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Grand Committee

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 10 June 2009

Grand Committee

Wednesday, 10 June 2009.

Arrangement of Business


Before the Minister moves that the first statutory instrument be considered, I remind the Committee that in the case of each statutory instrument the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the statutory instrument in question. I should make it clear that the Motion to approve the statutory instrument will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way. I also remind the Committee that if there is a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes from the sound of the Division Bell.

National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Agriculture and Rural Development) Order 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Agriculture and Rural Development) Order 2009.

I begin by welcoming the broad agreement that exists towards conferring on the National Assembly for Wales the powers set out in this draft order. The order was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a committee of the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay and, here at Westminster, by the Welsh Affairs Committee and by this House's Constitution Committee. The Government are grateful to these committees for the scrutiny they have undertaken.

I am pleased to say that the Welsh Affairs Committee concluded that,

“the Welsh Assembly Government has identified a clear need for the proposed Order”,

and that the competence it confers,

“represents a useful addition to the Assembly's powers”.

The committee made no recommendations to change the proposed order as a result of its scrutiny. The Constitution Committee similarly confirmed that the order did not raise any matters of constitutional principle.

This draft order, which forms part of the legislative programme set out on 15 July 2008 by the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government, the right honourable Rhodri Morgan, has already been approved by the National Assembly for Wales, in plenary on 31 March, and by the other place on 18 May this year.

The order would enable the National Assembly to legislate in relation to the promotion and development of the red meat industry in Wales. It inserts a single matter into field 1 of Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, which covers agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development. Specifically, this order would enable the Welsh Assembly Government to fulfil their policy aim of conferring on Welsh Ministers the functions currently carried out by the Welsh Levy Board, including raising a levy on the Welsh red meat sector. This is not possible under existing powers.

The Committee may find it helpful if I briefly summarise the background to this order. The Radcliffe review of 2005 considered the then five Great Britain and United Kingdom statutory agricultural and horticultural levy bodies, covering potatoes, horticulture, cereals, meat and livestock and milk.

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, the NERC Act, led to the abolition of these boards and the establishment of a new Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board—the AHDB. The 2006 Act also allowed the Welsh Ministers to create separate Wales-only bodies for the development, promotion and sustainability of their respective industries.

The Welsh Assembly Government consulted the agricultural industry in Wales about how best to manage future promotion and development in each of these sectors. The industry wanted separate arrangements for the development and promotion of the red meat sector in Wales because of its importance to rural community infrastructure and the wider rural economy. As a result, in February 2008, Welsh Ministers established the Welsh Levy Board to set and raise the red meat levy in Wales. The AHDB administers the other levy-raising sectors in Wales as part of GB-wide arrangements in respect of the horticulture, milk and potato sectors, and UK-wide arrangements for the cereals and oilseeds sector.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s general policy is to ensure that, wherever possible, functions are exercised in-house rather than by arm’s-length bodies. Welsh Ministers are able to create separate Wales-only bodies for the development, promotion and sustainability of the respective agricultural industries as a result of the NERC Act. Crucially, however, the Act does not allow the National Assembly to confer those functions directly on Welsh Ministers.

The Welsh Levy Board currently sets and raises a levy for the Welsh red meat industry to fund the promotion and marketing of the industry. In practice, the board has delegated many of its functions to Hybu Cig Cymru, a company limited by guarantee and wholly owned by Welsh Ministers. As a result of the competence conferred by this order, the Welsh Assembly Government would be able to bring forward legislation in the National Assembly to abolish the Welsh Levy Board and confer its functions on Welsh Ministers, including raising a levy on the Welsh red meat sector. This would make Hybu Cig Cymru directly accountable to Welsh Ministers, streamlining the levy-raising process and making it more efficient and accountable.

The scope of the powers that this order would confer on the National Assembly reflects those functions already given to Welsh Ministers and the Secretary of State by the NERC Act. This ensures that levy-raising powers are set within a broader context of developing the red meat industry in Wales. The levy is simply a means of developing the industry through financial support. It is what gets delivered as a consequence of the levy that really matters. The UK Government’s commitment to devolving legislative competence to the National Assembly for Wales is once again demonstrated as a result of this order. That is a slightly otiose sentiment since I know that nearly every noble Lord in the Chamber participated in the Wales legislation and is more familiar than anyone else could be about the detail of these issues. Just in case there is a noble Lord who did not participate in our deliberations, I should reiterate these points. It shows that the system of conferring legislative competence on the National Assembly by means of Orders in Council, or legislative competence orders as they are now better known, is working well.

I am sure that noble Lords will recognise the importance of the red meat industry to Wales. Red meat contributes some 39 per cent to Wales’s agricultural output, and Wales accounts for over 25 per cent of the total levy on sheep collected in Great Britain. A thriving red meat industry is vital to Wales and important to the UK as a whole. It is surely right therefore that this order will enable key decisions about Wales’s red meat industry to be taken by the National Assembly and, if it so decides, by Welsh Ministers. It will enable the best possible framework to be put in place to ensure effective leadership for the industry during these challenging economic times. Accordingly, I commend the order to the Committee.

I thank the Minister for presenting this order so clearly. I do not have a great deal to say about it because, as he explained, it has been extremely well perused by the Welsh Affairs Committee and in your Lordships’ House by our Constitution Committee. I am satisfied that they have probably got it about right and I do not wish to alter it. However, I take issue with a couple of more general points.

This is another example of the Welsh Assembly Ministers centralising power, which seems to be a fairly regular habit of those Ministers. I am not sure that we agree with this continued centralisation; in fact, I tend to be rather critical of it so far as the Welsh Assembly is concerned. I do not think that we have yet seen any noticeable benefit from it.

The Government say that the legislative competence order system is working well. We do not think that it is. We certainly would not give it more than 75 out of 100. This order was missed out, otherwise it would have been included in previous legislation. The Assembly needs to get on its toes a bit more and not miss things out, and to make sure, looking ahead, that it is getting what it wants in good time. We can then deal with legislation in a more orderly fashion.

Having said that, we support—or we certainly do not gainsay—the order.

We also warmly welcome the legislative competence order. I agree that the system of LCOs is taking a long time to be processed. More attention needs to be paid to dispatch the orders much more quickly. Some of us who were involved in the passage of the Government of Wales Act 2006 identified this as a potential problem and were not satisfied with the process at the time, but the Act is as it is. This is an important LCO in as much as the body, Hybu Cig Cymru, replaces the Meat and Livestock Commission functions in Wales. A long time ago, I spent some time driving a Land Rover and weight trays around to weigh lots of animals before the MLC got down to that task.

The red meat industry in Wales is very important, as has been said. Red meat is the backbone of Welsh farming in the uplands, particularly on grade 4 and 5 land, where there are no alternative enterprises. It is interesting to note that production is very sustainable: the inputs are low, grass is the main product required, and that fulfils the sustainability objectives of the Welsh Assembly—something aimed at in the Government of Wales Act 1998. There are more sheep in Wales than in the whole of Scotland, for example, and it is very important that they are marketed and promoted well. Similarly, beef, single-suckled beef in particular, is a very high-quality product produced mainly in the hills of Wales.

The order includes marketing and processing functions, which we in Wales regard as extremely important in increasing the value of the product and improving incomes in the uplands, in particular. Hybu Cig Cymru, which has been in existence for some time now—Meat Promotion Wales is the translation—is doing very well. It has very good officers and is developing a very effective export trade already. The branding of red meat products from Wales is extremely important, and this LCO will push that along substantially and be of great benefit to the farming community. This is an important LCO to all those involved. In some parts of Wales, 15 per cent of the population is still involved in agriculture and down-the-line processing and marketing of the product. Like one or two other noble Lords here, I was involved in the passage of the NERC Act, which has been mentioned. It is good to see that the powers in the Act have been devolved to Welsh Assembly Government Ministers, who have been wise enough further to devolve that to the body I just mentioned, Hybu Cig Cymru, to deliver the marketing and promotion of the product.

With the levy board, the levy gives far greater accountability within Wales. As a result of the Radcliffe review, the time was ripe to rephrase the levy boards in the United Kingdom, and this has given a lot of highly desirable powers to Wales. We believe that this LCO is a good thing and that it will improve marketing; indeed, it is already doing so. It will continue to give a great fillip to the red meat industry in Wales.

I, too, welcome and support this proposal unreservedly, and agree with everything that has been said, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the red meat industry in the context of Welsh agriculture and of the Welsh economy as a whole. Some 33,000 people derive a livelihood in one way or another from that industry. I understand that in the past financial year it contributed £108 million by way of exports and £316 million to the agriculture industry.

My second point is that, although the proposal is a complicated one and constitutionally significant, essentially it endorses a de facto situation that already exists, by way of Hybu Cig Cymru—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, has explained for those who do not speak the language of heaven, is a body that promotes Welsh meat. That body has existed for some years and has won considerable support and acclaim.

I understand, and this was not challenged when the matter was debated in the other place, that the measure has in fact been drafted by Hybu Cig Cymru itself. It is a body corporate that is based on guarantee, wholly owned by Welsh Ministers but enjoying a substantial measure of independence. I seek an assurance from the Minister that the independence of that body will not be in any way affected, even though there is a substantial legalistic change regarding its basis. It is on that basis, I understand, that there has been total support for it in Wales from Hybu Cig Cymru itself and from both farming unions in Wales, which do not always necessarily see eye to eye on everything that occurs in the field of agriculture.

There are two matters that I wish to raise, and I hope that I do not seem churlish in so doing. First, there has already been reference to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. There was a glorious opportunity there to do exactly what we are doing today, but three years have been lost. The reason for that was some lack of liaison between the Welsh Assembly and Parliament. Who is to blame? Who pleads guilty? Who comes to the stool of penitence in relation to that? I know not; it probably does not matter. But three years of what would have been an opportunity to give an injection of support and inspiration to this body have been lost.

My other point has already been alluded to by the Minister, who quoted the Welsh Affairs Committee statement:

“the Welsh Assembly Government has identified a clear need for the proposed Order”.

I am not sure what that means. If the committee means, “We totally agree that this goes in the right direction and in the rut of a proper principle and the inevitable development,” I wholeheartedly agree. If, on the other hand, it means, “We have set up our little screening device, and one of those screens is that the Welsh Assembly, before it brings any order before Parliament, has to satisfy us and other bodies that there is a need for it”, it has no earthly right to do that. Part 3 of the Act does not set up such a screen, and if the committee proposed to set one up, it would, to use a phrase that is used in courts from time to time, be going on a legislative frolic of its own. I hope that some assurance can be given about exactly what the Welsh Affairs Committee meant by that. If it is the former, fine; if the latter, no.

I have very little to say about the substance of this order; I am mainly concerned about the process and procedure involved in producing it and bringing it before Parliament. I hope that the order and the Assembly measures that may stem from it are beneficial to the Welsh farming community and its marketing of red meat. I shall certainly hope to see more Welsh meat on the shelves of the supermarkets that I patronise from time to time.

I was glad to see from the Minister’s opening speech on this order in the other place, and to hear the Minister say here, that the draft had been approved by the National Assembly in plenary session on 31 March, and that it had also been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a committee of the National Assembly. Your Lordships may think it a pity that the record of that scrutiny is not readily available to us here. Such records should be among the papers tabled before proceedings such as ours.

I say that I am glad because, during the Whitsun Recess, I read the interesting report of an inquiry by the Subordinate Legislation Committee of the National Assembly, chaired by Janet Ryder AM. The committee pointed out that it was prohibited by standing order from considering,

“any statutory instrument or draft statutory instrument that is required to be laid before Parliament”.

I presume that the pre-legislative scrutiny in this case was carried out by the relevant subject committee of the Assembly—probably the Agriculture Committee. I am told that the same standing order prevents the Legislation Committee considering,

“any draft legislative competence order”,

a number of which have come and will be coming before your Lordships. This prohibition apparently runs counter to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, and the committee has asked that the offending standing order be changed. Of course we understand that that is entirely a matter for the Assembly to consider further.

We attach great importance here to the scrutiny of legislation at all levels. Inappropriate as it may seem for me to comment on Assembly affairs, I nevertheless commend the Subordinate Legislation Committee of the Assembly for its worthy ambition to extend its remit to orders such as the one before us, and to legislative competence orders in general. That committee’s comments are helpful to all of us in Parliament who consider these orders. Whether we agree with those comments or not, the committee at least has a different perspective from our own, and its comments therefore have added value. Our own Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments similarly makes a unique contribution.

At the risk of digressing a little from the order, I should say that the report of the Assembly sub-committee to which I referred also contains some telling and revealing criticism of the lack of prior consideration, basically at Assembly level and beyond, of specifically Welsh clauses in general Bills, such as the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which we dealt with recently in this House. The sub-committee says that there was insufficient pre-legislative scrutiny and that the draft Bill contained insufficient information on how powers conferred should be implemented. That last query arises with every piece of legislative power devolved by this Parliament, including the powers devolved in this order. We never know quite what will be done with the powers and we feel slightly uncomfortable about our ignorance of the ultimate aims of those to whom we devolve power. I am glad to see that the sub-committee is seeking to remedy that defect by sending us its observations and suggestions on such Bills as the apprenticeship Bill which will shortly reach its Committee stage here.

I have one final concern about the piecemeal devolution process in which we are engaged today under Part 3 of the 2006 Act. We will have what can only be described as a legislative maze before we are much older, a very dated pattern of legislation with bits of parliamentary Acts interspersed with complementary Welsh Assembly measures and their secondary derivatives. Many plaintive citizens will be lost about which law applies in their particular case. I am sure that the lawyers will have a field day, which is probably beginning now.

I do not rise to my feet on that point, but I want to suggest to the noble Lord that if Part 4 of the 2006 Act is invoked—in other words, if by referendum the Welsh people decide to move under Part 4 to a parliament—all these problems will be answered.

That is a hypothetical situation, as I am sure the noble Lord is well aware. This afternoon we must not embark on the possibilities of Part 4 of the 2006 Act and the consequent referendum, as this order clearly relates to Part 3. For the time being, I am sure that it would be the Committee’s wish that we should confine ourselves to Part 3.

I declare an interest as a Scottish farmer, in so far as it may be considered relevant to this issue. We are talking about the red meat industry. In the Scottish context we have recently seen a contraction of about 20 per cent in both beef and cattle in the red meat industry, and I wonder whether a similar situation is not happening in Wales. That is a useful point. This measure puts more power into the hands of the Welsh Assembly Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, pointed out, however, perhaps it is just taking up an initiative that exists already. If there is any similarity between the Welsh and Scottish positions, it will take considerably more than this measure to keep the red meat industry from deteriorating further. I understand that the Welsh Assembly Government are resisting the implementation of a review of the less-favoured areas regulation being promoted by the EU Commission. An overall perspective will have to be taken on the situation, and one wonders whether the order should have said more about the powers for rural development.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate, though I winced a little at the gentle criticism at the beginning from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, which threatened to develop into a whole survey of the Government of Wales Act. Of course I take his criticism in the spirit in which it is delivered. When I was in opposition, a figure of 75 per cent approval of the legislation passed by the other side would never have crossed my mind, as it would have seemed so ridiculously high. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, indicated that he thought the legislation was working slightly better than the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, suggested. I am somewhat reassured though I accept the criticism that we can always do certain things better.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, made the obvious point about the importance of Welsh beef and its significance to Welsh agricultural production. It is a significant part of the industry. I do not have the figures to confirm exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, put forward, but my figures broadly confirm what he said about the number of those earning their livelihood in the industry and the value of the industry. My figures suggest that red meat production contributes 43 per cent to the annual total of Welsh agricultural output, which is a pretty substantial percentage. It was worth £361 million in 2006, and Welsh red meat exports are in excess of £79 million a year. So the Committee has rightly given due scrutiny to an order relating to such an important part of Welsh agriculture.

I have listened carefully to the issues surrounding the constitutional arrangements. Early this morning, as we passed like ships in the night, and in pouring rain, I had the great pleasure of receiving the briefest of inklings from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that he might raise such an issue. He did not need to mention it to me then because I would have foreseen it in any case. I cannot remember a time when we considered orders such as this one without his commenting on the structures involved. Perhaps I may give him a constructive response to his comments. He mentioned the National Assembly reports not being available in the Library of the House. We cannot locate any papers relating to LCOs in the Library at present, but if noble Lords have the slightest difficulty accessing such papers the Wales Office will rush the papers to them. After this constructive debate I owe it to the Committee at least to examine whether we should not take steps to put the papers in the Library. I shall certainly examine that constructive suggestion.

I imagine they are but I do not have a definitive response to that. If the noble Lord will allow me to develop the theme a little, I may have help near to hand to answer that precise question. I did not look them up on the internet because I have extremely helpful officials who make absolutely sure that I am fully informed before I come to these debates. If it does not appear that way, then that is my fault and not theirs. The papers are on the National Assembly website. So the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, knows where to look in the future. However, I shall be more helpful than that if I possibly can. Not everyone in the Committee necessarily has the instant expertise that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has for pursuing issues in these terms.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, also asked why the Assembly subject committee does not consider the LCOs. The National Assembly for Wales established a specific ad hoc committee to scrutinise the red meat LCO that is before us. Subject committees do not consider LCOs, as a special committee is set up for each one. In the same way, the National Assembly establishes a specific ad hoc committee to consider each measure.

I think that that is right. After all, this is the first measure for some time to be brought under the specifications of the legislation. I do not think that it is too demanding on the resources of the National Assembly that it addresses itself specifically to the orders, because they are always about a specific issue, but they need to be put in the context of the development of devolution legislation. I am rather pleased that it takes that degree of care about its consideration. We benefit from that. The National Assembly's legislative competence is clearly set out in Schedule 5. My noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan was in danger of waxing lyrical about certain aspects of Schedule 5 and what we could do in a referendum in future. I am glad that he restrained himself on this occasion beyond a mild indication of his support, as I remember our rather lengthy debates on the matter when we considered the Act.

I do not think that Welsh legislation is, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, contended, piecemeal. It reflects the policy and legislative requirements of the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly. Their priorities dictate the emergence of these orders. We all know the scrutinising powers that the Secretary of State and committees here have, but the initiative is their responsibility and I think that they carry out their obligations in a way that we can only applaud. They are certainly not pressing this House and Parliament generally with excessive demands for increasing powers; they do so judiciously, where it can be advantageous. This is one instance where I think that I have detected from the whole of the Committee that the order is of importance to the people of Wales, because of the economic significance of the industry.

I reassure the Committee about the independence of Hybu Cig Cymru, because it was stressed that that ought not to be compromised given the work that it has done and the repute that it has in Wales for the task it has carried out. Nothing in the order threatens it; quite the opposite, it enshrines that degree of independence so that it can carry on its good work in that area. Had there been any suggestion that that relationship changed, we would have had a rather different consideration of the order. That structure still obtains.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked me about contracting-out powers. I recognise the difference in Scotland from the Wales arrangements. He will probably appreciate that many in Wales cast envious eyes at some aspects of the Scottish position. It is sufficient to say this. I pricked up my ears when it was suggested that Welsh interests were not being considered on the marine Bill. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, who has worked hard through the long hours of the day and night spent on that Bill, will bear testimony that he has been most forceful in making sure that the Welsh coastline and marine surroundings have been taken fully into account. He has been assiduous in that. Having an interest myself in ensuring that Welsh interests should be fully considered within the framework of that Bill, I have not detected too much criticism on that score, but I may have opened up a flank that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will now expose.

I thank the Minister for the work that he did on the marine Bill. I know I should not say too much about it in this debate, but I draw the Minister’s attention to what the noble Duke said about the reduction in livestock in Scotland. There has been a reduction in Wales as well. I cannot put my finger on the statistic but there are at least half a million—I think it is substantially more than that—fewer ewes in Wales than there were five years ago. The point I want to make—with which I am sure the Minister will agree—is that the existence of Hybu Cig Cymru will ensure that the promotion will avert further decline and may even promote expansion in the future.

I accept the point made by the noble Lord. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, is assiduous in his defence of Scottish interests, and when he talks about a contraction of the herds—which is reflected in Wales—it bears testimony to the importance of that aspect. I want to emphasise that the red meat industry in Wales has had a good record in recent years.

We have had a most interesting debate which has ranged a little wider than I had made preparations for. Therefore, if I have been remiss on the constitutional front, I apologise. I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions.

Motion agreed.

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Maritime Labour Convention) Order 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Maritime Labour Convention) Order 2009

I would like to introduce the draft legislation which we are considering this afternoon and, in doing so, explain and emphasise the importance of it. The International Labour Organisation’s, ILO, Maritime Labour Convention 2006 is an excellent example of international co-operation; it is the product of around five years of deliberation at the ILO involving Governments, ship owners’ associations and seafarer unions. I am proud to say that it was the United Kingdom that took the lead in negotiations. All stakeholders have played a role in its development and give it their unequivocal support. It is now being referred to as a super-convention.

Life at sea is a difficult and often dangerous occupation. This convention aims to address current shortfalls in seafarers’ working conditions. It will ultimately lead to safer and more efficient ships, and therefore healthier and cleaner seas.

The draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Maritime Labour Convention) Order 2009, which is before us, would declare that the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 is to be regarded as a Community treaty, as defined in Section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. The principal effect of declaring the convention to be a Community treaty is that the provisions of Section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 will then apply in relation to it. As noble Lords will be well aware, Section 2 contains powers which may be used to implement Community obligations, which include obligations in Community treaties. After the order comes into force, the Secretary of State for Transport intends to use the Section 2 powers in the 1972 Act when making secondary legislation to ensure that the convention is fully implemented into UK law.

At its 94th maritime session held in Geneva in February 2006, the International Labour Conference adopted the Maritime Labour Convention 2006. The new convention consolidates and updates over 60 maritime labour instruments adopted by the ILO since 1920. The object of the convention is to provide a comprehensive set of global maritime labour standards for all seafarers. The convention covers: minimum standards for working on a ship, including minimum age, medical certification, training and recruitment; conditions of employment, covering employment agreements, wages, hours of work, annual leave, repatriation, employer liability, manning and career development; accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering; health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection; and compliance and enforcement, including flag state and port state responsibilities.

Having played such a leading role in the development of the convention we are committed to its ratification as soon as domestic law and practice are fully in line with the convention’s requirements. The Government’s commitment to ratification is shared by our partners in the European Union, as is reflected by the Council decision on 7 June 2007 authorising EU member states to ratify the convention for those parts of it that fall within Community competence, and exhorting member states to ratify by the end of 2010. It is this target date for ratification that the Government are working towards. At present we believe we are on schedule to achieve it, although there is detailed work to be done. I should emphasise at this point that there is neither a surrender of sovereignty nor an extension of European Union competence implied by the legislative path that we have chosen.

The convention will come into force internationally one year after it has been ratified by 30 ILO member states, representing 33 per cent of the world’s tonnage. Currently, five states have ratified—Liberia, Bahamas, Marshall Islands, Panama and Norway—and by virtue of these five states ratifying, the tonnage requirement has already been met. It is expected that a further 25 members will ratify by late 2010, which means that the convention will come into force in late 2011.

I turn now to the steps that the UK is taking to implement the convention in our domestic law. There are a number of areas covered by the convention in which we need to change UK law in significant ways. A total of 14 sets of new or amending regulations have been identified in order to implement the convention into UK law, covering legislation on minimum age, medical certificates, health and safety issues, hours of work, crew accommodation and food and catering. In addition, of course, there are a number of areas where UK law already meets the requirements of the convention and where no change will be necessary.

It is important to remember that the detailed proposals for implementing the convention are not in the draft Order in Council we are debating today. That is why the Explanatory Memorandum identifies no costs arising from this instrument and refers to the fact that there is no impact assessment. Instead, the detailed proposals will be brought forward in secondary legislation in due course. These detailed statutory instruments will be a product of our work with our social partners, with appropriate public consultation. Impact assessments for the individual measures will be published at that stage.

There are already powers under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 which would enable some changes to be made to UK law which would help to bring us in line with the convention, but these powers would not be enough on their own. It is for that reason that it is necessary to have the Order in Council which is before us today.

It is appropriate to specify the Maritime Labour Convention in the draft Order in Council before us because it is ancillary to the existing Community treaties. It is ancillary because it contains significant matters that lie within the competence of the European Community, both exclusive and shared. There is shared competence, for example, in relation to minimum age, working time and medical treatment on board vessels.

There is exclusive Community competence in the co-ordination at European level of social security provision. Even where the specific subject matter may not fall within Community competence, there remains a close connection with the promotion of social protection and the raising of standards of living and employment for seafarers so that the relationship with other matters dealt with at the European level is clear.

I should like to make clear the thinking behind this choice of instrument as opposed to new primary legislation. It would, of course, be possible to use primary legislation to implement this convention, but the Committee will recognise that Parliament’s time is limited and so, as the European Communities Act permits us to use secondary legislation, the Government propose to take this approach. We consider it is the most efficient route for implementing a convention which enjoys such wide support among maritime stakeholders on all sides.

Therefore this order will be made under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972 in order to use the vires in Section 2(2) of that Act. This will facilitate the implementation of those provisions of the convention that are not already either implemented in UK law or capable of being implemented using existing powers, thus facilitating the ability of the United Kingdom to meet its international commitments and obligations in this important regard.

I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the order and for the clear and comprehensive way in which he has explained its purpose. For the reasons explained by the Minister, the order is very desirable and I have no difficulty with it. It is to be hoped that the convention will be seen as the beginning of the end of unfair employment agreements for seafarers, and we look forward to the implementation of the MLC.

However, the MLC is the fourth pillar of the international legal regime for the global shipping industry. The others are SOLAS, MARPOL and STCW, the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. I am extremely concerned, as are many others, about the effectiveness of STCW.

At 00.20 hours on 21 July 2000, the container feeder vessel “Coastal Bay” ran aground in Church Bay, Anglesey, because the chief officer was alone on the bridge and failed to make a planned alteration in course. This was because the chief officer had probably been asleep for about 20 minutes before the course change was required. This is not unusual. In June 2003, the coaster “Jambo” ran aground off the coast of Scotland. Again the cause was the chief officer falling asleep and failing to make a planned course change. In September 2004, the “Jackie Moon” ran aground in the Firth of Clyde. Guess what. The chief officer had fallen asleep. There are plenty more examples. It is also reasonable to expect that there have been many more near misses, close shaves and errors made for similar reasons.

The interesting point in all these examples is that the safe manning requirements had been met but the workload of the officers was too great and they had not had enough sleep; they were suffering from fatigue. Noble Lords may be surprised to hear how few crew these ships are obliged to carry. For instance, the motor vessel “Coastal Bay” had a crew of just seven, comprising the master, chief officer, chief engineer, two able seamen, an ordinary seaman and a cook. The safe manning certificate for the vessel issued in March 1999 required only a minimum of three deck ratings in addition to the three officers. Therefore the cook was carried in excess of the requirements.

There are regulations about hours of work, but the recent Nautilus survey exposed some serious problems. For instance, question 11 asks: “Are your records a genuine reflection of your hours?”. Eighty three per cent of UK seafarers said, yes but 16 per cent said no. The reasons given for this by the respondents was fairly predictable.

So far, we have been relatively lucky, although many ships have been lost. That, of course, imposes a cost on industry; but, sooner or later, one of these ships will run into something much more vulnerable when the officer on watch is asleep or, perhaps, incapacitated, as has happened in another incident. One only has to think of the consequences of a large merchantman running into the side of a passenger ferry or LNG tanker. I am not accusing the Minister or the department of failing in their duty. It is not easy to secure an increase in manning levels. Shipping is very sensitive to crewing costs, and it is essential to secure an international agreement. There is little point in increasing requirements for our own fleet only to see business lost to lower-cost foreign-flagged vessels.

The MLC order that we are debating is the result of much hard work and difficult negotiations over five years, as the Minister explained. However, the simple fact is that this type of accident is entirely avoidable by slightly increased manning. It is not for me to get involved in the detail, but the Minister should do everything in his power to improve matters.

I will not detain the Committee for long. I, too, am concerned about safety, particularly as regards competition from ships of any countries which do not ratify the convention. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that in his reply.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his illustration of an area of concern, which we acknowledge. Regulation 2.7 of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 states:

“Each Member shall require that all ships that fly its flag have a sufficient number of seafarers employed on board to ensure that ships are operated safely, efficiently and with due regard to security under all conditions, taking into account concerns about seafarer fatigue and the particular nature and conditions of the voyage”.

The paragraph also states:

“When determining, approving or revising manning levels, the competent authority”—

in the UK this is the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—is obliged to,

“take into account the need to avoid or minimize excessive hours of work to ensure sufficient rest and to limit fatigue”.

It is also required to take particular account of the principles set out in applicable international instruments, especially those of the International Maritime Organisation.

UK legislation and procedures followed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency already comply with the convention’s requirement in this regard and with the requirements of the other “applicable international instruments”. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is committed to reducing seafarer fatigue and, to this end, a three-year plan has been agreed, covering the following three main areas: placing greater emphasis on enforcement of hours and work regulations—which addresses one of the points made by the noble Earl—very importantly, securing recognition internationally of the problem of fatigue at sea and its link with seafarer manning levels; and seeking to achieve a cultural shift over the longer term, whereby excessive working hours are no longer acceptable, either to employers or to seafarers.

The second of those principles is key to success in improving manning levels on ships. Until we achieve change internationally, forcing the issue of manning levels on UK ships risks losing ships from the register. A loss of ships from the UK register would undermine the MCA’s influence further, as there are fewer enforcement options against non-UK ships, even when they are operating in UK waters.

I turn to the advantages and the question of states that do not ratify. Ships from non-ratifying states could potentially face delays and additional costs, as convention requirements will be applied by ratifying states to vessels from non-ratifying states on the basis of no more favourable treatment. Therefore, they will face having to meet the convention requirements even though their flag state has not ratified.

This has been a useful discussion on a subject that naturally raises considerable interest in this country where almost all our international trade in goods comes and goes by sea. The convention has been described as a super-convention, which is as appropriate a description as any for a convention which consolidates and updates more than 60 disparate instruments, dating back almost 90 years, into a single set of standards which set a modern benchmark and which can henceforth be amended relatively easily to ensure that the standards are kept updated and relevant. The Government are proud of the leading role played by the United Kingdom.

I hope that I have addressed the key issues raised today and that the order will be approved. I take note of the concerns, but this convention shows that the international community is able to come to a single agreement. When I was introduced to this subject today, I was extremely impressed by how far we have moved in six years but, equally, we must continue to move forward in this area of employment.

Motion agreed.

Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) (Amendment) Order 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) (Amendment) Order 2009

I shall speak also to a similar order, with an almost identical title, relating to the Cotswolds.

These draft orders will allow the conservation boards of the Cotswolds and Chilterns areas of outstanding natural beauty to reverse the effect of Financial Reporting Standard 17 in respect of pension fund adjustments when compiling their annual statements of accounts. FRS 17 requires a conservation board, when compiling its accounts and subject to having a turnover in excess of £1 million, to provide for the possibility of all its staff being made redundant at the same time and taking their pension entitlement.

The background is that currently there is no legislative requirement for any particular accounting practice to be followed by conservation boards. In practice, the two conservation boards—the Chilterns and the Cotswolds—follow the relevant parts of the code of practice of local authority accounting in the UK, a statement of recommended practice. Under current regulations, when the turnover of a conservation board exceeds £1 million, it becomes subject to FRS 17 requirements. The Cotswolds Conservation Board’s turnover exceeds £1 million and although the Chilterns Conservation Board’s turnover is less than that at the moment, it is anticipated that it will increase to more than £1 million in the next few years.

In contrast to conservation boards, local authorities are exempt from the financial implications of FRS 17, but conservation boards do not currently fall within the ambit of that exemption. That means that the charge which conservation boards have to make to the revenue account for pensions is higher than for mainstream local authorities, as local authorities need only to provide for a regular but small-scale series of retirements and redundancies. The requirements of FRS 17 mean that the conservation boards must allocate a higher proportion of their budget to provide for pensions than local authorities are required to. It is this inconsistency that the draft orders are intended to address.

The long-term effect of FRS 17 on conservation boards with an annual budget of more than £1 million is that an increasing amount of resources will be transferred away from their environmental work into their pension fund reserve so as to provide for the winding-up of the board and all its staff taking their pension entitlements. However, a conservation board is no more likely to be wound up than a local authority, and local authorities do not have to include provision in their accounts for all their staff being made redundant at the same time. When a local authority is abolished, its duties and any outstanding liabilities are simply transferred to the local authority that takes over its responsibilities, and often many of the staff are taken on by the new authority. If no action is taken, the eventual outcome could be that a large proportion of the funds that the Cotswolds and Chilterns conservation boards receive from Natural England and local authorities would go towards meeting pension fund requirements rather than the environmental work which is, after all, what a conservation board is all about. While the Chilterns Conservation Board is not currently in the same position as the Cotswold board, which already has a budget of more than £1 million, with a growing budget it is anticipated that the Chilterns will eventually be similarly affected.

The order would apply Regulation 30 of the Local Authorities (Capital Finance and Accounting) (England) Regulations 2003 to the Cotswold and Chilterns conservation boards. This means that the boards would need to provide pension funds only in the event of occasional redundancy rather than in the unlikely situation of the entire body of staff being made redundant at the same time, as is the case now.

The draft orders will ensure that the boards will be able to make best use of their budgets. It is important that the boards are able to devote more of their resources to fulfilling their duty to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the AONB and to increase the understanding and enjoyment of the area’s special qualities while at the same time providing for pensions in the same way that local authorities are required to do. Without the order, it seems inevitable that the Cotswolds and Chilterns conservation boards will encounter increasing difficulty in carrying out the functions for which they were created as an increasing amount of their budget is set aside to meet FRS 17 requirements. I commend the draft orders to the Committee. I beg to move.

I thank the Minister for giving us the opportunity to discuss these two orders. I declare an interest as a farmer, but the Fens are not likely to be subject to a designation. It is important to debate the Chilterns and the Cotswolds, two self-evidently scenic parts of our country. These designations were made only in 2005, but I wonder what assessment Defra has made of their success since then. The orders address the internal management of the finances of the conservation boards, particularly the pensions provisions. As the Minister has presented them, they may represent good housekeeping. However, they open up the possibility of a broader debate on the administration and performance of AONBs. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will understand if I ask questions about them.

First, how many and which members of each board are Secretary of State appointees, and how long have they been in post? How many are due to be reappointed in the next 10 months and what procedures have to be followed to appoint extra people to the boards? Does the passing of the statute imply the de facto limitation of any future government action involving the dissolution of a conservation board; for example—the Minister mentioned that local authorities do not disappear but morph into different local authorities—by changing an AONB into a national park?

Would the statute apply even if a conservation board were to increase in size? If so, how were the current board structures decided and, if they have to be expanded, how can they be changed? Are the existing boards audited, performance-reviewed or otherwise monitored to ensure that they are effective? If not, how can the Government be sure that they will continue as currently structured and staffed? I ask these questions because there has been considerable concern at the size of these boards and the risk that accountability may not be as strong as it could be. Has any assessment been made of that?

I apologise to the Minister for bombarding him with questions, but they are a reasonable background against which to set these statutory instruments. Areas of outstanding natural beauty are an important element of our country’s heritage, and getting the right balance between excessive bureaucracy and the conservation requirement is very important. I hope the Minister can address that in his reply.

I declare an interest: I live on the edge of the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, I am president of the CPRE in Oxfordshire, which covers the Cotswold and Chiltern areas, and I am president of Friends of the Ridgeway. The content of the orders is to be welcomed. These boards are doing good work. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, says, they have not existed for very long, and it would probably be difficult at this stage to show much of a track record. I assure him, though, that they are doing useful work.

There is much to be done. These are fragile areas, particularly the Chilterns because it is a desirable area close to London and therefore could be subject to quite a lot of development. That area is also subject to plagues such as—this will be well known to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall—aircraft noise, which is very disturbing around there.

I have no objection to these orders, and I am happy that they should go ahead.

It is traditional at this point to thank noble Lords who have taken part, but it would take some effort on my part to do that in view of the number of questions that I cannot answer. I might be able to answer the series of questions tangentially but it is too long a list. I shall stick to topics such as accountability.

The boards are independent corporate bodies. However, the establishment order requires that the board should provide whatever paper, accounts and documents as may be required to the Secretary of State. There were questions about the boards’ success. They have not yet been audited, but they will be.

If I may interrupt the Minister, I understand that it can be difficult in debate, and I did ask an awful lot of questions. We would all be quite happy—I am sure I speak for the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend the Duke of Montrose—if he wrote to us subsequently, if he felt that he would then have time to address the detail. I understand that some of the answers may have to be brief summaries of the position.

That is very kind of the noble Lord. Also, we are having a Tube strike, and it is refreshing to have a Tube strike that I am not responsible for. I will take advantage of his offer and promise to write. Briefly, I can tell him that the Chilterns has eight members appointed by the Secretary of State, while the Cotswolds has 14.

We believe strongly that these conservation boards bring benefits. The boards are independent corporate bodies, which enables them to challenge local authorities when necessary. This results in better decision-making. The benefits of a board include higher-status independence through its higher profile and a greater ability to attract third-party project funding.

The board has various functions, except planning, that the local authorities derogate or share with it in pursuit of their purposes. In contrast to that, the alternative—the joint advisory committee model which is used to manage almost all other areas of outstanding natural beauty—has no powers and can only advise local authorities on what decisions to make. If I have not answered the other questions put to me, I am more than content to write to noble Lords.

Motion agreed.

Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) (Amendment) Order 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) (Amendment) Order 2009

Motion agreed.

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2009

These regulations are being made in England and Wales to transpose the permitting and compliance requirements of Directive 2006/21/EC, known as the Mining Waste Directive. Its key objective is to prevent or reduce as far as possible any adverse effects on the environment and human health as a result of the management of waste from the extractive industries. This essentially means the waste from the extraction and treatment of mineral resources and the working of quarries. A series of pollution incidents, including serious incidents in Spain in 1998 and in Romania in 2000, led the European Commission to consider the need for a specific measure on the management of extractive waste. After extensive negotiations on a Commission proposal, the outcome was the adoption in May 2006 of the Mining Waste Directive.

The due date for transposition of the directive by member states was 1 May 2008 and the European Commission has recently confirmed that 17 out of 27 member states have formally notified their transposing legislation. The regulations we are debating today will enable the Government to do so in relation to England and Wales, with the agreement of the Welsh Assembly. Separate regulations will be made by the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Government established close and regular contact with the extractive industries during the negotiation of the directive and have maintained that contact since its adoption. It is the Government’s policy not to “gold plate” directives by going beyond their minimum requirements and to make full use of available derogations. Our aim has been to fulfil both objectives in the transposition of the Mining Waste Directive. In addition to our continuing engagement with the industries, the Government carried out a three-month public consultation on the options for transposing the directive. We consulted on three transposition options and assessed the cost of each in an impact assessment. After consideration of all the responses, the Government concluded that the most effective and cost-efficient means of fulfilling the directive’s objectives is by using the environmental permitting system with the Environment Agency as the regulatory authority.

The environmental permitting system came into force in April 2008 and already implements 12 other EU directives. It is part of a better regulation initiative by the Government to cut red tape and to reduce regulatory costs for industry, while continuing to protect the environment and human health.

As I have said, the key objective of the Mining Waste Directive is to prevent or reduce as far as possible any adverse effects on the environment and human health as a result of the management of extractive waste. Parliament has already given the Environment Agency responsibility for the management of waste from other sectors of industry in England and Wales. The Government have concluded that the Environment Agency is also best placed, and should have the responsibility, for dealing with waste from the extractive industries.

The operators of most extractive waste facilities already hold an environmental permit to meet the requirements of other EU directives. Transposition of the Mining Waste Directive by means of the environmental permitting system ensures, therefore, that the administrative and regulatory burdens arising from the directive are kept to a minimum.

The regulations before the Committee will ensure that the directive’s requirements are implemented in a proportionate, risk-based and cost-effective way. In the Government’s view, transposition of the directive by means of the environmental permitting system, with the Environment Agency as the regulatory authority, will be of benefit to the industry, the environment and human health. I beg to move.

Once again, I thank the Minister for presenting this statutory instrument and for providing the background against which it is being brought before us. I have no direct interest in mining but my political interests stem back to fighting Nottinghamshire in the European elections and Chesterfield in parliamentary elections. My first political experience outside my home patch was in Bolsover, which would have been considered the heartland of the mining industry were it not for the fact that it now has a Conservative county council. Such are the ways that communities change over time.

I have a few concerns and I hope that the Minister will accept them in an interrogative form. If he does not have the answer to hand, I understand that it may be easier for him to write to us in fuller detail. Given the importance of coal mining and the central role that it has in this area, I am not sure why the Government have chosen this particular route to comply with the directive. What consideration was given to devising a separate set of permitting regulations dealing solely with the mining industry? What were the reasons for trying to fashion a fully comprehensive single regulation?

Inevitably, the directive is concerned with the adverse effects of mining waste on water, air, soil, flora, fauna, landscape and the risk to human health. Would not the transposition into UK law have been more carefully done if mining had had its own regulations and was able to address these elements particularly?

There was some media coverage last year, for example, of the controversy about the whole issue of opencast mining and its environmental impact in the UK. Has any special assessment been made of the impact of this type of mining, and in what ways will these permitting regulations affect that? Having said that, we understand the necessity for these regulations and I am grateful to the Minister for presenting them.

I did not think that I had to declare an interest here, but, if we have to declare childhood interests of having grown up on the coalfield, I grew up on the Yorkshire coalfield, near Wakefield, for all my teenage years. I was just thinking of the slag heaps of old and existing pits, on which we used to spend our time playing games such as cowboys and Indians and then, when one got a bit older, other sorts of games on the old slag heaps, or muck stacks, as we called them locally. They certainly polluted the atmosphere in a dreadful way. They polluted the water courses, the groundwater and the landscape. I suppose that the coal industry of that sort has all gone from those areas nowadays, and we are left with the consequences.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I support the regulations. I just want to make four points. First, although I would be interested to hear about the information provided to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, as a method of transposing the regulations, it seems to us that to incorporate them into the 2007 regulations, which cover permitting generally, is very sensible. It will be interesting to hear what the Government have to say.

My second point is just a general moan, which I usually make on these occasions, about the fact that the Government seem utterly unable to meet the timescales laid down in European directives for transposing them into our national legislation. There was a deadline of 1 May 2008, two years after the regulation had been approved. Regulations do not suddenly appear out of a popgun; they have been discussed for a considerable time in Europe, in the Council of Ministers or elsewhere, so the Government knew that they were coming. It is pretty poor that we cannot pass them on time regularly. There are a lot of complaints about European legislation in this country. This is very sensible legislation. There is no reason that it could not have been passed on time. The Minister said that 17 out of 28 countries have formally notified that they have managed to do that so far. Some are more laggardly than we are, but that is no excuse.

My third point is that the Merits Committee drew to our attention that most of the objections—the consultation responses, I should say—made by industry sources suggested that decisions should be not for the Environment Agency but for the mineral planning authorities, which I take to be the county councils and the unitary authorities at local level. As someone who always instinctively says, “Do it through the local authorities”, I would like to hear why the Government think that it should be done by the Environment Agency. At the moment, they have stated that they think that that is right, but they have not explained why.

I would also like to know what reasons the consultees putting forward those views from the industry gave for believing that the mineral planning authorities would be more appropriate. I can think of three reasons that they might have put forward. They might have thought that local authorities were efficient than national quangos, because they usually are. They might have thought that local authorities would impose less onerous conditions and constraints, so that they could get away with having to do less. They may simply have thought that having planning and licensing decisions, the permitting decisions, made by the same authority was more sensible, providing a one-stop solution. Those are reasons that I have thought up that people might have put forward. Were those the reasons, or were there others? It would be interesting to hear that.

Finally, what real difference will the regulations will make to people in the industry, as opposed to the existing regulatory system? The Minister may not be able to answer all that today, but it will be interesting to have those answers in writing and placed in the Library. Having said that, we are very content to support the regulations as they stand.

The Environmental Permitting Programme is a joint better-regulation initiative by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Environment Agency. The programme is designed to reduce or minimise the administrative burdens of regulation on operator and regulator. The Government felt that the management of extracted waste was principally a matter for environmental protection controls, for which the EPP provides the most appropriate and cost-effective regulatory regime. Twenty-eight out of 38 consultees also agreed that the EPP was the best means of transposing the MWD.

The process is not making the law more complicated; on the contrary, the transposition of the MWD through the environmental permitting regulations avoids the creation of a new set of permitting regulations, as it produces an extended system that is more streamlined and simpler than two separate permitting systems. This process is in line with the Government’s commitment to better regulation and the cutting of administrative burdens.

On the opencast mining issue, the directive is about mining waste rather than mining per se, so it controls the waste from coal extraction rather than coal mining itself. It is therefore a perfectly satisfactory process for all forms of mining, including opencast.

Why did we take so long? There are several reasons for our failure to transpose by the due date, the most important of which is the Government’s commitment to full and effective consultation with industry on the options for transposing the directive and ensuring that it is transposed without gold-plating, and taking full advantage of available derogations. Having gone through the detail, I assure noble Lords that both of those objectives have been achieved.

I take slight exception to the moan about how this Government put EU directions into law. When we get directives, we work hard to transpose them into UK law in a way that will work in the UK. Some countries perhaps take a simpler read-across and write-across approach, but this is a classic example of where we have spent time working with an industry in order to minimise a directive’s impact, using this vehicle in particular to merge the directives with systems and regulations with which the industry in question is familiar.

The key aim of the directive is to prevent environmental pollution and harm to human health and safety, which are areas that the Environment Agency is already responsible for in other industry sectors. Because of its existing statutory role for managing environmental matters, the agency has extensive experience of mining and quarrying issues. The Government therefore believe that the same approach should be taken with mining waste. That approach will also ensure that additional burdens are not placed on the planning system, in line with the Government’s broader objective of a simpler, faster and more efficient planning system. The option preferred by the minerals industry, of the EPP being delivered by mineral planning authorities, would simply have added further burdens on mineral planners by requiring them to manage land issues through the planning system and environmental controls through EPP.

On a personal note, I claimed once in a speech that over the course of my career I had probably been one of the most regulated people, having started in aviation, gone through railways and ended up looking after the waste sites of the UKAEA. I have some familiarity with the process of regulation and, frankly, you need two things from your regulator. The first is simplicity; ideally, there will be a single body to talk to, and that is exactly what this does. You do not want multiple bodies. When I was at the UKAEA, multiple bodies competed with each other and you would end up with regulations which were simply not capable of execution because the different bodies had overlapped in the demands that they put on them. You would then have to spend time negotiating with those bodies to make the regulations capable of execution.

I am pro regulation—not pro bad regulation but pro good regulation—and good regulation is proportionate; it is about applying a proportionate response to a perceived risk. My experience with the Environment Agency was that it was particularly skilled at taking a proportionate approach, including when addressing severe historic pollution problems. I believe that the regime the Environment Agency is proposing is the right regime and I fully support it. I am pleased that, in principle, both opposition parties will support the regulations.

I do not want to push the question of the timescale too far because I know that people are busy and the Government have to do many things, but it was 20 months between the adoption of the directive and the issue of the draft regulations, which seems a long time, and it was 11 months from the closure of the consultation period to us meeting here today and debating the laying of the regulations before Parliament. I merely make the point that these things could be speeded up. I do not want to push it too far because I agree that getting it right is better than necessarily meeting an arbitrary deadline. I believe that is true in everything except elections, where you have to meet the deadline; you have no choice.

I think the Minister is right about the Environment Agency—I do not disagree with him about that—but the question I asked was what were the reasons for people thinking that the mineral planning authorities would be a better option. I do not know if he has the answer to that today or whether he will write to me.

This goes back to the points I have made. If we think there are extra points to be made, we will write. I notice that we diverge at the end.

I am sorry. I am asking for something factual: the reasons they gave to the Government. I am not asking for the Government’s reasons for why they have chosen the Environment Agency—I think they are probably right—but it would be interesting to know the reasons set out by the people who responded.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.22 pm.