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The noble Lord said: My Lords, even though charges under a waste reduction scheme are likely to be relatively small, it is important that local authorities have the tools to collect them where people fail to pay. That is why I am bringing forward government Amendment No. 219; it would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations allowing authorities to collect charges owed more efficiently, through the county court system. This is an accepted, standard approach that has been used many times over. Some useful comparisons include the Traffic Management Act 2004, the Social Security Administration Act 1992, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003.
If the Secretary of State were to exercise this power, Amendment No. 219 would allow the local authority, having followed a fair and appropriate appeals process, to collect the debt by registering the outstanding waste charge with the county court as if it were a court order. Standard county court enforcement mechanisms, such as attachment of earnings orders, could then be used.
Without this amendment, the local authority would first have to commence a new claim in the county court and obtain a county court judgment before it could enforce the debt. The amendment therefore allows an authority to use a fair but more efficient debt collection process, thereby saving time and money for authorities and taxpayers. This is a considered approach. While removing unnecessary duplication of work, it still ensures that residents have ample opportunity to appeal if they do not think that they should be paying the charge for whatever reason.
Paragraph 9 of Schedule 2AA already requires waste-reduction schemes to have an appeals process in place and we intend to provide further best-practice guidance to local authorities on this aspect. This is a key requirement. That is why we are also proposing, via Amendment No. 219, to make it clear that regulations made by the Secretary of State under the schedule may include provision concerning appeals against determinations or any failure to make a determination,
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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of Amendment No. 219, which sets up an appeals system. We discussed this issue in Committee and I am glad that the Government have responded to the idea that an appeals system is required. That is to be welcomed. Amendment No. 219A is moved for clarification, to find out why the Government thought it was necessary. The Minister has explained that well and satisfactorily. Presumably this means that, as well as steps such as attachment of earnings, bailiffs could be sent in to recover this sort of charge. I can see all sorts of interesting local press publicity at the idea of sending in the bailiffs to sort out the rubbish. Nevertheless, if these schemes are going to operate, this is a sensible way to proceed. Therefore I do not wish to move the amendment.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, from this Dispatch Box, we welcome the amendment. It puts in place a mechanism that several noble Lords considered would be needed. Like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I wonder whether the Minister can explain the procedure by which a ruling from the appeals panel would turn up in the county court. Is it not possible for the appeals panel to order that charges be recovered, and for that to be treated as though it came from the county court?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will explain how we envisage an appeals body working. There are already many appeals bodiesthe best example is the valuation tribunal, which considers council tax appeals. If residents consider that they are not liable to pay council tax, or disagree with the amount they are being billed, they can appeal first to a valuation tribunal. Following this, they generally have four weeks to appeal to the High Court in relation to a valuation tribunals decision. In setting up an appeals body, we would look to draw on these experiences, as well as the lessons learnt specifically from the pilots. Any regulations would be subject to wide consultation. We would otherwise ensure that they were human rights-compliant. In other words, with five pilots, we could have five different financial collection appeal systems. That is the point of doing the pilots and we need to learn the lessons from them.
The enforcement options would be the same as for a civil debt and would have broadly similar sanctions to those for non-payment of council taxbut without the sanction of imprisonment. That gives the noble
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(6) Where an order or regulations are subject to affirmative resolution procedure the Secretary of State must not make the order or regulations unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing them has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament..
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to government Amendments Nos. 223 and 226. These amendments are in direct response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. We are seeking to ensure full and proper parliamentary scrutiny of any statutory instruments that the Secretary of State may make in relation to waste reduction schemes. It is important that we get this right. Parliament has a key role to play throughout the piloting and subsequent consideration of waste reduction schemes. We are grateful to the committee for its advice on how to establish the right relationship here.
Under Amendment No. 221, any order that set a cap on the amount that any household can be charged in a single year would become subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in two circumstancesthe first time a cap is set, and if ever the level of the cap is increased by more than inflation. In all other cases, the setting of a cap would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. I reassure the House that we are taking the power to cap charges only as a final reserve measure. We trust local authorities to work with their residents to come up with a reasonable level of charge.
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Amendment No. 221 also makes technical improvements to the way in which the provisions are drafted. It moves the explanation of which parliamentary procedures apply to which statutory instruments into the new Schedule 2AA to the Environmental Protection Act. For clarity, we have added an explanation of what the affirmative resolution procedure involves.
Amendment No. 223 is consequential to the substantive changes made by Amendment No. 221. It amends the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to reflect which parliamentary procedures would now apply to which statutory instruments in Schedule 2AA, as per paragraph 17 of that schedule.
Taking on board the last of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committees recommendations on waste provisions, government Amendment No. 226 also seeks to give Parliament a stronger role in scrutinising subordinate legislation. This time we are talking about subordinate legislation that the Secretary of State might make in the hypothetical situation where waste provisions were changed prior to rollout. We agree with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that any such subordinate legislation should be subject to some kind of parliamentary procedure. Again, this ensures that Parliament has a full role in taking forward this policy. We envisage that we might need to make subordinate legislation to deal with technical matters regarding schemes; for example, what a schemes accounts should detail.
I hope that the House will be reassured by this strengthening of parliamentary scrutiny of the waste provisions in the Bill and will recognise that the Government have followed the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I beg to move.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I see that we have three amendments that are substantial in length if not in content. From this Dispatch Box, we welcome the principle of these amendments, but we would be glad of the Ministers response to a number of questions. Schedule 5 applies both to pilots and to rollout. It does not, however, distinguish between them. When sub-paragraph (3) of Amendment No. 221 refers to the first order to be made, does that mean the first order for the first pilot, the first order for the first pilot and then for the first rollout or the first order for each scheme, pilot or rollout, for each participating waste collection authority? If it means the first order for the first pilot, is there an implication that the Secretary of State, in deciding to give permission for a pilot, will already have in mind the approximate charging levels that he will approve? Will it also mean that he anticipates no difference across the country in the levels that will be charged by different authorities in different circumstances?
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Government for responding to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, for tabling these amendments and, indeed, for responding to the discussions in Committee on these same matters. This is one area in which this House might have had something to say had the Government not tabled their amendments, but they have done so entirely sensibly and, I am sure, entirely on the balance of the arguments. They are to be congratulated on that.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, touched on one of the difficulties that we have had with Schedule 5 in that it covers both the pilots and the rollout. The Governments argument is that because there will have been substantial scrutiny of the schedule as part of the discussions on the Bill, that will suffice for any national rollout. Some of us have difficulties with that, as there is all the difference in the world between setting up what can happen in various pilots and deciding which of those schemes will be adopted or totally amended in the rollouts. The scrutiny is not terribly satisfactory, which is why we spent quite a lot of time in Committee probing how the decisions about the results of the pilots and the way in which the schemes will be rolled out nationally will be taken. This and subsequent government amendments improve this a little, but there are still problems, and there really must be a way in which Parliament can look at this properly after the pilots have taken place. However, this part of the Bill is a great deal better now than it was, and on that basis I am happy to support the amendments on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I am rather more grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who did not ask me a specific question, as the noble Lord, the Earl of Montrose, did. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, generously indicated, we sought through the amendments to follow the clear indications and recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on how we should improve the Bill. We all recognise that consideration of the pilots and the rollouts is important.
The noble Lord, the Duke of Montrose, asked quite a specific question about the cap on the charge to be made during the pilots or the rollouts. The first order, whether made during the piloting or after rollout, will contain this provision. It is up to local authorities to set the level of the charge and not for the Secretary of State to have a particular charge in mind. There is no reason why the charge would be the same across the country. In fact, I think we will recognise that there will be differences among local authorities in this. It goes without saying that we hope those differences will be within an acceptable range, otherwise the local authorities are likely to find that residents will be outraged if they discover that some local authorities are charging enormously greater sums than others. Nevertheless, variations will occur, as they do in the services that local authorities currently offer.
Why is not the decision to roll out powers to all local authorities in England subject to the affirmative procedure? The Bill requires us to report finally on at
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Lord Greaves: My Lords, this will save me asking the question later. When the Government say, as they do in various documents, that they expect to have a debate in Parliament, can they guarantee that that will include a debate in this House?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I do not have a note on the actual process that we will follow, so I cannot give that guarantee. I will have to write to the noble Lord and send the same letter to other noble Lords who are greatly interested in this area. I have no decision on this. The House will recognise that the Bill started in this House, but that we must have due regard to the position on all matters in the Bill that will be adopted in the other place perhaps with even greater emphasis on local authorities, given the symbiotic relationships between any effective and hard-working Member of Parliament and his or her local authority. I do not want the noble Lord to press me too far on this, but we accept that we will certainly need further consideration in Parliament beyond consideration of the Bill itself. I at least give that undertaking.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I sympathise with Minister over the problems that arise over titles. Even last night, when I sat at the long table, the waitress came up behind me and said, Now what would you like to have this evening, my Lady?. I have learnt to respond to a great many titles in this place. I have the title of Lord, and I have the title of Earl, but I am afraid that the official title that I go by here is Duke.
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