4 Feb 2015 : Column GC229

Grand Committee

Wednesday, 4 February 2015.

3.45 pm

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Harris of Richmond) (LD): My Lords, if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

European Parliamentary Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

3.45 pm

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That the Grand Committee do consider the European Parliamentary Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): My Lords, in moving this Motion, I shall also speak to the next three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper. The four statutory instruments before us today form a package of legislation to update the design of voter-facing forms used in all four types of elections in Northern Ireland, namely UK parliamentary, European parliamentary, Northern Ireland Assembly and local elections.

Noble Lords will be aware that forms for elections are one of the primary ways in which voters receive information about elections and are encouraged to participate in them. Over time, some forms have become outdated and voters find some of the language used in the forms hard to understand. The Government are committed to making the process of voting as accessible as possible, while maintaining the security of the poll. In recent years, the appearance of voter-facing forms has been modernised at some polls, such as the 2012 police and crime commissioner elections and the 2014 European parliamentary elections in Great Britain.

The Government believe that there is value in using the same or similar forms for all elections in Northern Ireland to help avoid voter confusion by ensuring that information is provided in a consistent and recognisable format. It is also the Government’s view that voter-facing forms should be as similar as possible in all parts of the United Kingdom participating in an election, taking into account local differences in legislation.

The Government issued a public consultation paper on this issue in April 2014. The response from the Electoral Commission recommended that user testing be conducted in Northern Ireland and the commission subsequently commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct user testing of the forms proposed in the consultation paper. A number of changes were made to the forms

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC230

following the user testing, in consultation with the Electoral Commission and the chief electoral officer.

The forms being changed for all four elections are poll cards, postal poll cards, proxy poll cards, proxy postal poll cards, proxy papers, certificates of employment and declarations of identity, including for combined polls. Additionally, for European parliamentary, Northern Ireland Assembly and local elections, the ballot papers, directions for printing the ballot papers, declarations to be made by the companion of a voter with disabilities and guidance for voters are also being updated. Changes have been made to use a clearer font and a clearer layout, and to highlight and distinguish important information. Headings have now been added to each form to state clearly to which election it relates.

I hope that the Committee will agree that modernising these electoral forms is an important part of encouraging voter participation in the democratic process and are reassured that these changes are fully supported by the Electoral Commission and chief electoral officer. I beg to move.

Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very clear exposition of what is entailed in these regulations and orders. It is quite right that there should be reform and remodelling of the papers associated with elections in Northern Ireland. It is also right that a large element of standardisation is taking place within the whole of the United Kingdom. We are one country and it is right that these forms should be standardised and modernised in this way.

The forms used for elections are the main formal contact that we have with voters when they come to vote. It is essential that they be kept clear. I totally agree with the noble Baroness when she says that, over the years, some of the language has become a bit dated and confusing. I welcome bringing it up to date; that is certainly the way to go about it.

There was some consultation on the issue in Northern Ireland and I understand that seven responses were received. It was recommended that separate user testing be conducted in Northern Ireland. The Electoral Commission subsequently contracted Ipsos MORI to conduct user testing of the forms proposed in the consultation paper. It is to be hoped that that is reflected in the changes that were made.

There is not much more to say, other than that Her Majesty’s Opposition welcome the changes and support the Government in what they are doing.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: In which case, I hope that the Committee will accept the regulations.

Motion agreed.

Local Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Order 2015

Motion to Consider

3.50 pm

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That the Grand Committee do consider the Local Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Order 2015.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC231

Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Forms) Order 2015

Motion to Consider

3.51 pm

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That the Grand Committee do consider the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Forms) Order 2015.

Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Parliamentary Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

3.51 pm

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That the Grand Committee do consider the Parliamentary Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Public Bodies (Abolition of the Library Advisory Council for England) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

3.52 pm

Moved by Baroness Jolly

That the Grand Committee do consider the Public Bodies (Abolition of the Library Advisory Council for England) Order 2014.

Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 15th and 21st Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, the Advisory Council on Libraries—or the ACL, as it was known—was established by Section 2 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. The 1964 Act set out that it was the duty of the council,

“to advise the Secretary of State upon such matters connected with the provision or use of library facilities whether under this Act or otherwise as it thinks fit and upon any questions referred to it by him”.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC232

That was the sole statutory function of the council. The ACL comprised persons who had experience of administering library services operated by both local authorities and other bodies. The chair and members of the ACL were appointed by the Secretary of State and it met three times a year.

The abolition forms part of the Government’s public body reform programme, which sets out to reform the landscape of public bodies, to increase transparency and accountability, to cut out duplication of activity and to discontinue activities that are no longer needed. In July 2010, the then Secretary of State at DCMS announced a number of proposals in a Written Ministerial Statement, including the abolition of the ACL. In addition, the abolition was announced as part of the Cabinet Office’s public bodies review on 14 October of that year. However, the 1964 Act does not provide for the ACL’s abolition, so it was necessary to include it in Schedule 1 to the Public Bodies Act 2011 to achieve its legislative dissolution.

Since the proposed abolition of the ACL was announced, there have been no further meetings of the council and DCMS has conducted itself on the basis that ACL is effectively defunct. In that time, the role of gathering appropriate intelligence about the library sector and providing advice to the Secretary of State has been undertaken by DCMS in collaboration with local government and others within the sector, such as Arts Council England, which is the development agency for libraries, and the Society of Chief Librarians.

The ongoing requirement for the ACL results in unnecessary duplication of the knowledge and sector expertise already found among other statutory and non-statutory organisations in the library sector. The Secretary of State’s statutory duty to superintend and promote the public library service remains unchanged, so there will be no reduction in accountability. The 1964 Act places a duty on the Secretary of State to superintend and promote the improvement of the public library service provided by local authorities in England, and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions relating to libraries conferred on them as library authorities under that Act. There is also a statutory power to intervene when a library authority fails, or is suspected of failing, to provide the required service. This power has been exercised only once since 1964, with intervention by way of public inquiry in 2009 relating to proposed changes to Wirral’s library service. The advice of the ACL was not sought in connection with the use of this power.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Independent Library Report was published on 18 December. It did not include any consideration of or reference to the statutory requirements of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. However, one of the report’s key recommendations is to establish a task and finish group for libraries, which would provide the necessary leadership, be the advocate for public libraries in England and take forward programmes to support a number of specific actions, including: supporting the creation of a national digital library network; responding to the outcomes of the current e-lending pilots; and encouraging and developing the library workforce.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC233

A 12-week consultation on the proposed abolition of the ACL commenced on 17 February and closed on 9 May 2014. Only nine responses were received to this consultation, with seven answering the specific questions. The majority considered that the advisory function should not be transferred to another body, with just over half considering that the ACL should be retained. The responses to the consultation were given careful consideration, but the departmental view remains that the function of advising the Secretary of State does not require a statutory body. The ACL is not a technical or fact-gathering body. It is inflexible, with its primary aims and membership being prescribed by a statute, and it is no longer a relevant structure.

As I have said, the function of advising the Secretary of State does not require a statutory body. The ACL duplicates the knowledge and sector expertise already found among other statutory and non-statutory organisations, and in DCMS. Here, I should like to insert an interesting point. I asked the officials to provide me with the minutes of the last two meetings of the ACL. At the last meeting, in February 2010, when the ACL did not know the outcome of the general election, a minute under “AOB” noted that DCMS’s public value programme was looking at costs and benefits of public bodies. It was also considering the future of the ACL, so the ACL seemed doomed even in 2010.

DCMS has and will continue to work with relevant bodies, including Arts Council England, the Local Government Association, the Society of Chief Librarians and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, to ensure appropriate intelligence about the library sector is captured. This will supplement skills and expertise available in DCMS, which of course includes qualified librarians. Furthermore, the Government consider that the establishment of the task and finish group and its range of functions further negates the requirement for the ACL.

I commend the order to the Committee.

4 pm

The Earl of Dundee (Con): My Lords, I apologise to the Committee and to my noble friend for missing her opening remarks. No doubt the library advisory council has served its time and should be wound up, as my noble friend indicated. However, does she consider that an outside process for both advice and monitoring is still desirable? This is apart from performance assessments that might be made by government and local authorities. For independent monitoring can give us some assurance of the real extent to which the library service may be improving consistent with national and local demand.

On maintaining an ever improving library service, how do we compare with our European Union partners? To our own advantage, should we perhaps take note of certain other systems and methods deployed by some of them and, if so, which ones?

Regarding further constructive developments over the next few years within the library service, which targets does my noble friend wish to draw to our attention?

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC234

Baroness Bakewell (Lab): I well understand how the library service came to be abolished. It was part of the massacre of the quangos that arose from government policy and, clearly, the time for change was ripe. The library service throughout the country is living through an ongoing crisis. At a time when there is a great diffusion of concern and good will expressed on many sides, it is important that there is a body that focuses the needs arising across the country.

First, the Minister spoke about the responsibilities being devolved to DCMS, the Arts Council and the Society of Chief Librarians. They are all very good and authoritative people but they have lots of other tasks in hand. As she will know, when several authorities hold responsibility for something, there is a danger that decisions fall through the gaps.

Secondly, the statutory duty of superintending, promoting and improving the library service falls far short of what is happening because libraries are being closed. In Lincolnshire yesterday, the council voted on which libraries to close and there was a storm of support on Twitter for libraries in Lincolnshire. That is happening all over the country. People are devoted to seeing the library service evolve a new form of library establishment, so that libraries, which are no longer just about books, become valued community enterprises. I took part in efforts to save my local library. It is now Primrose Hill Community Centre as opposed to Chalk Farm Library. Its activities have expanded and it has become a hub of community activity. Although it still promotes books, of course, it also shows films and runs reading classes for children. Libraries are evolving into this amazing new format as a consequence of the crisis that resulted from their falling into disuse. I emphasise that the ongoing policy of support for libraries is enormously important and should not be neglected.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I echo my noble friend’s remarks about the current crisis libraries are facing. They are not a luxury but a practical tool and provide vital public space for individuals and families across the country. They are a resource for parents and young children, schoolchildren who do not have a place to work at home, jobseekers who are trying to gain new skills and employment, elderly people living in isolation and community groups. Increasingly, they are incubators for new ideas and places where businesses come to fruition.

Personally, I regret that over the past four and a half years the Government have been slow to respond to the growing crisis in the sector. At a time when many library services were under threat there was no sense of urgency, coherent strategy, direction or guidance for local authorities, and no idea about what might be the minimum acceptable outcome. Libraries are provided at local level, and councils, rightly, have the first claim on leadership, but the Government have a clear duty to minimise the damage done to the library service and to provide an overarching strategic vision.

I feel a little as though I am in a “Monty Python” sketch. We are considering the case for a body in this debate on its proposed abolition, but the Ministers

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC235

have told us that essentially the ACL is a defunct body, with no staff, premises, assets or liabilities. In other words, it is a dead parrot.

I, too, welcome the Independent Library Report for England, published just before Christmas. However, as Ed Vaizey, the Minister, tells us, it,

“did not include consideration of the statutory requirement of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964”,

and,

“makes no reference to the ACL”.

I admit that I find it difficult to follow the argument that since the ILR did not consider the statutory requirement of the statutory Act or the ACL, its abolition is not dependent on the report’s publication, yet one of its primary recommendations now apparently negates the need for the ACL. As the Delegated Powers Committee suggested, the considerations of the ILR clearly intersect with the practical implementation of the duties placed upon the Secretary of State and local authorities by the 1964 Act, and it is therefore reasonable to see the outcome of the ILR as relevant to the decision on the ACL. I am sorry for all these abbreviations—they will get worse when we get to the recommendations.

Clearly, my party believes that there is a good case for a body to support development, innovation and best practice, including measures to find efficiency savings and increase impact, helping to lessen the pressure for cuts to services. That is why we welcome the conclusion of the review to establish the libraries’ task and finish group. I rather like that name. Gone are the days of a good old task force; it is now “task and finish”. Maybe that is where some of my concerns are.

Cross-party and organisational working must be at the heart of its activities. The Department for Education, the Department of Health, DCMS, BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government, all have a role to play, as have organisations such as the British Library, Booktrust, the Reader Organisation, the National Literacy Trust, Arts Council England—as we heard from the Minister—the CILIP and the Reading Agency.

Mr Vaizey’s case for the task and finish group is that its functions are far wider than the sole advisory function of the ACL—as we heard from the Minister in her introduction—and, as he says, more importantly, it will also be focused on delivery. Unlike the ACL, the membership of the task and finish group will be flexible and dynamic, so that it can adapt to suit the specific tasks involved. The TFG will report jointly to Ministers and the Local Government Association and will be independent of government.

When, in October 2011, the Arts Council took over responsibility for supporting and developing libraries from the former Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, it did not take on the MLA’s supervisory role for libraries—again, a point raised by my noble friend. At a time when libraries are withering on the vine in many communities, oversight is even more critical than at any time before. The point the noble Earl made was absolutely right. I agree with the view that the recommended role and structure of the task and finish

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC236

group are not suitable for the ACL, whose primary aim and minimum membership is prescribed by statute. However, I do not necessarily accept that the establishment of the TFG and its range of functions negate the need for statutory independent advice in the Secretary of State’s meeting his obligations under the 1964 Act. I fear that in performing its job, working with a range of authorities, it will miss that fundamental requirement that we must have a library service. And what is that library service? It is certainly not a second-hand bookshop in a local high street. It is more than that, and we need to be very careful about the standards that we set.

Mr Vaizey’s view is that, as we have heard from the Minister today, advice and guidance from stakeholders and officials at the DCMS are sufficient to meet the function of providing advice to the Secretary of State, including on the use of his statutory powers. I am not sure that the fact that nobody has taken action is necessarily evidence that there is no need for action. Clearly, with the number of library closures increasing and access to libraries diminishing, that is not the case at the moment.

Although DCMS has stated that no budget is allocated to the ACL—I think that its abolition will save approximately £2,500 a year; this is obviously not a budget consideration—I ask the Minister whether, during the period of the ACL’s inaction, any external advice to the Secretary of State has been brought into the department and, if so, what the cost of that advice was.

Baroness Jolly: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their interesting comments and searching questions about the library service. I want to respond to the outstanding points raised today—not necessarily in turn but I hope to cover them all.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about responsibility and where the buck stops. It is quite clear that the Secretary of State at the DCMS has responsibility. It is his or her duty to superintend and promote the public library service. There is no reduction in accountability here, so that is the person to whom we should all look. Oversight is critical, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, oversight was never the role of the ACL.

Threading all the way through this—it does not form part of my speech but it has formed part of the debate—is the perceived crisis within library services resulting from cuts in funding from local authorities. I think all of us have seen library services being cut in our own local authority areas, but in some areas they are mushrooming into something far more exciting than was ever there before. The noble Baroness gave us an example of that: a community facility or activity centre where volunteering is key, where information is held in not only book form—which perhaps most of us would recognise from when we were younger—but in all sorts of digital formats with digital access being available.

The task and finish group will do just that and look at the whole issue and come up with recommendations for the Secretary of State. I fully anticipate that they would involve not only ministries—for example, the Department for Education, DCMS, BIS, Communities and Local Government and, I am sure, more that I

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC237

have not thought of—but Arts Council England and a whole host of other bodies. An independent report will come out of this.

My noble friend Lord Dundee asked whether we had looked at what was happening in the EU. Certainly, I anticipate that the task and finish group will consider what library services look like all over the world, not just in the EU but in other states. I imagine that will be part of its remit.

4.15 pm

Any points that I have not addressed today, I am quite happy to cover in a letter to noble Lords. I reiterate that the Government consider that the abolition of the ACL serves the purpose of improving the exercise of public functions, in particular having a regard to efficiency, effectiveness, economy and securing appropriate accountability to Ministers. The function of advising the Secretary of State does not require a statutory body. With advice and guidance from stakeholders, DCMS officials are well placed to perform the function of providing advice to the Secretary of State, including the use of his statutory powers. As such, the ACL is no longer a relevant structure and is an unnecessary duplication of knowledge and sector expertise.

I referred previously to the task and finish group. The proposed functions of this group are far wider than the sole advisory function of the ACL and, importantly, it will be focused on delivery. Unlike the ACL, the membership of the group will be flexible and dynamic so that it can adapt to suit the specific tasks involved. It is also a joint group, reporting to Ministers and the LGA. The group will be open and transparent, and will publish its action plan and regular progress reports. As I said, the Government are of the view that the establishment of the task and finish group, and its range and functions, further negate the requirement for the ACL. The duties of the Secretary of State towards libraries will remain unchanged by the abolition. I commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Fishing Boats (Satellite-Tracking Devices and Electronic Reporting) (England) (Amendment) Scheme 2014

Motion to Consider

4.19 pm

Moved by Lord De Mauley

That the Grand Committee do consider the Fishing Boats (Satellite-Tracking Devices and Electronic Reporting) (England) (Amendment) Scheme 2014.

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to present this scheme to the Committee.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC238

The scheme will provide funding to the owners of English fishing vessels for the purchase of upgraded electronic logbook software in compliance with obligations under the common fisheries policy.

Logbook and landing declaration information forms an essential element of the means by which we monitor data and manage fisheries. Under Community law, fishing vessels of over 10 metres’ overall length must keep a logbook to record estimates of catch on board vessels. They are also required to submit landing declarations containing accurate landing figures.

Traditional paper-based logbooks and landing declarations are time-consuming for fishermen to complete, and entering data from these paper records on to computerised databases is also resource-intensive for fisheries administrations. As a result, since 2010, electronic logbooks have been rolled out to the UK over-12 metre fishing fleet under the EU control regulation.

The electronic submission of fishing data brings other benefits. It allows the monitoring in real time of fishing activity as logbook information is gathered on a daily basis. It assists in the detection of attempts to misrecord catches and so contributes towards improving compliance. Clearly, the operation of electronic logbooks relies on complex software. As technology develops over time, it has become necessary to alter the format of the data that electronic logbook software stores and transmits, although fishermen will not see a significant difference in how they operate their systems. The new data format does require new software to be supplied to affected vessels, which of course comes at a cost. Given that the benefits of electronic reporting are felt most by government, I believe that it is appropriate to offer fishermen financial assistance in this process. I propose to offer grant aid of up to £1,000 for the installation of updated electronic logbook software.

In order to offer fishermen a choice of electronic logbook, we have approved five different suppliers. As a result, upgrade costs vary between £300 and £1,000. Although the cost to the public purse is low, it remains important to ensure that appropriate controls are in place. In order to ensure that costs remain fair to all parties, the Marine Management Organisation will accept applications for funding of up to a total of £1,000 per vessel. On this basis, the overall cost of the funding scheme will not exceed £330,000 for the 330 English vessels over 12 metres, and in reality will be somewhat lower. I recognise that some fishermen may wish to take the opportunity to move from one software supplier to another but that is a business decision and grant funding would not be appropriate in those circumstances.

I am pleased to be able to report that the Marine Management Organisation has made a successful bid for funding under the EU aid budget, which means that 90% of the upgrade cost will be met from that fund. I should add that we are also taking the opportunity to future-proof this legislation to provide for the possibility of funding future software changes, including any that may be necessary to monitor compliance with the new CFP regulation, and in particular the landing obligation. I commend the scheme to the Committee.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC239

Lord Grantchester (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the scheme before the Committee today. However, what perhaps has not been explained is why the European Commission has altered the format of the data that must be reported, thus requiring software upgrading after only four years. Was there a flaw in the data or is it to be expected today that a four-yearly upgrade will be normal? When set against the progress being made towards the conservation and sustainability of fish stocks, does the Minister judge that these system enhancements will improve outcomes at a quicker pace?

While the cost to the public purse is modest, is the Minister satisfied that this upgrade is future-proofed? Does the noble Lord expect the new system to be effective for future controls or changes in fisheries policies over a longer timeframe? I am sure that the Marine Management Organisation will communicate successfully with the operators of all English-licensed vessels, but will the Minister outline any requirements concerning the timescales involved in this rollout, and what if any penalties would be imposed for non-compliance within that timeframe? I will be grateful to the Minister if he is able to provide any further explanation, but in the mean time I am content with the measure before the Committee.

Viscount Simon (Lab): My Lords, while the Minister is looking for his notes, I should declare that I am a Younger Brother of Trinity House and a master mariner, which goes back many years to the 1960s, when I was last at sea. Therefore I am completely out of date with modern shipping. What the Minister has described appears to be some advancement in regulations and what happens at sea, which has been recommended. I approve.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked whether I was confident that we had future-proofed the system through the current scheme. The answer is yes. I mentioned in my opening speech that we were taking the opportunity to do just that thing.

The noble Lord asked why the EC altered the format of the data after a relatively short period. He will appreciate as much as anyone that, these days, technology is developing very rapidly. Four years is actually quite a long period, so this change has proved to be necessary. There are other benefits that we can get from the change as well, so we are taking the opportunity through the new format to improve data exchange, for example. As data-handling processes and technology continue to evolve, the Commission took the decision to implement a new software standard for electronic logbooks. Looking to the future—as the noble Lord asked me to do—I very much hope that the new system will be capable of being used for some considerable time. As I say, we have taken the opportunity of future-proofing it by allowing Ministers to approve future public funding should it be necessary.

The noble Lord asked about timescales of rollout and penalties. We are looking to roll this out during the first half of 2015. On penalties, in essence a vessel will be unable to put to sea until the new software is fitted.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC240

I hope that that addresses most of the questions raised. I will check Hansard and, if it does not, I will write.

Motion agreed.

Public Bodies (Abolition of the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee) Order 2015

Motion to Consider

4.27 pm

Moved by Lord De Mauley

That the Grand Committee do consider the Public Bodies (Abolition of the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee) Order 2015.

Relevant documents: 16th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 19th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, the Public Bodies (Abolition of the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee) Order delivers one of the measures promised in the outcome of the Government’s public bodies review, as announced in October 2010. We are proposing to use the powers in the Public Bodies Act 2011 to abolish the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee—the HGTAC. Section 1 of the Public Bodies Act permits a Minister to abolish by order a body or office specified in Schedule 1. The HGTAC is specified in Schedule 1. It was originally formed under the Forestry Act 1951 and was preserved in the subsequent Forestry Act 1967. No provision was made in either of these Acts for its abolition; accordingly, legislation is now required to do so.

The HGTAC has not had physical form for almost 10 years and exists now only on the statute book. It last met in 2005 and the terms of office of the last members expired in 2006. Those were not renewed by mutual agreement between the forestry commissioners and the final committee members themselves, having considered how the commission should operate, given that forestry is now a devolved policy matter.

The purpose of the HGTAC was to advise the forestry commissioners with regard to their general duty to promote,

“the establishment and maintenance … of adequate reserves of growing trees”,

across Great Britain. It was also to advise on the exercise of their powers to control the felling of trees and to make regulations. Following the devolution of forestry policy and the subsequent cessation of the HGTAC’s activities, advice is now provided to the Forestry Commission through several types of expert advisory groups and other specialist committees with specific knowledge.

As required by due process, we conducted a public consultation on the proposal to abolish the HGTAC in the spring of last year. The consultation was specifically

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC241

brought to the attention of key forestry-related interests, but was also open to all stakeholders and the wider public via my department’s public website. We received only five responses. A timber-based business and consultancy felt that there could be a role for the HGTAC as the,

“public face of British timber”,

while the RSPB questioned whether the abolition would adversely affect oversight of forestry at national, GB and UK levels to ensure sustainability.

It is not appropriate for the HGTAC to be the public face of British timber. Its role was to advise the forestry commissioners in relation to the exercise of certain duties and functions, not to act as a representative body. Indeed, British timber has many public faces in the form of the various well known representative bodies within the sector, with which the commission has very good relations.

Furthermore, I believe it is not appropriate to suggest that abolishing the HGTAC would adversely affect oversight of forestry at national, GB and UK levels, for several reasons. The HGTAC has not existed nor performed any kind of advisory role for almost 10 years; it never had a UK remit; and in 2013 its remit in relation to Wales ceased to exist. The devolved arrangements now in place provide for very good advisory engagement within each Administration, and through its cross-border functions in particular, the Forestry Commission continues to support a wider overview.

Beyond those concerns, the remaining three respondents to the consultation supported the abolition. These included the Confederation of Forest Industries and the UK Forest Products Association.

There will be no jobs lost as result of the abolition of the HGTAC, and no loss of rights, privileges or protections. Its role was purely advisory to the forestry commissioners and this is now done by other means. Its abolition does not compromise the ability of the commissioners to access the most informed advice because they are supported in that regard now by the Scottish Forestry Forum, which is supported by five regional forestry forums; the regional advisory committees in England, now called forestry and woodlands advisory committees; the Expert Group on Timber and Trade Statistics, developed from the HGTAC’s previous Supply and Demand (of Timber) Sub-Committee; and the Expert Committee on Forest Science. Indeed, one of those bodies, the Expert Group on Timber and Trade Statistics, is an essential quality assurance element of the Forestry Commission’s own forestry statistics publications.

In April 2013, the functions of the forestry commissioners in Wales were transferred to Welsh Ministers and Natural Resources Wales. At that time the HGTAC ceased to have a remit extending to Wales. However, it remained a cross-border body in relation to England and Scotland and, accordingly, a consent Motion to its abolishment was agreed by the Scottish Parliament on 20 January. A similar Motion has not been required in Wales because of the changes I have mentioned, and the HGTAC provisions did not extend to Northern Ireland.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC242

As noble Lords will be aware, we have placed great emphasis on creating a more efficient policy delivery landscape through our public body reforms. There is broad agreement, as demonstrated by the support of representative bodies, that the HGTAC is no longer required. Abolishing this defunct body will also help the Forestry Commission operate more efficiently within the current devolved arrangements.

I hope from this explanation that the Committee will understand why we have decided to bring forward this order to abolish the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee. I commend the order to the Committee.

The Earl of Dundee (Con): My Lords, can my noble friend say what recent measures of government forestry policy have usefully derived from national advisory committees or, indeed, any of the other bodies to which he has just referred and which the Government may be in the habit of consulting from time to time?

How consistent has that advice been; for example, over the desirable economic target to plant more in order to import less?

The Forestry Act 1967 stressed the need for,

“adequate reserves of growing trees”.

To continue to achieve that aim, what planting and maintenance targets are now envisaged for the Forestry Commission and the private sector respectively?

Baroness Parminter (LD): My Lords, the Government are increasing woodland creation and management at a rapid rate. We hope to have a million more trees by the end of this Parliament, which is absolutely to be welcomed. However, we have long-standing domestic and international obligations to ensure that forestry is carried out in a sustainable manner. As the Minister highlighted in his opening remarks, the RSPB in its response to the commission highlighted concerns. The explanatory document makes it clear that the role of Ministers is to ensure that these commitments are delivered, stating that while,

“it is principally for the Forestry Commissioners to determine how they should be delivering their balancing duty between the management of forests and promotion, supply, sale, utilization and conversion of timber … it is ultimately for the relevant Governments’ Ministers in England and Scotland to intervene should the Commissioners be failing in their statutory remit”.

Therefore, while I am not opposed in any way to the abolition of the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee, I felt that it was proper to take this opportunity to ask the Minister what plans the Government have to monitor the effects of the increase in trees and the management we are delivering to ensure that benefits are delivered for growth in the economy, people and the environment.

Lord Grantchester (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his introduction to the order today. We agree with him that this advisory committee has gone the distance and that it serves no useful function, not having met since 2005, with its role having been devolved to national committees. I note that its former functions are now discharged through separate arrangements in each Administration and it has no

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC243

property, rights or liabilities, so a transfer scheme under Section 23 of the Public Bodies Act 2011 is not required.

The Minister makes the order under the provisions of the Public Bodies Act 2011, and it meets the tests under that Act that it improves the exercise of public functions, does not remove any necessary protections and does not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom.

Your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is content with the order and considers that the Minister’s department has handled the consultation process appropriately. I have asked the Minister on previous occasions when considering organisations under the Public Bodies Act to update the Committee on progress generally. If the Minister has any further news, that would be instructive for the Committee.

The measure today is non-contentious, the Minister’s department is to be congratulated on its presentation to the Committee, and I approve the order. Meanwhile, I would be grateful to hear from his department whether the forestry estate is now safe in public hands, and to hear what delayed his department from bringing forward legislation as promised.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am grateful for noble Lords’ contributions. My noble friend Lord Dundee asked what recent measures of government forestry policy have usefully derived from the national advisory committees. In my opening presentation I mentioned various bodies which now act in place of the former HGTAC in advising the Forestry Commission on the discharge of its functions. However, the totality of that advice adds to the Forestry Commission’s overall ability to advise the Government on development of forestry policy. Additionally, the Expert Group on Timber and Trade Statistics has influenced policy on supply and demand of timber in that it quality-assures the Forestry Commission’s production of forestry statistics, which policy analysts interpret and use as the basis to inform the development of forestry policy.

My noble friend also asked, essentially, about how we will ensure adequate reserves of growing trees. We have not set planting targets for England, but in refreshing forestry policy we have set out an aspiration to increase woodland cover in England from 10% to 12% by 2060. That would require on average creating 5,000 hectares of new woodland per year. We readily acknowledge that that is a challenging aspiration, and we have been clear all along that it will require the Government’s support measures plus private-sector investment to make it happen. The Rural Development Programme currently supports about 2,000-plus hectares of new woodland per year, but non-RDP-funded expansion is currently quite low, at about 800 hectares.

To maintain our woodlands, we have also set an aspiration to bring 66% of them into management by 2018 and expect the proportion to rise beyond that, towards 80%, in due course. Since 2011, we have already progressed from 52% to 57% of woodlands under management.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC244

My noble friend Lady Parminter asked how we would monitor our performance. I have already partly explained that the Forestry Commission will be responsible. It is exciting that the sector has seen British sawn timber grow its market share of UK consumption from 8% to 38% over 30 years. Softwood deliveries have grown steadily from just over 8 million tonnes in 2009 to closer to 11 million tonnes now. UK businesses have invested in some of the most advanced sawmills and panel board mills in the world. We are supporting growth in the wood-based economy in several ways. We have worked closely with the sector’s Grown in Britain initiative and welcome regional growth initiatives such as the northern Roots to Prosperity strategy.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked what progress we were making under the public bodies programme. We have made quite good progress in that area. So far, we have abolished 52 NDPBs, including the Commission for Rural Communities, and transferred the functions of British Waterways in England and Wales to the Canal & River Trust. There are now only one or two bodies still to be abolished, which are mainly defunct or non-operational.

The noble Lord asked, rather provocatively, whether the forestry estate was now safe in public hands. Yes, it is—I do not know how many times I have to say that. I think that the noble Lord is quite aware that we were unable to secure a legislative slot in this Session of Parliament, but we remain committed to setting up an independent body to manage the public forest estate.

I hope that I have answered noble Lords’ questions. I will of course check Hansard and write if I need to. I thank noble Lords for their contributions.

Motion agreed.

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

4.42 pm

Moved by Lord De Mauley

That the Grand Committee do consider the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, the energy efficiency directive updates the EU’s legal framework for energy efficiency, with a target of saving 20% of the EU’s primary energy consumption by 2020 and of making further energy efficiency improvements after that date. The directive establishes a common framework of measures for the promotion of energy efficiency within the EU

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC245

and lays down rules to remove barriers in the energy market and overcome market failures that impede efficiency.

My department has responsibility for the aspects relating to increasing the uptake of cost-beneficial cogeneration, usually known as combined heat and power, and waste heat recovery systems in the UK. The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 that we are debating today transpose in England and Wales Articles 14.5 to 14.9 of the energy efficiency directive.

The amending regulations require operators of new or substantially refurbished combustion installations of more than 20 megawatts in size to carry out a cost-benefit analysis and therefore consider whether the installation of combined heat and power, or waste heat recovery systems and the use of waste heat, could be cost-beneficial, with the aim of increasing energy efficiency.

Where cogeneration or waste heat recovery and use options are shown to be cost-beneficial, operators will have to install such systems, and this will be a requirement of their environmental permit. By installing such systems, operators will achieve cost savings. There will also be social benefits from reduced carbon emissions and improved security of energy supply. The amending regulations are consistent with our aim of protecting the environment for future generations, making our economy more environmentally sustainable and improving our quality of life and well-being.

The choice to transpose the requirement for a cost-benefit analysis by amending the existing environmental permitting regime has clear benefits for operators and regulators alike. Environmental permitting is an established process for regulating the development, operation and refurbishment of industrial installations in England and Wales. Nearly all the installations subject to the requirements of Article 14(5) of the directive are already subject to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, as amended. Use of this existing system therefore allows implementation of the requirements of these articles in a manner which limits burdens on operators and regulators.

My department conducted a public consultation exercise between February and April 2014. There were 20 responses to the consultation. All supported the use of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations to transpose the requirements of the directive. A number of concerns were raised by respondents regarding the suitability and practicality of the thresholds applied in the instrument. These concerns have been taken on board and changes have been made to the regulations to reflect this.

An impact assessment was prepared for the implementation of these amending regulations which showed an estimated net cost of £12.4 million over the 10-year appraisal period. The costs to regulators are included in this figure and may be recouped through environmental permitting fees and charges.

There will clearly be benefits to improving energy efficiency for both the operator and society. The impact assessment was not able to quantify these benefits overall as it is unclear how many operators would introduce changes. However, the impact assessment

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC246

included a number of case studies which, for example, suggest that if combined heat and power were installed instead of an industrial boiler, depending on the size and configuration of the boiler, the operator could see annual savings of between £1 million and £7 million, paying back their upfront investment within six years.

These amending regulations will help to ensure that operators install energy efficient systems and reduce the carbon emissions where they are cost beneficial. I therefore commend the regulations to the Committee.

The Duke of Montrose (Con): I thank my noble friend the Minister for that good explanation. Is there a ready supply of these combined heat and power boilers within the United Kingdom or elsewhere to enable operators to fulfil the terms of the regulations?

Lord Grantchester (Lab): My Lords, I am again indebted to the Minister for his excellent introduction to the regulations. Energy efficiency has a crucial impact on energy security across the whole of the United Kingdom. It forms part of the measures to reduce emissions to meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets and is a vital part of keeping energy costs down for everyone. The Minister’s department is to be commended on taking this initiative to amend the regulations to require operators to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of installations of cogeneration. Has the Minister any evidence that this was not happening previously?

I note that these regulations have been delayed past the deadline of June 2014 following consultations, and that therefore England and Wales are following the vanguard of regulations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. How do these regulations compare? Will these measures be applied consistently across the whole of the United Kingdom to further the attainment of the UK’s international emissions reductions targets?

The success of this measure will very much depend on the individual circumstances of each application. I note that there was extensive dialogue with affected operators during the consultation process, from which the Minister’s department has taken concerns on board in drafting these regulations. However, no details about this dialogue, or of the consultation, have been provided in the Explanatory Memorandum. Can the Minister give further clarification by providing an assessment of the likely uptake of cogeneration?

Of the estimated 18 gigawatts of electrical cogeneration potential in the UK, only 8.4 will be built by 2020. It would be helpful to understand the quantum by which that might be improved by this measure. I wondered whether the consultation process had given his department any feel for what it might be, even through no impact assessment has been provided, on the grounds that the outcomes are difficult to quantify.

Finally, the Explanatory Memorandum states that guidance, which has also been subject to public consultation, is being prepared by the Environment Agency. Could the Minister give the Committee any indication of when it might be made public as this omission is likely to prolong the delay before these regulations will produce benefits? Meanwhile, I am content to agree to the regulations.

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC247

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked whether there is a ready supply of combined heat and power boilers. There is indeed. On average, 120 megawatts of combined heat and power plant has been installed per annum over the past five years, which I hope indicates that there is a supply chain.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester referred to the time it has taken to transpose the directive. There were indeed delays in finalising the text of the draft regulations, primarily due to the Government’s desire to integrate comments received by stakeholders during the public consultation. We took most of the comments received on board and reflected them in the draft regulations. In particular, we revised some of the thresholds to ensure that they fully apply the allowed derogations in the directive and avoid disproportionate burdens on British businesses, while still achieving the required level of support for energy efficiency. As he will understand, that required detailed technical discussions.

The Duke of Montrose: I thank the Minister for his answer. Can I press him further? Perhaps something that could be written down is what proportion of the current supply is based in the UK. One of our difficulties—this is something that needs to keep being emphasised—is that we keep on bringing in energy efficient technology and so on by simply buying it from abroad rather than having a home-grown industry.

Lord De Mauley: I share my noble friend’s keenness that we should, as a country, take advantage of this growth market. I do not have the figures at my fingertips, so if I may, I will write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked how the regimes compare between ourselves and the devolved Administrations. They are essentially the same across the United Kingdom. My officials have worked closely with those in the devolved Administrations to ensure this.

The noble Lord asked when the guidance will be ready. The Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales have developed cost-benefit analysis guidance to assist operators, which will be published shortly. The draft guidance was subject to consultation last year. He also referred to what he saw as a gap in the impact assessment. There is uncertainty regarding how many of the operators within the scope of this instrument would have undertaken a cost-benefit analysis without the requirement being added to their environmental permit. The outcomes, including the environmental benefits through reduced carbon emissions, will be site-dependent and will depend on operators’ decisions about how to proceed. They are therefore impossible for us to quantify at this stage. However, the impact assessment provides a number of case studies to which I referred in my opening remarks.

The noble Lord asked a question related to my noble friend’s point on how big the potential is for combined heat and power in this country. The analysis by the Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates that the total technical potential for CHP in the UK is about 13 gigawatts by 2020, of which

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC248

7.8 gigawatts is projected to be economically viable by that date. The majority of this is likely to be natural gas-fired. DECC’s final

Electricity Market Reform Delivery Plan

projects up to 600 megawatts of biomass CHP being deployed by 2020. The regulations will help to unlock this capacity.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked me another question. DECC’s research suggests that there are barriers which these regulations would address, such as a lack of awareness of CHP or the in-house expertise to assess potential projects. I hope that this response has answered most of the questions put by the noble Lord, and to the extent that it has not, I will of course write to him.

Motion agreed.

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

4.55 pm

Moved by Lord De Mauley

That the Grand Committee do consider the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, we are rightly proud of the environment in our country. Many facilities which could harm the environment or human health are regulated under the environmental permitting regime. We are today considering one type of enforcement, and as noble Lords know, enforcement is an important part of environmental regulation. In the past, it has generally relied on criminal prosecution with fines and imprisonment, or formal cautions which result in a criminal record. For some cases, prosecution and cautions can be heavy-handed and slow. Currently, there is no proportionate alternative for offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. The regulations we are considering today will enable the Environment Agency to accept enforcement undertakings for certain offences at facilities where an environment permit is required.

Originally introduced in 2008, enforcement undertakings give greater flexibility to regulators in the way they secure compliance, reserving criminal prosecution for the most serious offences. The Environment Agency started to use enforcement undertakings, as well as other civil sanctions, for some of its regulatory activities in January 2011. These regulations will allow it to start accepting enforcement undertakings for offences in the environmental permitting regime.

Enforcement undertakings are voluntary offers made by offenders to restore and remediate damage and, importantly, to ensure compliance both now and in

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC249

the future. There are around 90,000 Environment Agency permits which cover a diverse range of facilities including scrapyards, landfill sites, sewage works, chemical plants and nuclear power stations. It is a relatively new framework that has brought clarity and cohesion to permitting regulation without reducing levels of protection for the environment and human health. It is important to confirm that the worst offenders will continue to be prosecuted. Enforcement undertakings will be most appropriate for normally compliant people and businesses as long as they address the causes and effects of their offending. Where they are used, they will streamline enforcement, put compliance and restoration first, and encourage dialogue between the Environment Agency and business.

Let me give your Lordships an example of where these regulations could be used. I shall take an industrial company with high environmental performance standards which accidentally pollutes a river with sediment run-off from an on-site development project. Rather than being subject to prosecution, the company could in the future offer an enforcement undertaking. That offer might explain how the company would prevent the offence happening again, perhaps by changing procedures and possibly by making a board member responsible for future development projects and environmental performance as a whole. The enforcement undertaking would also quantify the environmental harm that had been caused and propose investment to that value, perhaps to a local environmental project or charity that works to improve the river which has been polluted.

As regards how the decision on accepting the offer of an enforcement undertaking is made, the Environment Agency, Defra’s regulator, has already put in place robust guidance and governance for its civil sanctions powers. In deciding appropriate enforcement, it will continue to apply a stringent assessment of what it calls “public interest” factors. In my example, if the offender’s compliance history had previously been good, the offence was not foreseeable and the environmental effect was minor, it may be appropriate to accept an enforcement undertaking. The regulations we are considering would extend enforcement undertakings to the Environment Agency’s largest regulatory regime. It is estimated that around 50 prosecutions or formal cautions could be avoided each year.

5 pm

These regulations introduce no new regulatory requirements and make no changes to existing offences or existing enforcement mechanisms beyond allowing the Environment Agency to accept enforcement undertakings from those who voluntarily offer them. The regulations will have no impact on businesses, charities, voluntary bodies or the public sector, unless they have failed to comply with the law. No impact assessment is therefore needed, as they introduce what is, in effect, a voluntary measure.

Just to be clear, the costs of enforcement undertakings fall only on offenders, who offer them to the regulator. Where enforcement undertakings are offered and accepted, they will give priority to the restoration of what has been harmed and a return to compliance and, where

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC250

appropriate, they will also benefit persons affected by the offending. Enforcement undertakings will streamline the enforcement process, which is no small matter. They will avoid the stigma of a criminal conviction, with its knock-on impacts, which may be higher business insurance and a negative impact on being able to bid for business contracts.

These regulations are part of a package of better regulation work on civil sanctions. My department has consulted twice on the introduction of enforcement undertakings for environmental permitting. More recently, stakeholders have confirmed that they continue to support them.

To summarise, the benefits of introducing enforcement undertakings include: restitution for local communities and those affected, instead of court penalties; giving priority to renewed compliance and restoration of harm, with opportunities for co-operation between business and regulator and giving offenders the opportunity to address non-compliance; and freeing-up regulators’ time to focus on tougher and speedier exercise of criminal sanctions where they are needed, tackling those who wilfully and repeatedly flout the law or harm local communities. The proposal is very much in line with the Government’s better regulation agenda. No one will be made to have an enforcement undertaking, but offenders will be able to offer them for some environmental permitting offences. They will give priority to renewed compliance and restoration of what has been harmed, including restitution for local communities, instead of court penalties. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

The Duke of Montrose (Con): My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this measure. I am most grateful to see that the regulations start off by allowing enforcement undertakings in the case of any infringement of pollution. I declare my interest as a farmer and I am looking at the subject from that angle. Of course, at the moment farmers who pollute or allow noxious substances to escape from their farms are subject to penalties under the common agricultural policy and the good agricultural and environmental condition standards. Farmers can be penalised by those, first; and secondly, the Environment Agency can impose penalties. Usually the idea is that a small penalty is imposed as a warning, but there is power to impose a very much heavier penalty. I am wondering whether these enforcement undertakings will work in tandem or whether they will be the opening gun of trying to enforce regulations when people are not complying properly and causing pollution or environmental damage.

Lord Grantchester (Lab): Once again, the Minister has provided the Committee with an excellent introduction to, and explanation of, the regulations. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, brought up the situation regarding farming and these regulations. In case there should be any anxieties, I declare my interest as an owner of a dairy farm. However, my reading of the regulations is that of the nine classes of regulated activity to which they pertain, none applies to dairy farming—except, possibly, the water discharge activity. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC251

clarify the extent to which farming is affected by these regulations, and how they might work together with the regulations under the common agricultural policy.

The Minister has clarified that these regulations introduce no new requirements and make no changes to existing offences and existing enforcement mechanisms, but merely allow the Environment Agency to accept enforcement undertakings when they are on offer. I agree that the order is constructive in that it allows the Environment Agency greater flexibility in its approach to transgressions, and follows his department’s Fairer and Better Environmental Enforcement review, which was initiated by the previous Labour Government. The regulations will make a positive addition to the Environment Agency’s ability to do its job well. The benefits to society include giving priority to restoration of harm ahead of criminal convictions.

The Explanatory Memorandum states, with regard to guidance, that the department will write to the Environment Agency setting out the expectation of how these enforcement undertakings will be used to ensure that enforcement is in accordance with Better Regulation principles. Will the Minister update the Committee on this progress? When does he expect that the Environment Agency will be able to publish its guidance on enforcement matters?

As the Minister explained, the Explanatory Memorandum provides no impact assessment, on the basis that the order has no impact on business or other organisations unless they fail to comply with the law. However, this was the subject of extensive discussions in the other place. The changes proposed in 2010 would have significantly reduced costs to both the Environment Agency and Natural England. As the Minister said, at the very least the order will help to free up the Environment Agency’s time.

In addition, since 2010 it is understood that consideration has been given to costs recovery. Did the Minister’s department give any consideration to recovery of the Environment Agency’s costs for monitoring and administering the new enforcement undertakings element of the order? Will he confirm that the Environment Agency can recover its costs from the order? The reply of the Minister in the other place rather missed the point to a certain extent, in his statement that it has no effect on business. It should surely be possible to produce an impact assessment on the benefits to business in this Better Regulation measure. After all, it is the aim of Better Regulation to bring benefits.

Finally, the ability to quantify the value of ecosystem services has also developed greatly since 2010. Are the Government able to give an estimate of the ecosystem services benefit of the increased compliance resulting from this change? I would be very grateful if the Minister could clarify his department’s approach to the benefits of this order.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked how farmers will be affected by these changes. Under the new system, farmers will

4 Feb 2015 : Column GC252

be treated in the same way as any other business. The regulations will enable farmers who have a general approach to compliance to propose enforcement undertakings to the Environment Agency as part of the regime. It will form part of the way in which they can resolve issues. He has reminded me that I should probably declare an interest as a landowner.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked a number of questions. He asked about guidance. I am not sure I am going to be able to satisfy him entirely today but I can say that my department will be writing to the Environment Agency, setting out the expectation of how environmental permitting enforcement undertakings will be used. It has already consulted on and will pay heed to the existing guidance on the use of environmental undertakings, which is currently being reviewed. That is probably as far as I can go today on that point.

The noble Lord asked about costs recovery. The regulations do not affect the level of inspection or enforcement. Enforcement undertakings will be an alternative to prosecution in suitable cases. Advice and guidance from the Environment Agency will remain the foundation of the environmental enforcement system. I do not think they will have an upward impact on costs at all. I think he also asked why there is no impact assessment, which I hope I explained. No impact assessment is needed for what is, in effect, a voluntary measure that will impact only on those who are not compliant and who voluntarily offer enforcement undertakings. For the delivery of this final part of the Fairer and Better Environmental Enforcement review, we have chosen to rely on the original impact assessment from 2010.

Lord Grantchester: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the question I asked. I well understand the logic in both the Explanatory Memorandum and the noble Lord’s words that this has no impact and does not require any new regulation to be complied with. Nevertheless, this is a measure that will bring benefits, so I wonder whether any assessment has been made to quantify what is likely to result from the benefits of better regulation.

Lord De Mauley: I referred to what I think is the best estimate we can make although, as the noble Lord will understand, it is quite difficult to do because it depends on take-up. However, if I can add anything to what I have already said in my opening remarks, I will write to him.

The noble Lord also asked whether I can update the Committee on the Environment Agency’s guidance. I have already said a few words about that. The agency has its guidance, trained staff, and an established approval and governance process, which includes oversight by a director-level national panel to promote consistency and the sharing of full information. On that basis, I hope that I have answered most of the questions that have been put to me, but to the extent that I have not, I will write.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.11 pm.