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Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explication of these two somewhat technical orders, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, described them. I remark that the Minister, long before he came to his present office, had a great interest in matters of the environment. Since he has taken departmental responsibility in Northern Ireland he has exercised his interest in a way that has shown his commitment to and interest in these matters. We therefore welcome the orders. It is good to see environmental concerns being the basis for legislation. I do not believe I see much that would be unnecessarily hampering to industry, properly carried through.
There are two matters to which I wish to draw the Minister's attention. First, I am glad to see the Industrial Pollution Control (Northern Ireland) Order coming forward. I hope that it will help us in dealing with a number of matters not just of large industrial concerns but smaller matters, particularly the local businessman who is doing a bit of paint spraying in the street and thoroughly polluting the atmosphere of his neighbours. Those are the sort of simple and small matters which are nevertheless extraordinarily difficult to deal with.
I hope that the regulations will be so laid out that such minor but profoundly irritating matters will not only be dealt with, but will also be policed properly. Often such activities take place outside the normal nine to five working hours of those officers who set out to patrol and police them. That is a cause of considerable frustration for those who suffer from them and for those local elected representatives who try to take the matters
I hesitate, in following the noble Lord, Lord Cope, to raise the question of definition of language. But there is one matter of definition to which I can perhaps draw the Minister's attention. It is contained in Article 29 of the Industrial Pollution Control (Northern Ireland) Order, where reference is made to a "trade secret". It is clear that when it comes to matters of national security the Secretary of State should decide what is a matter of national security. But it is not clear to me who decides what is or is not a "trade secret". I am sure that there are some in Northern Ireland who would make the terminology "trade secret" apply to all sorts of matters which the normal, reasonable individual would not think appropriate. Perhaps we can have guidance on who will make such a decision.
I welcome the encouragement in the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order in regard to recycling and a number of other matters to which reference was made. Perhaps I can take up the question of fees and licences raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I am not clear whether the fees will be simply to cover administration or whether they will refer to the principle, now widely and properly accepted, that the polluter should pay--not a tax, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, but something that nevertheless covers the cost of making good any damage that is done by the waste matters to which the order refers.
Apart from those minor requests for information, clarification and definition, we warmly welcome the two orders and the considerable protection that they will afford the environment and the people of Northern Ireland.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, in regard to the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order, I am sure that the Government were correct in rejecting suggestions for an independent environmental agency for Northern Ireland. I appreciate the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that co-operation is needed so that a large company straddling council boundaries is not put in the position of having to deal with three of four separate authorities at the same time. Even if such a body was given co-ordinating powers, it would simply create yet another layer of authority and would not be right. We must bear in mind what has been said in regard to the difficulties which may arise when various people, given authority for the first time, in their zeal create problems for an undertaking or a new company investing in Northern Ireland when there is urgency about their becoming established without too much red tape.
I suppose it makes sense to allocate to councils some influence in regard to dealing with fly tipping. It would be manifestly unfair to burden councils with full responsibility, given that the practice of fly tipping has vastly increased since the Treasury imposition of the landfill tax. In common justice, the main costs of enforcement should be borne by the department, which
In response to consultations the department agreed to reimburse some of the costs of the order and sums of money in that regard have already been set aside, as indicated in the order and explanatory papers. I hope that those moneys, earmarked and set aside by courtesy of the Treasury, will not be eliminated by any subsequent Budget.
Not unexpectedly, costs and charging are the main issues in the Industrial Pollution Control (Northern Ireland) Order. Concern in that regard has also been shown by noble Lords who have contributed thus far. I accept that the principle of "polluter pays" is reasonable. But while the polluter may pay, will such reimbursement be complete and total, particularly in relation to the district councils? The council will have incurred costs, particularly in the southern grouping of councils where problems may arise due to the land frontier being involved. Also, will there be prompt reimbursement? Delays are not uncommon, particularly in regard to legal costs and charges.
Perhaps I may express support for the guidance given for the avoidance of double charges, double penalty or double taxation in the case of two processes being carried out on the same site or in the same location. I also welcome the assurance that the department will issue comprehensive guidance which will be updated frequently. That is extremely important in view of the rapid changes in technology which have the effect of making regulations obsolete. Perhaps that request could be embodied within the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for an English translation of the regulations.
I warmly welcome the Government's sympathetic response to requests that various appeals should lie to an independent body rather than to the department. I am sure it is right that the department accepts the principle that the appeal system should be seen to be absolutely independent. I am reassured by the fact that such acceptance of principle has been embodied in the order.
Finally, your Lordships may have noticed that the orders confer additional powers on the 26 councils in Northern Ireland. They, along with the Parliament of the United Kingdom, are the governing mechanisms and bodies of the United Kingdom. It is no coincidence that the same applies to England, Scotland and Wales. We are therefore on all fours in that regard. Therefore, if the present Stormont high wire act fails, we would simply have to use constructively and perhaps to an even greater extent those two institutions which are tried and tested.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank all those who contributed to the debate. In general I thank them for their supportive comments. I appreciate that these orders concern technical matters. I feel as though I have been subjected to a Select Committee type inquisition rather than a debate. However, without taking up too much of the House's time, I shall do my best to answer specific points.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, concluded with a criticism of the drafting of the orders. In making those criticisms he echoed comments that I made in the other place in relation to the drafting standards of his own government. We have had 18 years of this sort of drafting and if parliamentary draftsmen are indulging in bad habits it is because his government allowed them to adopt those bad habits and did not challenge them. Therefore I say that if he had put the matter in order, we would now be doing quite well.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I entirely agree with him. The reason I specifically exonerated the Minister from responsibility for the drafting was because I struggled, as a Minister, on a number of occasions with drafting that I considered unsatisfactory, and almost invariably lost. The defence mechanisms of the draftsmen for their specific formulations are extremely well worked out and difficult to challenge. I therefore appreciate the difficulty from the Minister's point of view. Nevertheless I believe now, as I believed in government, that the rules set out in an excellent report many years ago by my noble friend Lord Renton are valuable and would be best put into practice.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord says. I know he exempted me from the criticism when he started making his comments. I am sensitive to the need for government to produce things in comprehensible English. I find there is a difficulty when legislation refers to previous legislation, which is a feature of so many Acts of Parliament and Northern Ireland orders. It is quite difficult to unscramble that problem and find a way of not having to make cross-references. However, as a general proposition, I very much agree with what the noble Lord said. I shall do my best. But he has asked me to commit the Government to improving the drafting of English. I am sure that the Government want to do that, but it is a difficult task.
I turn to the specific points raised in relation to the orders. The noble Lord said that there should be a level playing field between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The republic has an Environmental Protection Act which mirrors the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in Britain. That Act represents the principal body of controls on which these orders are based. We will not be prejudicing the performance of Northern Ireland industry. Indeed, I would hope that, by improving the environment, we may well be helping Northern Ireland industry. But I certainly would not want Northern Ireland industry to be unfairly impeded in its task of being as competitive as possible.
I was asked about the timing of implementation. Once the draft order comes into operation, new industrial processes will automatically be subject to its provisions. However, in the case of existing processes, it is proposed to have a five-year phasing-in period, during which time different sectors of industry will be called in for authorisation in accordance with regulations which will be made under the draft order. We want to be sensitive to the difficulties that industries may face and
I was asked whether the draft order will be applied by all district councils responsible for its application; in other words, whether we will take action to ensure evenness of application. We place considerable emphasis on the role which will be played by district councils in controlling air pollution in their areas. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and other noble Lords made this point. My department will have general oversight of district council functions and will seek to ensure that they enforce the provisions of the draft order on a consistent basis to avoid variations in standards between one district council and another. It would clearly be unfair to enterprises and businesses that operated in more than one district council area to have to conform to different standards. We shall seek to achieve as much as possible uniform standards from one district council to another in order to make that fair to businesses.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked how one would define which process falls into which category. The draft order seeks to introduce new controls in a way which will take account of local circumstances and impose the minimum additional burden on industry. For this reason the chief inspector will assume responsibility for processes subject to the new integrated pollution control arrangements and also for processes which are currently subject to air pollution control by him. District councils will assume responsibility for other processes subject to air pollution controls. The prescribed processes and substance regulations to be made under the draft order will clearly designate processes to each of the categories. We shall make that clear in the regulations in such a way that I hope there will be no misunderstanding or confusion about how we wish the arrangements to work.
I was also asked whether instances of pollution control will be dealt with quickly. The system of control proposed would require prior authorisation of processes. This will allow environmental protection measures to be considered at an early stage and to be, as it were, designed into the process. Any business setting up would be able to plan its process in the light of the legislative requirements. I hope that will be helpful to businesses.
The noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Alderdice, asked about fees and charging methods. In line with the well-established "polluter pays" principle, to which reference has already been made, fees and charges will be set at a level which will enable enforcing authorities to recover the full costs in administering the new controls. The detail of the charging schemes will be the subject of wide-ranging consultation with interested parties so that there will be proper understanding of how these fees will work.
I was asked about the definition of "waste". That replicates the legislation in Britain and is designed to ensure that in all respects it meets European requirements. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, made some
I was asked about overzealous application of the controls. Operators can appeal against any condition of an authorisation if it is believed that the enforcing authority has placed an unreasonable requirement on the operator.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, asked about disclosure of information that would be seen to be commercially confidential. The question of whether information for disclosure under Article 29 relates to a trade secret or is commercially confidential will have to be determined by the enforcing authorities. The department will publish guidance to assist enforcing authorities in making such determinations and enforcing authorities will be encouraged to give careful consideration before disclosing information under this article.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, also asked about regulations dealing with small operators or operations. The regulations are comprehensive in specifying the processes to be covered by the order. Enforcing authorities will be proactive in enforcement of the legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked about waste management licences. The draft order is based on the polluter pays principle. Therefore, the charges imposed for waste management licences will reflect all the necessary costs associated with the department's enforcement activities, including auditing operations and enforcement of licensing conditions. I take the point made by the noble Lord about the need to reflect the true costs of different waste management options, but I feel that the answer lies in the development of more sustainable waste management practices. The landfill tax has been very effective in doing just that, by reflecting the true cost of disposal to landfill, thereby persuading consumers and industry actively to minimise waste production and promote more sustainable practices. Consumers and industry are still taking time to develop strategies to reduce the amount of waste going into landfill. So I would expect the landfill tax to go on having an impact on the people who produce material for landfill.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked about fly tipping. District councils are best placed to identify and deal with fly tipping in their areas. It is right that the costs involved in such activities should be borne by ratepayers. I appreciate that the noble Lord will say, "People who fly tip may move from one district council area to another". There is a problem there, but I think that at a local level district councils are probably in the best position to deal with the problem. I concede that it is a problem. There are cowboys who fly-tip by night
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, also asked for fast-track applications for authorisations involving new investment. I think that I have already dealt with that. The draft order required applications for authorisation to be determined within a maximum of six months of being submitted to an enforcing authority. However, in the case of applications involving new investment, enforcing authorities will be encouraged to accord them a higher priority than other applications and to determine them in a shorter time.
We do not want to place bureaucratic controls on businesses. We want businesses to be able to operate well. We want to ensure that the system and the department are sensitive to the need for quick decisions; otherwise businesses will be delayed and that would not be right.
I was also asked about charging schemes. The cost to district councils of administering the new controls will be met by the charging schemes provided by the draft order. The charging schemes will be designed to facilitate full cost recovery. It is expected that charges will be set at a level that will enable district councils to recover the costs involved in authorisation, inspection and enforcement activities.
The orders are technical and I apologise to the House for the technical nature of my answers. I believe that these two orders will further protect the environment of Northern Ireland. I believe that the methods by which we are seeking to achieve that are sensitive to the needs of business and will not be excessively bureaucratic. I hope that in future we can achieve that by better language than has been used in the past.