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I found some interesting information in the Official Report of the House of Commons discussion in Committee on these regulations. My honourable friend Martin Horwood has dug out the fact that, under existing legislation, prosecutions for wasteful packaging are hardly ever made. Clearly, that is also a way in which producers and retailers could be made to look at packaging. According to his research, there have been only four prosecutions for wasteful packaging in recent years. Yet we know it is there. We all ought to encourage the trading standards departments of local authorities to take a more vigorous approach to this matter. Having said that, however, I do not wish to be too critical. This is a useful piece of delegated legislation, and it has our support.

5.45 pm

Lord Rooker: I see that our future is being voted on now in the other place, so we will have to prove that we are doing a really useful job of scrutinising the

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Government. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I have not been in Grand Committee with him before, so I am not certain whether this is his first appearance on the Front Bench. If it is, I congratulate him. He has been in the House for only five minutes, but he is obviously coming up the greasy pole quite fast. I have already heard him in debates in the Chamber, and I know that he brings a good deal of experience to the House. He asked about what is affected, and declared his interest. We do not decide; we are bound by the definitions in the directive, and they included plant pots.

I shall answer as many detailed questions as possible. Some may require a note from me, but I shall get through as many as possible. We do not know how many man hours were used by the Environment Agency, but I can find out. There have been a number of prosecutions, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned some of them. I am not sure whether he mentioned all of them, because sometimes prosecutions are brought not by the Environment Agency but by other bodies. Every effort is made to ensure compliance, and far more effort is now made than ever before.

The definition of a small producer is where the issue of the £2 million and the £5 million de minimis comes in. I have a list of 19 technical changes that do not include the electronic system that I shall come to in a moment. One of them states that the current definition of a small producer is a business that has a turnover of £5 million or less. That needs to be corrected to refer to a turnover of between £2 million and £5 million. Under paragraph 3 of the Schedule, a small producer must have a turnover of more than £2 million. That is where that de minimis comes in in the regulations. I do not know whether to apologise or not, because I assume that every word in these regulations is vital. These are large, detailed and technical regulations. If things are simple, the chances are that they will be unfair, so making the system fairer makes things complex.

The noble Lord could not find the reference to electronic means. Paragraph (5) states that a document may be provided by electronic means. The Environment Agency has put in place an electronic database for every port, and I understand that it aggregates the data for every quarter. I am pleased to say that I have not been on the receiving end because I am not the Minister for waste on a daily basis. It also provides aggregated data for the full year.

The noble Lord is quite right about metal waste, particularly aluminium. I recall from two recent PQs that aluminium can be constantly recycled. Recycling is enormously beneficial in saving energy, bearing in mind the massive energy used to get the aluminium from the bauxite in the first place. Our aims are to meet the business targets that are shown in the regulations and get the UK to meet its directive targets. There is a joint-metals target for steel and aluminium of 31.5 per cent by 2008. That sounds a very modest amount, but enormous amounts of materials are used.

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The noble Lord also asked me about electronics and page 17. I am sorry; I wrote “page 17”, but did not write the question down.

Waste exporters will be required to provide details of the final destinations of shipments of waste overseas. This is intended to ensure compliance with the packaging waste directive, which requires that, when exporting to countries outside the European Union, an exporter must confirm that recovery or recycling at that site will be undertaken in conditions that are broadly equivalent to those prescribed by European Union legislation. It is illegal to export waste for landfill. I am not saying that that does not happen, but it is illegal. It is important that the final destination of the waste conforms to the standards we have in the European Union. That is checked. Visits are made to the sites—not a massive number, but I know from briefings for other questions that the Environment Agency and some local authorities have sent people, particularly to the Far East, to make sure that their waste is being dealt in an appropriate manner. That is a legitimate but expensive thing for them to do. It is part of making sure that we are operating in accordance with good environmental practice.

The noble Lord mentioned the complexity of the system. The size and detail of the regulations are consequences of that. These regulations came out of a consultation with industry. I understand there were 53 responses and that, by and large, they were strongly in favour of the proposals. I do not think there has been any dissent, because this is a complex issue. We want to reduce the burden, and only about 100 companies will be affected. Being able to use electronic means of transferring information will save a good deal of time. There will be an increase in the agency fee for this, as there always is. The increased fee proposed is fairly modest: an additional £26 for a large processor on an existing fee of £2,590, and £8 for individually registered producers on their current fee of £768. The additional funds will be ring-fenced and will be used solely to fund further development of the system for the benefit of users. They are not income. They are designed to recover costs.

I agree with virtually everything that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, but important and valuable though his contributions were, they go a bit outside the scope of the regulations—he is nodding. My colleague in the department, Ben Bradshaw, the Minister of State responsible for waste policy, has given robust advice about what ordinary citizens can do at the supermarket checkout when they have been provided with far too much waste. He said that they should leave it at the checkout. I remember reading that that had been tested in eight supermarkets around the country and the responses of the supermarkets were reported, but I shall not go into that now.

The Advisory Committee on Packaging has set up an export taskforce that is examining the export market as a whole—where it is going, what happens to it and associated issues. There is far more work going on now than happened in the past because an enormous amount of waste has left the country and has been dumped in a bad or unsafe manner, and our job is to try to cut that out.

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If there are other issues of detail that I have not answered, I am happy to write to the Committee.

Baroness Byford: I follow up my noble friend’s question on the recording of data and his concerns, raised in other spheres, over business sensitivity.

Lord Rooker: Frankly, I can deal with that without advice, but I shall take a nod or a shake from behind me. It is not our intention to breach commercial confidentiality and put businesses at risk by disclosing their plans. I presume that there must be, if not in the regulations then in the legislation supporting them, a measure on the recording of data. Data are aggregated, and there is no publication by company. Although we are down to only 100—the industry will know which 100 they are—there will be no disclosure of a company’s confidential information at all. That would not be appropriate under any circumstances.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Environmental Offences (Use of Fixed Penalty Receipts) Regulations 2007

5.56 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 Environmental Offences (Use of Fixed Penalty Receipts) Regulations 2007.

The noble Lord said: I came with a fairly short and interesting speech. When I looked at the regulations and took advice, I worked out that I could do this in no more than two paragraphs, without doing the good people who have spent a long time on this a disservice. They agreed with me.

The regulations were originally made in April 2006. The only reason they are being remade now is to take account of the changes in the comprehensive performance assessment on categories for local government. The categories for unitary and county councils have been changed through the harder test—they used to be “excellent”, “good”, “fair” and “poor”—to a system of stars, from zero to four. That was introduced on 20 December for the eighth categorisation order—I am glad I did not have to do that one. District councils remain categorised under the old system, and both types of categorisation therefore appear in the regulations.

In other words, the sole purpose of this regulation is to convert the “excellent”, “good”, “fair” and “poor” system that was used for local government for enforcement offences and fixed-penalty notices, to the star categories of zero to four for county councils and unitary authorities. There is no change to the fixed penalties; more local authorities are operating them. Fixed-penalty notices are now up to about 38,000 a year, so there is more use of them as they do not involve a criminal offence. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Environmental Offences (Use of Fixed Penalty Receipts) Regulations 2007. 8th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I do not quite have two paragraphs, but I shall certainly be briefer than I was the last time. We, too, welcome the order. It encourages local action against issues that blight local communities: street litter, fly-tipping, graffiti, fly-posting and dog dirt. All are anti-social and need constant attention.

The regulations are particularly useful in that they engage and enable local authorities in the pursuit of clean neighbourhoods. They give them the opportunity not only to enforce the law on a number of anti-social activities, but to use the receipts of the fixed-penalty system for the further benefit of the community as a whole. However, I question the reasoning behind dividing local authorities into sheep and goats. The virtue of maintaining a clean environment is surely an objective in itself. It does not help to muddle that up with the quality control of local authorities, whether they have CPA star ratings or the designation of quality parish councils. These aspects are irrelevant to a local authority’s need or ability to use fixed-penalty receipt, as it will in what it sees as the community’s interest.

It is strange that Defra is discriminating against small parish councils who do not choose to qualify for the designation “quality”, as well as against other local authorities where use of the opportunities for which the regulations provide could otherwise be a positive way of working towards recovering their star status. This could be joined-up government, but why is Defra doing the dirty work of the Department for Communities and Local Government?

Lord Greaves: That is an interesting thought. I am grateful to the Minister for saying what it took me about three-quarters of an hour of scratching my head to work out what putting star ratings into the existing legislation was all about. To that extent, clearly we shall not complain about or oppose that because it has to be done.

On parish councils, are the provisions in the regulations exactly the same as they were in the previous system, or is the business about quality parish councils and so on new? That is a specific question, but I have a point of principle to make that is not really about the detail of these regulations and that refers to the point made by the Minister. Should local authorities be discriminated in favour of or against, according to their performance, when it comes to their powers to use the money that they raise? It is a matter of principle with which I do not agree. It is wrong to penalise those who, by the Government’s definition, are not performing as well. It would be far better to have systems of incentives rather than a big stick. Nevertheless, Defra doing the dirty work of the DCLG is not really a matter for further discussion today. The position is as it is, and it is absolutely right that the starred system should be in the legislation.

Lord Rooker: On the noble Lord’s point about parish councils, I understand that the regulations do not affect their position at all. There is no change. I take exception to the central point made by both noble Lords. I do not want to extend the debate,

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which I deliberately kept short, but freedoms and flexibilities offered to local government for increasing performance are a serious effort. Some 79 per cent of local authorities have three and four-star ratings. They know that such ratings give them much more freedom and flexibility without the heavy hand of government telling them what to do. The point is to raise standards. It is no stretch of the imagination to say that getting almost 80 per cent of local authorities to three and four-star ratings is a massive improvement on the situation a decade or more ago. There is no question about that.

That is part of the prize. If you are a well run local authority that meets all the standards, you will be inspected less frequently and have more freedom to do what you want with the money that comes your way. Our job is to get everybody raised, which is part carrot and part stick. It is not “discriminating” against local authorities—that is probably the wrong word; it is an effort to raise standards. So far, the evidence of the past few years is that standards have been raised. Local government should be congratulated for what is a success by any stretch of the imagination. The regulations do not change the policy; we have changed only the nomenclature of the words for stars. I hope that I have answered all the questions, but if I have not, no doubt I will be told about it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2007

6.04 pm

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2007.

The noble Lord said: First, I thank the Committee for agreeing to take these three election instruments together. This is well established practice and continues to make the best use of parliamentary time. The two orders are made under different sections of the Scotland Act 1998, and the regulations are made under the Representation of the People Act 1983. The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order is made under Sections 12(1) and 113 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allow for an order to be made for the conduct of elections for membership of the Scottish Parliament.

The order relating to local electoral administration is made under Section 104, which allows for necessary or expedient changes in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The regulations are made under various powers and laid by virtue of Section 201(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I hope that it is helpful to the Grand Committee to give a

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brief explanation of what the three instruments do, and I am very happy to answer any questions that noble Lords have.

The Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2007 is made in consequence of the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006—an Act of the Scottish Parliament that received Royal Assent on 1 August 2006. The 2006 Act introduced an offence in Scotland related to fraudulent applications for postal or proxy votes, the penalty for which includes the offender being disqualified from standing in local government elections in Scotland for five years. The new offence introduced in Scotland mirrors that introduced for local government elections in England and Wales in the Electoral Administration Act 2006. The provisions of the Act of the Scottish Parliament, and disqualifications made under it, could not extend to elections for Westminster, the European and Scottish Parliaments or local government elections elsewhere in the United Kingdom, as this is outwith the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence.

The Government and Scottish Executive believe that there should be co-operation to ensure that a coherent system of disqualification applies across the United Kingdom. This order will ensure that when a person has been convicted of the new offence and disqualified from standing at a local government election in Scotland, the disqualification will also apply to candidature in an election to Westminster. Under the terms of the Representation of the People Act 1983, when a person is disqualified from candidature to Westminster they are in turn disqualified from standing in elections to the European and Scottish Parliaments, the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies and local government elections elsewhere in Great Britain.

The specific purpose of the order is to maintain a consistent scheme and to ensure that disqualifications made following misconduct at Scottish local government elections apply to other elections across the United Kingdom. The 2006 Act of the Scottish Parliament provided for the recognition in Scotland of similar disqualifications made at local and parliamentary elections elsewhere in the United Kingdom; the order provides further links in the chain against electoral fraud.

The second instrument before us is the Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2007, to which I now turn. The House debated the Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2006 in October 2006. The regulations before the Committee mirror almost identically the regulations contained in the England and Wales version. There are separate regulations for Scotland to reflect different electoral arrangements; for example, the involvement of sheriff clerks in the retention of electoral documents. Otherwise, the regulations are very similar.

The regulations amend the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001. The amendments flow from provisions in the Electoral

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Administration Act that introduce anonymous registration, alter certain aspects of absent voting, and improve certain administrative and procedural processes. Noble Lords will realise from my earlier comments that many of these amendments have been transferred into the Scottish Parliament order so that they may apply in May. I will therefore not repeat them here. The regulations apply the same amendments to UK Parliament elections in Scotland. Electoral practice is thereby consistent across the UK and Scottish parliamentary elections.

I therefore draw noble Lords’ attention to only some of the adaptations that have been made to the regulations to meet the Scottish context. Regulation 12 includes additional categories of qualifying officers in the case of those who can attest anonymous registrations to include chief social work officers in Scotland. We have removed certain references to “any election”, as this would intrude into devolved competence by picking up local government elections. References to the Local Government Act 2000, which does not extend to Scotland, have been removed. Scottish equivalents of those able to attest applications for proxy votes have also been added. Part 10 deals with the control of documents following an election. In Scotland, responsibility for the inspection and supply of documents rests with the relevant sheriff clerk. In England and Wales, it rests with the relevant registration officer.

Finally, I come to the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2007. I appreciate its enormous length. However, around 80 per cent of it is standard and reflects electoral law that has been in place for decades. It contains a replication of the rules that governed the last elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2003, but they have been updated in line with recent electoral primary legislation. The order also consolidates all rules and legislation governing the conduct of the Scottish Parliament elections in this one document to assist with their application.

The changes made in the order fall into two main categories. The first category includes changes that are a result of new measures introduced by the Electoral Administration Act 2006. The second category includes innovative changes that are being introduced for the elections this May; namely, the electronic counting of ballot papers and a single, combined ballot paper for the regional and constituency votes. I propose to summarise these key changes here.

The order introduces, and anticipates the introduction of, many of the new provisions made in the Electoral Administration Act, which received Royal Assent last July. One of the main aims of the Electoral Administration Act is to reduce levels of electoral fraud. Many of the new provisions to reduce fraud relate to postal voting. The declaration of identity has now been replaced with the postal-voting statement, which requires a postal voter to sign a statement confirming that they are the correct recipient of the ballot papers. The list of postal ballot papers is also required to be marked to show when the paper was issued and when it was received. A new

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provision is made to allow postal voters to confirm that their returned postal vote and postal-voting statement have been received.

Additionally, if a person applies for a postal vote to be sent to a different address from that shown on the record of absent voters, they will be required to indicate the reasons why circumstances require it to be sent there. This is to help prevent multiple papers being fraudulently sent to the same address. Provisions to register anonymously were introduced by the Electoral Administration Act. The order anticipates the introduction of this provision, which will come into force fully after May 2007. Voters will be able to apply to be placed on the register anonymously if their safety or that of a person in their household would be at risk if the register of electors contained their name or address.

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