The clause would remove a power from the Digital Economy Act 2010 to make regulations containing site-blocking provisions. The Act gives courts the power to grant injunctions requiring internet service providers to block access to specified sites to prevent the infringement of copyright. The power was included to enable copyright owners to tackle sites based outside the UK that offer their copyrighted material illegally. Copyright owners are not able to take action against those sites in the UK and find it difficult to pursue them in their home territory. It was therefore considered reasonable to provide the ability to block access via internet service providers.

6.15 pm

After the Digital Economy Act came into effect, the Government asked Ofcom to review the efficacy of such site-blocking injunctions, if they were to be made. I will refer to its report later. Copyright owners had begun successfully to utilise the pre-existing provisions in Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 in the interim, and had applied them to site-blocking injunctions. Since Section 97A of the CDP Act provides remedies for copyright owners, we accept that there is at least a case for the clause to be included in the Bill. However, as I have pre-warned the Minister, this is a complex issue, not least because how we legislate for copyright infringements is central to our creative industries. As this repeal has wider implications, we need to be careful about how we approach this issue.

Copyright is a key part of the creative industries and the digital economy that drives them. They provide an estimated 1.5 million jobs, 10% of the economy and more than £36 billion of gross value added. However, it is wrong to think that intellectual property is the preserve simply of specific creative industries, such as design, film, music and broadcasting. Our USP in this area is the difficult to find juxtaposition between creativity and innovation, and the impact on production and manufacturing. The fact that we have a strong creative industries sector, combined with a strong science and research base and world-beating manufacturing sectors, including automotive, construction, aerospace and pharmaceuticals, means that our economic model—indeed, our whole future prosperity—is very much dependent on IP.

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The first problem with the Government’s approach is that, despite several significant changes to our copyright regime in primary and secondary legislation in this Parliament, they have no overarching vision of this sector. Everything in this area is compromised by the split in responsibilities between DCMS and BIS, whether it is the failure of the IPO to speak up for creative industries in a general sense; the mess made by the Government in implementing the Hargreaves recommendations; or the worrying approach to copyright apparently being adopted by government in Europe.

Under the previous Government, the Communications Act 2003 set out a 10-year vision that brought together existing communications regulators for telecoms, television and radio to address the then new concept of convergence. There was another review in 2009, which looked forward a further 10 to 15 years. The previous Government wanted to ensure that legislation kept pace with technology as far as possible. That is a key point of the clause: the opportunities and challenges of technology lie at the heart of the malaise that is attacking the value of online copyright. When in government, we wanted legislation to keep pace with and not to prevent change or innovation, but to provide the certainty and legislative framework in which competition could flourish, new businesses could be established and innovation could be harnessed to put us in first place in the global digital race.

I have some questions for the Minister. If the Government want to delete Sections 17 and 18 of the Digital Economy Act, are they confident that they are putting in place the necessary legislative framework to enable our digital economy to grow, so reliant as it is on online copyright? Where can we find a vision of our future digital economy and the role of online copyright in it? We have been promised a Green Paper and then a White Paper since 2010; indeed, there were rumours and sightings of drafts at one point. At one stage, publication of a White Paper was promised every month for almost an entire year. The interim discussion paper, Connectivity, Content and Consumers, simply cobbled together a few existing initiatives and said that the Government would work with industry to develop a strategy by the end of 2014, which is about now. Will the Minister tell us where we are with the long-term strategy for connectivity, content and consumers? It is important to understand what it is.

The rationale for this deregulatory measure is that a clause in a Bill drafted well before the digital age is being used to protect against modern problems. Would it not have been sensible to have approached this from the other direction: to have used the DEA provisions, which were specifically drafted to achieve the aims outlined in the Bill, as a long-overdue trigger to implement the other measures in the Digital Economy Act that could have benefited our creative industries?

As I argued earlier, the proper protection of IP is critical for many sectors of our economy. It is about incentivising creativity and innovation by allowing an appropriate reward for the risk that inventors, creators, musicians or performers take in generating that IP. Protection of IP is not about protecting obsolete business models, but about protecting new and emerging business models when they suffer copyright theft or other effective criminal activity.

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Studies by the film and television industries indicate that more than 10% of UK adults consume infringing content online, and that piracy costs of these industries are more than £535 million per year in the UK alone. We have more evidence from Ofcom, which estimates that in the last three months, 280 million music tracks, 52 million TV programmes, 29 million films, 18 million e-books and 7 million games were illegally downloaded. The industry estimates that over the whole Parliament, the Government’s delay in effectively enforcing online IP will cost it more than £1 billion.

The Government propose to repeal these provisions in the Digital Economy Act, but do not give any real indication of what they will do to protect IP in the future. Clause 41 repeals the power to make provisions for blocking injunctions in Sections 17 and 18 of the Digital Economy Act. However, these sections contain wide powers that are not found in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. How could they be? It was drawn up well before the digital age. The sections contain powers to make regulations that could grant courts the power to order internet service providers to block websites that enable illegal downloads or host significant material that is not copyright, or copyright-infringing. Section 18 also specifies that any such regulations would be subject to the super-affirmative procedure, which means that the regulations must be expressly approved by both Houses of Parliament before they can be made. Will the Minister explain why he feels that the clauses in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 are sufficient for the digital age and why Parliament is being excluded from this process of blocking websites?

The Minister will probably refer to a report by Ofcom in 2011 when it was asked to review the practicability of the DEA provisions. In that report, Ofcom noted that none of the blocking techniques,

“is 100% effective; each carries different costs and has a different impact on network performance and the risk of over-blocking … all techniques can be circumvented to some degree by users and site owners who are willing to make the additional effort … the location of infringing sites can be changed relatively easily in response to site blocking measures, therefore site blocking can only make a contribution if the process is predictable, low cost and fast to implement … to be successful, any process also needs to acknowledge and seek to address concerns from citizens and legitimate users, for example that site blocking could ultimately have an adverse impact on privacy and freedom of expression”.

These are good points that need to be taken on board. I invite the Minister to respond to them. I hope that he will also recall that Ofcom acknowledged that,

“site blocking could contribute to an overall reduction in online copyright infringement”,

even though it said that Sections 17 and 18 of the 2010 Act were not the full solution. However, I note that in August 2011 the Business Secretary said:

“There are test cases being fought in the courts, so we’re looking at other ways of achieving the same objective, the blocking objective to protect intellectual property in those cases, but in a way that’s legally sound”.

So can the Minister explain why there has been a change of plan here? In 2011 the Government were apparently searching for even better ways to achieve the objective of Sections 17 and 18 of the DEA Act, but in this Bill they say that injunctive relief using

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existing 25 year-old legislation is the only solution they need. Is this really so? Is it not clear that what this clause exposes is that the Government have failed to come up with a legally sound, effective way of protecting intellectual property, something the industry says that it needs?

The House of Lords Communications Committee was invited by the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Bill to comment on Clause 41. In its response, it noted what it described as the Government’s undertaking in 2011 to do,

“more work on what measures can be pursued to tackle online copyright infringement”.

Will the Minister explain precisely what further work the Government have done on this issue? Are they intending to do any more? Is this it? This decision hardly meets the need for the overarching approach to securing the future of our digital economy that we were promised.

Repealing Sections 17 and 18 of the Digital Economy Act is the wrong approach. It might have detrimental consequences in terms of both perception and reality for the digital economy. Perhaps the Government are no longer engaging with the matter. Given the disarray in the Government's approach to the digital economy more generally, we find it difficult to support Clause 41. The contrast between the previous Government, seeking out the future, looking forward and acting in advance of the technology to secure and protect jobs in the valuable digital economy and this Government, waving the banner of deregulation to hide their inability to act, could not be greater.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I might agree with a number of points that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, made, but I particularly agree that this is a complicated area. The point of this reform is to remove a power from the Digital Economy Act 2010 to make regulations which would allow the court to grant injunctions requiring service providers to block access to specified sites in order to prevent the infringement of copyright. That is the purpose of this reform. There are wider debates about the importance of the creative industries and the Government’s programme to ensure that the creative industries remain part of our economic revival, which is a point that the Government are working on. I want to concentrate on the purpose of this part of the reform.

The Government have no intention of having regulations following the Digital Economy Act because we believe that access can be, and is in practice, blocked through a simpler mechanism via the legislation that the noble Lord mentioned, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The provisions being repealed were inserted because copyright owners were concerned at the time that, although the legislation provided them with a tool to tackle unlawful peer-to-peer file-sharing, it did nothing to help them defend their copyright against sites dedicated to infringement, which were generally operated outside the UK. Copyright owners made a case that the power in Sections 17 and 18 of the Digital Economy Act should be included to enable them to tackle such sites. They were unable to take action against the sites in the UK and found it difficult to pursue them in their home territory. The

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solution was to provide a mechanism through which copyright owners could apply to the High Court for an injunction requiring internet service providers to block access to identified sites for the internet service providers’ subscribers.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, following the Digital Economy Act being enacted, the Government asked Ofcom to carry out a review of the efficacy of such site-blocking injunctions, were they to be made. Ofcom concluded that in practice such injunctions were unlikely to be effective, largely due to the time an application would take. This is stating the obvious: very often people will want to ensure that there is a remedy that is as speedy as possible when time is of the essence. In Ofcom’s view, it would be no improvement on the existing Section 97A provisions under the 1988 Act. On that basis, the Government announced that they had no intention of making such regulations under DEA.

Moreover—this is important because the noble Lord also referred to this—copyright owners began to utilise other provisions in Section 97A of the 1988 Act successfully to apply for site-blocking injunctions. This rendered the regulation-making powers in the DEA unnecessary. Such provisions had not been used before since copyright owners were unsure how the court would interpret them and were worried about potentially being left in a worse position.

I want to emphasise that it is absolutely not the intention of this Government to put at risk the health and growth of the creative economy, an area where this country has a real competitive strength. If I were to take a different view with the noble Lord, I think the record of this Government has been extremely strong during a very exciting time of change in this area which is vital to our economic strength and recovery. However, Section 97A of the 1988 Act is now providing remedies for copyright owners and is doing so in an increasingly efficient and economical way. Economy in seeking redress is important. Copyright owners are content that the provisions work and have now used them to block around 40 sites. That being so, and in light of the doubts about the practical usability of the power in the DEA following Ofcom’s review, we believe there is no need for the DEA power.

6.30 pm

The noble Lord accused the Government of having no overarching vision or strategy. The Government are absolutely clear about the critical importance of the creative industries. We have a clear view of the continued development of this industry. Those visions were set out in the connectivity, content and consumers papers which considered a wide variety of factors relevant to the issues. From my dealing with Ministers in the department, I know that this is a sector where there are huge opportunities that we and people running businesses must grasp. That is very much what we seek to encourage.

On the development of the legal framework for protecting intellectual property, the repeal of these provisions does not suggest in any way that the framework for regulation is flawed of IP. Rather, it shows that the existing framework is working. This repeal provides

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certainty about the framework being used by those concerned. The remaining provisions of the Digital Economy Act are unaffected and should industry-led voluntary work be ineffective, we would return to those remaining provisions.

The noble Lord also asked whether the 1998 Act, which the industry is now using, is sufficient for the digital age. Put simply, the answer is yes. That is precisely why copyright owners are now using that remedy for the rapid streamlined process which gives them what they need. Although I agree with the noble Lord that we need to keep these matters very closely under watch and to make sure that we are ahead of the curve as a country in the development of something so crucial, from what I understand, those copyright who which are concerned about infringements are using existing legislation satisfactorily.

Clause 41 agreed.

Clause 42 agreed.

Clause 43: Household waste: de-criminalisation

Amendment 62A

Moved by Lord Tope

62A: Clause 43, leave out Clause 43 and insert the following new Clause—

“Household waste: reduction in statutory penalty

(1) Section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (receptacle for household waste) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (6), for “3” substitute “1”.”

Lord Tope: I rise to move Amendment 62A and will speak more generally to oppose the clause—indeed, the first part of the amendment has exactly that effect, as it would delete the clause.

Earlier this afternoon we had a pretty lively debate demonstrating why parking enforcement is best left to local authorities. It is a pretty fundamental rule among any councillors who have any experience in local government that you do not mess around with refuse collection or waste collection within a year of an election. Any councillor, particularly any councillor who has served for any time, would tell you: never mess with refuse collection within a year of an election, yet here we have a clause in which the Government are seeking fundamentally to interfere with refuse collection within a few months of a general election. My mission this afternoon is to save the Government from themselves, and I hope the Minister will feel able to help me with this.

The first question I have to ask is: why are the Government doing this? Local authorities generally have a pretty good record, not just on refuse collection but particularly on recycling. There is a long way to go but the rate has increased to 43%, I think, which is very near to quadrupling in the past decade. Perhaps there will be an incentive with the landfill tax, but the amount of waste going to landfill has reduced by 70% in the past decade. Yes, more needs to be done but it is not a bad record to start with, so there is no problem there.

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There is no evidence as far as I am aware that local authorities, either genuinely or particularly, have been acting disproportionately in the way in which they enforce their collection regimes. If there is evidence of that, I am sure the Minister will give it to us, but I would still need to know that that evidence is so overwhelming and strong that it requires legislation from central government to interfere in this service. If you ask most residents what they pay their council tax for, after their initial rude remarks, the one thing that most residents everywhere say is that they pay their council taxes for their refuse collection. That is one of the few services these days that local authorities have to provide to all residents, so where is the evidence?

The Government consulted on these proposals and I hope the Minister will confirm that most of the responses to the consultation said, in effect, “Leave it alone and do not decriminalise this”, so where is the evidence? Why are the Government taking the frankly rather risky and unnecessary step of interfering in local authorities’ business for waste collection?

The effect of the clause will remove the power of local authorities to prescribe their refuse collections arrangements. It will reduce the fine for an offence from the current £1,000, which is a penalty few wish to incur, to a civil penalty of £60. I return to our earlier discussion about parking, when I said that the penalty imposed was nowhere near the same sort of deterrent. As a former leader of a council that had an extremely good record on recycling I must say straightaway that I strongly prefer incentives to threats. My local authority never had to use those threats. But those threats are necessary as a deterrent.

Why do the Government want to do this? I referred to the proposals on parking as something more suited to Friday night in the pub. I suggest that this, too, properly belongs in a pub on a Friday night—from a Daily Mail reader rather than from anyone who actually has any knowledge of refuse collection services and of the drive to increase recycling rates. It probably belongs in the pub on a Friday night, not in a Bill brought forward by my Government and still less in a Bill brought forward by my Government within months of facing a general election.

This measure is in a Deregulation Bill. It does not deregulate: it removes a system that seems to be working reasonably well—I have not seen the evidence that is not working reasonably well—and substitutes that for a far more difficult and complex situation that nobody is going to understand. It is going to cost local authorities a great deal more to implement and enforce. I simply do not know why the Government want to do this.

If the Government press ahead with this—I hope that we will all be able to persuade them to think again—the Local Government Association believes that if it has to happen the current level of fine of £1,000 should be reduced to a level 1 fine of £200. I would prefer us to leave things as they are. I believe that they are working well and all the evidence suggests that they are working well. Most importantly of all, waste collection arrangements are the business of local authorities and not the business of central government. I beg to move.

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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I tried to get my name attached to the clause stand part debate but somehow I failed; I think I have to start earlier than the day before. I support this very strongly. At the moment, the area that runs the decriminalised system for waste collection is of course Greater London, and it does so under the London Local Authorities Act 2007. It has been doing that spectacularly successfully ever since. It has its own rules, guidelines, enforcement and appeals process.

What happens now? Schedule 11 makes it clear that that Act is going to have to be changed to be in accordance with this new and, as my noble friend Lord Tope said, extremely complicated system of enforcement. Why does anyone need to tamper with London when it is already running a system and could continue to run it as it is without any further interventions? Why would we want to ensure that the fine that the local authorities in London are able to charge at the moment should be reduced under the Secretary of State’s say-so? Why should we interfere in any way at all with the appeals system, which is currently run by local councils and is a fairly quick and straightforward process?

To say that I am baffled by these proposals would be to put it mildly. There is probably no difficulty with a decriminalised system, but the intervention and regulations—in a Deregulation Bill—that are going to support this seem to be way over the top for anything that is rational. The Minister talks about people putting out rubbish in the wrong place, in the wrong container, at the wrong time and on the wrong day, and talks about how local authorities can run that system, but it does not require five steps of enforcement. At the moment, London puts out an enforcement notice for a penalty, and that is it. Here we have written warnings, a waiting period, appeals, notices of intent—all this over possibly one refuse bag put out in the wrong place. That really seems to be excessive in the extreme.

Schedule 11 should be abandoned. London should carry on what it is doing. It has set the tone and indeed set the stage; it has done the work, and it knows what it is doing. If the Secretary of State or the Government insist on the rest of the country having this decriminalised way of doing things then London will have to do that, but I do not think that it should do it under the measures that are in the Bill. I ask the Minister why Schedule 11 should be there at all, why London, which is already running its own system, should be involved, and why there is any question at all that it should have to lower the fine that it is currently able to charge, which is having a reasonable effect. The penalty notices are for £60. These days, people do not think that a £60 penalty is very much; they are paying £80 for parking. I strongly support my noble friend on this issue, and I want to ensure that the consideration of London is that London should be left running its own scheme.

Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB): My Lords, if the Committee will indulge me for a moment, I have kind of wandered in off the street on this particular item of business. If the Government wish to simplify and deregulate in this area, the most important thing is that they have to get local authorities to unify their procedures on waste and renewable waste. If you

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travel around the country, you see that every single local authority has a different policy on renewable waste. That is so bad for the renewable agenda and for recirculation. Some local authorities tell you to put all your renewables in together, such as glass, plastic and tin, and to put your waste into another bin. Others want you to divide your glass, plastic and tin separately, while others will not take glass at all and you have to go to the bottle bank, which is usually full up. If the Government wish to simplify matters, they should have some form of encouragement for local authorities to unify their policies over the whole question of waste, which at the moment is a disgrace.

6.45 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, living in one local authority area during the week and in another at the weekend, I am very conscious that standards differ from one local authority to another.

It is a brave Minister, I know, who stands up to the Local Government Association embattled. The Government’s intention in these measures is to reduce the burden of regulation on householders. Representations were made on behalf of householders and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has mentioned, there was also a press campaign which suggested that the threat of large fines and criminal convictions is disproportionate to what is often in the first instance a case of people making mistakes about which bin to put out when and what to put in each. Again, as the noble Lord has just said, that varies from one local authority to another. My family is lucky in that the two local authorities in whose areas we live are relatively permissive about where you put each particular bit of waste.

The noble Lord’s amendment would reduce the fines available to level 1 on the standard scale instead moving to a civil basis. The Government think that it is disproportionate for an individual to be treated like a criminal when they may make a mistake putting their bins out for collection, and it is not right that they risk a higher fine for making this type of mistake than they would, for example, for deliberate shoplifting.

I am conscious that some of my noble friends are concerned that this clause may increase burdens on local authorities. I reassure them that our proposals do not add significant burdens compared to how the current arrangements operate in practice. As always in questions of regulation and deregulation, there is the question of the balance of burdens. The Government’s view is that we should be concerned to reduce the balance of burdens on householders.

I am also aware that some of my noble friends are worried that this clause might have a negative impact on recycling rates. We are committed to meeting our recycling targets and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has remarked, we have made considerable progress in recent years in that direction. The way to do this is to support people as they do the right thing rather than threaten them with criminal sanctions and fines of up to £1,000.

Currently, under Section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, householders are subject to criminal sanctions and a fine of up to £1,000 if they do not comply with local authority requirements for presenting

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their waste for collection. In contrast, a shoplifter may be issued with an £90 penalty notice for disorder for their first offence. The Government’s argument is that it is disproportionate for an individual to be treated like a criminal when they make a mistake putting their bins out for collection, and it is not right that they risk a higher fine for making this type of mistake than for shoplifting.

Nevertheless, we recognise that local authorities need some powers to deal with people who spoil the local area by the way they put out their waste, which is why the clause provides for a civil sanctions regime. Under this system, fixed penalties between £60 and £80 will be available if a person has failed to present their household waste as required, and this failure causes a nuisance or is detrimental to the locality. This is what we refer to in shorthand terms as the “harm to local amenity” test, covering such things as putting waste out in a way that causes obstruction to neighbours, unreasonably impedes access to pavements, attracts foxes, rats or other vermin, or is an eyesore.

We expect local authorities to use effective communications to ensure that householders know what they can recycle; for example, by making it easier to know which plastics go in which bin. On the balance of the evidence presented in response to the consultation exercise, which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, raised, I will have to write to him.

I make it clear that we intend to retain the current criminal system applying to commercial waste. The sanctions available to combat more serious offences like fly-tipping are also unaffected by the provisions in the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, raised Schedule 11, which amends the London Local Authorities Act 2007 and gives London authorities similar powers to issue penalty charges to householders. We are amending the London Local Authorities Act so that civil sanctions and financial penalties will be imposed only if a householder fails the “harm to local amenity” test, and the level of penalties will be the same as under the Environmental Protection Act. In effect, the same provisions will apply throughout England. There will therefore be a degree of standardisation. I hope that this may persuade the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Hanham: Can the Minister explain something to me? Subsection (1) of new Section 46B of the Environmental Protection Act says:

“The amount of the monetary penalty that a person may be required to pay to a waste collection authority … is … the amount specified by the waste collection authority”.

That would seem to indicate that the waste collection authority had the right to set a charge. It then goes on to say in subsection (2) that:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision in connection with the powers”—

one of those powers being the setting of the penalty. I seek clarity as to whether there will be a power for a local authority to set its penalty charge. New Section 20B of the London Local Authorities Act, in Schedule 11 to the Bill, is quite specific that:

“It is to be the duty of the borough councils to set the levels of penalty charges payable to them”.

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That sounds great. If they must do it, they have got to do it. However, under the subsequent subsection (4) of new Section 20B:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision”,

for that.

Which is it? Will it be left to local authorities to set their own penalties? I understand that there will be a regime. Or will it be regulations set by the Secretary of State? It does matter.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I thank the noble Baroness. At this point I may be better off writing to her to explain in detail. My note says that the Secretary of State will make the regulations, but I recognise that there is a degree of ambiguity there. We will make sure that we clarify that.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I am of course, as always, grateful to my noble friend Lady Hanham. I was going to say “for her support”, but who is supporting who? We are as one on this. I have just said to her that it is good to have her back onside. I always knew what she really thought, because we have known each other for so long. Now, at last, she can say it.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response and, indeed, whether he meant to or not, for confirming that we have this clause as the result of a “press campaign”—those were the words that he used—not because there is any evidence that vast numbers of innocent householders are being persecuted and prosecuted for their innocent mistakes. If that has ever happened, it is certainly not the norm. It certainly does not happen to the extent that requires this sort of heavy-handed additional regulation.

Reference has been made to different systems in different areas. In passing, most people only live in one local authority area, and it is not of much concern to most people what happens in other areas because they never experience it—unless they happen to live in two, three or more homes. Having said that, I entirely agree that greater harmonisation and simplification between local authorities in their collection arrangements, particularly for recycling, would be extremely helpful, however many homes one happens to live in. That is a job for the local authorities and the Local Government Association. It is not a job in which central government needs to intervene or is able to usefully add anything to what local authorities can do.

I said in my opening remarks—because I have always believed it very strongly—that I too believe in supporting recycling, not threatening it, and giving incentives for recycling. That was something that my council started to do the day when I became leader of it, as it happens. However, I have also said that you need to be able to back that up with a threat or disincentive. You will hope that it is never needed; if your incentives are working well and properly, that threat will never need to be used, but it needs to be there as a back-up. I am at one with the Government in wishing to incentivise rather than threaten, but not with them on the wish effectively to withdraw any meaningful threat.

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The Minister says that he hopes that I will withdraw the amendment. He knows very well that the rules require that I do so. I have no choice but to beg leave to withdraw it, but I feel sure somehow that we will return to the issue of waste collection at a later stage of the Bill.

Amendment 62A withdrawn.

Clause 43 agreed.

Schedule 11 agreed.

Clause 44 agreed.

Schedule 12: Other measures relating to animals, food and the environment

Amendment 62B

Moved by Lord Whitty

62B: Schedule 12, page 154, line 18, at end insert—

“9 The Secretary of State must lay a report before both Houses of Parliament within 6 months after the passing of this Act on the fulfilment of their obligations under regulation 26 of the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 (S.I. 2010/1001).

10 In regulation 26 of the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010, after paragraph (7) insert—

“(8) Where limit values set out in Schedule 2 and target values set out in Schedule 3 are not met by the date specified in more than one zone, the Secretary of State must draw up and implement a national framework for Low Emissions Zones to ensure compliance with each relevant limit value within the shortest possible time.””

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, and with his permission.

We come to page 154 of this remarkable and fascinating Bill. Hidden within it is a remarkable backing off, if not a total retreat, by the Government in relation to the important issue of air quality. A relatively, apparently, small deletion from the Environment Act 1995 needs to be seen in a broader context. I brought this wider context to the attention of the House yesterday in Oral Questions—and I should, once again, declare an interest as the vice-president of Environmental Protection UK, although as of now I am very temporarily speaking on behalf of the opposition Front Bench.

Yesterday in my OQ I asked the Government to spell out what they were doing about air pollution, which still causes 29,000 premature deaths. We have failed to meet EU standards in the vast majority of areas; 93% of the designated urban sites are not meeting their criteria, and the WHO has indicated on the N02 front a significant part of our urban area to be in a dangerous state. That includes this city and the second city of Birmingham, as well as places like Nottingham and many other urban areas. The Government’s own forecasts in this area indicate that those areas—London, the West Midlands and west Yorkshire—are unlikely to meet the EU limit values for N02 until, at the earliest, 2030. That is 15 years after the EU deadline. Some 29,000 premature deaths requires the Government to have a bit more urgency about this.

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In the Question yesterday, other noble Lords also intervened; the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, talked about low emission zones and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who has just returned to join us, raised the issue of diesel. No doubt we will come back to that in a moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, replied, accepting the difficulties in one sense, but spelling out a range of the things that the Government are doing and a rather more impressive list of things that the Mayor of London is doing—some of which I accept.

The Minister’s colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also denied that the Government were lacking a strategy, but the reality is that the Government abandoned the national strategy on air quality. They tried to draw up a new one in 2013 but the reaction from stakeholders was such that they had to drop it and indeed it would not have met the EU requirements. They have removed the impetus that the previous Government had towards local authorities introducing local low emission zones and the only real initiative that the Government have taken in this area is a failed attempt to get the EU to agree to the postponement of the application of the next stage of EU limit values. I was right to say that there is no strategy.

7 pm

In paragraphs 7 and 8 of Part 4 in Schedule 12, the Government are removing a requirement on local authorities to make local air quality assessments. Those assessments could have been evidence on which a broader strategy could have been drawn up. The removal of them means that there is no evidence base for a strategy, let alone a strategy at all. It could be argued that local assessments as described in the 1995 Bill are not necessarily the best way of going about this in terms of evidence or that these provisions have been rendered to some extent obsolescent by non-compliance for whatever reason, usually lack of resources, by local authorities. I agree that there needs to be a review of how local authorities are carrying out their duties in this respect. But if that is the argument and if the Government, as they claim, are serious about tackling air quality, they need to put something else in its place. There is no such move from the Government at either local or national level.

If the Committee were to accept the Bill as it stands and the complete deletion of this area, we would be accepting that there is a backing off and a retreat in this area. Our amendment argues not that there should be a deletion but that there should be a provision that would lead to a clearer statement of what is intended and that the Government should, instead of relying on local authority action entirely, create a framework for, for example, the delivery of low emission zones.

The dual purpose of these amendments is, first that we accept the deletion of the 1995 requirement—although, to be honest, it would be better to keep it in than to do nothing—but it should be replaced by a requirement on the Secretary of State within six months of the passage of this Act to come up with a clear strategy on how the Government are tackling air quality. The second part is that if we continue to be in a situation

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where more than one zone is failing to meet the basic EU standards, there is an obligation on the Secretary of State not just to report but to draw up a national framework for delivery of low emission zones. The majority of the problems—although not all of them—of air quality are entirely related to traffic management and mainly ground traffic, although air traffic also has an effect. Low emission zones are not the only way to deal with this issue but they are an important one.

At the moment, we have abandoned the previous framework for introducing those emission zones. Local authorities do not know where they are on those propositions and the Government are giving no clear guidance or impetus from the centre. This would replace what was simply an information-gathering process with an obligation on the Government to provide that framework for local authorities and report to the House on their overall strategy.

There was a strategy at the end of the previous Labour Government. I accept that it had been disappointing in terms of some of its delivery, but there was a clear strategy. It could have been improved on, but instead we have had effective abandonment of that strategy and this is just another little bit of the Government’s knocking out of the tools that were there to tackle what is a very real problem. I remind the Committee that this problem ends up with 29,000 people dying prematurely. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I support the amendment. Air pollution in the UK is pretty serious and getting worse. We now have a better understanding that the larger the city, the more cars there are. In fact, cars travel longer distances in smaller cities. There is increasing awareness about air pollution, particularly in London, and the parties involved realise the seriousness of this. Other cities will have to make their own air quality assessments as they grow, so it is surprising that a Government who wish to make the UK seem like a desirable place to live and set up industry have introduced this measure. We know from experience around the world that incoming businesses and industries take a great interest in the environment but, under the Bill, local authorities will not be compelled to produce these assessments.

There is an equity aspect to this. We see large differences in life expectancy across London. Studies carried out every day in London show very high levels of pollution in areas with poorer housing. Therefore, it seems strange that we should be moving backwards in this respect. Websites show that the best city in Europe in this regard is Zurich and show how bad other cities are in comparison. The Government are taking a retrograde step in this regard. That is why this amendment insists that the Secretary of State takes this issue very seriously.

I regret that the amendment does not refer to noise, because the situation in the UK is pretty bad in that respect. If you drive round Germany, you see notices on the road advising you to drive slowly to reduce noise. The North Circular road is extremely noisy. People accelerate between traffic controls and the residents have to put up with that noise. There is no attempt in this country to tell people about the danger

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of noise pollution and how they can moderate their behaviour to reduce it. Local authorities are not encouraged to do that. Part 5 of this schedule takes a regressive step in not insisting that local authorities not only designate noise abatement zones but inform people how to reduce noise in these areas. I hope very much that the amendment will be carried.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I think there are some limits to how far we would necessarily take this as a general model in this area. The noble Lord will be well aware that all efforts to agree speed limits within the European Union and to deal with the problem of cars going extremely fast are blocked by the Germans, who have a very powerful lobby, not unconnected with BMW and Mercedes Benz, which insists on having cars which are extremely powerful, which we all know also produce more pollutants when they are being driven very fast. They are driven very fast across Germany, rather more quickly than they are allowed to be driven through other countries, so Germany is a mixed example, I think.

This government proposal is not to lower air quality. I recognise in the admirably clear speech of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the much wider issues which he is raising about the Government’s overall strategy on air quality. This is a deregulatory measure which simply aims to remove the requirement for a further assessment when an air quality zone has already been agreed. The Government give active support to local authorities when it has been decided that a low emission zone or strategy is the appropriate action. We have so far funded 15 separate low emission zone-related projects or feasibility studies for our local air quality grant scheme. We have also disseminated the results that have come from these studies as good examples for local authorities. Since 1997, over £52 million has been spent to support local authorities in delivering low emission strategies, including feasibility studies with low emission zones and the uptake of clean vehicle technology and programmes to change behaviour.

There is regular feedback from local authorities, and an independent review of local air quality management in 2010 indicated that this requirement for a further assessment, or a second round of assessment, did not add to the understanding of local air quality and actually delayed the production and implementation of local action plans required under the Act. This was confirmed in a consultation with air quality stakeholders in January 2013. I refute the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has put forward—that this is an attempt to weaken the local air quality regime. This is very much an attempt to support what local authorities do and to speed up their implementation of such zones when they are agreed. The Government continue to give active support in this regard. I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said about the overall problem of air quality. As I sat listening to him, I recalled that, as a boy, when I first came to a choir school in London, I was here just in time for the last great smog, in 1953 I think it was. Air quality has improved a little since then, and life expectancy has improved with it.

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However, this change is a limited one, as are many others in the Bill. It will allow local authorities to prepare and implement air quality action plans more quickly and to avoid duplicating information gathered either in the earlier, detailed assessment stage that is required or in the preparation of the air quality plan. That is the limit of what we are attempting to do here. We remain actively committed to higher air quality throughout Britain. We have supported local emissions zones: I have just been handed a note which remarks on the local emissions zones in Oxford, York, Bradford, Southampton, Birmingham and Hackney. With that reassurance, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Whitty: I thank the Minister for that. As on the previous occasion, I have no option but to withdraw it. However, the basis on which I withdraw it is not quite the same as the Minister’s.

The Minister is right to say that this is a relatively specific requirement, relating to checking what the effect would be of the emission zones, once established. But that is part of the evidence for extending them further. If they were simply replacing it with something more useful, I would not object to the deletion as such. But the reality is that that is just one part of what the Government seem—despite what the Minister has said—to be retreating from. They are not encouraging local authorities in a broad sense, although some local authorities, because of impetus within themselves, are still putting forward local emission zone propositions. I was surprised to hear Birmingham on that list, but I take the Minister’s word for it; some of the others I do know about. Local authorities as a whole do not feel that they are being encouraged to initiate new local emission zones. The Government are not really answering the essential thrust of this: if they are deleting what they regard as pernickety requirements, they should do so in the context of replacing them with a broader approach to encourage initiatives and activity at local and national level to improve our air quality.

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That is why our amendment is put in terms of accepting the deletion but replacing it with an obligation on the Secretary of State, not on the local authorities, to come forward with a framework and report to ensure that we know where we are going on this issue. At the moment we do not know and there is serious anxiety that we will not only continue to fail to meet the current EU standards but provide fewer resources and give less priority to air quality measures than was the case five or 10 years ago. That will make matters in the not-very-long run worse, not only in some of the more deprived areas—as my noble friend Lord Hunt said and I thank him for his support—but in substantial areas of our cities.

The Government need to take this significantly more seriously and I hope that they do so. I accept my noble friend’s view that there is also a noise issue often associated with air quality, because the same machinery that is creating the noise is creating the pollution. We need a broad approach to these issues. For the moment, we are not going to get that from the Government. I

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would like to believe that at some time in the next few months we will see a more coherent air quality strategy. Should there be a change of Government, we certainly intend to ensure that that is one of our main priorities for Defra after the election.

Obviously, I will withdraw the amendment but we hope that the Government will look again at the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment 62B withdrawn.

Schedule 12 agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.17 pm.