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Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2013

Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 17 July 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 6th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

I beg to move that the order be considered by the Committee. Primary authority is a statutory scheme, which was launched in 2009. Under the scheme, businesses can form a partnership with a single local authority, the primary authority. This gives the business a single point of contact to help it to comply with regulation. There are currently 785 businesses and 104 local authorities in partnerships covering more than 64,000 premises. They provide support on complying with many regulations, including regulations on health and safety, age-restricted sales and trading standards. The purpose of the order is to extend the primary authority scheme to cover additional regulations not currently within it. It will enable businesses to benefit from primary authority in relation to three additional regulations: first, Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004; secondly, the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010; and, thirdly, the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Wales) Regulations 2010.

Reducing regulatory burdens on business is important for growth. It is essential that businesses are able to comply with regulations efficiently. In their responses to the consultation on these proposals, businesses told us that they need reliable advice and confidence that their approach to compliance will be treated consistently. We know that businesses value primary authority. Not only have they told us so in consultation but recent evaluation showed that more than 90% of business respondents would recommend primary authority to others. That is why the Government are committed to ensuring that as many businesses as possible can share in the benefits of it and that the scheme covers a wide range of regulation.

The savings are not for business alone. By reducing duplication in the enforcement of these regulations, primary authority saves time for local authorities, too. It allows them to use their time better to target rogue traders and help businesses to deal with the most severe risks. Moreover, local authorities that choose to become primary authorities can recover the costs from the business.

Lastly, but very importantly, primary authority increases protection for consumers. The majority of UK businesses want to protect their customers and follow the law, but they need advice that they can rely on and need to know that the law will be applied consistently. This enables them to invest in compliance—for example, by putting policies in place or by training staff.

We have opened up eligibility for primary authority to many more businesses through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. From October, this will enable businesses that share a “common approach to compliance”, such as trade associations and franchises, to enter primary authority partnerships. This order strengthens primary authority further. It will allow businesses to access primary authority for additional areas of regulation. I shall now discuss these extensions in more detail.

First, Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 is a crucially important piece of regulation for improving the standards of the private rental sector in this country. Let me provide an example of the benefits that primary authority can bring to this area. A landlord may have received conflicting advice from two local authorities on how best to fireproof his properties. By obtaining appropriate advice from a primary authority, he will have the confidence to spend money on installing new fire doors, knowing that they are suitable. The Government have considered the detailed consultation responses on the inclusion of Part 1 of the Housing Act. Lettings businesses and some local authorities were in favour of the extension but many local authorities had reservations. We have worked closely with housing authorities to ensure that there will be no unintended consequences. We are confident that the intention of the legislation to provide risk-based protections will be supported by primary authority but we will continue to monitor its application. The Government believe that the benefits of the primary authority scheme should be extended to the private rental sector. Primary authority will provide an avenue for advice that gives certainty to landlords, thereby giving them the confidence to invest in properties. As one local authority commented, the extension,

“would give better consistency and help with raising standards amongst private landlords”.

I turn to the second extension, which is to include the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010. Bringing this law within the scope of primary authority will mean that if a leisure company wants to offer sunbeds for use, it can receive advice about how best to ensure that these are not used by children. Moreover, a business unsure about the additional legislation in Wales, made under this Act, can gain assured advice about the health information that it needs to display. As a local authority in Wales commented:

“This would benefit businesses by fostering a consistent approach to the understanding of the proper implementation of the Act and Regulations”.

Thirdly, the final extension to primary authority which we are discussing today concerns adding Welsh regulations on single-use carrier bag charging to the scheme. This existing regulation requires businesses to charge customers in Wales for certain carrier bags. Primary authority will ensure that businesses, whether based in Wales or not, can access robust and reliable advice on complying with this Welsh legislation. For example, many businesses deliver products to customers in Wales from England. They will be able to gain advice on the requirements to keep records of the charges made to customers.

This extension is welcomed by national businesses such as Asda, which has stated that it wants,

“a common approach to such a straightforward issue that affects our sites across a number of local authorities”.

Its benefits will also be felt by smaller retailers. The Association of Convenience Stores has said:

“The ability to obtain assured advice in relation to the Welsh carrier bag levy would be beneficial for retailers and help to ensure a consistent approach to enforcement across Welsh local authorities”.

We have listened to businesses. They have told us that primary authority is valuable to them because it delivers consistency and reliable advice. They have told us that they would recommend primary authority to other businesses and that they would like these areas of legislation included within the primary authority. This order will extend the scope of primary authority, enabling businesses to access its benefits for these additional areas of legislation. It will give businesses a further tool to reduce the burden of complying with these regulations, allowing them to concentrate on growing their business. I commend this order to the Committee.

My Lords, we welcome this approach. If, as the Minister said, it reduces duplication and gives more consistency, what is not to like? I listened carefully as he went through the various areas where it would extend the application of a primary authority and I have a couple of questions. Is there any impact at all on local employment partnerships? While I welcome the fact that landlords will not get conflicting advice, I could not help thinking about the tenants. What impact will the measure have on them in terms of being assured that there will be consistent advice?

As regards bringing sunbeds into the scope of primary authority, not only children but adults often overindulge in that area. However if there is consistency, again that seems a good thing. Similarly, as regards carrier bags, anything that reduces their population—I am constantly picking them up as I walk my dog—is welcome. However, the impact will be felt mainly in Wales. The question is: when will we have this sensible legislation extended to England?

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

I think that I had almost reached a conclusion. I think the Minister mentioned something about monitoring, and I was going to ask whether there was a fixed review period in relation to that.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, for his collegiate approach and for his general welcome for this statutory instrument. He raised a couple of questions. The first was whether LEPs would be impacted. I can confirm that there is no direct impact on LEPs as they operate independently from local authorities and the primary authority scheme. However, if a LEP decides that it wishes to address the issue of the burden of compliance within its area, it is free to encourage the uptake of the primary authority scheme among businesses.

The second question related to the effect on tenants of the changes that we are making to primary authority and to the landlord housing scheme. The Government believe that it is important that tenants are protected and that landlords in the private rented sector provide safe and healthy housing. Primary authority is consistent with this. By giving businesses certainty about their obligations, primary authority makes it simpler for lettings businesses to comply with any regulation. When businesses understand what is expected of them and know that it will be applied consistently, they are more likely to invest in compliance, which leads to raised protection for tenants. The noble Lord, Lord Young, asked about the fixed review period, and I can confirm that there will be a review after three years.

Finally, just before we broke to vote, the noble Lord asked whether this will protect adults as well as children using sunbeds. Primary authority advice will be available to cover the full range of protections under the Act, which creates a duty on businesses in England and Wales to ensure that no person under 18 uses or is offered the use of a sunbed on their premises. The Act also gives powers to the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to enact further secondary legislation in England and Wales. In 2011, Welsh Ministers introduced measures in Wales under this Act that further regulate the sale and hire of sunbeds and require the provision and display of health information and the provision of protective eyewear. This will protect both children and adults. The inclusion of the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 within the scope of primary authority will therefore cover the enforcement of these areas. I hope that that answers all the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young.

There was one other thing. I was interested in carrier bag usage in Wales. Have the Government given any consideration to extending charges for carrier bag usage to England?

That is a fair question. We are not able to comment on it at present, so I will take note of the question. The UK Government have not yet reached a decision on mandatory charging for carrier bags in England. We are first monitoring the results in Wales and Northern Ireland and the outcome of the Scottish consultation on such a charge. We need clear, robust data before making any decisions. That way, we will be aware of any unintended consequences of the actions.

As the noble Lord will be aware, extending primary authority to Welsh regulations on single-use carrier bag charging affects only Wales. Therefore government policy regarding England is at present unaffected.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.56 pm.