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Lord Bowness: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I do not want to delay the House. Now that she has left her long explanation as to why we cannot have two questions, perhaps I may follow with a question. If the Government put a proposition to the people--a mayor and an assembly--and they were to put it in two questions, and if one of the propositions was to be rejected, as it is a consultation and as we are seeking the consent of the people, the Government would have to think again about what they proposed to do with regard to the element that has been rejected. What advice would the noble Baroness give to a voter who is convinced by her arguments for a mayor and is convinced by the arguments in the White Paper about the arrangement for a mayor, but, having seen--I use her words--the wealth of detail, is not convinced by the case for a new directly elected assembly? Should that voter vote "yes" or "no" to one question?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, that voter has to make up his own mind as to whether he wants one enough to accept the other with it or whether he is prepared to give up one because it comes with the other. That is the horse and carriage of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. We believe the two are part of a package. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, is confusing the consultation which is going on following the Green Paper and which will be formulated into the White Paper with the consent that we are seeking for the Government's proposals.
There is much work yet to be done. There will be a White Paper in March, followed by a referendum in May. If, as I confidently expect, the people of London answer our question with a resounding "yes", we can look forward to debate on the substantive Bill in little more than a year's time.
It has been a fascinating debate. We did not have great certainty about candidates from your Lordships' House. As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, he did not say "yes" and he did not say "no", but he checked with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, just in case. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, ruled himself out. That was rather sad, particularly given what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, said about the elderly voters in London having a constituency and needing a voice. Perhaps he might care to reconsider his decision.
The people of London have waited 11 years for the return of a form of government to the capital. During those 11 years there has been a gap. Something has been seriously missing. Perhaps the worst gap has been the missed opportunities for London. We believe that with this Bill we will help put that situation right and that the people of London will not have to wait much longer for the leadership they deserve.
The regulations make technical amendments to the non-domestic rating transition scheme that phases in the effects of the 1995 revaluation of non-domestic properties. The amendments are entirely consequential to the introduction, on 1st April next year, of the rate relief scheme for village shops and post offices.
Under the village shop rate relief scheme qualifying village general stores and/or post offices will be entitled to a 50 per cent. reduction in their rates bill. To qualify, they must be located in a rural settlement with a population of fewer than 3,000; be the sole general store or post office; and have a rateable value of less than £5,000. Local authorities will also have discretionary powers to reduce or waive the remainder of the rates bill. Without these regulations, village shops which are having their bills phased in under the transitional arrangements would not benefit from village shop rate relief. That would be manifestly unfair and I therefore commend the regulations to the House. I beg to move.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by giving a potential hostage to fortune by saying that this order is essentially straightforward and non- controversial. Its aim is to help a group of vulnerable young people who are at particular risk of homelessness. It has been fully and properly examined in another place and there is a degree of consensus on it. I beg to move.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I welcome this order and the benefit that it will bring to young people who have the misfortune to be in care or to be looked after by a local authority. It is certainly in line with the kinds of amendments that I failed to move successfully in the Children (Scotland) Act. In that case I was trying to bring forward the local authority's priorities to people who are up to 21 and 25 years of age. I set that in the context that the average age of leaving home is still 22 years of age. So this new measure, which I certainly welcome, is not quite as generous as I would have liked it to be.
I am pleased that it covers all young people who have recently been in care or looked after and particularly that it includes those under Section 44(1)(a)--that is certainly how I remember the regulation--as regards domestic supervision requirements. These are vulnerable people and their exclusion to date has been unhelpful.
I believe that the children's panel's habit of ending supervision requirements before the school leaving age will probably change because it will see the benefit of extending the supervision requirement until just after the person has left school. It would be expedient if that happened. Similarly, I believe that it would be useful to extend this provision to young offenders, but I accept that that is not in the order at the moment.
"Expedient" is definitely the right word. By that I mean it is correct, but not necessarily just. Active offenders who are both homeless and unemployed cause more misery to other people than their non-offender counterparts. That is regrettable but true. It is clearly a matter for another day and the next order. Ultimately, I hope that all young people will end up in the priority category, but again that is for another day. I continue to
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for his support for this order. He did indeed refer to the fact that offenders dealt with by the courts are in a separate category and dealt with separately. We recognise that. This order makes a valuable contribution. It is a matter of balance as regards how one extends the degree of priority. All the statistics indicate quite strongly that those being looked after by local authorities are particularly at risk of homelessness. It is singularly appropriate that we recognise that and extend the support of the priority category to those individuals. I commend the order to the House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe that these matters may take a little longer than the previous order. As is well known, the Government gave a manifesto pledge to put the environment at the heart of their policies. Fundamental to this--
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I intend to move the two orders en bloc if that is acceptable to your Lordships' House. As I said, the Government made a manifesto commitment to put the environment at the heart of their policy-making. Fundamental to this pledge must be a duty to ensure that the air in the United Kingdom is fit to breathe. Fortunately we have moved on from the days in the 1950s which I can remember, when smog episodes caused an estimated 4,000 deaths of sick and mainly elderly people in just a few days. So we have made considerable progress already from that dreadful position. Nevertheless, some recent statistical analyses suggest that, even at the substantially lower levels of airborne pollution that we experience today, there are associations with premature mortality, chronic illness and discomfort for sensitive groups.
That is not to say that air quality is solely an issue of human health; we know that air pollution can degrade both the natural and the man-made environment. Many of our treasured buildings are under threat because of
The Air Quality Regulations 1997 are needed to allow the introduction of the system of local air quality management, which was established under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995. Part IV of the Act has two principal components. First, there is the requirement for a national air quality strategy, containing air quality standards and objectives and measures to meet those objectives. That was published in March this year. The strategy contains air quality objectives for eight pollutants. These objectives determine the Government's air quality policy. Furthermore, the air pollution enforcement agencies must have regard to the strategy and its objectives in the performance of their functions.
The second component of the Act is the system of local air quality management. Under Sections 82 to 86 of the Act each local authority has a duty to review air quality in its area and to assess the air quality against the air quality standards and objectives laid in regulation. Where it judges that those standards or objectives are not being achieved or are not likely to be achieved, it must designate the area as an air quality management area; and, secondly, it must, in consultation with all relevant and interested bodies, draw up an action plan in pursuit of those standards or objectives.
These regulations need, therefore, to be in place before local authorities can perform their review and assessment of air quality in their area. Once in place, we will be able to commence Sections 82 to 86 of the Act, and the last vital element of the framework for air quality policy will be in place.
This new system of review and assessment will give us a nationwide survey covering every local authority in Britain. Not only will we have a comprehensive picture of air quality, but we will be able to target action to clean up the pollution hotspots in our towns and cities.
The Government are aware that local air quality management will mean new responsibilities for local authorities. When we commence the duties under the Act, detailed guidance will be issued to help local authorities undertake their new tasks.
We are also providing additional resources to help local authorities to purchase the capital equipment for monitoring and analysis that they need. This in addition to the provision which has already been made for current expenditure in the local government settlements.
But we do not expect local authorities to take unreasonable or disproportionate action in pursuit of the objectives. This is why, for example, these regulations do not include the National Air Quality Strategy's objective for ozone. Ozone is a long-range, transboundary pollutant whose source can be 1,000 or more kilometres away. No single local authority--nor even a group of authorities--can be expected to control ozone levels in an area. The UK is therefore involved in the development of strategies for ozone within the European Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
That brings me to the second set of draft regulations we have before us today, the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) Regulations. These have been drafted to enable local authorities in Great Britain to undertake roadside testing of vehicles and, where vehicles fail to meet prescribed emission standards, to impose a fixed penalty on the driver of the vehicle.
As noble Lords will no doubt be aware, we already have well established legislation which is designed to ensure that vehicles using our roads are not only safe, but also do not cause unnecessary and avoidable pollution. It is, for example, already an offence to use a motor vehicle if its exhaust emissions do not meet certain specified standards.
Many noble Lords will be familiar with the fact that exhaust emissions are now comprehensively tested as part of the annual MoT test. Vehicles which fail this part of the test are deemed to have failed their MoT. In addition, the Vehicle Inspectorate has powers to undertake roadside testing of emissions and, where a failure to comply is detected, that vehicle cannot be used further. Moreover, the driver is liable to prosecution.
However, in spite of the very stringent standards which have been introduced, there are still many vehicles using our roads which do not meet the current emission standards. For example, in 1996-97, almost 8 per cent. of petrol-engined vehicles failed the MoT test due to excessive emissions. However, the problem is not confined only to cars and light vehicles since nearly 3 per cent. of heavy goods vehicles and buses failed the annual roadworthiness test because of excessive smoke emissions. Similar levels of non-compliance can be found with those vehicles which have been subjected to roadside testing by the Vehicle Inspectorate.
Clearly, we have a serious problem and the Government are committed to taking the steps which are necessary to reduce avoidable emissions. This means that we must continue in our efforts to make motorists and operators of vehicles aware of the problems and nuisance caused by unnecessary emissions and to ensure that engines are maintained in a suitable condition. However, this may not on its own be sufficient and we need to ensure there are sanctions which can be applied against irresponsible motorists who fail to maintain and keep their vehicles in a proper condition.
Under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) Regulations 1997--several brackets there!--which we are considering today, local authorities will, in collaboration with the police, be able to stop vehicles and test at the kerbside whether the exhaust emissions comply with the prescribed standards. Where a vehicle fails to comply with the standards, the driver will be served with a £60 fixed penalty notice, rising to £90 if the recipient fails to pay the notice within 28 days. Drivers would, of course, be able to challenge the notice and take the matter to court in the same way as existing arrangements for fixed penalty notices issued by the police for a road traffic offence. In addition, there are similar provisions to discourage drivers running their engines while parked at the roadside.
During our consultation on the draft regulations, some concerns were expressed that since local authorities would be able to retain the income generated by the fixed penalties, this would lead to "over-enthusiastic" application by the authorities since they would see it as an opportunity to raise revenue. However, it is not the Government's intention that local authorities should be seen as profiting out of these regulations. We will issue guidance on the application of the regulations and this is an issue which will be properly addressed. The authorities will, for example, be obliged to apply a degree of discretion when deciding when to issue a fixed penalty notice and to ensure that money raised through the system will be reinvested back into enforcement. In effect, the regulations are designed to be self-financing, not as a money-making scheme for local authorities.
Nevertheless, we recognise this is an innovative way of regulating vehicle emissions and, because of this, it is our intention to limit initially the powers to just seven local authorities. I am sure that some noble Lords may be thinking, "Why is it that the Government are so confident about their proposals yet they are not being applied across the country straightaway?". I hope I can put noble Lords' minds at rest on this point.
It is our desired intention that in due course these powers will be available to all local authorities but, first, we wish to monitor closely the effectiveness of the scheme. Limiting the powers to just seven local authorities will make it easier to undertake this assessment. We recognise how difficult it is to forecast precisely what benefits the new scheme will bring but, above all, we believe that, given the scope of the problem, local authorities could have a significant role to play in detecting polluting vehicles and encouraging the drivers of these vehicles to comply with the law.
In conclusion, I remind the House of the Government's commitment to achieving the highest possible safeguards to protect local air quality and, more generally, the global environment. This requires a policy where air quality is assessed and action taken to meet clear, precise objectives. These objectives are set out in the draft Air Quality Regulations. The vehicle emissions regulations are one of the tools by which local authorities can meet these objectives. I commend both sets of regulations to the House.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 11th and 24th November be approved [13th and 14th Reports from the Joint Committee].-- (Lord Sewel.)
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