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Lord Barnett: My Lords, will my noble friend ignore the customary remark from the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, which tends to be both irrelevant to the major issue and irrational? But will he accept that most of the economic tests have already been met or are likely to be met, other than the main one; namely, the problem of convergence of currency rates? Have the Government considered negotiating the question of whether or not it would be possible on joining--which I hope we shall--to negotiate a lower rate for the UK?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I would never have the temerity to ignore what the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, says, even if I occasionally, but not always, disagree with him. As to whether the exchange rate is the sixth test, the exchange rate is in great part the result of the conclusion of the five economic tests. Exchange rates are not determined by fiat, by diktat or by passing laws in this country.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, I hesitate to draw attention to even the smallest defect in the Minister's performance, but I am sure that he will agree that one of the alleged perils of joining the euro that is not dealt with in the five tests is the impact of tax harmonisation. In that context, perhaps I may remind him of what he said:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for that reminder. I was offered a draft of such a letter this morning. I rejected it as being totally inadequate. I shall ensure that a proper answer is given to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and other noble Lords who took part in the debate.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, my noble friend has already tried to give an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and, frankly, he has not been very convincing. How does my noble friend explain the fact that virtually every political leader in Europe, the Governor of the Bank of England only last month and the President of the European Central Bank have all expressed the view that the single currency is primarily about political union? How can the Government and my noble friend go on with this absurd pretence that it is simply a matter of economic calculation?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, current legislation is contained in Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. That legislation requires litter authorities to keep their areas free from litter and provides sufficient flexibility for local authorities to take action against those who drop litter. We therefore have no current plans to review the litter legislation.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the dumping of litter is now the most common offence committed in this country, that the provisions of existing legislation scarcely seem effective and that the number of fines for offences is extraordinarily low? Is it not obvious that the amount of litter deposited in many parts of the country today is so squalid and perhaps harmful as to require a much firmer approach to be adopted?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the existing legislation gives several powers to local authorities to enforce litter-free areas. The fixed penalty is £25. If that penalty is not paid, the fine can be as much as £2,500. For more serious offences such as fly-tipping, there are very substantial penalties indeed. It is true, as my noble friend implied, that performance in different areas is not uniformly good. The newly instituted regime of best value will require local authorities to improve their performance where they are falling down on this issue. However, I should also say that, according to the index of the Tidy Britain Group, there has been some improvement in recent years in many areas of our country.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. There is certainly a need to ensure that the coming generations understand the importance of not dropping litter and how dropping litter affects the quality of their neighbourhood. Therefore, in broad terms, I agree with the noble Baroness.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, as the present system clearly does not work very well, will the Government consider using the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill to introduce an obligation on parish councils to ensure that the areas within their boundaries are kept clean? Those parish councils would then be able to use their own rates, which are raised from their own people, to fulfil that obligation. Does the noble Lord agree that if that were done the local people, who would otherwise have to pay, would probably be much more effective watchdogs than they are at present?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not think it would be appropriate for the main responsibility for litter management and street cleansing to rest with parish councils, although they may have some role in those areas. The job of cleansing our streets and ensuring that litter regulations are enforced rests primarily with the full local authority. I am not saying that parish councils should have no role, but the prime responsibility in legislation should remain with the local authority.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether fly-tipping has increased since the introduction of the landfill tax? If that is the case, will the Government take further measures against building companies which increase their amount of fly-tipping?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is evidence that in some parts of the country fly-tipping has increased--whether or not as a direct result of the landfill regulations and taxation system. The penalties in relation to fly-tipping are already fairly draconian. The maximum penalty is £20,000 and there can be imprisonment in certain bad contexts. So the penalties are available; the issue is catching fly-tippers and the courts imposing substantial penalties up to the maximum.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, following the introduction of the landfill tax, one problem has been an increase in the number of burnt-out, abandoned cars. What will the noble Lord do to encourage local authorities to catch those responsible for burnt-out, abandoned cars?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware that there have been significant recent increases in the number of abandoned cars. Those have arisen because businesses now charge for the removal and scrapping of vehicles and because of the low price of scrap metal. The police and local authorities have powers in that respect and it is important that they use those powers. A number of local authorities have engaged in blitzes on abandoned vehicles within their territory. However, I would accept that it is a growing problem and would hope that the regimes which local authorities are increasingly introducing will help to restrict it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, by floating the proposal for a second chamber of the European Parliament, the Prime Minister intended to launch a debate, not set a blue-print, on how to reconnect national Parliaments to EU decision making. We are sure that this debate will be as vigorous here in Westminster as anywhere else. Indeed, the European Union Select Committee addressed this issue with the Minister for Europe only yesterday.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that some Members of this House and of the other place will be going to the next meeting of the Conference of European Scrutiny Committees--COSAC--next Sunday and will no doubt be asked what the Prime Minister meant by that? If we do not know what the Prime Minister meant by that, we may not be able to give very intelligent answers to our colleagues. Is she further aware that there are Members in both Houses with some experience of managing "double hatting" of European assemblies, both positive experience and negative experience, and that it might be sensible to call on them to give their advice? Does the Minister agree that if this proposal is intended to strengthen the role of national Parliaments at the European level, it is extremely important to carry members of national Parliaments, including this one, with the Government, including, in particular, senior members of parties not currently in government?
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