Wednesday, 16 March 2011.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, before the Minister moves that the first statutory instrument be considered, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that, in the case of each one, the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the statutory instrument in question. I should perhaps make it clear that the Motions to approve the statutory instruments will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way. Furthermore, if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I am pleased to introduce the Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2011 and the Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 2011. It is worth noting that all the changes covered by these two instruments were announced as part of a Written Ministerial Statement in December last year. As both the regulations and order deal with national insurance contributions, it seems only sensible that they should be debated together. As a matter of course, I can confirm that the provisions in the regulations and the order are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
I shall begin with the social security regulations. The previous Government’s 2008 Pre-Budget Report announced an increase in class 1 and class 4 national insurance contribution rates of 0.5 per cent. These rate rises were due to come into force from the start of the 2011-12 tax year, but 12 months later the former Chancellor of the Exchequer declared his intention to double the increases. This would have placed additional burdens on businesses at a time when they are most in need of our support. While this Government confirmed that these rate rises would be implemented, we are implementing them as part of a wider package of reforms that will reduce the overall cost of employment and will support people on lower incomes. We will achieve this by increasing the income tax personal allowance, the primary threshold and the secondary threshold. The social security regulations before the Committee today are a vital part of this process.
To start with, the point at which employers will have to start paying national insurance will increase from £110 per week to £136 per week from April of this year. This is a weekly rise of £21 above indexation, which means that employers will not pay any national insurance on the first £7,072 of any worker’s earnings.
From April of this year, the class 1 primary threshold, which is the point at which employees start to pay class 1 national insurance contributions, will increase from £110 per week to £139 per week. This is an increase of £24 a week above indexation, which will help to mitigate the effects that a 1 per cent increase in the employee’s rate of national insurance contributions will have on the lower-paid.
As a result of the increases in thresholds included in today’s regulations, around 950,000 low earners will no longer pay national insurance contributions, while their contributory benefit entitlements will be protected. Employees earning under £35,000 a year will pay less both in terms of income tax and NICs. Employers will pay less in NICs on all workers earning less than £20,000 a year. In relation to NICs thresholds, employers will be better off by £150 for every employee earning above the secondary threshold.
Compared with the plans that this Government inherited, more than £3 billion a year is being returned to employers through the secondary threshold rise. Even more money will be going straight into the pockets of hard-working families due to the changes in the primary threshold.
Today’s regulations also set the level of the lower earnings limit. This takes into account changes that we are making to the way in which the basic state pension will be uprated. As part of last year’s June Budget, my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced that the basic state pension will be linked to earnings from April 2011. Not only that, we included the added guarantee that it would rise in line with either earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent, depending on which is greatest.
Now that the earnings link has been restored, the lower earnings limit is no longer legislatively linked to the basic state pension. This means that the Treasury can set its level independently of the basic state pension through affirmative resolution. As a result, large rises in the basic state pension will not result in lower earners being taken out of contributory benefit entitlement. This is fair and progressive and it will support the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. For the upcoming tax year, the lower earnings limit will increase by RPI to £102 per week, while the upper earnings limit will go down from £844 per week to £817 per week. This is to maintain the alignment with the point at which the higher rate of income tax is paid. It is also worth noting that the regulations will increase the main rate primary contributions paid by women who married before 6 April 1977, taking them up to 5.85 per cent from this April.
The social security order sets out the NICs rates and thresholds for the self-employed and those paying voluntary contributions. In the case of the self-employed, it raises the small earnings exception for paying class 2 contributions. The exception will rise in April from £5,075 to £5,315 a year, which is broadly in line with prices. The rate of class 2 contributions will increase from £2.40 to £2.50 a week. The rate of voluntary class 3 contributions will also increase from £12.05 a week to £12.60 a week. Again, this is similar to the general increase in prices.
Today’s order sets the profit limits for which main rate class 4 contributions are paid. The lower limit at which these contributions are due will increase from £5,715 to £7,225 a year, in the same fashion as the class 1 primary threshold. At the other end of the scale, the upper profits limit will be reduced from £43,875 to £42,475. This maintains alignment with the upper earnings limit for employees, which, as I said, is being reduced to reflect the changes made to the higher rate of income tax. The changes to the class 4 limits will ensure that the self-employed pay contributions on a similar range of earnings to employees paying class 1 contributions. The increase in the lower profits limit will guarantee that the 1 per cent increase in the class 4 NICs main rate is offset for the self-employed. This is in much the same way as the increase in the primary threshold offsets the 1 per cent increase for employees.
The legislation included as part of today’s order and regulations is an important part of the Government’s plans to reduce the taxation of labour. It will encourage employers to take on more workers, help those on the lowest incomes and support private enterprise and employment across the country. This is important for the economy and important for the recovery. I commend the regulations and the order to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the explicit way in which he outlined the contents of the regulations and the order. He will forgive me if I do not spend a great deal of time responding to them. First, it seems that the main principles adumbrated in his contribution were debated pretty thoroughly at the general election and largely resolved by crucial decisions then. Secondly, we have had the opportunity to debate national insurance contributions with some degree of intensity over the past few weeks. These issues have also already been considered by the other place. Therefore, the noble Lord will forgive me if I am not able to match the strength, force and length of his opening contribution. However, I have two specific questions to ask, to which I would like him to address his mind and respond.
The Government—or the more senior party of the coalition—made much of this in their rhetoric during the general election. Afterwards, there was in the coalition agreement this commitment—indeed, a pledge—to stop the rise in employer national insurance contributions from April 2011. However, there seems to be a difference between the expectations to which this might give rise and the reality that we see in the SI before us. What is given back to the employer through the threshold changes to class 1 secondary contributions? The threshold goes up from 12.8 to 13.8 per cent but this appears to be somewhat less than employers might have thought they were getting following the pledge to stop the rise entirely as far as employers are concerned. It looks as though the Government are giving back with a degree of generosity that does not quite fulfil their commitment. The noble Lord mentioned that he thought that as much as £3 billion was being returned. Can he confirm that figure and say whether it is consistent with employers’ expectations of what they would get back?
Secondly, I want to comment on what I am sure the noble Lord will indicate is a minor issue, although it is not minor to many of us. I refer to the contribution of married women and widows. I know that they form a limited group but I see that the increase in their contributions will be from 4.8 to 5.8 per cent. What are they getting for that increase? We know that they get no retirement pension, that they cannot get jobseeker’s allowance if they become unemployed and that they receive no sickness benefits. Yet, in all the Government’s bravado about the restrictions that they would place on increasing national insurance contributions, they could not exempt this group. That seems to be at one with an awful lot of the dispositions made by the Chancellor and by Ministers responsible for Treasury matters over the past few months. I think particularly of child benefit for women who earn more than £40,000 a year. Whether intended or not, the legislation seems to discriminate pretty heavily against women when we would have thought that, if the Government were true to the principle that the noble Lord adumbrated in his concluding remarks, which reflected some fairness, this group would have been treated more generously. Will the Minister comment on that? In more general terms, the Opposition are supportive of the regulations.
My Lords, perhaps I may add a few words of welcome for these regulations. They give effect to a significant commitment that this Government made to try to reduce the costs to business of employment, to try to make sure that those who are in employment at lower levels of income receive a boost and to give effect to that commonly held and often-referred-to statement that work will always pay. Taken in the round, we cannot omit the other part of this package—the Welfare Reform Bill—which will ensure that those on lower earnings always benefit by being in work and that they do not lose their pensions.
Primarily, these regulations give help to support people on lower incomes. They help those at the lower end of the pay scale but, as the Minister said, they are part of a package to lift people—many tens of thousands and nearly a million in this case—out of national insurance contributions altogether and to reduce the tax burden as a whole for a substantial number of working people throughout the country. That is a crucial change, which, taken with the Welfare Reform Bill, will support the poorest and ensure that it will always pay for people to be in work, to seek work and to find work. It is progressive and as such should be encouraged.
We were told by the opposition party during the last general election that it would be better not to raise VAT but to raise national insurance contributions. We have increased VAT to 20 per cent. To what level would national insurance contributions have to rise to match that switch? Is it not far better to ensure that people who are on the lowest earnings can keep more of their income and that the poorest in our society benefit most from these changes? Is not the progressive nature of these changes crucial to fairness in our society?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for his characteristically short, to-the-point and putting-me-on-the-spot remarks. Without getting into unnecessary detail, he extracted one or two big points, which it was very reasonable to raise. I thank also my noble friend Lord German, who succinctly pointed to the significance of the changes that the coalition Government have made to the plans that they received from the previous Government. I have not seen any specific numbers that might answer his very interesting question, but I shall go away and see whether a comparison has been made between the effect of a rise in VAT and the effect of a rise in national insurance. However, he made absolutely the right point, supported by all the economists’ evidence, that a rise in national insurance is a direct tax on jobs. Regrettable though the rise in VAT was, it was necessitated by the dire predicament that the Government inherited and in line with all the economic evidence that a rise in national insurance contributions as proposed by the previous Government would have been much more damaging. The VAT increase raises about £13 billion. That would have required a huge rise of almost 3 per cent in the employer NI rate. Without taking it any further, one can see how just how burdensome that would have been on employers.
I should address the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. He asked, first, whether we had met the expectations set out in the coalition agreement. I certainly believe that we have delivered on what could reasonably be expected of the Government. Compared with what would have happened under the plans of the previous Government, employers will be more than £3 billion better off next year, rising in future years. Indeed, although £3 billion is correct in the round, the figure is slightly more. It is exactly what employers would have expected, as it matches not only the Conservative manifesto but the coalition agreement. Yes, as a result of the coalition agreement, some of the benefit is switched from national insurance contributions to income tax. It is a point that has been made and answered before. Indeed, there will be a net rise in national insurance contribution payments, compensated by a larger fall in income tax payments. Just to underline the point, employers will be better off in respect of employees earning up to £20,000, while employers who have among the highest-earning staff will pay more national insurance contributions. We believe that that is the right and appropriate way to do it.
On the question of women, as a general point I would note that, in terms of the effects based on gender or whether someone is disabled, as well as in terms of those in other groups, the coalition Government took their responsibilities in the overall spending package last year more seriously than has ever been done before. We are certainly not in any way trying to dodge our important responsibilities to consider the effects of all our measures on different groups in society, including, of course, women.
Married women who paid national insurance contributions at the reduced rate are a unique group. They elected to pay reduced rate contributions in return for reduced benefit entitlement; these women can revoke their reduced rate election and pay contributions at the standard rate at any time they choose. It is not the case that women who opted to pay reduced rate contributions have received nothing in the way of benefits, in case there is any suggestion of that. Before 1975, such women who were employed were eligible for a full range of industrial injury benefits and, later, they became eligible for statutory sick pay and maternity pay. They can also receive a pension of up to 60 per cent of basic state pension based on their husband’s contributions when he reaches pension age. There have also been three major publicity campaigns about the married women’s option—the first in the late 1970s, the second in the late 1980s and the third in October 2000—to advise them of changes that may affect them. They also benefit from the increase in the primary threshold that is now coming in. There are around 5,000 to 10,000 married women who still have in place a reduced rate election; the numbers are falling because only women married or widowed before 1977 are entitled to pay at the reduced rate. I hope that I shall not be accused again by the noble Lord of piling Pelion on Ossa, but I thought it worth going through the position as it is and confirming that in the generality the Government take their responsibilities very seriously.
Without rehearsing again any of the important points in the regulations and the order, I am grateful for the focused and brief debate. I reiterate as a last point that more than £3 billion a year is being returned to employers through the employer threshold rise and even more to individuals through the increase in the primary threshold. I commend the regulations and the order to the Committee.
Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
Road Vehicles (Powers to Stop) Regulations 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I am pleased to introduce the Road Vehicles (Powers to Stop) Regulations. The purpose of these regulations is to provide examiners from the Department for Transport’s Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, or VOSA, with direct powers to stop commercial vehicles at the roadside throughout Great Britain in order to enable them to conduct compliance checks.
These compliance checks are to ensure that commercial vehicles and drivers of commercial vehicles comply with the requirements of EU legislation relevant to vehicle roadworthiness and driving requirements. For example, EU legislation prescribes minimum standards of technical compliance for vehicles circulating on our roads. There are rules that prescribe maximum weight limits for commercial vehicles. There are also very detailed rules about maximum driving time and rest periods and about the recording equipment and records that are needed to verify compliance with these rules.
Of course, all these requirements and rules are there to help to keep our roads safe, but they are effective only if there is adequate enforcement. Consequently, the legislation also stipulates that member states must put in place appropriate systems and checks for compliance, which is something that we would want to do in any event, regardless of the country of origin of the vehicle and driver.
As things stand, VOSA already has a limited power to stop vehicles for checking in England and Wales. It has the power to do so under provisions in the Police Reform Act 2002—or, more precisely, the law allows chief officers of police to accredit individual VOSA examiners with the power to stop vehicles in order to carry out roadworthiness checks. Although this is a rather cumbersome administrative process, the general arrangements for enabling VOSA to stop vehicles for inspection work well in practice, since they save time in overall terms both for the police and for VOSA. They also release police officers for front-line duties when they would otherwise have had to stop vehicles for VOSA, as they used to do in the past.
The main problem is that these arrangements do not apply in Scotland, which currently commits the police to having to support VOSA at roadside enforcement checks. The draft regulations before the Committee today will resolve that problem. Under the provisions of the draft regulations, VOSA officers appointed by the Secretary of State will be able to stop commercial vehicles for checking throughout Britain without having to have a police officer present. The main benefit that this will bring is that it will release a significant amount of police resources in Scotland that are currently taken up in assisting VOSA with this task.
The regulations will also simplify the process of accrediting VOSA stopping officers. The proposal is that VOSA stopping officers will, in future, be appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport—in practice, that would be done by the chief executive of VOSA—rather than by individual chief officers of police. Of course, no one will be authorised as a stopping officer until they have successfully completed all the necessary training, which will be equivalent to the training that stopping officers in England and Wales currently have to undertake. The benefit of simplifying the process of appointing stopping officers will be in reducing the administrative burden on both the police and VOSA.
The regulations will also extend the scope of VOSA’s stopping powers. At present, its stopping powers are specifically linked to vehicle roadworthiness checks, but its remit is much wider than that, extending to things such as checking compliance with maximum weight limits, drivers’ hours, operator licensing and driver training rules. I alluded to some of these matters earlier.
Noble Lords may have noticed that the provisions under which these regulations are being made include Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Section 2(2) of the 1972 Act provides the Secretary of State with powers to implement EU law via a statutory instrument where no such power already exists in primary legislation. In this case, Section 2(2) of the 1972 Act is required to ensure that we are fully compliant with EU law obligations in respect of these enforcement matters.
While we are taking this procedural route to amend the law as it relates to Britain, we are also taking the opportunity to clarify the law as it relates to the whole of the UK, which is why the draft regulations also extend to Northern Ireland. As noble Lords will see, the regulations will also make some minor changes to the existing law in Northern Ireland, where examiners in the Driver and Vehicle Agency, which is Northern Ireland’s equivalent to VOSA in this respect, already have the ability to stop vehicles for compliance checks. The minor changes will simply confirm that DVA examiners can also stop vehicles in order to check compliance with goods vehicles authorisations and driver training rules, which are EU-wide provisions. Northern Ireland Ministers are content with these provisions, which will save them from having to take through separate, similar legislation for these very simple changes.
To deter offending, these regulations also include offence provisions. They will make it an offence to impersonate a VOSA stopping officer or an examiner from DVA. They will also make it an offence to obstruct a VOSA stopping officer while he is carrying out his duties, although this offence does not extend to DVA examiners because equivalent provisions are already in force in Northern Ireland.
Noble Lords may have noticed that I have made reference throughout to commercial vehicles. That is because EU law and, indeed, these regulations apply only to commercial vehicles. In England and Wales, the provisions of the Police Reform Act 2002 will remain in force, in order to allow VOSA to continue to make use of the option allowed under those provisions to stop other types of vehicles for roadworthiness checks—for example, light goods vehicles. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I have some experience of what is proposed in the regulations because for six years I worked in Northern Ireland, where VOSA’s equivalent had to use stopping officers; if policemen had been used, they would have become targets for terrorists. What is proposed in these regulations worked in Northern Ireland and I believe that it is sensible to extend the provisions here. Indeed, I have been surprised that it has taken successive Governments so long to wake up to this.
If, like me, you have experience of roadside checks, you will know that some of them are extremely expensive to mount. They are not just a matter of one man pulling a lorry off the road. Often 10 agencies are involved in checks, which might cover drugs, ill treatment of animals, customs fraud or immigration fraud—a whole range of things is covered by these checks. They are very expensive to organise and at the moment, if a check is mounted and the policeman is called away to other duties or does not show up, the whole process is frustrated because nobody can stop a lorry or a coach to send it to the inspection centre. I very much welcome these regulations and can only wish them well. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, made it clear in his remarks that it would be possible for VOSA officers to stop other vehicles.
I suggest that traffic censuses might also be considered. They do not need a policeman; they just need somebody with a yellow jacket on to organise the thing. I presume that even when the police have stopping officers there is an occasional person who offends and does not stop, but there are plenty of means of identifying those people and bringing them to justice. I fully support the proposed changes.
My Lords, in these times of policing budgets, I wonder whether chief constables will be persuaded to let VOSA work completely independently of roads policing officers and rely on it to make routine checks on vehicles, thereby releasing their officers from such requirements. I acknowledge the fact that the regulations refer only to commercial vehicles, but could they be extended to all vehicles in time? I do not know. Will this be used by chief officers to obtain large savings being targeted at policing?
It is well known that some commercial vehicles are used for criminal activities. If VOSA is the only body inspecting such vehicles to examine their roadworthiness and the police are not there, criminals will get away with all kinds of things. A trained police officer can examine the vehicles and their drivers in more detail while there are still road policing officers qualified so to do, but their expertise may well be hit if chief officers rely on VOSA and VOSA alone. What will happen if a VOSA stopping officer comes across a driver who is obviously drunk or wanted for a criminal offence?
I wonder, also, how VOSA stopping officers will be trained in appropriate driving and related techniques. Will they be trained by the police? Even with such advanced training, am I correct in assuming that, other than using their powers to stop a commercial vehicle, they will comply with the law and that they will not be able to use exemptions in relation to exceeding speed limits or other matters enforced by police officers? I assume that they will not be permitted to have blue lights. What will be their method of stopping a vehicle?
Does VOSA have a budget within the spending review to meet the expectations of providing, training and equipping the stopping officers to provide the required services every day of the year and at all hours? I hope so, because there are already problems with VOSA setting targets and, when those are met, simply stopping the work that it does. That could result in VOSA weighing a number of vehicles and then not weighing any others for the rest of the month because that target had been met. Currently, VOSA officers are not there at night or weekends unless on a special operation. That must not be a reason for the police to remove resources and to leave it to VOSA, as VOSA does not have the continuous responsibility throughout every day of the year that the police have.
Relying on VOSA to take over some of the roads policing operations—I declare that I am an honorary member of the Police Federation of England and Wales roads policing central committee—is fraught with problems. It used to be so simple: a police officer only. But now it seems that it could be anyone—a Highways Agency traffic officer, VOSA, who next? I do not expect the Minister to reply to my concerns today, but I would be grateful if he would write to me in due course and I hope that he will forgive me for raising these matters, some of which are not strictly related to this legislation.
My Lords, the two noble Lords who have spoken have raised some exceedingly pertinent questions. I knew that we would benefit from the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. He has carried out what has often looked like a one-noble-Lord campaign on certain aspects of the entry of foreign lorries into this country and the difficulties that have arisen from their compliance with the law. I was interested to hear about his experience in Northern Ireland. Such is one’s preoccupation with the legislation that obtains generally across the United Kingdom that it comes as a bit of a shock when one realises that part of it relating to traffic is not UK-wide legislation at all but, because of the police dimension, applies only to England and Wales. I therefore very much support this instrument, which extends the issues to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lord Simon has addressed a number of the questions that I would otherwise have articulated at some, no doubt boring, length. It is incumbent on the Minister not to write to my noble friend but to answer, so far as he is equipped to do so today, the very important point about who exercises the powers to stop and for what offences. I very much approve of the extension of the offences in the regulations, but they are all traffic offences. My noble friend Lord Simon probably picked up the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, to what might have obtained in Northern Ireland and he asked about other illegalities that the driver or others responsible for the lorry might be guilty of and be likely to be charged for. I presume that powers are not to be given in relation to those offences. If they are, that should have been stated in the regulations. However, I take it that the instrument is about traffic regulations and the regulation of trucks and lorries—that is, big vehicles. We know that the road haulage industry is pleased to see a tightening up of these issues, because it does not want to be besmirched by road hauliers who give the others a bad name when accidents occur in circumstances where it is clear that the law has been infringed.
However, what greatly exercises the British road haulage industry and all of us who take an interest in road transport in the United Kingdom is the enormous increase under the single market in the number of foreign trucks coming to the United Kingdom. It has been predictable but nevertheless it has carried on apace in the past decade with the significant economic growth across Europe. The minor grievance that we have is that these trucks have large tanks that are loaded with less expensive fuel on the other side of the Channel and are then able to travel huge distances on British roads without contributing to taxation because the fuel has been bought elsewhere. Of more concern to us all is that some of these trucks do not meet European standards on maintenance and equipment. Any accident involving a heavy lorry will cause concern in a locality, but it is bound to exercise people a great deal more when it involves a truck that comes from a considerable distance beyond these shores.
Of course, we very much support these regulations. In fact, they are overdue. However, I hope that the Minister will give reassurance about the identification of those carrying out the stopping exercise. Authority cannot be in question when there is a truck that is 44 tonnes against an individual who is standing by the side of the road. The authority either works or the individual officers are in danger. There must be clear identification and I want to know what is guaranteed on that. I particularly want the Minister to address whether the list of traffic offences in the regulations is what the stop will be organised for. It would be a different matter if we went on to other issues. Will the Minister say how that will impact on the role that the stopping officers play?
We understand the necessity of economising on police time, which is why the initial changes in the Police Reform Act were made, but that has to be consistent with a proper authorised road for the VOSA people so that they are protected in their job and can discharge it fully. The Minister has a number of questions that he needs to address.
Before the Minister does so, I point out to the noble Lord that in Northern Ireland we had an international border and many of the international troubles to which he has referred, which the stopping officers dealt with. The flagrant breaches of the law by lorries from one side of the border were often caught. VOSA officers have the power, as do Customs and Excise officers, to immobilise the vehicle. If there is any trouble, the police can be called anyway, but the officers have powers to stop the vehicle. That is the big sanction.
My Lords, I thank the three noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. Clearly, these regulations enable VOSA examiners to stop commercial vehicles for inspections that they routinely carry out at the roadside. These checks are on the roadworthiness conditions of vehicles and on whether the driver is complying with all relevant laws, including the particular law on maximum permissible time spent behind the wheel.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made one or two points and was generally supportive. The stopping powers relate only to VOSA; no other agency can be legitimately associated with those roadside checks. The point about census checks could perhaps be looked at in future; I do not think that I can say anything about that, but I shall take it back to the department. The current priority is to enable VOSA to complete its duties throughout Great Britain.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, made several points. I am delighted that I had some degree of notice on one or two of them, but not necessarily on all—if we cannot cover them all, we will have to write. He asked whether chief constables would be happy to let people work completely independently. VOSA officers will continue to maintain close links with the police. They have already been stopping vehicles in England and Wales since 2002—nine years—and there have been no problems. These regulations will allow VOSA to stop vehicles in a similar way in Scotland. They have the support of ACPO in Scotland and the Scottish Government.
The noble Viscount asked whether the fact that VOSA will be working on its own would encourage criminals to take advantage. VOSA officers will continue to maintain strong links with the police; even though they have the power to stop vehicles for inspection, they still have those strong links. In the event that they encounter any difficulty, they will immediately request assistance from the police in the normal way.
The noble Viscount asked how VOSA stopping officers will be trained. They will need to complete an intensive police driver training course before being appointed and an in-house training course to familiarise them with the extent and limitations of the powers—for example, the fact that VOSA officers are under no circumstances allowed to chase suspect vehicles. They will not be permitted to have blue lights. Their vehicles will have stopping matrix signs that request drivers to follow the vehicle to a safe stopping point, as they do at present.
The noble Viscount also asked whether VOSA has the necessary budget to provide a 24/7 service by stopping officers. Obviously, there is a limit to resources, just as there is for the police, and priorities have to be targeted. In some areas—on the main arterial roads into Britain, for example—VOSA can provide a 24/7 service, as it does. In other cases, it has fewer resources available but will rely on intelligence to determine when it is best to run enforcement exercises.
The noble Viscount asked whether in time the regulations could be extended to all vehicles. There are no plans to seek to extend the scope of these regulations to cover any other classes of vehicle. The law could be amended in the future, but that is not contemplated at the moment. VOSA’s main priority is commercial vehicles, not cars—cars are primarily a matter for the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, asked how the VOSA officers would be identified. While on duty, they will be required to wear a uniform that is unique to them; to carry clear identification; and to be in clearly marked vehicles that have a black and yellow Battenberg livery, are clearly marked “VOSA” and have amber light bars on the roof.
The noble Lord asked questions and commented on the extent to which there are more vehicles on the road. He referred to foreign commercial vehicles in particular. He will be interested to learn that, in 2006-07, 56,596 roadside checks on foreign vehicles were made by VOSA. In 2009-10, that figure had increased to 177,460. Those figures come from the most recent random fleet compliance survey and VOSA’s effectiveness report.
I trust that I have answered the bulk of the queries, as I have endeavoured to do. I will carefully check that nothing that I ought to have responded to is outstanding. As I have indicated, the purpose of the regulations is to create an efficient and effective mechanism for stopping commercial vehicles throughout Great Britain so that they and their drivers can be checked by VOSA examiners. These checks cover a wide range of compliance issues affecting vehicles and their drivers; they are necessary to keep our roads as safe as possible.
Historically, the police have stopped vehicles for VOSA, but it has to be said that that does not necessarily make the very best use of their valuable time. Of course, they have many other pressing priorities, which only they can deal with. For that reason, VOSA was given the opportunity in 2002 to stop vehicles for roadworthiness enforcement checks in England and Wales. That arrangement worked well in practice and we are now seeking to extend that practice to other types of compliance checks and to extend the new system throughout Britain. As well as making the process easier for VOSA, the new provisions will help to free up police resources in Scotland in a similar way for core policing priorities. The new provisions will also make easier the process of appointing VOSA stopping officers and provide a useful minor clarification of the relevant equivalent law in Northern Ireland. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the regulations concern the use of emblems on ballot papers by candidates at local authority mayoral elections in England and Wales. Their purpose is to make the changes necessary to address an oversight that has arisen in the drafting of the existing regulations governing the conduct of local mayoral elections.
The changes being considered today will enable a candidate who is standing on behalf of two or more registered political parties at such an election to request that the ballot paper should feature, alongside the candidate’s particulars, an emblem registered by one of those political parties. I understand that a number of local mayoral elections are scheduled to take place in England in May 2011—I think that the number is five. The regulations will ensure that the issue is addressed ahead of those elections.
Under Section 29 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, a political party registered with the Electoral Commission may register with the commission up to three emblems for use on ballot papers by candidates standing for the party at elections. Electoral law is clear that a candidate standing on behalf of a single party may request that an emblem registered by that party appear on the ballot paper against the candidate’s particulars.
However, at the May 2010 general election, it came to light that amendments to the parliamentary election rules set out in Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 made by the Electoral Administration Act 2006 had had the unintended effect of preventing candidates standing on behalf of two or more registered political parties at UK parliamentary elections using on the ballot paper a party emblem registered by one of those parties.
This has affected jointly nominated candidates who have wanted a party emblem on their ballot paper, most notably those wishing to stand for the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party, and the Ulster Unionist Party and the Northern Ireland branch of the Conservative Party, where candidates have stood under the description, “Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force”. I should perhaps pre-empt any comments from the other side by saying that, as far as I know, these are the only two examples of political parties planning joint candidatures in the future.
These provisions have been replicated in the rules governing the conduct of various other elections. These include the rules for the conduct of local mayoral elections in England and Wales as set out in the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007. Schedule 1 to those regulations contains the rules for a stand-alone local mayoral election and Schedule 3 sets out the rules where a local mayoral election is combined with another poll. As a result, there is now an inconsistency in the use of registered emblems on ballot papers at local mayoral elections by candidates standing on behalf of a single party and those standing on behalf of more than one party. The draft regulations we are considering today address this inconsistency, which has resulted from an oversight in the 2007 regulations. As I have explained, these regulations are being made to address the issue ahead of the local mayoral elections scheduled for the 5 May. It might be helpful if I briefly explain the changes made by the regulations.
The issue arises in the context of the 2007 regulations. Rule 18(4) in Schedules 1 and 3—about candidates using an emblem on the ballot paper—makes reference only to Rule 7(1), which concerns the nomination paper for a candidate standing for a single party. To address the situation, Regulation 2 of the draft regulations before us inserts new Rule 18(4A) in Schedules 1 and 3. It refers to Rule 7(3), concerning the nomination paper for a candidate standing for more than one party. Further, Regulation 2 amends Rule 18(5) in each schedule so that it refers to paragraphs (4) and (4A) of Rule 18. The effect of these changes is that it will be possible for a candidate who is authorised to stand on behalf of more than one party at a local authority mayoral election in England and Wales to use an emblem registered with the Electoral Commission by one of those political parties, if they wish to do so.
The draft regulations allow such a candidate to use one emblem only on the ballot paper, which must be an emblem registered with the Electoral Commission by one of the parties for which they are standing. Our approach maintains the current policy that candidates nominated by a political party may have only one emblem featured against their details on the ballot paper. A candidate’s request to use an emblem must be made in writing to the returning officer before the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers, which is noon on the 19th day before the day of the election. For the local mayoral elections on 5 May, this is noon on Monday, 4 April.
The Electoral Commission and the Association of Electoral Administrators highlighted this issue in their reports on the May 2010 election. The political parties have also raised this issue with us. There is a broad consensus that the issue should be addressed at an early opportunity and in time for the elections scheduled to take place in May of this year. I can confirm that the Electoral Commission was formally consulted on these regulations and has indicated that it is content with the changes being made to the 2007 regulations. The same issue was replicated in the separate rules governing the conduct of other elections. We are addressing the issue in the relevant legislation for the other elections scheduled for 5 May. It will require primary legislation to address the issue for a UK parliamentary election, and we will look for an opportunity to do this in advance of the next general election.
These regulations make a sensible and appropriate change to put right an oversight in the drafting of the existing rules governing the conduct of local authority mayoral elections to allow the use of emblems on ballot papers by candidates nominated by two or more parties at those elections. In that spirit, I commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, I hope not to detain the Grand Committee for more than a few minutes. Before I come to specifics of the regulations that my noble friend introduced, would he comment on the report I read today? It said that Ministers and departments are under strict instruction, under the deregulation initiative or in/out process, that every time a new directive or regulation is introduced, one should also be abolished or repealed. If that is the case, I hope that we will, in future, get a brief description of what will be repealed to enable the new regulation to be introduced. Obviously, this is a very helpful and entirely desirable improvement to the situation, and I commend my noble friend for introducing it—in a totally non-partisan spirit, because I anticipate that the main advantage will be to the opposition party. I hope that the noble Baroness will acknowledge that on this occasion at least there is no ignoble partisan initiative or motive behind this, because clearly the primary benefit will be for Labour and Co-operative candidates. I know that there is a long tradition of them working together, and I hope that this will be accepted as an extremely helpful and consistent implementation of a principle that has been accepted in other parts of the electoral law.
I have three specific questions. As I understand it, it will now be possible for candidates standing for more than one party to have exactly the same opportunities for the use of an emblem on the ballot paper as those who are standing for a single party. However, it is a standing policy of all Governments that there should always be one emblem. The idea of combined emblems will provide a very interesting design objective in some circumstances. Whether the red rose is sometimes painted green—or there may be other opportunities for amalgamation—it will be a challenge to all designers. But there is also a problem of definition. I imagine that bringing together two emblems in a way that apparently creates a combined emblem will not be entirely easy to distinguish from two emblems separately put on the ballot paper. That is something that all Ministers in all Governments have rightly sought to resist as, once you open to door to that, you could have multi-emblems attempting to get on the ballot paper and more space being required—or else they would be too small to be legible. Is my noble friend entirely satisfied that the regulation will prevent what would otherwise look like two emblems being rather loosely combined? That may seem a small design problem, but it could turn out to cause difficulties.
Secondly, and relating to that, we are approaching the noon deadline on Monday 4 April at considerable speed. The consultation on this issue took place immediately after the 2010 election, both with the Electoral Commission—and I have declared an interest as having a minor role on an informal advisory group for the commission—and more widely. It is unfortunate that the elections for mayors in Bedford, Middlesbrough, Mansfield, Torbay and Leicester, where they must now already be starting their campaigns, have not been briefly and appropriately informed of the change. I have no idea whether there are candidates in any of those five locations who intend to stand on behalf of more than one party, but we are near the deadline and I hope that some attempt has been made to inform people in those areas, the political parties and those responsible for electoral administration, that this proposal was coming forward.
Thirdly, in his introduction, my noble friend referred to the fact that in due course primary legislation would be required for UK parliamentary elections. Can he tell the Grand Committee whether this is yet another candidate for the so-called “Christmas tree Bill”? That is rather an unfortunate description; it might be more properly described as the “Odds and Sods Constitutional Reform Bill”, because I know that a number of different proposals are likely to be contained in it. If it is, how soon may we expect to see that Bill? To adopt more parliamentary language, perhaps it could be called a portmanteau Bill. Either way, it is obviously important that the parties are given due notice that proposals will be brought forward as soon as time is available to deal with the bigger issue of the 2015 general election. As my noble friend has said, it is extremely important that we have total consistency so that the political parties, candidates and agents, as well as those responsible for electoral administration, have clear guidance that there will be a consistent approach right across the board.
Very briefly, since we are dealing with mayoral elections, I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that some of the issues arising over how executive mayors have been introduced into this country over the past 10 years are being reviewed in preparation for the Localism Bill, which is already under consideration in the other place. There are important problems that arise from that legislation, not least the fact that financial decisions are incredibly controversial when they are made by an elected mayor, because he or she can introduce a budget when two thirds of a council votes against it. There is also the issue of special responsibility allowances, which give the elected mayor huge patronage opportunities.
Obviously, this afternoon is not the opportunity to discuss these issues. However, I hope my noble friend will acknowledge that we cannot completely detach the issue of mayoral elections from wider concerns about the way in which the system is working, after a long period where it has caused some controversy in different parts of the country. When we come to the Localism Bill shortly, I hope that we will be able to address these.
I think my noble friend and his colleagues in the coalition Government have introduced some very sensible and, some might say, rather latter-day improvements to the system. They are correcting an inconsistency, a discrepancy that unfortunately managed to find its way into the previous basis for the identification of candidates on the ballot paper. I very much support and welcome the order before us.
My Lords, if I may for a moment, I was on the Committee of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I can remember very vaguely why it was called that. It was something to do with political parties so-called registering themselves in similar names—I think it was something like Liberal and Literal—so that voters would be confused by not reading properly. I had a letter in 2007 from someone saying that they had attempted to obtain the committee minutes and reports of this committee. He goes on to say that the committee office had performed a search in the Houses of Parliament and the parliamentary archives for the committee’s records. Unfortunately, and also rather incredibly, they reported on 20 January that the contents of the only file they had located related mainly to the establishment of the committee and included virtually nothing about any advice it may have given about the registration of parties. That seems incredible. I would like to know if in fact these minutes were found. I think it is important, because the registration of parties came before the registration of these emblems. The parties that are registered should be proper political parties, not ones that were originally trying to imitate another party. So I would be grateful if the Minister could let us know if the minutes have been discovered.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for his clear explanation of the order before us and I completely accept, of course, that it was under the Labour Government that the oversight occurred. I am very glad that the Minister and his colleagues are seeking to put that right. As the noble Lord said, some Labour candidates are also members of the Co-operative Party. I myself am a proud member of both parties. I recognise that we will benefit from this particular regulation, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said.
As a consequence of the oversight, if a person stands for both parties, they are unable to use an emblem for either one on the ballot paper. Clearly, that was not the intention, and I am glad that that is going to be righted. The noble Lord suggested that he was very glad, because there would not be able to be a plethora of emblems on a ballot paper. While I accept that we would not want to have rows and rows of emblems, I would ask the Minister why one cannot have two emblems, perhaps, rather than one. It is just a simple question.
The regulations before us clearly deal with mayoral elections. As the Minister said, in due course—or before 2015, if the Bill currently before the House goes through—there will be a need for primary legislation to deal with general election candidates. However, there may first be by-elections with candidates wishing to stand, for example, for the Labour and Co-operative Party and it would be good if a vehicle for the primary legislation could be found in the not-too-distant future.
I note the Minister’s comment that this was about the Labour and Co-operative Party and the Ulster Unionists and the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland. He suggested that the legislation is only for those parties and that there is no question of any other parties standing together. However, the political landscape is constantly shifting. I am sure that the noble Lord opposite will accuse me of being ignoble and partisan, but I recently read a statement by a Conservative MP, Mark Pritchard, that this will make it far easier for coalition party candidates to be presented to the electorate. I am not suggesting that this is the reason behind the legislation, but it is clear that if a Liberal Democrat and/or Conservative candidate wanted to stand for both parties, they could in future. There is nothing wrong with that. I am suggesting only that, if a mayoral candidate wanted to stand for both those parties, these regulations will make that easier. I have absolutely no problems with these regulations and I welcome them. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers.
My Lords, having desisted from drawing the attention of the Committee to the fact that we are yet again clearing up a mess left by the previous Administration, I was disappointed that the noble Baroness could not resist making the suggestion that this might be legislation for the coalition partners. I thought that I had pre-empted that. As has been clearly stated by both parties, there is no intention of putting forward joint candidates. We will be fighting the next election in May 2015, Parliament permitting the legislation, as separate and distinct parties. I believe that the noble Baroness really knows that.
I was interested in the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Golding. If she were on the committee, we have the guilty woman with us today. She made an important point about how, with the best of intentions, this kind of legislation came about. I remember the by-election in which the guy stood as the Literal Party candidate, while at the Hillhead by-election one of the candidates changed his name to Roy Jenkins in order to confuse. I am therefore well aware that the origins of this legislation were, rightly, to try to prevent the electorate from being confused, deliberately or otherwise, and to clarify the rules around the candidature.
On whether two or more emblems should be allowed, it is a matter of judgment. If we say one or two, someone will ask, “Why not three?”. The general principle of the legislation is that there should be a level playing field for candidates. It is therefore right that candidates standing for a political party may use one emblem only on the ballot paper. I am quite sure that if at some stage somebody wanted to amend a piece of legislation, Parliament would consider it, but I suspect that we would return to the balanced view in the original legislation—that the best level playing field is to have one emblem. As long as the emblem chosen can be cleared by the Electoral Commission, it could possibly be a hybrid of the two, but I suspect that it would make sense to have just the one emblem.
Certainly, I was not saying that this is just for the Labour and Co-op parties, although the noble Baroness is right that the title “Labour and Co-op candidate” has a proud history in British politics. The redoubtable Alf Morris fought all his elections as a Labour and Co-op candidate in my neighbouring constituency of Manchester Wythenshawe when I was in the other place.
Of course, emblems have changed from time to time. I remember the Labour Party as a torch rather than a red rose. I cannot remember what the Conservative Party emblem was before the tree. Was it as torch as well? The torch obviously went out of fashion.
I was also asked whether the mayoral candidates had been informed. The political parties were consulted about these plans. Indeed, I am told—and this shows that the Labour and Co-op party machines are on their toes—that they actually approached the Cabinet Office to seek clarification. I will not say that things have changed since my day, but I was impressed by that.
I was also asked when the point about the general election would be addressed. My honourable friend Mark Harper was more daring than my brief in that he suggested that the individual electoral registration Bill might be a suitable vehicle. I do not know whether that would be the case or whether the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Tyler of a portmanteau Bill would be better. However, I take on board the point made about the by-election. One of the things that we will take from this debate is that there might be a sense of urgency rather than simply thinking that it is a matter for 2014 or 2015. Certainly, the Government’s intention is to address the issue.
On the question of the merits and demerits of elected mayors, although the regulations are about elected mayors, we will have to leave the debate that my noble friend Lord Tyler tried to tempt me into to our consideration of the Localism Bill, if that is where it will be. I do not know whether these regulations are covered by the in/out commitment. I do not know whether the rules are quite so rigid when we are carrying out a tidying-up exercise such as this.
On the question of where the missing minutes are, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, that I will try to find out. I am also the Minister responsible for the National Archives. Missing minutes are very important, particularly minutes on an issue of such interest. Perhaps the officials responsible for this cock-up in the first place have stolen the minutes. I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this debate and I commend the regulations.
Marine Licensing (Licence Application Appeals) Regulations 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the Committee will be aware that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries presented these statutory instruments in another place on 7 March, where they were fully supported and passed with relatively little debate. The regulations form part of the new streamlined and transparent marine licensing system, to be introduced in April this year under Part 4 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which we all remember. The Act was broadly welcomed by all parties when it was debated in both Houses, although it took some time.
The new system replaces two out-of-date and overlapping pieces of primary legislation—Part 2 of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and Part 2 of the Coast Protection Act 1949—and establishes a single system for approving most projects at sea. The Marine Management Organisation, established in April last year, will carry out most of the Secretary of State’s licensing and enforcement functions. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will license oil and gas-related activities. One feature of a modern, more transparent and accountable licensing system is the right to challenge a decision made by a regulator. The regulations before the Committee today establish two rights of appeal.
First, the Marine Licensing (Licence Application Appeals) Regulations 2011 are made under Section 73 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act. These allow an applicant to appeal to an independent body within six months of a decision on their marine licence application. These appeals will be handled by the Planning Inspectorate. The regulations set out what an applicant must do to appeal against a decision, as well as the responsibilities of the licensing authority and the appeals body. The Planning Inspectorate will decide whether the appeal is to be heard by means of written representations, a hearing or—in the larger cases—an inquiry, based on the complexity of the case, as in all other planning matters. The rules that apply to each type of process are set out in the regulations and have been aligned, in general, with similar regulatory regimes.
The draft Marine Licensing (Notices Appeals) Regulations 2011 are made under Section 108 of the Act. The Act makes provision for a range of notices to enable a more proportionate approach to enforcement in the marine environment, designed to bring people into compliance. The regulations before the Committee set out a right of appeal against certain notices to the independent First-tier Tribunal, which was set up under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, specifically to hear civil enforcement appeals. The instrument sets out the powers of the tribunal in relation to appeals against notices and the notices that can be appealed. Appeals will follow the rules and procedures of the First-tier Tribunal General Regulatory Chamber, which are set out in secondary legislation that came into force in 2009.
I give an assurance that the Government consulted on both sets of regulations in the summer of 2010. Respondents broadly welcomed the introduction of both the appeals mechanisms and the detailed proposals. The devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are licensing authorities under Part 4 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act and are each making their own regulations under Sections 73 and 108 of the Act. Therefore, what we are talking about today relates purely to England.
I hope that the Committee will agree that the proposals set out in these regulations provide the level of transparency and accountability that the public have come to expect from modern regulators and I hope that the Committee will join me in supporting this measure. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and the Government on producing what I think is a very workable set of proposals. Indeed, this is an opportunity to pay tribute to the former Government for introducing the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. I think that I remember there being 17 sessions. My noble friend Lord Taylor may recall how many there were.
I think that we had 17 Committee evenings on that Bill. Some of them went long into the night but on the whole they were extraordinarily amicable, in contrast to some of our recent debates on other matters.
This is a very neatly designed scheme. It seems to be streamlined yet still transparent in terms of licensing and appeals under Part 4 of the Act. Of course, it is extremely important not just that there is a transparent process for licensing but that the appeals procedure is open to everyone to see how it works. In that context, and inevitably with a new system, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It will not be until we have seen some case law and have had some experience of the system that we will know whether it is as fool-proof as one would hope.
Perhaps I may take up one point that my noble friend made. The Planning Inspectorate will decide whether the appeal is to be heard by means of written representations, a hearing or an inquiry based on the complexity of the case. The definition of “complexity” is obviously a matter of judgment. That is inevitable; we cannot prescribe it in advance.
I am sure that anyone who was involved in the long process of the legislation’s gestation through your Lordships’ House will remember that there were a great many interested parties, all of whom had an amazing array of expertise. I hope that, together with the consultation that has already taken place, experience over the next few months and years will show that the amicable, united spirit that we set in place is maintained. This is a very important new framework for the management and conservation of our coastal and marine neighbourhood. This set of detailed proposals looks relatively straightforward. I am happy to support them and to commend all those in both Administrations who have been involved in producing them.
My Lords, I, too, welcome these regulations. I thank the Minister for bringing them forward today and for the way in which he spoke to them. As he pointed out, they have already been considered in the other place, where they were generally supported. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, recognised, they are supplementary provisions to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which, as he and the Minister pointed out, commanded strong cross-party support in both Houses of Parliament.
These regulations deal with licensing and enforcement issues. Under them, the Marine Management Organisation takes over most of the licensing and enforcement functions of the Secretary of State. We agree that the MMO is the suitable body to carry out these functions. We very much support the aims of making the system clear and transparent, which was one of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, stressed. We also support the fact that these two instruments, which are obviously linked, are being taken together in this debate, but perhaps I could ask one or two questions relating to the instruments separately, arising from reading the documentation in front of us.
Regulation 5(2) of the licence application appeals regulations mentions that the instrument,
“may provide for payment to be made to the appointed person”.
However, it was not clear to me what kind of payment this was. Obviously, we are talking about an appeals system and we want people to feel that they are able to appeal if they believe that a decision has not been correct. I simply wanted to ask what kind of payment, if any, might be involved in that process. I may have misread it, but I would be grateful for clarification from the Minister.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear me question whether the MMO has the staffing and resources necessary to undertake these functions. Page 2 of the impact assessment mentions the cost to the MMO in terms of training, new forms that have to be produced, changes to the IT systems and so on. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that the staffing and resources are there to be able to carry out these tasks.
I note that for the licence appeals system there will be a review in three years, but under the notices regulations the review will be two years after the introduction of the system of new monetary penalties and notices. I am not quite sure what date that means for the notices system, but I wondered, given how linked the two things are, whether the review period should be more or less the same for both.
The notices regulations introduce a,
“more flexible toolkit of enforcement options”.
We support that. As the Minister said, these provisions apply only where the Secretary of State is the appropriate licensing authority, so we are talking about England. I wondered, however, whether the devolved Administrations will have a similar or even the same system and in particular, in terms of monetary penalties, whether the devolved Administrations will have systems that are very much aligned with the one that will be introduced in England.
I found the impact assessment generally very helpful. However, I refer the Minister to paragraph 61 on page 21, which talks about the cost of familiarisation with guidance. It says:
“It is assumed that 20% of those holding FEPA licence will each spend 40% of a working day familiarising themselves with the guidance”.
To me, that somewhat begs the question: what about the other 80 per cent? Perhaps the answer is elsewhere in the document; if I have simply misunderstood it, perhaps the Minister can put me right on that point, either now or in writing.
As my colleague William Bain noted in the other House, these regulations comply with the Hampton recommendations on taking unnecessary matters out of the courts. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, they introduce a reasonable system, so I am happy to support these additional measures, which complement and supplement the 2009 Act.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and to my noble friend Lord Taylor for their remarks. I will join my noble friend Lord Tyler in paying tribute to the previous Government—it is only occasionally that we do such things—for the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. I would also add how sorry we are that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who spent so much time on that particular Bill, as my noble friend Lord Taylor remembers it, is not able to be here today.
As regards how this legislation works, my noble friend Lord Tyler said that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and he referred to the problem in terms of the definition of “complexity”. I can give some sort of assurance from my ancient memories as a pupil at the planning bar—a very, very long time ago—that this is well understood in planning law. In terms of transposing—perhaps I may use that EU expression—these matters on to general planning law, there will be a great problem. Obviously, there will be questions of fact and degree as to where something lies and whether it should be undertaken by written representation, by some other appeal or by general public inquiry. However, these matters have previously been dealt with without too much problem.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, first asked about payments. I understand that a salary or fee will be paid by the planning inspectorate to any appointed inspector, as has always been the case. That is what happens with terrestrial planning systems—they are paid for the work they do, as is right and appropriate. She also asked about staffing, saying that I would not be surprised by her question on whether the MMO would be able to meet its commitments. We have certainly taken advice from the MMO enforcement team on the level of resource required for this activity. It is perfectly happy that it has budgeted accordingly and will be able to deal with everything that it needs, as set out in the impact assessment.
I shall turn to the noble Baroness’s complicated question—I am not sure whether I have got it right—about the different review timescales we have set out for two different things. One is of three years and the other two years. I understand that we are committed to monitoring and reviewing the use of notices after two years. Obviously, appeals on that system are different. However, if I have not quite understood her exact concern, I will certainly write to her and set out a proper response.
I am grateful that there is general agreement on both these two orders and the fact that they should be agreed. If I have failed to answer any of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I will obviously do so in writing. In the mean time, I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Marine Licensing (Notices Appeals) Regulations 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations are being made to transpose in England and Wales Directive 2008/98/EC on waste, which is known as the revised framework directive.
The Waste Framework Directive is the foundation stone on which all EU waste legislation has been built. It was originally adopted as far back as 1975—a date which many of us in this House can still remember—in what was then known as the Common Market. At that time, most waste was disposed of by landfilling or incineration.
However, the Waste Framework Directive has developed over the years as our awareness of the environmental consequences of waste disposal, and the unsustainable use of resources, has grown. The directive was substantially revised in 1991 and its scope extended from disposal to include also the recovery and recycling of waste. In recognition of the increasing international trade in waste for recovery, the 1991 revision also introduced an EU-wide definition of waste.
The latest revision of the directive builds on those solid foundations. Its aim is to place much greater emphasis on the sustainable use of resources by taking measures to prevent the production of waste, and by making better use of the waste that continues to be produced. It also simplifies regulatory controls by incorporating the Hazardous Waste Directive into the revised directive and repealing most of the Waste Oils Directive. However, protecting the environment and human health remains a key objective.
The fulfilment of the directive’s objectives is of interest to everyone—householders, local authorities and businesses, big and small. We have developed our proposals to transpose the directive in close consultation with these customers and stakeholders. The process was begun by the previous Government, which consulted on the transposition of several key provisions. The coalition Government took this forward and consulted last year on a draft of the transposing regulations. In transposing the directive, we have sought to keep costs to businesses, local authorities, regulators and taxpayers to the minimum. Many of the directive’s requirements can be met without additional measures or burdens and do not involve additional costs. Where new controls are necessary we have adopted a light-touch approach. I can assure the Committee that the transposing regulations do not gold-plate the directive.
A key new provision of the revised directive is the five-step waste hierarchy, which is to apply as a priority order in waste management legislation and policy. Our proposals for implementing the waste hierarchy through minimum changes to the planning, permitting and waste transfer note arrangements were well supported in consultation. They were widely recognised as representing a light-touch approach. The revised directive also sets two new targets for 2020: first, to recycle 50 per cent of waste from households; and, secondly, to recover 70 per cent of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste. The regulations impose no new measures to meet these targets. Current projections are that existing policy measures, including the landfill tax, should be sufficient to ensure that we meet them. There are no requirements in the transposing regulations that directly affect issues such as the frequency of local authorities’ collection of household waste, charges to householders or the enforcement of waste collection services.
The revised directive also requires member states to introduce separate collection of wastes, where practicable, by 2015. The previous Government obtained clarification from the European Commission that what is known as co-mingled collection—where recyclable materials are collected together for subsequent separation—is an acceptable form of separate collection under the directive, provided it results in materials of sufficient quality to be recycled. The Government are satisfied that co-mingled collection is capable of providing the right quality of recycling material, so the transposing regulations we have laid before the Committee confirm that co-mingled collection is a valid form of separate collection. The regulations therefore contribute to the coalition Government’s policy on localism by ensuring that decisions on the best ways to collect household waste remain a matter for local authorities. The regulations would allow local authorities to make those decisions and to provide the waste and recycling services that their residents want.
The regulations also provide scope for residents and local groups to contribute to the big society—for example, by setting up local re-use networks and helping to prevent waste, both of which come much further up the hierarchy and are to be applauded. I commend the regulations to the Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend was kind enough to refer to my noble friend Lord Greaves. I must confess that I am standing in for him with even more trepidation on this set of proposals than I did on the previous one, where I had had some role in the passage of the marine Bill.
I think that the first thing that my noble friend would have said is that it is rather unfortunate that all this paper before us appears not to be recycled. I do not know whether my noble friend the Minister can confirm this. The symbol that usually appears on documents of this sort to show that they are on recycled paper is not present. It may be that the emblems have been mistaken, but we all have an increasing responsibility to try to make sure that we practise what we preach.
I have one or two questions. First, will my noble friend confirm that the long period since the European Court of Justice decision of, I think, 2005 that is referred to in some of the notes before us has been put to good use in dealing with the issues then raised? It is quite a long delay. I accept that these regulations deal with the directive on waste of 2008-09, but it should surely have been the concern of the previous Administration to deal with the ECJ judgment previous to that.
Secondly, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Greaves would have been able to cope with the concept of co-mingled collection much more adequately than me because it is new to me—I have no doubt that the Minister is all too aware of it—but there is a real dilemma here, of which I shall give just one illustration. My own local authority insists that the transparent windows on window envelopes are detached from the envelopes and disposed of in a completely different way. It is the first time that I have come across that anywhere in the country. It may be perfectly acceptable under these regulations for co-mingled collection, but in my locality it is not. A huge number of envelopes have such windows, as I am sure other Members of your Lordships' House will know from the mail that they receive. Every time I go home, I find myself spending quite a long time detaching windows from envelopes. The regulations do their very best, with what is described as a light-touch approach, to marry the objectives of consistency through the whole country with localism—my noble friend the Minister has referred to that. However, it is a real dilemma for the householder who, perhaps like Members of your Lordships' House, has to dispose of refuse in different parts of the country on completely different bases. Co-mingled collection is obviously an interesting issue.
I understand from what the Minister said, as well as from the briefing that I have received, that the Government are very properly insisting on trying to avoid overregulation and on giving local authorities the opportunity to take their own decisions. However, on these matters, it makes for a postcode lottery, with businesses and households through the country faced with quite different concerns and costs. It should be a constant concern of any Government to try to get that balance right. I would like to be reassured that, under the regulations, the avoidance of gold-plating and the insistence on a light touch will not result in a plethora of quite different policies in different parts of the country. That is an inevitable dilemma.
I have one other point, on timing. I note that, under the directive of November 2008, it was intended that the Government should achieve this transposition by 12 December 2010. I understand that, as a result of their failure to do that on time, an infraction letter was issued which I presume the Government have had to take note of and respond to. I just wonder where that matter stands and whether the Minister is confident that the Commission will not be able to, or will not wish to, take further action since we are some two or three months behind time on that.
I cannot pretend to be a great expert on these regulations, and no doubt I will be subject to the inevitable scrutiny of my noble friend Lord Greaves afterwards, but he would at least be concerned that these proposals seem to have been quite a long time in gestation. It so happens that they appear to have been printed on paper that has not been recycled, but I trust that when it is collected in waste bins around your Lordships' House will be appropriately recycled in the future.
My Lords, these regulations are important. As the Minister pointed out, they transpose the Waste Framework Directive. Indeed, as the Explanatory Memorandum points out, in one way or another the fulfilment of the directive's objectives is of interest to everyone in the country—householders, local authorities, businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, NGOs, consumer groups and so forth. I am grateful that we have had the opportunity today to look at these regulations. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for representing the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, whose knowledge we miss on these occasions. I know that he has taken a deep interest in these issues for a long time.
Despite the fact that not many noble Lords are present for this debate or have spoken, these matters are of ongoing concern. I am sure that we will return to them at many points in the future on the Floor of the House and in Grand Committee. Certainly, the Opposition will be watching progress on this important matter carefully.
We are fortunate in that the Minister is in charge of this subject within the department. He is smiling—I hope that he is pleased to be in charge of it. Therefore, we are able to ask the relevant Minister the pertinent questions that need to be asked today and as this matter progresses.
The Minister reminded us that the regulations re-enact, repeal or revise three predecessor directives. With the EU, it is not always a case of adding new regulations. Sometimes, it involves repealing and scrapping previous regulations. I welcome the way that this has happened.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned that we were somewhat late in not complying with the deadline. He mentioned the infraction letter. I note that the Minister in the other place said that this was partly due to wanting to have as thorough a consultation process as possible. Obviously, I welcome the fact that a consultation has taken place. I note that the Minister in the other place also mentioned the point that was reinforced by the Minister here: that they had not wanted to gold-plate the regulations. However, I somewhat share the concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. We are really just introducing the minimum requirements under the directive and keeping a light touch, as the Minister said. But we need to be assured that that light touch will be effective. We also want to be assured that encouragement to go beyond these requirements will be part and parcel of the system.
The last time that the Minister and I discussed environmental issues, his noble friend Lord Deben was present. He gave the Minister a hard time in terms of wanting an assurance that we could move faster in future. Many of the points that he made in the debate on the draft producer responsibility regulations should be borne in mind for this debate, such as the possibility of an earlier review if necessary.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, the Minister said in the previous debate that the timing and circumstances of the waste review meant that two years was an acceptable period. None the less, if there are ways in which standards can be raised more quickly, that would be of great interest to us.
My honourable friend the Member for Copeland, Jamie Reed, quoted the CBI in criticising the Government’s timidity in some respects. He said that the CBI,
“rightly identified a series of quick wins that the country could secure if the Government were bolder and more ambitious—from providing massive business opportunities to helping to meet climate change targets, bolstering our energy security capability and helping to unlock infrastructure investments from the private sector”.—[Official Report, Commons, Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee, 8/3/11; col. 4.]
Obviously, the CBI’s concerns go wider than these particular regulations, but none the less it was right to stress the opportunities there are in greening the economy and getting ahead in the business of tackling waste effectively. We do not want a loss of momentum, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out in the earlier debate. We want to keep momentum going and accelerate whenever possible.
We have examples elsewhere in the EU of economies seeming to do better with environmental issues and tackling waste. The Federal Republic of Germany has a good record in this respect. It would be good to see us going up in the European league table in this connection. I do not know whether the Minister has any further update on the timing of the Government’s waste strategy. In our earlier debate, he said that it might come forward in April or May. It was not clear whether it might come forward before the local elections but, since local authorities are very much affected by these proposals, it would be interesting if the Minister could give us an indication of a precise date for the waste review. There are huge resource implications particularly for local authorities in these measures, and in that respect the impact assessment is very helpful in showing how local authorities are likely to be affected by particular aspects. But local authorities have a lot of choices in implementing these regulations and, while I can understand that it is good for them to be able to judge how best to respond to these requirements—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler—we do not want that to be at the expense of sacrificing overall standards in making progress. So there is a bit of a dilemma, on which it would be good to hear the Minister comment.
I also recognise what the Minister said about co-mingling, but evidence points to the kerbside recycling system as being better economically and environmentally. I am slightly worried that the achievement of the Government, if I can call it that, in getting co-mingling accepted at European level, might act as a disincentive to local authorities to go to what seems to be the more effective, separate kerbside collections. In separation policies there is the choice between kerbside collections and the bring-bank system—in other words, the separate banks held in a central location in a particular local authority area. I also note that the impact assessment has a variety of costs included with each of these choices. Indeed, the cost ranges are quite large, and I wondered what discussions there were with local authorities to identify ways in which to recycle most effectively but not necessarily at the higher end of the cost scale, as mentioned in the impact assessment.
The target for England by 2020 is, I think, 50 per cent recycling, but the Government expect that target to be exceeded. I note that in Wales the target is 64 per cent. Does it not make sense to consider a more ambitious target in England, particularly if the Government feel that the existing target is likely to be exceeded in any case? I do not know what experience the Minister in charge has of how other countries are tackling these issues. However, it would be good to have an assurance that we will seek to learn lessons from the best-performing countries in the EU regarding this system.
Having said that, these are not at all regulations that we would seek to oppose. However, there are several concerns about how we will move forward in the years ahead, which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and I have raised, and to which it would be good to get the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks. She asked whether I was pleased to be in charge of waste. My Secretary of State the other day accused me of having become, after just nine months, what she described as a “waste nerd”. I had to say yes and took pride in the fact that I had become a waste nerd; it is a subject of great interest to me and should be of great interest to all of us. I hope that this is a matter we will come back to in due course, when the waste review comes out in May. That is our current estimate; the trouble is that May seems very close at hand now but that is when we hope to get it out. It cannot come out in April because of local government elections and the purdah that goes with those. This is a matter that affects local government to a great extent. However, we hope to get it out in May. I hope we will have considerable discussions on the whole subject of waste—on how it should be seen as a resource and not just as waste; how we should dispose of waste; and how we should meet all our commitments. We will deal with those matters at that time. I am not sure that tonight is necessarily the opportunity to go through all that. If we do, I suspect all those waiting to debate Manchester might get somewhat irritated with me because I would take up too much time, having become a waste nerd.
The noble Baroness also referred to my noble friend Lord Deben, who said that he wanted to make sure there was no loss of momentum. Following that, she referred to various EU comparisons. It is always worth looking at what other countries in the EU are doing and how they deal with these matters. Looking downwards, it is always worth looking at what different local authorities do. By pursuing a policy of localism—which might mean that some authorities do better than others and that there is an element of postcode lottery—rather than trying to impose the same system from above, we can learn new things. Certainly, we look at what is happening in Europe.
It is also worth pointing out that we are not necessarily doing worse than many of our European comparators. Only today I saw some representatives of the packaging industry. They explained to me how well we had done in reducing packaging. After all, reducing waste is the most important part of the whole waste strategy. We have seen virtually no growth in our packaging waste over the past 10 or so years, despite the growth in the economy, whereas most other countries in Europe have. I do not know whether those figures covered England or the UK, but that is an area in which we are doing very well indeed and of which we should be proud. I pay tribute to what the previous Government did and what we shall continue to do when we come forward with our waste review, which I hope the noble Baroness will welcome in due course.
I will deal with one or two of the points that have been made by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on this. I can say only mea culpa—or somebody culpa—for what the noble Lord said about the document produced by the Stationery Office not necessarily being printed on recycled paper. That is probably a matter for the Stationery Office. However, I will ask officials to take it up and ask what the Stationery Office is doing about the use of recycled paper. That is important because it is something that Defra is very keen to do, not only by example within the department but by encouraging it throughout the whole government estate, to make sure that we do the right thing. Dare I say at this stage—two or three months before we produce our waste review—that I will give a guarantee that that will be produced on recycled paper and will be as environmentally friendly as it is possible to be?
The next important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, is on this very difficult question of co-mingled waste collection. I appreciate that there are concerns about this. Speaking from my own experience of having been a Minister for Waste for all of nine months, and the number of visits I have made to materials recycling facilities—MRFs, normally shortened to “Merf”—I can say that the technology gain with MRFs is improving by the day. They are getting much better at separating the different recyclables from a co-mingled collection. That is very important, because only some authorities can pursue a policy of having a good kerbside separation which is appropriate for that particular authority and which seems to be the best at giving purer recyclables at the end. Technology will move on and will make MRFs even better at separating things. In the mean time, we have to accept that different authorities have to do different things.
That is one of the reasons why I am a great believer in localism. I appreciate that my noble friend Lord Tyler said that there were real dilemmas in localism. One point that people always make is that it leads to what is called a postcode lottery. I do not think that that particularly matters, provided that the postcode lottery means that the best ones always get better and encourage the less good ones to follow them upwards. The other advantage of the so-called postcode lottery and of the localism view, which is particularly true in waste collection, is that any idea that the Government imposed their own rules top down would be wrong. We would get it wrong. Different local authorities pursue different ideas—it is almost the Maoist approach of letting 100 flowers bloom. I see the colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, laughing; he hears a Tory talking about flowers. However, having different approaches coming from different authorities allows different ideas to be developed and I believe that that is good.
When I started visiting local authorities and watching the whole collection and disposal process, the first one I visited, not far from me, was Richmondshire in North Yorkshire. It is a very different place from the London borough of Richmond. Similarly, I live in Carlisle, partly an urban and partly a rural seat. It is very different from the other place I live in, Westminster. They offer very different services because of their different nature: the houses are high-rise, or whatever. Local authorities have to do different things, and some will want to pursue the co-mingled route and some another. The assurance we sought from the EU—which I gather the previous Administration also did—is that co-mingled will be satisfactory in terms of dealing with whether this is genuinely recyclable. But that is a matter that will have to be kept under review.
Lastly, may I deal with the question of timing to which my noble friend, Lord Tyler, referred? I appreciate that it is a matter that should have been dealt with by December 2010. However, as I think my honourable friend Mr Benyon made clear in another place, we thought it was better—as did the previous Government—to overplay the consultations to ensure that we got these matters absolutely right, that we were not going to gold-plate the directive and that all our measures were achievable. I hope that with that in mind, as well as the fact that in due course we will be producing our waste review, which I look forward to debating with the noble Baroness and others, the Committee is prepared to accept these regulations.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority Order 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the order would establish a combined authority covering the area of the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester. The establishment of the new combined authority will leave Greater Manchester better placed to tackle its economic challenges and improve public service delivery.
Part 6 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 enables the creation of economic prosperity boards and combined authorities. These are designed for groups of local authorities that wish to work closely together to deliver improvements in economic development, regeneration and, in relation to combined authorities, transport. They are corporate bodies with their own governance structures. They can be given local authority functions relating to economic development and regeneration and the transport functions available to integrated transport authorities. I should stress that whether to establish a combined authority is a voluntary decision for the local authorities concerned and that Ministers cannot impose combined authorities on areas.
The 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester have a long history of collaboration. For more than 20 years, the voluntary partnership known as the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) has successfully co-ordinated cross-boundary collaboration between the 10 local authorities on a wide range of issues.
The previous Government consulted in March last year on AGMA’s proposal to establish a combined authority. The consultation showed strong support for the combined authority from a range of private sector and public sector partners across Greater Manchester. The combined authority has strong support within the business community and has the support of all 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester. In November, we confirmed our intention to support the establishment of the combined authority and to proceed with the order establishing the new authority.
Membership of the combined authority would consist of the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester. Under the order, each constituent local authority is required to appoint one of its elected members as a member of the authority. The combined authority would be funded through appropriate contributions from each of the 10 local authorities and through the transport levy.
The order would transfer the functions of the integrated transport authority to the combined authority, which would also assume some existing transport functions held by the Greater Manchester local authorities. The order would also devolve to the combined authority certain local authority functions relating to economic development and regeneration. This should ensure more effective alignment between decision-making on transport and that on other areas of policy such as land use, economic development and wider regeneration. In particular, the same authority would determine Greater Manchester’s sustainable community strategy and its local transport plan.
The Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority has a good history of delivering and improving transport in Greater Manchester. For example, it manages a concessionary fares scheme for senior, blind, disabled, and young permit holders and organises about 7.5 million school journeys each year. It has masterminded the expansion of the Manchester Metrolink, including important extensions to East Didsbury, Ashton, Rochdale, Oldham and Manchester Airport. However, with the establishment of the combined authority we would see a greater concentration of transport functions across Greater Manchester within one authority. This would help to deliver transport benefits beyond those which the existing integrated transport authority structure can provide.
The new arrangements will allow the combined authority to have much greater influence over the full range of transport infrastructure and services across Greater Manchester. In view of their decision to establish a combined authority, the Government are committed to working with Manchester on a forward-looking programme to examine how Greater Manchester can assume greater responsibilities and influence, comparable to those enjoyed by Transport for London. This agenda will be taken forward through a protocol on heavy rail that facilitates closer working between Greater Manchester and the Department for Transport, and a similar protocol on highways which will facilitate closer working between Greater Manchester and the Highways Agency.
The protocols will provide the basis for the combined authority to plan and develop its transport strategy in full awareness of programmes on national rail networks and the strategic road network in and around Greater Manchester. They will also enable the combined authority to be able to have a real influence on those national programmes, bringing to bear the authority’s knowledge of what is needed from transport to facilitate the authority’s strategy for promoting economic growth in Greater Manchester.
In October last year, the civic and business leaders of Greater Manchester were invited to proceed with the establishment of their proposed local enterprise partnership. They hope to have their new local enterprise partnership up and running next month. The Greater Manchester combined authority will work in close partnership with the local enterprise partnership to drive economic growth across Greater Manchester. Under Greater Manchester’s proposals, the local enterprise partnership will provide strategic direction and leadership in delivering on Greater Manchester’s economic priorities. The combined authority will act as the primary accountable body for Greater Manchester and as a repository of certain statutory functions, including those of the integrated transport authority.
We do not anticipate that establishing the combined authority will involve increased costs for the 10 local authorities within Greater Manchester, as a lot of the infrastructure to support the authority is already in place. Indeed, our expectation is that the combined authority will lead to considerable efficiency savings through sharing and avoiding the duplication of services. This is important at a time when public resources are so stretched.
In conclusion, I believe that the new combined authority will leave the local authorities of Greater Manchester better placed to support the delivery of economic improvements across Greater Manchester and to support the ambitions of its local enterprise partnership.
My Lords, I should first declare a number of interests in this matter. I am leader of one of the 10 Greater Manchester authorities and chairman of the AGMA executive board. Last month, I was appointed chair of the shadow combined authority, because we anticipate the success of the order. We are well into planning for it.
I thank the Minister for the clear and thorough way in which he introduced the order and through him thank the Government for the way in which they reviewed the application for the combined authority for Greater Manchester and for agreeing to it.
There are some familiar faces here. We were in this very Room discussing the Committee stage of the wonderful Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill. That lasted a long time and, in one session, I rather surprised the Minister at the time by saying that, if you want this sort of thing to work, you have to give it some real teeth and real powers; otherwise, what is the point of going through all these processes? Fortunately, the Minister listened and, as a result, the combined authority is a more effective and more accountable form of government.
As the Minister described, with wonderful timing we entered the consultation phase in March last year, which of course straddled the general election. Therefore, there was an impasse before the election but, as I said, we were extremely pleased that the Government listened, and there was overwhelming support for the combined authority from partners in Greater Manchester. The authority shares with the Government the desire to improve the economy of Greater Manchester, and it does so in a number of innovative ways, particularly working with the private sector. We have no quarrels with that. We have a long history in Manchester of working with the private sector. We recently set up the Business Leadership Council, which is a fairly free-flying body. It can criticise AGMA if it does not think that it is responding to the needs of business across the conurbation.
As the Minister said, we have now been working together in AGMA since the abolition of the old met counties in 1986. That means that we have been working together for 25 years. I think that we have become more effective because we have realised that there is more to do. The tyranny of some local boundaries means that, when trying to achieve something locally, you need to think bigger, particularly on economic matters. With the support of the previous Government, there was an independent economic review for Manchester. A group of distinguished economists was able to come and say what was good about the Greater Manchester economy and, perhaps more importantly for all of us, what was not good and what we needed to do. One thing that the economists said we needed to do was to improve the governance, making it stronger, and integrate decisions on transport with other economic decisions. That is what the combined authority will allow us to do.
I want to comment on one thing that the Minister said which was not quite correct. In the wake of a very painful experience concerning the congestion charge, in which a referendum was broken, AGMA agreed to set up a Greater Manchester transport fund. It increased the levy from each local authority by 3 per cent above the demands of the service and put it into a transport fund, which was able to pay for the extensions to Metrolink, as the Minister evidenced. Therefore, although it went through the CA, the CA did not pay for it; the AGMA leaders agreed to do that. That is the kind of thing that we will do in the future. Despite the current pressures on local government, we are sustaining that going forward.
We also want to work with the Government on reforming public services, as the Minister said. In particular, we are a pilot for community budgets. We understand the need for work to be done regarding families with complex needs and the great costs that arise for local authorities and government. Often, we just manage a problem; we do not cure it. Therefore, we hope that we will be able to do better work on that.
The Minister is absolutely right: we have no intention of setting up a bureaucracy to run the combined authority. We see it as a way of saving in the long term by combining work. A lot of work is going from local authorities’ highways services into the new combined authority, and that will produce savings across the board, apart from the general work that we are doing in that regard.
Finally, again, I thank the Government for their foresight. We believe that we can work together with the Government and achieve a lot on this matter.
My Lords, I have been Bishop of Manchester for eight and a half years now. During that time, I have been increasingly impressed with the way in which the different local authorities in Greater Manchester work together. The further co-ordination that the order will provide in terms of economic regeneration, development and transport is something that is not only a natural progression from all that has previously happened but something that I know will be enormously and widely welcomed within Greater Manchester.
I want to take this opportunity in Committee to pay a public tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, for the considerable work that he has personally done with this co-ordination over the years. He is held in very high regard across the local authorities and his wise guidance is a considerable reason why the different local authorities work so positively together.
I notice that at the end of the Explanatory Memorandum for the draft order it says:
“The impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies is expected to be negligible”.
I entirely understand why that is said, but I want to add that many people, not least in the churches, will feel that the greater coherence that the order will provide will enhance the work of the voluntary sector. I very much hope that the order will be passed.
I obviously support the order. It seems very sensible. In earlier legislation under the Labour Government, I moved amendments to allow the then PTEs to be joint signatories of railway franchises in their areas. I had a lot of support from the PTEs but faced an absolute stone wall from the Minister at the time. There will be huge railway development in Manchester, particularly the northern hub at the centre. It will require great work in Manchester. The Minister mentioned that there would be close working with the DfT, but I would like him to say what that means. In the past, people with experience in Liverpool and Leeds found that that close working led to very expensive delays and people feeling that they were not being helped by the department so much as throttled.
Going forward, when there are large developments, will the department bring itself to treat these large organisations that they are creating as partners rather than servants of the department? I am sorry if that sounds rather unpleasant, but I met several leaders of these authorities at the weekend and they were strong about that. There is an old saying, “I'm from the council: I'm here to help you”. But it almost seems to be, “I'm from the department and I'm here to curse you”. I would like the Minister to expand on how these freedoms will be exercised.
My Lords, I, too, join in the general welcome for this order. I give it our warm and enthusiastic support. It must be as near to perfection as any Government order can achieve. It is enabled by an Act of Parliament passed under a Labour Government. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, recorded the many happy hours we spent on the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill as it then was. I am hugely reassured to know that something good has at last come out of the many hours that we spent on it.
The order is supported by 10 local authorities and all the political parties, by business and now we hear that it has the blessing of the church as well. What more could any Government ever seek to achieve? Furthermore, we know that this is happening, quite rightly, by voluntary means rather than being imposed from above, and there is a strong lesson in that. We hear, too, that not only is it not going to cost more but there is an expectation of savings and that it can all be implemented without any great bureaucracy. This must be as near to perfection as we can ever hope from any government order, and I am sure that there will be nobody who would wish it ill or wish to oppose it on that basis. We give it our enthusiastic support, and I hope that it will show that this is the way of the future and this will be the first but not the last of a move in this direction. We wish it well.
My Lords, I join the right reverend Prelate in paying tribute to my noble, and indeed personal, friend Lord Smith. George Orwell would recognise him as an exemplary Wigan Peer if he were to rewrite his book. I also congratulate the Minister and the Government on proceeding with reasonable alacrity to bring forward this order. I have not checked, so I am not sure whether it meets the requirement of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, of being printed on recycled paper. If not, that is the only defect one could possibly find with it. However, although this was the first order of this kind and there was a change of Government, it is nearly a year since the proposal was made. One would hope that on the basis of the experience of this order, if further applications are made—and I certainly hope that they are—the process will be a little swifter. Otherwise, particularly if there are a number of such applications, it will be quite a long time before they can be dealt with. However, presumably now that government departments have the experience of dealing with the process, it will be speedier.
I must also pay tribute not only to my noble friend but to his colleagues across the political divide in the authorities in Greater Manchester. They had their differences over the congestion charge, as he reminded us, but generally speaking they have worked very well together. I am sure that that will be the case after the pending local elections in May, although whether there will still be the same number of councillors of different political colours remains to be seen. In any event, it is clear that, not for the first time, Greater Manchester has blazed a trail for metropolitan governance in this country. The councils have, of course, a very strong municipal history. Now that they have come together and formed, in effect, a sub-region, those of us who are concerned with other areas of that kind need to watch carefully and learn from that.
I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I strike a slightly partisan note, but it is regrettable that the Secretary of State has seen fit to single out Manchester City Council for, in my view, excessive criticism—not in relation to this proposition but in more general terms. One hopes that the spirit animating the Government in reaching this satisfactory conclusion to the approach from Greater Manchester will be reflected in more measured language in looking at the problems encountered by all the authorities in that area. But of course they have worked successfully for many years, as the Minister and other noble Lords have said. There has been a very striking urban renaissance in Manchester itself and in Salford, which is welcoming hordes of reluctant BBC employees with open arms as the headquarters move there but also in other parts of the conurbation. As an LGA study some time ago demonstrated, the scale of sub-regional governance is a key factor in bringing together the requirements for the development of the local economy and some of the infrastructure that goes with that, although there are other issues which transcend those boundaries and which need to be considered on a regional basis. In that regard, the structures that have existed will unfortunately no longer exist, and that may slightly impede the success of a very promising venture. Of course, it has to be borne in mind that this takes place against a background of a very difficult financial situation for the authorities.
My noble friend referred to Community Budgeting, or Total Place, as it was known before it was rebranded after the election. There is certainly potential here to look at problems across the range of public services that might be tackled more effectively, given the fairly cohesive nature of the area, although each borough has its own distinctive character. In the local health economy, for example, the issues of skills and further and higher education are not confined by boundaries. Like my noble friend, I hope that the new organisation will be able to influence developments there. Equally, I hope the Minister will persuade the relevant government departments that they must look outside the traditional silos and co-operate fully in the development of such an approach.
I join all those who have spoken in warmly welcoming this critical development. I hope that others will seek to follow it. I have but one question for the Minister, which relates to the constitution. Manchester city is to be visited with the novel creation of a shadow mayor, assuming the proposal is accepted under the Localism Bill. It is an interesting concept: the shadow mayor has to be appointed and there then has to be confirmation of the position in a referendum, perhaps the following year. However, that applies only to the city of Manchester, which is extremely well led by Sir Richard Leese. He will not be the mayor of Greater Manchester—the surrounding boroughs will not quite accept that proposition, although I have no doubt that the press will try to portray him in that capacity—nor will anybody who might be elected to that position, if the referendum goes in favour of an elected mayor.
A question arises from the constitution, on which the noble Lord can perhaps help me. The membership is described as being based on each constituent council appointing one of its elected members to be a member of the new body. Maybe I am being even more pedantic than usual but it is not clear whether a mayor is an elected member of the council. The shadow mayor will be in place for the duration of that year; he is, by definition, a member of that council. If there is an elected mayor, the question then arises of whether he is to be regarded for the purposes of this order as an elected member of the council. He is not an elected member in the way that every other member is an elected member. It may be that this is a point with no substance to it but it might need to be considered. If it is not clear, perhaps some thought might be given to dealing with the situation. If it is clear, that is wonderful—we can all go away happy.
It is quite clear that we all arrived happy. It is very nice, as a Minister standing in for a colleague, to get such a warm and congenial reception across the board for a statutory instrument. Perhaps I should volunteer to do this more often. It is a very pleasant experience. It has been interesting, too. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, for his involvement in Manchester and for the way in which he welcomed this measure. I acknowledge the work of AGMA in serving as a nursery for this. What is so useful about it is the way in which both AGMA and Whitehall have worked together to make a success of the opportunity that the GMCA represents. I hope that that can be built on. During the debate, various noble Lords have suggested ways in which it can be built on. In many ways, it forms a model and is very much the pioneer. Of course, Manchester would say that it is always the pioneer.
I stand corrected on the history. In the hope that we could make the debate run a little faster, I rather recklessly threw away a small portion of my speech on the grounds that it covered a bit of the history. Therefore, I stand corrected, and the record will note the correction made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester for his tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the concept of voluntary sector involvement across the Greater Manchester area. In fact, we had a debate in the dinner hour last night on the voluntary sector and the big society bank. The debate highlighted the importance of voluntary and community action. Co-ordinating that with the professional services that local authorities are providing is also very important. As I see it, there are opportunities for a number of functions to work together and form a platform. The authority’s powers are of course limited to transport, economic development and sustainable development, but inevitably that will lead to the co-ordination of planning activities and of the location of services. I hope that the local authorities will find that working together creates not only efficiencies but strategic purpose which they can share.
My noble friend Lord Bradshaw, with his enthusiasm for the railways, hit upon the importance of railway development and, in particular, the northern hub. I think that I can reassure him on that point. The protocols to which I referred will cover that. We are also determined that the local enterprise partnership’s involvement will mean that there is proper co-ordination between the investment by Whitehall and the interests of the local community expressed through the local enterprise partnership and the GMCA.
My noble friend Lord Tope got quite carried away with the perfection of the order. It is most unusual to hear a noble Lord refer to perfection when you are presenting a statutory instrument, but I thank him for his support. He, too, has great experience of local government and I think that he recognises the potential of this model.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for welcoming the measure. It has taken a while but this was the first combined authority to be established under the legislation. Ministers wanted to consider the case for it and see how it fitted in with the new local enterprise partnership policy, and that, probably above all, accounts for the delay. However, I do not think that it has delayed the way in which those on the ground have been getting together, and I am pleased that that is the case.
We do not object at all to local authorities considering how they can operate across boundaries. We hope that co-operation can be, as it has been in this case, on a bottom-up basis. It has worked well here, and where a community of interests exists, I hope that local authorities will not hesitate to work together for the efficiency and economic prosperity of the areas they represent. That is one of the most important things to come out of this development, which I agree has a cross-party basis to it. There are differences of politics, and I would not share all the views of either the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, or the noble Lord, Lord Smith, but I think that we all recognise that in areas of policy such as this the priority should be to give democratically elected councillors the opportunity, through the services and economic opportunities they offer, to improve the lives of the communities they represent.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked me about a city mayor. As he will know, there are no powers in the order to elect a mayor. Currently, a mayor can be directly elected only for a single authority and on the basis of a referendum. The noble Lord may have been talking about a primus inter pares. I doubt that that would necessarily be appropriate in this area. Any councillor who was at the same time mayor—as the noble Lord will know, you have to be an elected councillor in order to be an elected mayor—
No, you do not.
I apologise if I have got it wrong. My briefing states that mayors would be elected members of the constituent councils and can sit on the combined authority. The mayor would be an elected member of the authority. However, I stand corrected if I am wrong.
I take that point. I am sorry to show my ignorance. I am grateful to the noble Lord. Paragraph 1(8) of Schedule 1 to the order states:
“For the purposes of this paragraph, an elected mayor of a constituent council is to be treated as a member of the constituent council”.
Committee adjourned at 6.39 pm.