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Lord McNair: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said. I am glad of another opportunity to have been able to air this possibility. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 14:


Page 3, leave out lines 7 to 15 and insert:
("( ) the functions of the Secretary of State under section 68 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
( ) the powers of the Secretary of State under section 72 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
( ) the functions of disposal authorities under section 1 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974;").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment we turn to the subject of waste regulation. The amendment is grouped with a number of others in my name, but on reflection (I apologise to the House for this) I think it might be preferable to concentrate on Amendment No. 14, listen to what the Minister has to say in response to that proposed way of dealing with the matter, and then perhaps I may return to the more fundamental proposals at Third Reading—which seek to remove the references to the transfer of waste regulation—when I have had an opportunity to consider what the Minister has to say. I tabled the other amendments because this is a matter which we dealt with late at night and I, for one, did not feel that we had given it the airing I should have liked.

Amendment No. 14 seeks to remove Clause 2(1) (b) which concerns the transfer of the functions of waste regulation authorities—as spelt out in Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and in the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989—and in their place to insert certain other restricted duties. Waste regulation responds to a localised form of pollution. In many ways it is quite different from the other forms of pollution which will be the subject of the agency's work. I fear that, as drafted, the wholesale transfer of the functions of the current authorities may have a number of unhappy consequences, in particular the loss of local political accountability. The question of accountability and local representation is one to which we shall return later, in particular in the context of an amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. But waste regulation is currently undertaken by local authorities or, in the case of London, by councillors indirectly elected to the London Waste Regulation Authority.

A further consequence of the transfer of the functions would be the difficulty of establishing external liaison, particularly if the boundaries are those of river catchment areas, or any other boundary that is not a political boundary. Those who deal with a number of areas of public life suffer from the lack of coterminosity of so many of our public sector functions. I should be sorry to see a further problem of this sort arising. Waste regulation has to relate to planning, to environmental health and to emergency planning. No doubt there are other functions which I have not listed. My amendment would make matters far more convenient and would

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result in a more productive use of the time of the professionals involved, as well as a better liaison at a political level, and therefore, if you like, a strategic level.

In addition, it is unlikely that the committees established under the Bill will be sufficiently local to replace in the public mind the local accountability of the current regime. It has been suggested to me that on losing this area of work local authorities may tend to address waste licensing issues in particular through conditions attached to planning consents. That would be less appropriate than dealing with the matter through waste regulation.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the possible return to what has been described as the poacher and gamekeeper approach, combining regulation and the work of waste management. The concerns of practitioners in that regard should not be dismissed lightly. The Waste Management Forum has written to the Minister. I am aware of his reply but I believe that the matter is sufficiently important to raise it in your Lordships' House. The Waste Management Forum commented on the separation of the operational and regulatory functions and the potential conflicts of interest which it believes will occur if the agency provides a service as well as enforcing the standards to which that service is delivered.

The Waste Management Forum has also commented on a matter which I find interesting. It is one which may well be difficult to tackle and does not lend itself to inclusion in legislation. That issue is the differences in organisational cultures in the potential parts of the agency. One cannot legislate to introduce a change of culture overnight.

The Waste Management Forum points out that the waste regulatory authorities are constituted on a local community basis, with strong community representation and the involvement of waste producers and carriers. The NRA, on the other hand, is constituted on a regional basis, with monitoring of end-of-pipe processes, and the HMIP places emphasis on adopting a holistic approach and encouraging processes which minimise environmental impact.

The Minister may argue that marrying those approaches would be a good thing. I would not necessarily disagree with him if he were to say that, but one should not minimise the difficulties that may be encountered in doing so. Therefore, one should be careful before imposing on authorities such a change and a need to address the way in which they go about their work.

This is not merely a question of the fears of local authorities about losing yet more functions. I have spoken to London First, which as your Lordships may know is an organisation which involves representatives of the business community in London. I should declare an interest as a member of its board. It also involves representatives from various parts of the public sector.

It is the view of London First that if the current arrangement is not broken don't fix it. London First considers that the London Waste Regulation Authority is competent and is not likely to be improved by being

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taken over by the environment agency. The organisation is also concerned about accountability and considers that there should be a regional arm of the agency accountable to Londoners. I have been asked to make that point.

Lastly, I am concerned as to how one should split the work of dealing with the waste stream and at which point in the process it should be split from local operation to a national agency. Your Lordships are largely agreed that it is increasingly important to minimise waste at source. I fear that this measure will make it more difficult for the waste disposal authorities which deal with the collection of waste to continue the work that many are doing in, for instance, the separation of items in household waste and separate collection, in particular for recycling, and dealing with that waste in the best way. If the process is not a seamless one from the householder right through the disposal operation, and if part of the operation is separated from the local process, it may not continue to develop as many of your Lordships would wish.

I should like briefly to explain the implications of the amendments, which are a little opaque in referring only to sections in other legislation. In the amendment I propose that, in place of the wholesale transfer of functions, the functions which are referred to in Amendment No. 14 should be inserted. The function covered by Section 68 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is the supervision of the performance of the duties of waste regulation authorities and the appointment of inspectors to ensure that performance. The functions covered by Section 72 of the same Act are the default powers of the Secretary of State, who can make an order requiring a defaulting authority to comply and, if necessary, take over the relevant functions. Section 1 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 relates to ensuring adequate arrangements for the control of waste. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in her Amendment No. 14. It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak also, as she did, to Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 17, 18, 65 and 66.

We have had a number of discussions about the relationship between local authorities and the new agency in England and Wales. Those discussions have either taken place late at night and have therefore been somewhat unsatisfactory or have not gone into the matter in sufficient detail. The noble Baroness has done the House a favour by moving the amendment and speaking to the others, and explaining with great clarity what seems to us to be a more sensible and reasonable division of responsibilities between local authorities and the agency.

There can be no doubt that local authorities will continue to be involved with waste in some way or another. Their environmental health duties, for example, ensure that they cannot avoid having a role. They also have a role in clearing dangerous substances. There are various provisions which will ensure that local authorities will still be in the business of waste. The

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problem is at what point the activity of a local authority stops and the authority of the agency begins. My own view is that that should be as set out in the local authority associations' document Protecting the Future, which I have no doubt the noble Viscount has read. The document sets out a model whereby the agency, quite rightly, undertakes strategic functions, sets standards, enforces standards and has default powers, but the regulatory functions at local level are undertaken at local level and the operations are undertaken at local level.

Perhaps I may illustrate the way in which that works. If any resident of any local authority finds some violation of waste regulation—perhaps some waste at the back of the garden, or whatever it might be, which is not properly there —whatever the process of education may be, there is no doubt that the first authority to which he or she will go is the local authority. However many placards or television advertisements one puts out about the duties of the agency, that cannot be avoided: someone will ring up the local councillor. In a sense that is what local councillors are for; that is what they are accountable for.

In that case, what does the local councillor do? Does he say, "It's not my job. It's now the job of an agency to look after it"? Alternatively, does he say, "In one way or another, I'll look after it"? The answer is that he says, "In one way or another, I'll look after it". That is the natural, human reaction. He may say, "It's unsafe material and therefore the local authority has a duty to remove it". He may seek to take action against those who left the stuff lying around. However, that is waste regulation by default because the local authority has a duty in a different direction from waste regulation.

Therefore, I argue that in her amendment the noble Baroness has the matter more or less right: the agency should have the power to enforce standards, but local authorities should have the power of local regulation. I believe that that is the right way round. I hope that the noble Viscount recognises that the relationship between the local authority and the agency is an extremely serious problem. I believe that the amendment is the right way to tackle the issue. I very much hope that the noble Viscount agrees.


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