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Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000

4.17 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 15th June be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the regulations, I draw attention to the fact that they flow from a European IPPC directive agreed in 1996. Our domestic legislation, the Environment Act 1990, was used as a model for that directive. Under the domestic legislation, pollution from industry is regulated under the integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) regime for larger and more polluting processes, or the local air pollution control (LAPC) regime which governs other processes which generate emissions to air.

The new integrated pollution prevention and control regime will bring with it a number of improvements. One very important improvement is the inclusion of energy efficiency among the factors which the regulators must consider. These energy measures will not only bring environmental benefits but could result in financial relief to industry itself.

These regulations are the product of extensive consultations which my department has carried out over the past four years. The consultation process has involved regulators, industry, trade associations, environmental interests and the public. In fact, this review of the existing legislation has been a good example of effective dialogue between government, industry and other stakeholders. In the light of the contributions that we have received, we have developed the regulations in a way which we believe strikes a fair balance between environment protection and the concerns of the various sectors of industry which are covered.

I also draw attention to the fact that these are affirmative resolution regulations. Indeed, we are committed to ensuring that any changes made to provisions previously contained in primary legislation will continue to be the subject of affirmative resolution, thus giving this House and those in another place the proper degree of parliamentary control over changes to the legislative programme.

In that context, the Government's clear preference is to implement European directives through domestic primary legislation in this field. Clearly, the alternative would have been to implement the directive directly, using the powers under the European Communities Act 1972. However, that would have left us with a complicated and burdensome arrangement consisting

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of three different pollution control regimes and would have given the courts and, indeed, industry considerable difficulty in interpreting the law. The CBI, for example, was not in favour of that approach; neither was most of industry.

My department has estimated that approximately 7,000 installations in England and Wales will be subject to the directive. New installations will be brought in with immediate effect. However, existing installations must be brought into the new regime by the directive deadline of 30th October 2007. To ensure an easy transition from one regime to another, we have devised a phasing timetable which will commence early next year. The timetable has in part been determined by the availability of the European Guidance on Best Available Techniques as well as reflecting existing permitting cycles under the current system.

The timetable has also reflected other concerns. The Government recognise the important role that farming, in particular pig and poultry farming, plays in rural communities and understand the potential seriousness of the economic crisis in which the industry now finds itself. Therefore, we have decided to defer implementation of IPPC for the pig and poultry sectors until 2007, which, under the directive, is the last possible moment.

We also supported and encouraged the discussions that took place between the Environment Agency and the farming industry in developing general binding rules. Those rules will reduce the regulatory effort required by the agency and consequently, therefore, the fees paid by farmers while at the same time maintaining a high level of environmental protection.

There is one exception to the clear timetable set out in Schedule 3 to the regulations for commencement of IPPC. The entry date for bringing in landfills to IPPC is at this stage notional. The Government are currently considering how to implement the landfill directive, which covers both integrated pollution and control sites and others, and will shortly issue a consultation paper. It is expected that landfill sites will be phased in from 2002 although, until the nature of the phasing is determined, we have entered a nominal date on the timetable.

The timing of bringing this set of regulations before the House also needs to be noted. The deadline for transposing the directive into domestic legislation was October last year. At present, therefore, we are behind a number of European member states which have either transposed or implemented the directive. This is a potentially embarrassing situation for us, especially in view of the fact that the directive was in no small part based on our own current pollution control regime.

We believe that this regulatory framework is by its very nature adaptable and will allow the sharing of experience both here and across Europe. The process of regulation promoted development and improvements, both in technologies and techniques,

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which in turn will bring wider and greater benefits to the environment, to the various sectors of industry and to local people.

Finally, I can confirm that in my view the provisions of the draft regulations are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations etc.--(Lord Whitby.)

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, it is an indication of the problems that the Government face with regard to pressure on their legislative programme that we take regulations of such significance at this hour on a Friday afternoon.

The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee produced a scathing report on the 1999 Act, because it consisted of one very large Henry VIII clause. About 30 clauses of the 1990 Act were repealed, to be replaced by these regulations, which are, in effect, a significant item of primary legislation. In other circumstances I would have preferred a different way of dealing with them. Their significance is such that it is unsatisfactory that our only choices are to approve them or not. However, that is the situation that we are in.

The Government's excuse for passing the Bill in that form was that we were under time pressure. The same excuse is used for the regulations. I sympathise with the Minister to the extent that action is being initiated against the United Kingdom on the other side of the water in Brussels because we have not taken the appropriate action under the 1996 directive. It is not in this country's interests to be taken to court in that way, so I shall not oppose the regulations, but I have a number of questions.

I have received briefings from the CBI and the NFU. The Minister said that there had been wide, detailed and satisfactory consultation. The CBI gives a different impression, saying that there has been an underlying theme of a lack of detailed information. None of us would say that that was satisfactory and I am sure that it is not what the Government intended.

The CBI has raised a number of questions. The EC Directive 96/61 refers to "industrial-scale" activities. In transposing that directive into regulation, the Government have introduced the term "commercial" in place of "industrial-scale". The CBI is concerned about that, because it could exclude some of those who cause pollution, such as research establishments, perhaps run by a university or a charitable foundation.

The Minister might not have time to answer that, but I hope that he will be able to answer my next question. As he said, there is a link between the IPPC regulations and the climate change levy. As I understand it, only companies regulated under the IPPC Part A can negotiate for agreements that comprise binding energy efficiency targets under the climate change levy. Companies will want certainty that, in meeting the negotiated requirements, they will be deemed to satisfy the CO 2 and energy efficiency

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requirements under the other side of the legislation. It is not unreasonable to expect both sides of the equation to balance.

There is a problem with site restoration under these regulations. Again, the CBI is concerned because it can cause a major problem for industry after the process is completed and the disposal of the site becomes an issue. There is a question as to the fitness of the site, the problems of site surveys and so on.

There is also a very serious question from the CBI as to what constitutes a "site". The relationship between an installation and a site appears to be vague. The CBI would have preferred to have "installation" and "site" separated by using the word "establishment" which is used under the control of major accident hazard regulations. Under those regulations, an establishment is defined as,

    "the whole area within which one or more installations are located, under the control of the same operator or, where multi-operator or operationally interdependent installations exist, the relevant group of operators, and for this purpose, two or more areas under the control of the same operator or group of operators and separated only by a road, railway or inland waterway shall be treated as one whole area".

Having accepted that as an establishment, the CBI would have preferred an "installation site" to be that area of land used primarily for the operation of a particular installation or a separately permitted installation thereon because there are a number of industrial sites with a number of separate permitted installations. So there is a problem there.

That illustrates the sort of difficulties which the CBI still have with these regulations. It also has a problem on the question of commercial confidentiality. Under Clause 31, the regulator decides what is commercially confidential and has to give notice that that determination is taking place within a specified time. If that notice is not given, the applicant must assume that the information is deemed not to be commercially confidential and the applicant has 21 days from the 28 days that were originally allowed for the ruling in order to appeal that the information he has given should be commercially confidential.

Since we are now dealing with what I would call a voluntary declaration by the regulator, there is a problem for the applicant. The situation becomes more difficult because when the regulator believes the information is commercially confidential but should be on the register, he is obliged to contact the applicant to enable him to provide more details to inform the decision.

The CBI feels that in that instance, the notice should always be given by the regulator stating whether information in relation to an application is either commercially confidential or not. So the applicant always has a reply from the regulator and does not have to guess what is happening by whether or not he has received a response. That would make matters rather more straightforward for both the regulator and for applicants. I ask the Minister to give consideration to that matter.

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Commercial confidentiality leads me neatly to the agricultural sector. For the first time various intensive agricultural operations are included. The agricultural industry is in a politically sensitive situation in relation to intensive installations and intensive farming. In considering some of the wilder things that, unfortunately, have happened over the past few years in the context of fur farming and, more recently, experimental badger trapping in parts of the West Country, one realises that if information giving map and grid references and titles to intensive farm operations is available on a website, as indeed is required by the legislation, that could have a difficult effect on the security of otherwise perfectly reputable agricultural operations. A few people may take a rather unfortunate, not to say an extremely unfortunate, view of that process.

The definition of an agricultural installation for the purposes of the regulations seems to depend upon numbers of animals. We are talking of units of more than 40,000 laying hens or other birds and more than 400 farrowing sows and 700 fattening pigs. I raise this point because the number of animals on a farm, in an installation where those animals are kept indoors, is one thing, but increasingly nowadays, where the environment is right and the soil types are suitable, pigs are kept out of doors, particularly farrowing pigs. It would not be wise perhaps to do that with fattening pigs. I have visited farms where I have seen small huts consisting of curved sheets of corrugated iron, which make perfectly adequate shelters for pigs, stretching as far as the horizon and there is no installation on the farm at all. I find the use of numbers as a definition rather strange.

There is a problem, which arises in two ways, with the competitive position of the United Kingdom in regard to these regulations. We know that, unfortunately, the agricultural industry at present is in deep trouble, but we have a much higher proportion of our pig and poultry industries in this country in large units that will be subject to these regulations. In the United Kingdom 7.4 per cent of our pig holdings would come within this category. The figure for Denmark is 5.1 per cent and for the Netherlands it is 5.4 per cent. That may not seem significant, but in Denmark I understand that the cost of a licence will be £1,000 and in the Netherlands it will be nothing. Here we are talking about the cost being of the order of £3,000.

Can the Minister give me an assurance on this matter? It would be interesting to know how the charges are arrived at. I understand that the Environment Agency has an obligation to cover only its costs. I have no difficulty with that as a proposition, except that an obligation to cover only costs gives no incentive to business efficiency. The Minister and I have debated matters of best value in regard to local government on a number of occasions. In fact, if all a local authority had to do was balance its budget and have no consideration for value for money, that would not be a happy situation. The Environment Agency is apparently to be permitted to operate with nobody monitoring costs or making sure that the agricultural industry receives value for money. The industry simply has to meet the costs presented to it. That is not good enough.

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I believe I have raised sufficient questions on the regulations to show that we have real concern over their content. In another situation I would have wanted to table reasoned amendments. This shows the weakness of the regulatory procedure. We can only approve or disapprove. I believe circumstances will dictate that the Minister will need to return to this House before very long with amendments to these regulations. However, I shall not be opposing them. It would be neither appropriate nor in this country's interests for me to do so. But on a purely personal level, I cannot approve of them in detail.

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