HC Deb 29 October 1990 vol 178 cc780-2

Lords amendment: No. 42, in page 29, line 1, at end insert '(", subject to section (power to create regional authorities for purposes of waste regulation) below")'

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Trippier.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 43 and 44.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

This issue was debated at length in Committee—in probably one of the best debates that I have ever known in Committee—and it was also debated on Report. On that occasion, the Minister was not prepared to accept our amendment that would have set up regional waste regulation authorities. I told the Minister that I thought that it would not be too long before he came back with a proposal on waste regulation authorities if he was in Government long enough to be able to do so.

This proposal comes from the Environment Select Committee report, which clearly recommended that the poacher and gamekeeper roles should be separated, and that, if we were serious about environmental protection, we should have separate regulation authorities. We recognise that the Government's compromise is a somewhat timid step along the lines that we would wish. We shall not oppose the proposal because it establishes the right of voluntary groupings in the original instance. It reserves the Secretary of State's right ultimately to establish regional waste regulation authorities.

The Labour party and the Environment Select Committee are serious in their proposals for environmental protection and associated problems. The question is whether the Government are as serious as we are. As has been said many times, we believe that waste regulation authorities, together with the National Rivers Authority, which has already been established, would ultimately form the basis of an environmental protection agency. The voluntary groupings can provide a stronger role for waste disposal plans, with proper integration of those plans at regional level. They can also provide a joint approach to licensing and enforcement policies, regional consultation on the regulation of hazardous wastes and better deployment of specialist resources across the authorities. Those are the reasons why we believe that we should have gone a step further and established the waste regulation authorities now.

Nevertheless, the Government are moving in the right direction. We hope that the voluntary groupings will succeed. I have no doubt that it will not be too long before waste regulation authorities are established to ensure proper and adequate control of private and public waste disposal and the best possible protection of our environment.

7 pm

Sir Hugh Rossi

It has been interesting to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). We have worked together on the Select Committee on the Environment on these concepts. I did not have the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee that considered those issues. Normally, I hesitate to make party political points on environmental issues because I like to see the Select Committee on the Environment working unanimously and as an all-party Committee—but my understanding was that it was Conservative members of the Committee who tabled amendments for the formation of regional waste authorities, but that they felt unable to proceed because they were not given the assurances, help and support that they required from the hon. Member for Burnley, who was also on that Committee——

Mr. Pike

It is unusual for me not to agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment. However, he will find that I was a signatory to those amendments in Committee and that I supported them at every stage. I told the hon. Gentleman's colleagues that if they put their amendments to the vote, the Labour members of the Committee would support both amendments. The first debate convinced my hon. Friends that we were right in our approach. As I said, it was an extremely good debate and it was as a result of that debate that many of my hon. Friends became convinced that the Select Committee report was the correct course to follow.

Sir Hugh Rossi

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman has been consistent throughout and that the position has been somewhat misreported to me. However, I know that my colleagues on the Committee were unhappy at that stage because they could not carry the matter in the way that they had hoped. Nevertheless, that is all water under the bridge.

This has been a difficult issue between the Select Committee and the Government. When we first suggested the proposal, it was rejected by the Government mainly because they did not want to enter into confrontations with the local authorities once again or to embark on another reorganisation of the local authorities having done so very recently. That was one of the matters that hindered the Government when dealing with the issue. Incidentally, I understood that the local authorities had been making strong recommendations to friends of the hon. Member for Burnley and that that was another difficulty in making progress with the matter in Committee.

Be that as it may, I welcome the fact that the Government have now recognised that the Select Committee, which spent a great deal of time and took a great deal of evidence on the way in which the present structures of the waste authorities were failing the country, concluded that such a system could be operated adequately only on a regional basis. We cited the London Waste Regulation Authority as an example of what could and should be done.

It is a pity that the Government are simply taking reserve powers to create regional waste authorities and that they are not going the whole hog. I agree with the hon. Member for Burnley that, as night follows day, sooner or later we shall see the creation of regional waste authorities. We shall then have reached what the Select Committee, on an all-party basis, set out to advise the Government to do.

Mr. Simon Hughes

My hon. Friends and I are not in any way against regional waste authorities. There has been much debate and discussion on that and I recognise the work done by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) and his Committee, and others.

However, I should like to highlight one concern, which is that the amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to create new authorities. I hope that he or his successor will recognise the views of local government. If the Secretary of State is given this additional power, there is a danger that the plans that have been voluntarily agreed between local authorities in a particular area will suddenly be intervened upon by the Secretary of State, who could decide to create a new authority irrespective of the wishes of those local authorities.

I believe that the whole process will be a matter of logic; that logic will dictate economic viability, and that geography and economic viability will dictate the right size for a regulation authority, which may well be regional. However, I hope that that conclusion will be endorsed by a Government decision only if it is the view of the current authorities at a lower level. I warn against any over-hasty intervention from the Government that might disrupt what would otherwise be the preferred approach of the democratically elected local councils.

Mr. Trippier

It kills me to say this, but I agree with every single word that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has just said. We have already been listening to the local authorities with regard to the regulatory function and waste disposal.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) for reminding Opposition Members that a number of people in some local authorities, not least in some Labour-controlled authorities, hold different views on what should be done in terms of this matter from the parliamentary Labour party—not surprisingly.

I think that what I am hearing, from both the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and from my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, are two cheers for what we are doing. I am satisfied with that for the moment because, when I was responding to the debate in Committee, I did not think that I should get even one.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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