|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of these proposals. I start with my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley and acknowledge her strong campaign over so many years. I guess that I should apologise that it has taken us so long to get to where we are, but I am delighted that she is pleased. Like both other noble Lords who spoke, she recognises the huge contribution that carers make to individuals and to our society as a whole. My noble friend also picked up on the point that this is not only about carers' credits. Introducing only 30 years' contributions to get a full basic state pension and dealing with the first contribution condition are important components of making sure that more people can access a basic state pension. I will come on to the point about publicity in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, asked what the light-touch approach would entail with this increase and the likelihood of fraud. We need to balance the need to ensure that only genuine carers are awarded credits against the intention that the burden of proof to be placed on them is minimal. That is so that as many carers as possible are able to benefit through our low-key approach. We believe that the risk of fraud is very low because no cash benefit is attached to the credit and the prospect of obtaining an increase in benefit at some point in the future, as opposed to immediately, is unlikely to have much appeal for those who would otherwise seek to abuse the system. However, I agree with the point made by my noble friend about looking at the balance of things and at the huge contribution that carers make to our society.
The noble Lord asked about the certifier being responsible for notifying any change in circumstances. I think he asserted that that was the position. That is not the case; it is for the carer to inform the authorities of any change in circumstances. The certifier needs to be satisfied only that an appropriate level of care was needed at the time of certifying. He asked whether that will be a sophisticated and time-consuming process. It should not be because by having a light-touch approach and a broad approach to who might certify, we are giving opportunities for those who engage routinely in helping people. It would automatically be part of what they know and are engaged in, so they are best able to make those judgments.
The noble Lord asked about the costs of the arrangements. The total cost in terms of state pension expenditure is estimated to be £50 million to 2020. I thought a schedule outlining the costs was attached to the Explanatory Memorandum. If it was not, I shall let the noble Lord have a copy. It shows the costs claimed through the qualifying benefit route or the certification route and how they potentially build up over the period to 2050. The noble Lord raised a broader point, which is outside these regulations, about the shortage of foster carers and he made suggestions. The provisions we are making here to enable foster carers to have better access and to build up better pension rights are positive.
He also asked about proposals for the new care and support reforms, which are referred to in the Green Paper. He said that there are no costings for them nor
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC77
It was asked whether DLA and AA will be abolished to pay for the national care service. In the longer term, there may be a case for bringing some disability benefits and the adult social care system together into a single system as a better way of providing support for all older and disabled people. However, we will make changes to disability benefits only if we are certain that by doing so we can better support disabled people. We know that disability benefits are popular because they provide a universal entitlement that does not depend on where a person lives. They provide a cash budget that can be spent on the services people want, and they are often used to support lower-level needs that help people stay well for longer. These three aspects will all be important components of the new care and support system and will ensure that if disability benefits for older people are reformed as part of a national care service, people receiving the affected benefits at the time of reform will continue to receive the same level of cash support under a new and better care and support system. I think the noble Lord referred to the fact that the Secretary of State for Health gave an explicit assurance in October that we have ruled out any suggestion that DLA for the under-65s will be brought into the new national care service.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, welcomed these provisions, as I knew she would. She was committed to them as we debated them during the passage of the Pensions Bill. She asked how we can ensure that carers know about these credits. We have been working in partnership with Carers UK. Carers Rights Day, which I referred to, encouraged carers to claim all the financial help and support to which they are entitled. A second burst of media activity is planned from February to raise awareness of the availability of the new carer's credit from April. Our communications people will target broadcasters, such as "The One Show", and news outlets and will work with them on packages. They will also work with the personal finance pages of the national and regional press to give practical advice to carers on how to apply for the new credit.
Consumer magazines such as Good Housekeeping and My Weekly, together with specialist carer magazines, will also be targeted. Information and guidance for carers will be available on the internet. The idea of information being available in GPs' surgeries is very helpful and something that we will look to take forward. I hope we can encourage Members of Parliament to have information available in their surgeries.
The noble Baroness asked specifically whether there will be hard copies of the guidance. I think Carers UK and similar organisations would be likely to be able to provide these. At the moment we have no specific plans routinely to circulate hard copies, but we want this to be taken up as widely as possible and will do
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC78
The noble Baroness asked about the definition of a healthcare professional. Is it a term of art? I seem to recall that we debated this during the Welfare Reform Bill. I do not remember which one. I think the noble Baroness and her colleague-
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The noble Baroness may be right. I have a feeling that we also debated it in relation to the Welfare Reform Act 2007. We have no definitive list and it is not a term of art as far as we are concerned. The regulations refer to health or social care professionals. In practice, the certifier should be a person who, in their professional capacity or as a volunteer, is familiar with the circumstances of the individual disabled person and is able to confirm that they need the amount of care that is being provided. Each application will be considered on its merits. I hope that definition also helps the noble Lord, Lord Freud.
Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for giving way. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, for giving way earlier. I apologise for not having thanked her at the appropriate time. I am still learning some of the procedures of the House. The Minister's argument is an extremely powerful one. My concern about fraud is that the reward for this is so long term that it gives a new meaning to the expression "long-form fraud", but the numbers mean that it would be well down the list of things that people indulge in. I would also be grateful for the schedule, which was not in my copy but must be available somewhere. I would be grateful for that and the costs. Given what the Minister has said, I am entirely content and strongly support the statutory instrument, as I said before.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention and his support and, indeed, for the support of all noble Lords. I think I have dealt with each of the points that have been raised, and seek support for the regulations.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2009.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, the Committee will be aware that those carrying out waste recovery or disposal operations must have either an environmental permit or must register an exemption from the need for a permit. The UK is one of the few member states to use the discretion that provides permitting exemptions as a lighter touch form of regulation for those operations that pose a lower risk of harm to people or the environment. It might be thought, as we discuss these issues in Committee, that we have made something of a rod for our own back, because where the line is to be drawn is the subject of this debate. But in the general pursuit of lighter regulation, we are sure that the fact that the UK pursues this broad policy is entirely right.
The problem is that exemptions have developed in a somewhat ad hoc manner over the years. When problems have been identified, previous attempts to tighten up the controls have led to the development of several complex notifiable exemptions with registration requirements not dissimilar to those in place for applying for a permit. Experience has shown that many exempt waste operations actually pose a much higher risk than some permitted operations-for instance, commercial-scale composting and large metal recycling operations. The problem is that at the moment the regulator, namely the Environment Agency, is able neither to carry out sufficient assessment of the proposals before the exempt operation starts nor to undertake appropriate levels of monitoring and inspection based on the environmental risk posed and the level of compliance being achieved. Conversely, there are no exemptions at all for many small-scale low-risk operations involving certain reuse or recycling operations for a broad range of wastes from the recycling of coat hangers to the use of lion faeces to make cat repellents, in which the wider danger is by definition somewhat restricted.
Other exempt waste operations have been subject to abuse, with landscaping developments the size of small landfill sites operating under an exemption for the use of waste in construction with no limit on the quantities deposited. The other place debated this poor state of affairs last year and the Government undertook to do something about it. These imbalances rightly led to calls for a review of the boundary between those operations that ought to be permitted and those that should be exempt. The exemptions review carried out jointly by Defra, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Environment Agency over the last three years has involved significant dialogue with a wide range of businesses and others and has included not one but two public consultations, which have led to the proposals before us today.
The regulations will change the boundary. After consideration of all the responses to the consultations, the Government concluded that the most effective and cost-efficient means of ensuring that the waste framework directive's requirements are implemented in a proportionate, risk-based way to meet our better regulation and simplification agenda is to provide new and amended exemptions for smaller-scale low-risk waste operations, while restricting or removing the extent of exemptions for higher-risk operations.
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC80
Operators of the new simple exemptions will be able to register one or more exemptions in relation to as many sites as they operate at no cost-with just one exception-and with a minimum of information needing to be submitted.
Eighty-eight per cent of the existing 145,000 sites that are registered as exempt will remain exempt. Others that are currently paying for and subject to assessment under a notifiable exemption will benefit straightaway from the free, simple exemption. The number of exempt sites will be added to by potentially thousands of additional sites for which there is currently no exemption provided in law but where the agency has not required them to apply for a permit; in other words, the low-risk positions.
Nine per cent of current exempt sites will no longer need to register as they are not considered to be carrying on waste recovery or disposal operations. That leaves the 3 per cent of sites that pose the highest risk or have been subject to abuse and therefore merit closer scrutiny. Those will need a permit. Most of them are already subject to notifiable exemption controls and may be subject to relatively minor changes to the measures they have to take to mitigate any risk of harm or pollution. These include the larger metal recycling sites, large-scale land remediation and landscaping developments, and spreading waste on land for agricultural benefit. The exception is composting, where commercial-scale composting will be subject to greater requirements to mitigate the risk that it poses.
I emphasise the benefits for the majority of operators. In last week's Commons debate, mistaken allegations were made about the impact on the 3 per cent of operations that will require a permit, particularly in respect of planning permission, as well as the extent of changes being made to the environmental permitting regime. I hope that the Government's reply to that debate will have been sufficient to allay concerns. I know that the other place proceeded to a vote on the issue.
It is imperative that we provide the many new and amended exemptions that will encourage businesses to carry out recycling and recovery and reduce the burdens on them, as well as bring an end to abuses and inadequate controls. Not to do so, or to remove exemptions altogether, would be wrong and undermine our drive to encourage recovery and recycling to deliver the objectives of the waste strategy. It would have a financial impact on many smaller organisations in a wide range of sectors that rely on the exemptions to store, dismantle or treat a wide range of recyclable
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC81
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. I must declare an interest as a farmer and grower whose business may be affected by the regulations in one way or another, even though there are exemptions for agriculture.
I listened with care to the presentation of the background to these regulations. In general, we understand the reason for their introduction. We have some sympathy with the strategy and welcome the exemptions. However, I have a large number of detailed comments and questions, and I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I rather exceptionally give the pedantic side of my nature a stroll this evening. Much of the forensic work on this has been done by my researcher, but I received letters from the British Metals Recycling Association and the Community Composting Network. I noticed the Minister made special mention of these two elements. Their involvement and concern is interesting as it indicates that although what they do is currently seen as virtuous, and is encouraged by the Government, they are anxious about the impact of the regulations. The metal recyclers are concerned that these regulations will reduce capacity and increase costs and burdens for no public or environmental benefit. The CCN is rightly concerned about the impact on community food waste composting schemes. These prize-winning schemes are now obliged to pay for the most expensive permits. I shall not go into the detail of their letters because, from the way in which he introduced the regulations, the Minister is aware of this subject area. I hope it may be possible to revisit them in the interests of allowing the small-scale operations of the Community Composting Network to continue without unnecessary burdens.
The regulations come into force on 6 April 2010, which is some time ahead. Are the Government expecting difficulties? Are there any hidden nasties that they are likely to have to deal with? The document is complex and amends a number of previous permitting regulations. It is difficult to follow. There is no contents page or separation of the major chapters. Page 6 contains the place for the signatures to the regulations and the start of Schedule 2. Page 12 has a main heading, "Schedule 2", and the start of Schedule 3. Page 51 has the end of Schedule 3 and the start of Schedule 3A. The presentation is not easy on the eye. The Government talk about light-touch regulation, but this is heavy-going regulation.
I shall go through the regulations page by page. On page 2, Regulation 2 amends Regulations 3 to 12 of the 2007 regulations. That is an interesting observation. On page 4, do the final two lines under the table mean that Schedule 3 to the regulations currently in place will be succeeded by these regulations on 6 April 2010? Midway down the page, there is a line:
I note on page 4 the exclusion of mushroom compost from the list of excluded activities, which the Minister mentioned. Why have the Government done that? What is the reasoning behind it and have the Government considered the implication for mushroom producers of this change?
On page 5, there is a mention in paragraph 12(2)(k) of the "appropriate authority" under the regulations. Who is the appropriate authority? There is no definition of what an appropriate authority is. Is it the Secretary of State, the Welsh Government, the Environment Agency or some other such body? There also appears to be some confusion on this page between the regulations of 2007 and 2009. When the regulations are consolidated, it would be useful if it were made clear to which previous regulations the text refers.
I turn now to page 6. What is the significance of and meaning of the inverted commas before the words "Schedule 2"? They are not closed off anywhere and it seems a rather strange compositional idea to have included them in the text. Paragraph 1 refers to the waste mobile plant, which,
There is also a question about the whole business of the relevant authority. What sanctions apply in the case of invalid registrations? Who will carry forward the failure to register an exception? Apparently, it is the local authority in whose area the operation is first carried out. Can that always be proved or demonstrated? It must be quite difficult to police and local authorities may have difficulty in operations that spread over local authorities.
"The information in this sub-paragraph is the name and business contact details of an individual officer or employee designated by the establishment or undertaking to be the primary contact for the purposes of registration",
which is obviously trying to pin the registration to a particular individual. I am sure that the Minister will understand why that is there, but it will lead to an awful lot of bureaucracy if individuals change and the responsible person changes within an organisation. Would it not be better to make it possible for people to be designated not only by name but by function within an organisation?
from an establishment an undertaking to be registered or renew a registration. There are not many activities within the local authority that are time-limited to five working days. Why is this particular thing so important that such an exceptional timetable should be imposed? I am all in favour of efficiency, but the administration of this may put a lot of local authorities under considerable pressure. A lot of work is involved in registering these exemptions.
On page 10, there is reference to the matters affecting national security, which it is right and proper should be a consideration. Under Regulation 11(4) for the first time and, subsequently, under paragraph (6), there is a reference to a person. Who is this person? Is it any person or a significant person? Is it a person of authority; in which case, what authority? Could it be the person next door? This rather strange phraseology is lacking in precision as to the nature of the person. How many of these exemptions have been thought likely to occur? If the Environment Agency has to deal with more than 300,000 septic tanks-the Minister and I debated the whole business of registration of septic tanks-we know that there will be many more as a result of these regulations. It is a major bureaucratic task, particularly if it is to be done properly and efficiently.
If this is supposed to apply to farm waste, what is this? Is it cart loads or weight? Surely, the Minister does not really anticipate that farmers will have to go to a weighbridge to weigh the muck before they put it on the field or the packing house waste before they replace it. I cannot imagine that that is the case. Unless record keeping is done for a particular purpose, it can often become abused. It either has to be done properly or not at all. It is hard to see how this regulation can be done with any precision, in which case it might be better not to bother to try to do it.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|