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On Question, Motion agreed to.

Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (Powers of District and JP Courts) Order 2007

5.01 pm

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (Powers of District and JP Courts) Order 2007.

The noble Baroness said: I am delighted to move this order. I wonder whether this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to serve under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Gibson. I hope that I will be able to behave myself properly in her Committee.

The order is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act, which allows for necessary or expedient changes in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The order is made in consequence of the Criminal

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Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007, an Act of the Scottish Parliament that received Royal Assent on 22 February 2007. The accompanying Explanatory Memorandum wrongly stated that Royal Assent was given on 27 February. Noble Lords will be keen to know that detail. The Act contains provisions to establish justice of the peace courts, which will gradually replace district courts in Scotland.

Under the Act, many of the cases that JPs currently deal with will not be handled in court, allowing JPs to hear more serious cases that are usually heard in sheriff courts. To make that happen, the Act includes a number of provisions to improve the training and recruitment of JPs and to introduce a system of appraisal for JPs. The Act also gives Scottish Executive Ministers the power to increase JPs’ custodial sentencing powers from two months to six months.

While the Act will make provisions within devolved competence to facilitate the transition from district courts to JP courts, provisions will also need to be made in reserved law. The order will make available powers to impose sanctions under the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. Currently, Section 10(2) of that Act prevents Scottish district courts from trying some offences involving the endorsement of driving licences unless they are fixed-penalty offences. In addition, Section 50(b) of the 1988 Act provides that district courts cannot impose disqualification from driving, except where there are 12 or more penalty points to be taken into account. Those restrictions were put in place as it was previously considered that justices of the peace were not trained to a sufficient level to deal with such cases.

In line with the changes that are being made to the lay justice system in Scotland, the Government and the Scottish Executive believe that it is right that JPs have all the appropriate powers at their disposal when hearing cases before them. This order will therefore amend the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to ensure that justices of the peace can disqualify drivers and endorse driving licences. The same powers will also be made available to the remaining district courts to ensure that, during the phased transition of the JP courts, there are no regional disparities between the sentences that can be imposed.

Finally, the Committee will have seen the Explanatory Memorandum to this order, which details the background to this policy. In an unusual move, the Merits Committee—of which I am proud to have been a member—praised the way in which the previous Scottish Executive had developed this policy in response to public consultation. That is worth noting.

I hope that the Committee will agree that this order is a sensible use of the powers of the Scotland Act and that the practical result is to be welcomed. I commend the order to the Committee.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (Powers of District and JP Courts) Order 2007. 27th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Morgan of Drefelin.)

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Earl Cathcart: I thank the Minister for introducing the order, which of course applies only to Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has made quite a name for itself for promoting innovation, and this is one innovation where it is good to think that Westminster can be of some assistance.

The subject of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 was one of the many areas of road transport that was not devolved to Scotland, and as such it is an important part of ensuring that drivers in the United Kingdom know that they will always be subject to the same criteria of regulation, wherever they are. The problem arises that when they contravene the regulations in Scotland they will be subject to Scottish laws. There is a proposal that the sanctions for various driving offences, for example speeding, may be dramatically increased, so there may be many more cases where the courts will have to apply obligatory endorsement of driving licences. Without today’s order, this would have required the case to be taken in a sheriff court, which would cause even more delay than is experienced in these courts already. The innovation of allowing for new JP courts to be empowered to deal with these cases, as envisaged by the Scottish Parliament, seems a useful solution, and as such we on these Benches support this measure.

One possible curiosity in this measure is that Article 2(2) must be one of the first times that the powers in the Scotland Act have been used by Westminster to amend an Act of the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on that.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: I shall be brief. My colleagues and I certainly welcome this sensible order. As I understand it, it is intended to bring some cases down from the high courts in Scotland to the sheriff court because of the backlog in the courts system. It therefore seems absolutely logical that the sheriff court should in turn be relieved of cases that it deals with, and that they will go to the new JP courts which are replacing district courts. I am in total sympathy with that general provision. It speeds up the whole process of justice in Scotland, so these changes are welcome.

Further, I particularly welcome what the Minister said about there being no regional disparities once the training sessions get under way to ensure that that does not happen, especially when dealing with road traffic offences. I have only one slight doubt; the decision to allow the new JP courts to impose disqualification from scratch, as distinct from simply as a result of totting up offences. To disqualify someone from driving is quite a serious matter. Has this been carefully considered, and can I be assured that the training that we have been promised is going to take place? I think I am right in saying that the first of these courts will be set up in the Lothian and Borders region, part of which I represented in the Commons. I am therefore naturally concerned that such a frankly draconian power should be carefully handled.

My last point picks up on what the noble Earl was saying for the Opposition. It is slightly unsatisfactory

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that the whole Road Traffic Act legislation as administered in Scotland is still a matter for the Westminster Parliament. I keep hoping that we will get a proper review of the Scotland Act in due course. I was active in its passage through this House and very active in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. It was always my understanding that after two Parliaments, or 10 years, we would have a thorough review of the Act. In that review, I imagine that it would be sensible to consider transferring Road Traffic Act legislation to the Scottish Parliament. The noble Earl may have referred obliquely to this, but it does not mean that we should have different penalties or standards in different parts of the UK. Although I do not know whether this is true, I am told that in years gone by you could tot up nine points on your licence in Northern Ireland and another nine points in England and still not have your licence removed because of the different jurisdictions. We do not want to reach that situation, but it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a system whereby the actual legislative process is devolved to the Scottish Parliament but the co-ordination of penalties is left in place so that they are uniform throughout the United Kingdom.

With those few comments, I repeat my welcome for this order.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I thank noble Lords for welcoming this order. I start by responding to the question put by the noble Earl. He asked whether this is the first time the Westminster Parliament has sought to amend a Scottish Parliament Act. I cannot give him the answer. My guess is that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, may well be able to provide it, but I will check the point and come back to the noble Earl. I reassure him that the order makes a minor, consequential amendment that has been agreed by the Scottish Executive. I say for the record that the schedule to the 2007 Act sets out a modification to Section 10(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, substituting the words,

for “district court”. It has not yet been brought into force, and as Section 10(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act is repealed by this order, clearly the modification of Section 10(2) in the Act of the Scottish Parliament will be unnecessary. The order will remove it. I hope that I have explained why we are amending a Scottish Parliament Act, and stress that it is consequential and has been agreed by the Scottish Executive.

I shall respond briefly to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I reassure him that a great deal of thought has been given to the training of justices of the peace to ensure that they have given time and consideration to taking on more serious cases. I am sure the noble Lord is well aware that residential training courses have been held at which JPs have worked through particular case studies. It is envisaged that virtually all JPs will have been through the additional training programme before taking on their new powers. Much thought is being given to the transition to the new powers.

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I will comment briefly on the review of the Scotland Act. I am not sure that I am in quite the right place, as it were, or even have the right pay and rations to respond fully and knowledgeably enough to the noble Lord on that point. There are currently no plans to review the Scotland Act. The points that he makes about driving offences—we have initiated an interesting little debate about that today—will no doubt be continued in future discussions. Indeed, we have a transport Bill in the Chamber at this very moment.

We believe that the Scotland Act provides the flexibility needed for the management of Scotland’s settlement and recognises that consequential changes sometimes need to be made to the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to UK reserved law. We currently have a system that is operating effectively between the Scottish Executive and the Westminster Government, although obviously every time we have an order before us, we have the opportunity to debate these matters further.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007

5.17 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 Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007.

The noble Lord said: The draft regulations are being made to streamline and simplify our arrangements for environmental permits by integrating the systems for waste management licensing and pollution prevention and control. In doing so, they cut red tape and provide an easier and more flexible permit. They allow regulators and business to focus on protecting the environment at a lower cost.

The regulations provide an opportunity to reduce administrative burdens on business and regulators and are consistent with the Government’s better regulation policy. They respond to various drivers to review the different approaches to environmental regulation and to establish a more efficient regulatory system.

In 2005, the Better Regulation Task Force challenged Defra to improve our environmental permitting regulations. The Hampton report the same year challenged us to take a more risk-based approach to regulation. Later that year we responded to these drivers by launching the Environmental Permitting Programme, with the Environment Agency, the Welsh Assembly Government and other stakeholders. The aim was to reduce administrative burdens on business, in particular through a single permit system. The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations are the result of this initiative and close consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

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The regulations replace and simplify more than 40 pieces of law with one set of clear regulations. I understand that in adding up the pages in the 40 pieces of law the total is more than 500. Noble Lords will see that this document is just over 120 pages, so they are reduced to less than one-third of their length, but they still deliver the environmental protection that we care about. They deliver a single permit system for waste management and industrial pollution by streamlining and combining the two separate systems that are currently running. A single system makes it easier when it comes to applying for a permit, changing it and ultimately surrendering it. These changes will have benefits for a wide range of businesses, but particularly smaller enterprises which often have limited time and resources to spend on form filling. It is anticipated that this simplification will bring cost savings of around £76 million over 10 years through administrative burden reduction and wider economic benefits. I am not just tossing that figure out. We have a system for making sure that we monitor the savings gained through the regulations to gauge their effectiveness, and we can report on that.

The new permit system will make it easier for regulators to do their job of protecting the environment and easier for business to comply. These regulations have been widely welcomed by industry and have been consulted on more times than I can ever recall happening with a set of regulations. There have been five consultations on the programme. It is worth putting that on the record, because enormous work has gone into making sure that we can get the savings. The first public consultation took place between February and May 2006, before I turned up back at Defra. The second took place between September and December 2006; the third between January and April earlier this year—I can give details of what each concerned if required—the fourth, relating to the guidance to local authority regulated sites, took place from June to September this year; and the fifth took place between July and October this year. So there has been full consultation through the process. There was the initial push to get something done. Defra wants to cut regulation. People think that we wake up each morning considering that if we can introduce a new regulation that day we will have done our job. That is not the case; it is the other way round. That mindset and culture pervades the department. We are trying to simplify. This is a classic example of being able to simplify regulations and ease the burden on industry without—I emphasise this—sacrificing our environmental protection.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007. 27th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

Earl Cathcart: I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. We support any measures that will reduce the burden of regulation and save regulators and industry both time and money. These regulations are further welcomed in that they will integrate and replace more than 40 statutory instruments dealing

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with environmental permitting with this single instrument. However, there are a number of issues on which I think the Committee will be glad to receive clarification.

Does this measure really reduce the burden of regulation or simply repackage it by encompassing the 40 statutory instruments and 11 EU directives? Time will tell. Estimates in the regulatory impact assessment suggest that there will be around 8,000 agricultural waste licences by spring 2008, and Defra estimates that these regulations will make savings of, I believe, £55 million, but I am very pleased to hear that the figure has gone up to £77 million. Does this saving of £77 million include the cost of burden to industry or is it just the saving to Defra?

The original proposal that the regulator should decide whether extra information is needed for disputed applications was amended in view of concerns voiced by respondents to the consultation on the EPP. It was changed so that an independent appeal body would decide instead. There still remain questions over what shape this appeal body will take, what it will be called and how it will be administered. Perhaps the Minister can tell the Committee how he envisages the appeal process will be undertaken, and how long it will take.

It appears that in efforts to reduce the regulatory burden, there will now be at least three different versions of the panels, the EPP, the standard rules and the bespoke environmental permit, that could potentially perform the same function. Is this really a genuine simplification process? In addition, an IT system is scheduled to be put in place by February 2008. Given the past record of the Government’s IT systems, there is a potential risk that this will lead to costly and problematic delays, and I have to say that disks might go missing. No doubt, hard copy documents and forms will be used to run parallel with the new electronic system until such time as it is found to be functioning as desired.

A phase 1 survey will be conducted in April 2009 to assess whether, for applicants for permits during 2008-09, the benefits are accruing as expected. It is hoped that at this stage the system will be flexible enough to make any necessary changes and improvements. Also, a full survey and questionnaire will be conducted through stakeholder workshops in April 2011 to ascertain whether costs have been reduced, the permitting process has become quicker and easier, the guidance has improved and environmental standards have been maintained. Presumably all this will require individuals to maintain records and spend time filling out forms. Have these elements been taken into account when assessing whether the burden of regulation has actually decreased? I look forward to a positive outcome.

Lord Teverson: I thank the Minister for his explanation of these regulations, which are not too transparent as you read them. I also particularly congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, on his mastery of the detail. I shall be slightly broader in my questions. Along with everyone else, we warmly welcome this attempt to make the regulations in this area simpler and more concise. In the past I have been

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involved in the legislation around European directives, and I was particularly impressed to discover that these regulations will subsume 11 of them into quite a reasonably sized document, although at 129 pages it is twice the size of the Climate Change Bill, which is being brought forward to help to change the world. Perhaps the future is more promising in this regard.

I was going to ask the Minister about the saving of £76 million over 10 years, as mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum. I do not know what the procedure usually is for checking to see whether such savings have been delivered. I welcome this, but I should like to understand a little more about the procedure. I was also impressed by the number of rounds of consultation, and the summaries in the explanatory document make for interesting reading. Some 110 people responded in the first round; 75 in the second round; 53 in the third round and eight in the fourth round. No number is given for the fifth round, so I do not know whether anyone actually made it to the finishing line, but while the graph will not quite be negative, it is good that a certain amount of consultation was held.

The accompanying notes also explain that the Environment Agency came in for some criticism over its targeting for compliance in these areas by taking a risk-based approach. I am more used to that in relation to the Financial Services Authority and that sort of area, where it has been very successful on the whole in determining by fairly straightforward formulae what the biggest risks are, the organisation, and what should be looked at most closely, thereby ensuring that, for the resources that are put into environmental protection, the maximum risk is taken out. I would be interested to know whether there has been any success there.

5.30 pm

Also mentioned was the simplicity of regulation and whether single sites could have single regulators, which I agree is particularly important for small businesses or business sites. Again, it seems an obvious way forward and a great help to businesses, particularly SMEs, if they not only have one set of regulations but can deal with a single regulator for their site. I am interested to know whether the regulations allow that and whether the Government are hoping that that will continue.

As the Minister will know, there has been some considerable discussion in your Lordships’ House about the removal of the due diligence defence. Although I am not convinced either way, we now have absolute liability and I am interested to know whether business and industry now accept that this will not be a major problem for them.

Lastly, this is obviously an important initiative over a long period. Will the Minister say what is next in the simplification of environmental permits?

The Earl of Erroll: I am sorry that I was little late. I did not spot that the proceedings on the regulations started so soon. Anything that simplifies this is extremely welcome, and I hope that it works. I know about this

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only because I have tried to register waste exemptions for farming. The waste exemptions for road planings on farm tracks—I think the relevant regulation is paragraph 19 of Schedule 3—were a nightmare, to be honest. You had to register one thing, then you had to get another form, then there appeared to be an exemption, and no one was sure whether they had got it. Anything that simplifies this and makes life easier for people in businesses who are not natural form-fillers and are mostly terrified by the forms and do not understand them is most welcome. I therefore welcome anything that goes in that direction.

Lord Rooker: I will do my best to answer the questions that have been asked. I am sorry; the answers have been put in reverse order. Single sites can have a single regulator, although it depends on the circumstances. I leaned back and asked my officials whether this included farms, because there is nothing more I would like to say to farmers than that they could have a single regulator. They may have; as I said, it will depend on the circumstances. We must differentiate in some ways. Farms are small but sometimes complicated businesses, and we seek to reduce the form filling, although I would not want to overplay this for agriculture. Under the regulations, the greatest savings in this area will be for small and medium-sized businesses, probably with multi-sites and one licence to cover them. There will be many more savings, but probably fewer for single sites.

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