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Lord Islwyn: My Lords, will the Minister consider the very heavy tolls on the Severn bridges. Both bridges are oversubscribed and apparently the required revenue will be raised 12 years before it was originally

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anticipated. Bearing in mind that the Severn bridges carry motorways, is not the same principle involved here?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I understand it, the same principle does apply in relation to the Severn bridges. However, we are considering--as did the previous administration--the possibility of extending some degree of tolling more generally on the motorway network, either for new projects or in pursuit of our general objective of reducing road traffic and providing an incentive for more appropriate modes of transportation. Both would require new legislation.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Minister consider using any excess revenue from the bridge tolls to improve education in prisons?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that was a good try! I suspect these are matters of virement and therefore matters for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place. However, I doubt that it will happen in this period of comprehensive spending review.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me. I was under the impression between 1979 and 1997 that the Labour Party was opposed to tolls on bridges. Am I to take it from the reply I have just heard that it is now in favour of them?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, no. We are looking at the possibility of using tolling--as were the previous regime--in our town centres as has been reported at some length both in this place and in another place in relation to the integrated transport policy. The motorway network, including bridges, tunnels and other stretches, may be subject to tolling in those circumstances. However, we would wish to use tolling not as a general revenue raiser but as a means of providing an incentive to divert traffic to more appropriate modes which, unfortunately, was not an objective pursued by the previous government over their whole period of office.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the Minister discussed the possibility of charging for the use of roads. Perhaps I may press him a little further. We are led to believe that when the issue of congestion charging and, more importantly, car park charging is introduced in urban areas it will be with the specific intention that those revenues should be used to improve public transport so as to encourage people, other than the non-inducement of the actual tax, to use public transport. Will not the Minister therefore develop that idea a little further to the point where, if no further improvements can be made to "public transport", there should be no further charge?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we have a long way to go before sufficient revenue has been raised for all the infrastructure required to improve our public transport system to the extent that a major diversion would take

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place from our roads. Wherever charging might be contemplated, the intention would be to plough it back into the transport infrastructure in one form or another.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on severe personality disorders.

Pollution Prevention and Control Bill [H.L.]

3.4 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Regulation of polluting activities]:

The Deputy Chairman: Before I call Amendment No. 1, I must tell the Committee that if Amendment No. 1 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 inclusive because of pre-emption.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 6, leave out from beginning to ("for") in line 11.

The noble Lord said: I should explain that my noble friend Lady Byford should have been taking these amendments through the Chamber. Sadly, she went home last weekend to a family tragedy and cannot be with us this afternoon. That is the reason I find myself standing here today. I am sure that all noble Lords will sympathise with her in her predicament and understand why she is not able to be here.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Dixon-Smith: There are two reasons I regret that my noble friend is not here; first, I am not as charming as she; and, secondly, I am not as knowledgeable as she is on this subject. However, I hope that the Committee will allow me to do my best. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to all the amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend as they have a common purpose.

The Bill as drafted is too open ended. Since our Second Reading debate we received the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. The report is profound. At paragraph 6 it says,

    "We are bound to report to the House that as at present drafted this is a 'skeleton' bill and so is an inappropriate delegation of secondary powers".

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It continues,

    "If the House shares our concern it will no doubt wish to consider whether the Bill can be saved by amendments which specify with more precision the ambit of the legislation and the criteria to be taken into account in making regulations. The following issues could fall for consideration: Whether the legislation should be limited solely to matters provided in Schedule 1. Whether there should be a clear indication of the ambit of powers which may be delegated. Whether the categories of person to whom powers can be delegated under the regulations to determine matters which could have been provided in the regulations should be specified. Whether the legislation should provide in terms that conditions and regulations should always be based on the use of the 'best available techniques', including cost/benefit assessments as the Explanatory Notes contemplate. Whether the bill should provide that no regulation should be made without proper consultation. The Explanatory Notes record consultation about the implementation of the Directive and state that 'A third consultation paper, including a draft of the regulations which the Secretary of State proposes to make under the Bill, is due to be published before the end of 1998'".

That document has been placed in the Library. In paragraph 8 the report goes on:

    "Whether or not the substance of the bill is amended we are concerned that the regulations should be subject only to the negative procedure. We consider that in the first instance of their use the regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure. We also consider that any subsequent regulations which create new offences, or increase penalties for offences created under the initial regulations, should be governed by the affirmative procedure. In the light of the width of the Henry VIII power, we consider that any regulations which amend or repeal an Act of Parliament should be subject to affirmative procedure".
At the end of its recommendations, the Select Committee said:

    "The Committee would also wish to add that, even if the House accepts the bill with any such amendments as being justified for the reasons which the DETR give for proceeding by such wide-ranging enabling legislation, the Committee would not wish this bill to be regarded as a precedent for the future. It remains important that the purposes and ambit of legislation, together with any important governing criteria, should be clearly specified within primary legislation and not simply left to the exercise of delegated powers".

That is a damning indictment of the Bill as drafted. The amendments in the first grouping seek to put right some of the criticisms which are made in that report.

The amendments seek to limit the power to be granted to the Secretary of State and to ensure that the decisions that he makes are subjected to an appropriate level of scrutiny. As at presently drafted, the Bill gives the Secretary of State carte blanche to impose costly regulations on businesses on the flimsiest of pretexts. There is no requirement on him to bring those matters to the attention of Parliament. The onus will be on Members of this House or another place to raise the matter. With such sweeping powers, that is clearly unacceptable. The problem is not that the Secretary of State will have too much power to benefit the environment, but because of the way in which the Bill is drafted it will give him power to do great damage in the name of the environment without being exposed to the normal cautionary voices that your Lordships and Members in another place might offer.

I believe that it should be incumbent upon the Secretary of State to demonstrate that any regulations that he makes under the Bill should address a specific, significant problem. The amendments allow him to define that term, but require that the definition is laid before the House in advance. Any future measures could

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then be laid against the standard laid out in the order issued by the Secretary of State. There would be a point of reference that would be debated in advance, with which regulations made under the Bill would be required to comply. If they did not, it would be up to the Government to justify that before Parliament. If businesses are forced to operate under conditions of great uncertainty in the legislative framework, that will not contribute to environmental practice.

A problem with regulation in general is that it tends to encourage organisations to adopt a culture of minimal compliance. In other words, they comply with the letter of the regulation and then cease to make any further effort. They look to the Government to provide the definition of what constitutes responsible environmental practice. If they are faced with an ever-changing vista of law and regulation, they do not know where they stand. What is an acceptable environmental practice one day can, under this Bill, become unacceptable subsequently. In that situation, otherwise responsible management will tend to give up. The amendments, which stand in the name of my noble friend Lady Byford, seek to put some of that right, as I have said. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I would like to associate myself with the expressions of regret that my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith has voiced concerning the reasons for the absence of my noble friend Lady Byford. I want to support the amendments tabled in her name and make one or two remarks about the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation.

As students of the constitution, we are all accustomed to talking about checks and balances in the constitution. The role of Parliament is to hold the Executive to account and there are many instruments, conventions and institutions which are intended for that purpose. When the numbers of Members in the parties in another place are fairly evenly balanced, that function can be effectively exercised by Her Majesty's Opposition and other opposition parties. If members of the governing party, who support the Executive, decide that the Executive is not behaving properly, there is a real risk that the Executive will be defeated. When there is a very large majority for one party in another place that process, as we have seen over recent months, becomes a great deal more difficult. It is in those circumstances that the remaining checks and balances come into their own.

I have come to regard the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation as one of the most effective weapons in Parliament's armoury. It acts as a check and a balance and helps to hold the Government to account. The third report, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon, to which my noble friend referred, seems to be a textbook example of the role and effectiveness of the Select Committee. I do not recollect having read quite such a sweeping condemnation of a Bill presented to Parliament. I shall not delay the Committee by reading

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again the passages which my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith has already quoted, but they represent a stinging rebuke to the Government for having presented a Bill to Parliament in this skeletal form.

I acknowledge at once that with the two amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, they have moved part of the way--but only part of the way--to meet the Select Committee's strictures. Much more needs to be done to make the Bill acceptable and, paraphrasing the words of the Select Committee, an appropriate delegation of secondary powers. The amendments that we shall be discussing this afternoon--we may have to return to some of them on Report--aim to do just that. As my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said, this group of amendments is aimed at restricting and defining the scope of matters to be covered in the regulations. That clearly lies at the heart of the Select Committee's strictures about which, as yet, the Government have done nothing. In the government amendments there is no limitation on the scope of the provisions. All we have is a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, sent to a number of noble Lords, dated 4th February, in which he said:

    "in my letter of 21st January to Lord Alexander of Weedon, I explained why we had not limited the powers in the Bill to the matters listed in Schedule 1. I do, nevertheless, take very seriously the suggestions of the Delegated Powers Committee and the concerns which were expressed at the meeting last week".
A number of us were given the opportunity to discuss those issues with the Minister. It was a limited, but useful meeting. In that letter of 4th February, the noble Lord continued:

    "I am, therefore, looking again carefully at the scope of the Bill and discussing with my colleagues in Government whether the Committee's recommendation can be accommodated without making for a less effective regulatory system".
Nothing on the Marshalled List reflects that hope. That is why I am asking the Minister whether it will happen. When can we expect the Government to come forward with further proposals? That question lies at the heart of the Select Committee's criticisms and I sure that the Minister will want to answer it.

Perhaps I may express from the Back Benches the view that, as the Select Committee pointed out, so significant is the need to limit the scope of what is to be covered by regulations--not only with regard to Schedule 1 and provisions to be extended as the Secretary of State may decide--that I believe that we should return to this matter and express our clear view to ensure that the provisions which the Select Committee required are, indeed, in the Bill when it goes to another place. That is my view. It will be for others to decide whether that would be an appropriate course in the circumstances. However, it seems to me that if we do not exercise our role as Parliament in holding the Government to account on this matter, we are yet again ceding powers to the Government and losing powers for Parliament.

I return to my first point. Why did Ministers ever allow a Bill in such a form to come before the House? Even at the very first stage, after the publication of the Select Committee's report and after Second Reading,

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the Government have found it necessary to table two substantial amendments. One rejoices at the sinner that repenteth, but how did the Government ever get to this stage in the first place?

Those of us who have had the honour and privilege to serve in government realise that most of one's advisers in the Civil Service will always want the widest power of delegation and, where possible, sub-delegation. Every department tries to persuade its Ministers that it would be appropriate to have the fewest limitations on the scope of regulations and the minimum use of the affirmative resolution procedure. I have no doubt that the Minister will, if he wishes, be able to show convincing briefing explaining why such provisions are crucial to achieving the Bill's objectives. Such briefing always ends, "My Lords, the Bill's objectives are very widely shared by all parties and therefore there should be no fuss". Well, there is a fuss and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, recognises that.

I hope that Ministers in the present government will emulate those who, in the previous government used to say to officials, "Look, I don't think that Parliament will accept this. Go away and think again", or, "We'll certainly find it very difficult to get this through Parliament. Is there no other way of doing it?", or, as I have said, as officials will confirm, "Do you really expect me to stand up in the House and try to justify what you are asking me to do because I won't?". That knocks them back--and they then produce provisions that are a good deal more sensible.

The Minister owes the Committee an explanation of how he imagined that he and his colleagues could ever get away with this. At the end of today, the Bill will contain some useful amendments. However, they will not be nearly enough and we must pursue the rest of the Select Committee's objectives with vigour and perseverance.

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