kind of thing that we must do; we must make it possible for people to return the packaging to the places where it comes from so that those places would have to dispose of it, which would make them think much more carefully about what they package things in, because they would have to pay for it.

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