HL Deb 15 July 1985 vol 466 cc531-57

22 Clause 9, page 4, line 35, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("( ) On the appointed day there shall be established in Greater London and each metropolitan county a body corporate to be known by the name of the London Waste Disposal Authority or by the name of the county with the addition of the words "Waste Disposal Authority", as the case may be. ( ) Each authority shall consist of members of the constituent councils appointed by them to be members of the Authority. ( ) The constituent councils in relation to the London Waste Disposal Authority shall be the London borough councils and the Common Council. ( ) The constituent councils in relation to a metropolitan waste disposal authority shall be the councils for the metropolitan districts comprised in the county. ( ) Each authority shall be a joint authority within the meaning of Part IV of this Act and the provisions of that Part shall apply to this section as if this section were included in that Part. ( ) The functions specified in subsection (2) below shall be discharged by the authority in respect of the area for which it is established.").

The Commons disagree to the above amendment but propose the following amendments to the words so restored to the Bill:

23 Page 4, line 37, leave out ("authorities") and insert ("councils").

24 Page 4, line 42, after ("purpose") insert ("before 15th November 1985").

25 Page 5, line 3, leave out ("that") and insert ("the abolition").

26 Page 5, line 4, leave out ("may, after consulting the authorities concerned,") and insert ("shall").

27 Page 5, line 8, at end insert— ("(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1) above the Secretary of State shall have particular regard to the need for satisfactory arrangements in respect of hazardous waste. (1B) No person shall be a member of an authority established by an order under subsection (1) above unless he is a member of one of the councils for whose areas the authority is established; and any such order may make provision for enabling the Secretary of State to require the authority established by the order to submit to him a scheme for the winding-up of the authority and the transfer to those councils of its functions, property, staff, rights and liabilities.").

Lord Ezra rose to move as Motion No. 27A, That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 22 to which the Commons have disagreed and do disagree with Amendments Nos. 23 to 27 proposed by the Commons to the words so restored to the Bill.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Motion 27A: If the House agrees to it, I shall formally move my second Motion, Motion 31A, since it is consequential. If Motion 27A is peradventure disagreed to, I shall not then be moving to the consequential Motion. Motion No. 31 A: That this House do insist on their Amendments Nos. 28 to 30 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 31.

I believe it would help if I were to start by recalling briefly the history of this subject. When the Bill was sent from another place to this House it provided for the devolution of waste disposal to borough and district councils with a reserve power by Government to establish for all, or part, of an area a single authority. When this was debated at the Committee stage in this House on 9th May in a debate vigorously led by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, strong arguments were advanced from all sides for the establishment from the start of single waste disposal authorities in Greater London and in each of the metropolitan areas. This was carried by a majority of vote.

It is with this amendment that another place disagreed on 8th July. The Government, however, in the course of the debate in the other place put forward certain modifications to their original proposals. The first modification was that the date for the exercise of reserve power by the Secretary of State was put back from September to 15th November. Secondly, in the event of any statutory body being set up as a result of this reserve power being exercised, these bodies would be required to submit within a reasonably short time proposals for the devolution of their functions to their constituent councils. Thirdly, there would be separate arrangements on a wider basis to deal with hazardous waste and non-operational matters. It is with these revised arrangements that we now have to deal and we need to decide whether we consider these are satisfactory. I will now advance a number of reasons why I consider that they are not satisfactory and that your Lordships should insist on our original amendment.

Let me first deal with technical reasons. In the debate in this House on 9th May, the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, chairman of the Select Committee on Hazardous Waste, and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, chairman of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, advanced strong arguments for maintaining strategic bodies to deal with the question of waste at county level. The main reason why they put forward these proposals is the process that we have developed almost uniquely in this country for the co-disposal of hazardous waste. I read very carefully what was said in the debate in another place when our amendment was rejected. Not a single word was said about this issue. But it is a crucial issue. If I may quote the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, he said: The great bulk of liquid hazardous waste is co-disposed with domestic waste on the principle of dilute and disperse".

It follows that there can be no separation between the disposal of normal, domestic waste and liquid waste if this successful process, pioneered in this country, is to be continued with. The problem of dividing up these functions is therefore crucial to our understanding of this problem. I should like to insist therefore that for technical reasons we should have a single control at regional level of the disposal of all waste.

Let me turn now, secondly, to financial reasons. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, in the previous debate referred to the Coopers and Lybrand report of 1984. That illustrious firm of accountants also studied the question of waste disposal and said this: The metropolitan county councils have established integrated networks for waste disposal across major conurbations. This enables facilities to be better used and costs reduced. The resurrection of local administrative boundaries would increase costs".

I do not wish to quote any further from their report. What this world-famous firm of accountants said was that costs would be minimised by the present arrangement and increased by any alternative arrangement.

Thirdly, let me turn to commercial reasons why your Lordships' amendment should be sustained. There is grave concern among all waste disposal contractors about what could happen if the latest proposals reaching us from another place were to become effective. I have here a letter dated 11th July 1985 from the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, which is the trade association of that body, and the Institute of Waste Management, which is the professional association of that body. They say: The situation, if anything, appears to be worse than the original Bill after the House of Commons considered the Lords' amendment last Monday and we thought that you would wish to be apprised of the situation".

They conclude: The situation we find ourselves in does not meet the reservations expressed in the House of Lords. Neither does it meet with the approval of the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors and the Institute of Waste Management".

4.45 p.m.

This very morning I have received a letter from Mr. Martin Laing who is the chairman of John Laing PLC, one of the leading contractors and constructional companies in this country. This is what he said: We were pleased to hear in May 1985 of the House of Lords' proposed modifications of the Government's proposals with respect to the control of solid waste disposal by a regional body. As contractors, we feel that the regional concept of waste disposal would provide the most effective and efficient means of control ensuring a continuing development of the best strategic policy for a given metropolitan area".

He concludes: We write to confirm our support for the original amendment which we believe would have best served the interests not only of the citizens in the areas concerned but of industry at large and particularly capital works".

Next I should like to talk about the organisational reasons why the amendment in another place should not be acceptable to us. A great deal of uncertainty has been created as a result of the date on which the Secretary of State has to decide whether or not to institute statutory bodies. Originally this date was set for July 1984. Then it was changed to February 1985 and then it was changed to September 1985—on which we received an assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Elton—and now we are told that it is to be 15th November 1985. What is worse is that, if the Secretary of State should decide upon the creation of statutory bodies, one of the first things that these statutory bodies would have to do is to decide on the devolution of their responsibilities; so that situation of uncertainty is further compounded.

I am sorry to have to say this but I think that what is proposed is an organisational nightmare; that there can be no certainty as to what is to come and that the centres of excellence, to which much praise has been paid by the various professional and other bodies, including your Lordships' Select Committees, will not know whether they are coming or going; and, regrettably, what they are most likely to do is to go. Therefore, I feel that organisationally what is now proposed leaves very much to be desired. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think that the proposals that we now have before us equally leave much to be desired in strategic thinking.

With the uncertainty about the organisations that are to be set up, the uncertainty of the relationship with the private sector contractors and the uncertainty with the staff, it is very difficult to see how any coherent strategic policy can be worked out in regard to this most important issue. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that we are now talking about seven million tonnes of waste being disposed of by the authorities concerned, and of course that will grow in time; and in addition there will be the best part of a million tonnes of hazardous waste. This is very big business indeed.

I add to that concern the views of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, whose chairman, Sir Richard Southwood, warned that boroughs and districts which might in future be charged with these responsibilities if the Government's proposals go through, might well ignore the best environmental options because of local pressures.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Elton, what is to happen to that very important document on the future of waste disposal which was prepared by the GLC at the request of Government, and which was entitled, No Time to Waste. It was published in 1984 and went up to the year 2003, and it was prepared as a result of the closest possible consultation with all parties concerned. Is that now to go by the board and is all that time to be wasted?

In conclusion, I should like to say that it seems to me that there is absolutely overwhelming evidence why, for technological reasons, for financial reasons, for commercial reasons and for organisational and strategic reasons, your Lordships should reaffirm the views previously expressed. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do insist on their amendment to which the Commons have disagreed, and do disagree with Amendments Nos. 23 to 27 proposed by the Commons to the words so restored to the Bill. —(Lord Ezra.)

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I rise to support the Motion moved in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I think I must start by saying that we are considering now something entirely different from the Motion we have just considered on highways and transport. They are both very important Motions, but I think it is only fair to view them entirely differently and to look at the reasons why we believe that these amendments that were made by your Lordships should be insisted on.

The noble Viscount the Leader of the House, when referring to waste disposal, said that the Government made amendments in another place in good faith. I am not questioning that good faith at all; what I am questioning is the efficacy, durability, efficiency and economy of the amendments which were put in place of what was sent by your Lordships.

To start with, waste disposal was quite inadequately discussed in another place. It came under the guillotine and in fact was discussed for just over 45 minutes. When it was before your Lordships' Committee it was discussed for about three hours, and I think that the vote in favour of the amendment was the largest vote on any of the different amendments here in Committee and also on Report.

When the other place defeated our amendments under a guillotine and the matter was covered in that very short time, it was fair to ask: What are the Government trying to do? They originally proposed devolution to districts and boroughs and your Lordships, on the basis of independent evidence, passed an amendment which was put forward in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for whom I withdrew an amendment standing in my name at that time. It was not a party amendment at all. Your Lordships were convinced that in this very important and essential area waste disposal had to be carried out at county level, as it has been for many years now, before which, incidentally, the situation was a complete mess-up. It was for that reason that your Lordships passed that amendment, which then went to another place.

What the Government were trying to do in the other place was to reverse the position, restore devolution to at least the majority of boroughs and districts and to arrive at their original destination by a rather different route. Indeed, what has now happened is that what we have in front of us today is rather worse than the Bill which we were discussing when we changed it in Committee, because instability is now being created by providing for temporary joint authorities which will be expected to pass their functions back to the boroughs and districts—thus building great instability and fragmentation into the arrangements.

It also means that the expertise and the skilled teams involved will be quite irrecoverable once this happens. It was on that point that your Lordships were so impressed and convinced when this question was discussed in Committee. Also the amendments which were introduced by the Minister for Local Government in another place have built into them the probability—I would not even say the possibility, because if your Lordshps read the amendment in lieu you will see it is a very strong probability—that any joint authority which is established would be asked to submit proposals for its own demise. The Minister indicated that any orders made would specify that it should be done within 12 months.

I would ask your Lordships: so what do we have? We have a situation where the boroughs and districts must come up with some voluntary groupings or individual plans by November—and the time has been slipping away, because when we were discussing it the plans were due to come out in September but now it is November. It is said that there may be a joint authority set up, not necessarily county-wide though that may be the case in some instances, or there could be small groups within counties. In fact, there will be no rationale about it at all; it will be completely all over the place.

If that were not enough, the Minister can in that order make sure that within 12 months it has then to go back to the districts and boroughs again. One could not run any sort of business on those grounds. How can one run in that way what is one of the most important services and functions that any local authority has to carry out today?

The Government's proposals ignore the basic structure of waste disposal in this country. I do not apologise for repeating in this context what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has so rightly stressed: the co-disposal of hazardous with household, domestic and commercial waste. It may be a peculiar method but that is the way we deal with waste disposal in this country, and it has been successful for many years now. But, as has been pointed out, the Minister for Local Government did not even mention this. I imagine that he is aware of it, but there was no mention of it and no discussion. That may have been due to the guillotine, but this is the central point around which the arrangements for waste disposal in this country have to be made.

5 p.m.

It has to be dealt with at county level. But the operational functions under the Government's amendments may be dealt with in isolation by some districts, groups of district, or in other cases groups of boroughs, with an almost total separation of powers. I think that it is up to Ministers to explain why the Government are proposing a wholly new course for waste disposal, and, even with the talk of lead boroughs for hazardous waste, the devolution for household waste with the far reaching national implications. I think the Government would do well to remember the words of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, at Committee stage when he said, at col. 759: it is essential to have a firm deposit of non-hazardous commercial and domestic waste in order safely to co-dispose hazardous waste".—[Official Report, 9/5/85]. The two go together and cannot be separated. This is a scientific view and certainly not a political view because this subject is something which in my view, and in the view of most people, is not a party political subject. It is up to the Government to explain how these changes accord with informed opinion.

The report of the Hazardous Waste Inspectorate has recently been published, in June 1985. I wonder whether, had it appeared a little earlier, it might have made very much difference to views all around. In paragraph 1.9 it says: The Government has recorded that it fully endorses the words expressed— the view of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, who is the chairman of the House of Lords Committee on Hazardous Waste— that the heart of successful waste management is public confidence and acceptance". How can public confidence be increased by the break up of the very centres of excellence recognised as important by the inspectorate, and indeed by your Lordships' House when your Lordships voted at Committee stage? In their report the inspectorate says: The Hazardous Waste Inspectorate would view with alarm any prospect of these experienced hazardous waste management teams being disbanded upon the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. The Hazardous Waste Inspectorate therefore strongly supports the Department of Environment guidance note issued on 28th March which concluded that hazardous waste management services should be the responsibility of a common unit in each metropolitan area". That particular paragraph goes on further, but I shall not weary your Lordships with that. But it is absolutely clear and very strongly worded.

It is quite extraordinary that we have here something which is almost unique. It is a report from Her Majesty's own Inspectorate on hazardous waste, together with the view of all the independent and professional bodies, and with the expressed opinions of at least two Select Committees of your Lordships' House. Yet the Government for a completely dogmatic reason—it is a rather Pavlovian reaction that, at the mention of a joint authority, we jump with panic and fear—are going along this very unfortunate path.

The private sector is also united in its condemnation of the Government's so-called compromise. Noble Lords will have received, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has done, and as I myself have done today, letters from the waste contractors' body and the president of the professional institue. They conclude by saying that the situation in which they find themselves does not meet the reservations expressed in the House of Lords; and neither does it meet with the approval of the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, and the Institute of Waste Management.

If we insist on this amendment it will not be a question of doing any harm or offending or challenging the Bill. The Bill will go through. The GLC and the metropolitan counties will be abolished. What we are trying to do is to limit the damage as much as possible. To break up the whole of a working waste disposal system for the sake of not setting up another joint authority does not make sense. Indeed, the Long Title to the Bill, where the Government explain what the Bill is about, in a reference to devolving duties to the boroughs and districts, also says, and, in some cases, to other bodies". So this is not contrary to the Bill. I must point out to those noble Lords who made these points in the previous debate that this is not, in fact, at all contrary to the Bill. Joint boards or joint authorities do not offend what is already to take place under the Bill. There are fire, police, and public transport joint authorities. In this House there was a joint planning committee for London. I agree that that is an advisory committee, but again it is a joint committee.

To reverse the provision in this way seems to me and to my colleagues on these Benches to be something that is destructive. It can affect hygiene and health. It can even be extremely dangerous and result in injuries and death, as we have seen in the past when there has been the odd accident. If this is to be broken up and fragmented in this way, then the opportunity for more accidents and for greater breakdown will be tremendous. With the amount of waste increasing all the time, with the increase in the amount of dangerous and hazardous waste as well as in ordinary domestic and commercial waste, and with the increase in technology, is this the time to start handing disposal back to boroughs and districts, which have neither the manpower or the personnel nor the finance to deal with it? This amendment was a mild, non-political amendment which was passed by this House. All we are asking is that this House insists on this. The Government will have the Bill, but at least let us have some concern for the people of this country.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, from this side of the House I am clearly less suspicious of the assurances that are given by Members of the Government from the Floor of either this or another place than perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. Nonetheless, I am obliged to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that the counter-proposals to your Lordships' amendment introduce a series of confusions, of apparently new issues, which I feel need some very clear clarification from the Floor of the House if the amendments are to be accepted.

May I start by taking advantage of the presence of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and putting to him that these are new proposals? These are not, strictly speaking, a compromise. A compromise might have been merely a revision of the date to allow the opportunity to test for voluntary arrangements to come into existence. But we have apparently new proposals. I wonder—and I say this with all deference to his far greater wisdom and with the humility appropriate to somebody from the Back-Bench—whether it is not perhaps incumbent on us at least to get involved in a dialogue which permits the clarification of these issues if necessary.

In a sense, I am thrown right back to the circumstances at the beginning of the Select Committee's inquiry into science and technology in local government. The evidence that was given to us in March by the Department of the Environment as the lead department on the role of central government in relation to scientific and technological services has already been published and is available to your Lordships under the reference 99-v. The initial point was made by the Department of the Environment that central government, because it has no direct role in ensuring the adequacy of scientific and technical services provided by or available to, individual local authorities, does not have any clear knowledge of these facilities. It was said that no single department can comment authoritatively on the general question of whether local authorities, collectively or individually, possess or have access to appropriate scientific and technological expertise. This gave us a very clear stimulus to progress with our inquiry, because it was quite clear that we were breaking new ground, doing something and fulfilling a useful function which is not available to central government.

Those words were said to us in March, but the same words were repeated to us in July in evidence which has not yet been published, but which is available and is technically a public document through your Lordships' Library, saying that the Department of the Environment has no overall view on how many or what sort of specialist staff should support particular services, or on how those staff should be deployed. But when we get into the question of waste disposal we are instantly putting on my noble friend the Minister a tremendous responsibility in having to define exactly these issues at the local government level.

The purpose of the amendment which was passed by this House and moved by myself, following an amendment which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has mentioned, she withdrew, was simply to do one thing. It picked up a power which was already given to the Secretary of State in the existing Bill and it advanced the date at which that power was exerted. It took away from him the freedom of choice. The obligation then lay in the Bill. It did not, in any sense, strike at the overall intentions of the Bill. It did not introduce a new authority that had not been already provided for. This is why I felt free to support it from the background of my scientific and professional career, rather than from a political point of view, and to urge your Lordships to vote for that amendment.

As I said the other day, things have happened very rapidly in the months during which we have been debating this Bill. I have greatly appreciated the way in which my noble friends on the Front Bench have adapted themselves to some of the suggestions which have come forward from my quarter and which have received general support in the House. This in itself produces new circumstances. I believe that there has been a mutual learning process. Certainly, I have learned an enormous amount and I believe that other quarters have learned, too.

There has been, in addition to the report published by the inspectors of hazardous waste (to which the noble Baroness has already referred) an extremely important report published since the beginning of our debates in April 1985. That is the report of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Harwell, Environmental and Medical Services Division, entitled Pollution By Wastes. This deals in great detail with the whole issue of the disposal of hazardous, commercial and industrial wastes and this report, by yet another independent but highly authoritative body, also insists very strongly on the fundamental importance of the combined strategy required for the disposal of domestic, commercial, industrial and hazardous wastes.

Moreover, this report emphasises the fact that the margin between hazardous and industrial wastes is very slim. It is very frequent that the producer of the waste does not himself fully recognise the hazard. The hazard has to be identified by the waste disposal authority, which requires the laboratory facilities, the technical services and professional support in order to do this job properly. These service already exist in the county authorities and the purpose of our amendment was to ensure their perpetuation as they stand. I believe that it is efficient and economic to perpetuate these present arrangements, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to explain fully how the alternative proposals that are put forward by the Government will be satisfactory.

If I may make one point, I do not think that the kind of arrangements which can seem satisfactory are the guidance notes that were issued in late March. These are inadequate on scientific and technological grounds. They take little account of anything more than geographical proximity in suggesting the allocation of arrangements that might jointly be entered into. It is very important that assurances should be given that, if it so happens—and I hope very sincerely that it will happen—that the successor authorities, the present metropolitan districts and the boroughs in London, come together and propose to the Secretary of State that their whole existing waste disposal system with its supporting services should be perpetuated, the proposals of the Government will permit this to happen and, moreover, that the Secretary of State will positively encourage the continuation of what at present appears to be a highly efficient, professional, effective and safe service in this country.

5.15 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, as a professional chemist I am naturally interested in the problems of waste disposal, hazardous waste disposal and sewage disposal, of which only the first two are the concern of this Bill. If I do not come to the same conclusions as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, it is not because we differ on technological matters. It is because this Bill is about the administration of technological matters, not the technological matters themselves. When it comes to administration, I always go for a straight line chain of command terminating with somebody responsible for a particular discharge of his duties.

If you have a number of organisations doing similar jobs, and you impose on them a higher level to correlate what they are doing, you run straight into the line and staff problem and all that that involves, which I have always regarded as the pons asinorum of multi-establishment administration. Do not, my Lords, make a stick to flog your backs with by imposing that upper tier, unless you have to do so; and this Bill is concerned with abolishing upper tiers. This has nothing to do with the possibility of setting up a central service to act, as it were, as a public consultant in these matters.

The House will remember that, at an earlier stage of this Bill, I pressed the Government to reassure those scientists and other similar workers employed by the GLC that they had a home to go to at the time when this Bill vested and the Government went a long way towards reassuring me on that point. In the sphere of waste disposal they again seem to have come quite a long way from their original provisions and have made proposals for tightening up what was only sketched in the original Bill. Fixing the deadline at 15th November is important, because it renders forward procedures unambiguous in point of time. The fact that the Secretary of State now has the explicit and positive duty to set up arrangements for the disposal of hazardous wastes is an improvement. To sum up the statement made in the other place, if the Secretary of State has not received mutually binding and signed agreements early in November, he will have to step in and impose what he thinks proper.

Only last Saturday, at a congregation at Brunel University where I was admitting students to their degrees, I was told that five local councils have come together, one of them being a centre of excellence, quite spontaneously. Nobody told them to do it. They thought it a sensible way to manage their affairs on a co-partnership basis. I see no obvious reluctance on the part of people to join in joint enterprises of this kind. If they can be persuaded into doing things voluntarily, it is very much better than imposing authority over them.

I have one or two questions which I should like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to answer when he replies. The first relates to hazardous wastes. I think this point has been made before but I should like to come back to it. A note was issued by the Department of the Environment on 28th March of this year recommending that satisfactory arrangements for hazardous waste disposal should be county-wide. I assume that the noble Lord has taken that under his belt, as it were, and will be able to give me a satisfactory reply. I am not quite clear how often the provision for the self-winding-up and transfer of function of an authority is intended to apply. Is it intended to apply only in those cases where they have come forward with a sensible proposal for some better partnership arrangement to be entered into among them?

We cannot treat these matters as exclusively the concern of local government because the public sector is involved. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned this. The private sector is heavily and very successfully involved in working as a contractor for waste disposal. The equity in established bargains ought not to be interfered with in any arbitrary way. My Lords, 15th November is only 17 weeks away, of which I should think about half will be taken up by the holiday period, and time marches on. We ought not to be introducing a delay in the process by playing ping-pong unduly with the other place. Of course, there is nothing out of order in today's proceedings, but, whichever way the matter goes today, I hope it will to some extent achieve finality and that we shall be able to get ahead.

I agree with the Commons amendments and recommend them to your Lordships. For that reason, I cannot support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.

Lord Gregson

My Lords, as the Gregson of the Gregson Report, I think it is very sad indeed that your Lordships' House finds itself once again discussing this issue. I cannot really believe that the Government should be so ill-advised as to pursue such an unsatisfactory course of action. After the reports of two Select Committees of this House, the report on waste disposal of Harwell, the premier research centre in Europe, and, in the past few weeks, the report of the Government's own Hazardous Waste Inspectorate, I should have thought that the Government would see the error of their ways. I find it unbelievable that they have been advised to follow their present course. I can only conclude that somewhere along the line dogma has somehow intruded but this cannot be a political issue because the issues involved are surely far too serious and important.

I do not intend to repeat the content of my speech on the occasion of the amendment but I think it is important to state the facts of the issue. More than 5 million tonnes of hazardous waste are produced in this country every year. There are 1.6 million tonnes of special waste, defined previously under the Poisonous Waste Act, produced in this country. All this waste must be disposed of safely if industry in this country is to continue to operate. I often wonder whether noble Lords opposite have any idea of what 5 million tonnes of hazardous waste looks like, and what an enormous problem it is to dispose of it safely.

In addition to the total content, some 85 per cent. of all the hazardous waste produced in this country is disposed of by landfill. I am afraid that I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that the figures are even worse than the ones he quoted. As I say, 85 per cent. of the 5 million tonnes of hazardous waste is disposed of by landfill. More than 50 per cent. of that waste arises in the areas of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. They have by far the greatest problem and the greatest responsibility to deal with this problem. They have therefore created in the past 12 years a most effective technical force to deal with the problem. They have been praised throughout the world for their effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out that very onerous duty.

It is obvious that in order to carry out that duty the waste disposal authorities created in 1972 should in fact be multi-discipline authorities. Underpinning the 85 per cent. of the 5 million tonnes of hazardous waste that has to be disposed of by landfill in this country is the practice of co-disposal, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords this afternoon, with domestic waste—the so-called "dilute and disperse"—a procedure special to the United Kingdom but essential in this highly populated island. This practice is a very delicate and highly critical one depending for safety on absolute standards of management and control. That is why it is rarely practised outside the United Kingdom. It requires detailed knowledge of the domestic waste deposited as well as complete knowledge of the hazardous waste that is later poured upon it. It would be foolish in the extreme to separate the two, but that is what the Government are now proposing. This is what I cannot understand.

Because of co-disposal, waste disposal authorities are integrated organisations covering both domestic waste and hazardous waste within the same organisation, a combined technical force which covers the whole aspect of the waste disposal for a given area. To separate them after 12 years of development when they have moulded themselves into a highly competent unit would be irresponsible in the extreme. Perhaps I may quote the continuation of the passage of the report of the Hazardous Waste Inspectorate, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, stopped short: The Hazardous Waste Inspectorate attaches great importance to the retention of these experienced hazardous waste management teams and considers that any other action would result in chaos in hazardous waste management. The inexperience of successor authorities shorn of any strategic role in the region would be ruthlessly exploited by those designated by Lord Gregson as the cowboy element. The Hazardous Waste Inspectorate has no doubt that these major urban areas do constitute cowboy country and notes that several members of the metropolitan authority inspection teams have been physically assaulted in pursuit of their duties. In Merseyside, for example, it sometimes proves necessary to deploy inspectors in twos and even in threes, equipped with personal radios, when investigating the activities of some local asbestos strippers and their transfer stations". Waste disposal authorities are integrated, highly specialised and highly developed organisations. In my opinion it would be foolish in the extreme to break them up and try, first, to develop a disposal authority for domestic waste in small areas and then, secondly, an authority for hazardous waste. That has never been attempted and it was never intended when the original organisations were set up. I ask your Lordships to support the original amendment of the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I rise to speak in this particular debate because I served on the committees of both the noble Lord, Lord Gregson and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. Of all the issues which have come before your Lordships on this Bill, I regard this one as being in some ways the most serious.

I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who said that this was an area of potential danger. He is of course absolutely right. It is an area of real danger now. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, sought to dismiss the case made in the amendment and said that he was satisfied with the proposals on administrative grounds. I have a high respect for the noble Earl, but he must have forgotten some of the administrative principles which he himself sought to enforce in the past.

I ask your Lordships to take this issue very seriously indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Gregson, made some very powerful arguments. Anybody who is interested in conservation and in the quality of life must reject as second best a proposal from the Government in which they themselves are not confident. The Government themselves, after a lot of hesitation, have come up with a new date by which decisions must be made. Indeed, one might almost say that the Government are in a recidivist state of mind in this connection. I would not call the noble Lord himself a recidivist, but those of us who have followed this argument cannot be other than appalled about this particular issue.

Whereas I supported the proposals on transport and other matters, I see this matter as being in a special category. In the absence of the Leader of the House, I may say to your Lordships that the noble Viscount was wise not to follow the obvious temptation which confronted him—namely, to say to your Lordships that it would be undesirable to disagree with the Commons in their amendment. The noble Viscount was very tempted to do so, but having rejected that course of action, he said that this was a matter of compromise, that we have accepted some amendments and have rejected others. That is not a sound parliamentary principle.

I would urge any of your Lordships who are interested in this matter to read the committees' reports—especially that of the Gregson Committee—and to take this issue very seriously. Indeed, I would ask noble Lords to ensure that the Commons amendment is disagreed to. Even if none of the other amendments is disagreed to, this amendment is certainly one to which I should like to see your Lordships disagree.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, at the Committee stage I voted against the amendment to Clause 9, although I felt there was some merit in the amendment that was put forward. But that amendment went completely against the principles of this Bill which were accepted on Second Reading. Since then the Government have moved a long way. The balance of argument is now very strongly against accepting the amendment on its own merits and in favour of accepting the amendments to Clause 9 put forward in another place. However, I believe that some clarification is needed in respect of some of the points we are discussing, and I shall come to those in a moment.

The noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Gregson, and my noble kinsman Lord Cranbrook, have laid great emphasis on the technical problems of the disposal of hazardous waste. They seem to be saying that some noble Lords do not take this matter seriously. I take it very seriously indeed. There is no one keener on the protection of the environment than I, nor more aware of the problems and dangers of nuclear waste. However, I suggest that this is not a technical problem. It is an organisational problem, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has made clear to us. The technical factors are not overriding because they are common to whatever organisation is set up. We are searching for the best organisation, the least bureaucratic and the most efficient. Whatever organisation is set up, surely the technical services, the experience and the knowledge of all the people who have been involved in this problem of nuclear waste will still be available in any case.

There have been three significant changes since we discussed this matter in Committee. They are significant, and they meet to a large extent the objectives of those who propose the amendment to Clause 9, which was carried by four votes at the Committee stage. First, there is the introduction of the deadline of 15th November, by which date the Secretary of State has to be assured that satisfactory arrangements have been made. That is certainly a step forward.

Secondly, the Secretary of State now has a duty to make an order setting up joint arrangements if he is not satisfied that satisfactory arrangements have been made. It is no longer simply permissive. But perhaps most important of all, as I have already suggested, is the duty on the Secretary of State to have special regard to the needs concerning the disposal of hazardous waste. I do not underestimate the problems, but on this matter it is clear that if people are not satisfied with a decision that the Secretary of State takes, he can be challenged, if there is any question of dissatisfaction or doubt.

I understand that a number of boroughs and districts have already made detailed plans to run the waste disposal service jointly. It is right in my view that they should be permitted to do so. Even so, there will be no question, as I understand it, of authorities taking on responsibility for this service if they have not made arrangements which are deemed satisfactory by the Secretary of State. I hope that the Minister who is to reply will confirm that.

Returning to the problems of the disposal of hazardous waste, the Secretary of State now has to pay particular regard to this. As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has already indicated, the DoE has accepted that there is a need for co-ordinated action on hazardous waste. I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply whether he can assure the House that that means the Secretary of State will not be satisfied with the arrange- ments made unless they are adequate regionally; that is, that there are adequate county-wide arrangements for the disposal of hazardous waste. In that case, as I understand it, the Secretary of State will be compelled, if he is not satisfied, to make an order which can deal, if necessary specifically, with any particular problems of hazardous waste. That will to my mind provide a complete safeguard on the points which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I repeat that they are not technical points but purely organisational points.

Some clarification is needed also on the implications of the provisions, to which reference has already been made, enabling the Secretary of State to require any authority established by an order to prepare a scheme for winding itself up. Am I right in assuming—and I hope that the Minister can answer this question—that that provision is included because of the relatively short time available to the boroughs and districts to reach voluntary agreements? I hope that the Minister can confirm that that provision will be used only where there is a prospect of voluntary arrangements being reached which are an improvement on the statutory arrangements which have been imposed by the order.

As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, there is heavy private sector involvement in the waste disposal business. If the amendments to Clause 9 proposed in another place are accepted, can the Minister clarify the position in respect of private sector companies with major contracts under the present regime? That is a very important point, and it is one that has been made by one or two other noble Lords.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene to say that the private sector concern is not only with their current contracts. They are concerned also about the arrangements under which they can make future contracts. They are very concerned about the multiplicity of organisations with which they might have to deal.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, all private sector companies like to have continuity of arrangements. They may find a little difficulty, but that is not a matter of overriding importance when considering this Bill.

Finally, in my view the boroughs and districts are perfectly capable of running this service, acting jointly wherever appropriate. Surely they are best placed to devise arrangements for acting jointly. It will be far more efficient for them to work out their own proposals rather than have Government and Parliament imposing some bureaucratic arrangements on them. No doubt they will seize that opportunity if it is presented to them in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the House will agree with the amendments proposed in another place and not insist on our own amendment.

Baroness White

My Lords, I intervene briefly because I am much disturbed by the speeches we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord opposite. They are, indeed, distinguished in their own fields, but they are not very knowledge-able about the true nature of the handling of hazardous waste in the totality of the waste disposal system in this country. One cannot disintegrate, as the Government are attempting to do and as the Minister attempted to do in the other place recently, the handingly of hazardous waste from the totality of the waste cycle. It simply does not meet the situation as it exists. It is quite clear that the Minister in the other place did not fully understand the implications of what he was saying,

Since last Monday, when the other place decided the way that it did, I have been strengthening my own resolve to support, in particular, the attitude of the chairman of one of the two Select Committees—the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook—by the conversations which I have had in the past few days with leading professionals in both the private and public sectors. I urge upon your Lordships to understand that they are considerably perturbed by the proposals which have been put forward by the Government. They know that the proposals now before us which we are being asked to accept, having abandoned our own convictions as expressed during our earlier debate, will not work properly except in a very few instances and in certain special circumstances.

A senior director of one of the largest private contractors in the waste disposal business said to me this morning: The Government can approve certain groupings of boroughs but they cannot assure their effective working. They are asking us to accept a pattern which sensible and experienced men with long professional experience know to be wrong. It is an insult to our professionalism". That was said to me by a senior director of one of the largest waste disposal companies in this country. He also said that there are still some people old enough to recall the old unintegrated system when the boroughs did, in fact, run the waste disposal arrangements, to which they have no wish to return.

In the intervening years the need for integration has enormously increased, not least because of the complexities of hazardous waste, but one cannot deal with the disposal of hazardous waste except on a day-to-day basis. It is absurd for the Government to suggest that the treatment of hazardous waste is non-operational. It is operational all the way through. It is true that one needs the scientific direction and the research capability, and so on, but the disposition of hazardous waste in this country, as other noble Lords have fully indicated, is inseparable from the organisation of general waste disposal.

My chief deep concern is that the Ministers and the Government even now do not appear fully to appreciate this. It was made perfectly clear in a major report at the Department of the Environment issued some years ago. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, referred to more recent reports which re-emphasised this. One does not know how to deal with a situation which has been handled on a political basis which does not connect with reality. This is nothing to do with public or private sectors. For example, ICI has to dispose of considerable amounts of chemical waste. They do a certain amount of that in-house. But what do they do? They obtain domestic waste from the local authorities. All that must be properly organised on a basis which, as the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, said, is very precariously balanced in its own scientific relationships.

5.45 p.m.

The hazardous waste inspectorate has emphasised that suitable arrangements must be made to ensure that enforcement teams are viable. As they say in their recent report, to diffuse them between several authorities, whether grouped authorities or not, would only offer encouragement to those seeking to avoid waste management controls. Disintegration into small groups of boroughs will not overcome the needs and the requirements of the great conurbations which, as we have already been told, are the sources of by far the greatest proportion of the hazardous wastes in this country.

One can go on pointing to the various gaping holes in the Government's case. If one is talking of organisation, it is not only for hazardous waste, although that is by far the greatest factor in the equation. In the great conurbations one needs maximum flexibility, which only unified administration can provide. For example, fog on the lower reaches of the Thames can completely disrupt London's waste transfer system. With a unified authority one can switch instantly, without inter-group diplomacy or negotiation, to road or rail to minimise the disruption. Groups of councils co-operating in threes or fours simply cannot act with the swiftness required in our great cities.

We have been asked to overturn the considered opinion of your Lordships' House based, I should have thought, as soundly as any amendment could be based, on the work of Select Committees of this House. As my noble friend Lady Birk said, if we go back to where we were when we last debated the matter, and stand by our convictions, it will cause the Government a slight temporary embarrassment, but neither the Government nor the Bill will be in any danger. There is no reason for this House limply to acquiesce in something which anyone who has studied the matter knows to be wrong.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, it is essential that this important public service should not become a political football and that its uncertainty should not be clouded, as it is at this moment. We have heard from noble Lords during the course of the debate of the different deadlines when the districts will take over. The later deadline now proposed prolongs the uncertainty with no guarantee that adequate arrangements will be forthcoming, particularly since the districts have not yet met any of the previous deadlines.

When noble Lords speak about districts and boroughs they have in mind in particular the London area. When I speak about districts I am referring to the districts in the metropolitan counties, and therefore, the co-ordination which is taking place there. As the Minister told us during the course of the debate, while seven groups of authorities are getting together in the London area, no comprehensive proposals have yet been put forward by the metropolitan county district areas. We were told that by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, during the debate. Therefore, the Secretary of State will still have the power to set up partial arrangements covering only some of the waste disposal functions or a part of a county area, with the result that more fragmentation may possibly occur in the metropolitan county district areas. The Minister for Local Government has also made it abundantly clear that any authority established under the reserve power would probably be required to submit proposals for devolving the function back to the districts within 12 months. So there would be two reorganisations, two sets of transitional costs, and even more protracted uncertainty would follow.

Other noble Lords have said that the waste disposal service can be carried out only on a county-wide basis, and it is important for us to use the best of the facilities and of course to minimise the risks to the environment and to public health. Fragmentation of the service will lead inevitably to the adoption of the "Nimby" principle—the "Not-in-my-back-yard" principle. The results will be chaotic: an under-use of facilities, both public and private, with lower standards, and an unwillingness for one authority to accept another's waste. This is a very serious problem in the large conurbations where there are completely built-up areas. The Government themselves have stressed the need to have particular regard for satisfactory arrangements in respect of hazardous waste.

I listened very closely to what the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, had to say and one gives credit to Lord Gregson for his great knowledge of hazardous wastes. I made a particular note concerning the West Midlands, which is the part of the country from where I come. The figures that are contained in the report of the Hazardous Waste Inspectorate show that over 20 per cent. of the hazardous waste produced in England is disposed of in the West Midlands; and somebody mentioned a large chemical company which sends its hazardous waste to the West Midlands, many hundreds of miles away from where the hazard in the chemicals originates.

But hazardous waste cannot be considered in isolation because of the co-disposal approach which is adopted in the counties. We shall have fragmentation of the waste disposal function which, as noble Lords have said, will obviously undermine the viability of the private sector waste disposal operations. I think it must be recognised that many of the large in-fill sites around the country are obviously in-fill sites that belong to private individuals and therefore the in-fill hole, if one calls it that, is in the hands of the private owner.

I think it is important for noble Lords, who have been listening very attentively to this debate, to listen to the wise words that have been said by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, by my noble friend Lady Birk and by experts in the field, who include the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Lord, Lord Gregson. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, it is important for the House to listen to the arguments and then to make up its mind. There has been much interest from noble Lords who have been listening to the argument; I hope that when the vote takes place they will be able to convince their noble friends who have not been listening to the arguments to vote on this side of the House.

Lord Elton

My Lords, at least I join the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, in hoping that your Lordships will listen to the argument, and I hope that your Lordships will listen with particular care to that part of the argument which has not yet been deployed but which soon will be, because I think that there are one or two small but important misconceptions on the Floor of the House at the moment.

The first proposals on waste disposal and regulation which we saw were those sent to this House by the other place. They provided for the responsibilities of the GLC and the MCCs for waste regulation and disposal to be devolved to the borough and district councils. They also provided a reserve power for my right honourable friend, in the absence of adequate voluntary joint arrangements for the discharge of those functions, to impose a statutory joint arrangement by order.

The next stage was when, against the Government's advice, your Lordships amended these proposals so that waste regulation and disposal functions were to be transferred to a single joint authority in each area. Under the amendment this was always to be done without any opportunity for the boroughs and districts to put forward proposals to assume those functions themselves on abolition, even if they wanted to. Your Lordships did this because, as I understand it, your Lordships were concerned in particular that there should be certainty over the future arrangements for waste disposal and especially for the disposal of hazardous waste. These are concerns which Her Majesty's Government entirely share and that is why in the first place we proposed the reserve power to which I have just referred. We fully appreciate the strong concern expressed both here and in another place that nothing shall go wrong with these arrangements and that the disposal of waste shall continue with uninterrupted efficiency before, during and after abolition day. As I say, it is a concern which we entirely share.

We are also strongly of the opinion that voluntary arrangements freely entered into by the elected representatives of the people will offer thoroughly satisfactory solutions in many cases. We know that groups of authorities are already preparing to make such arrangements and we have to admit that the voluntary approach has a number of advantages. The first and obvious one, of course, is the enthusiastic commitment of the elected authorities concerned, because it is their own invention after all. Secondly, those authorities are much more closely in touch with their own situations and problems than anyone in Whitehall can hope to be.

Thirdly they can arrive at mutually satisfactory arrangements in direct negotiation with their neighbours much more quickly than through the brokerage or intervention of a Government department. Finally, they can come together in groupings which are determined by knowledge and convenience and not, as is now proposed from the other side of the House, by rule of thumb and very inflexibly.

All your Lordships, not only those on the other side of the House or indeed on the Cross Benches, are anxious to defend democracy in this Bill. To those who are most anxious I must make this observation: what we propose is that the elected representatives of the people affected shall be given every possible opportunity to choose the arrangements they want to have; what the Motion proposes is that they shall have none. Further, as may well happen, if some councils feel, like the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and those who have spoken in support of him, that the best solution is a statutory joint board and they do want it to be set up by order, all they have to do is to ask for it and it will be given to them. The power is in the Bill.

The London boroughs of Harrow, Hillingdon, Brent, Richmond and Ealing have, in fact, asked for statutory arrangements for the western group of boroughs, and accordingly we shall be happy to make an order for that purpose. I am sure that my noble friends at least will agree that where boroughs or districts want to come together and run their own show, and where the Government are satisfied that these arrangements are satisfactory and will work, it would be a very great pity indeed to stamp out that initiative, push the volunteers away from the drawing board and say, "No, you have to do it like this because we say you should do".

6 p.m.

We therefore have three concerns—to permit effective and satisfactory voluntary arrangements where those are made; to provide satisfactory compulsory arrangements where they are not; and of course where voluntary arrangements are made which are satisfactory to start with, we must clearly, if they become unsatisfactory, have the means immediately to hand to substitute satisfactory compulsory arrangements. The proposal that we originally made to achieve those three purposes was to entrust everything to the good will of the councils and the good sense of the Secretary of State. Your Lordships wish to make doubly sure. In spite of my undertaking that we should use the reserve power in the absence of satisfactory proposals by the end of September—and I shall return to that date in a moment—your Lordships decided that joint arrangements imposed by statute would always be best and made Amendment No. 22 on the Marshalled List. That was the second stage in the evolution of those proposals.

The third was completed in another place, where the Government again sought to devise a way of permitting the councils to work out arrangements that would fit their own varying and particular circumstances in a way that neither a standard device nor central direction could hope to achieve. That looks to me like a search for the compromise which my noble friend Lord Cranbrook says we should be looking for. Our aim was to do so in a way that would leave no remaining doubt that by 1st April 1986, come what may, a safe and effective system will be in place, that hazardous waste in particular will be securely catered for and that effective systems which later fail can be swiftly replaced under statutory power. What we then came up with was a system which I believe meets all the criteria, and it was accepted by another place, which now proposes it to your Lordships instead of what your Lordships sent to it. Unlike those arrangements, it combines the flexibility of locally agreed arrangements, tailor-made to fit local requirements, with the certainty that a properly organised scheme will emerge for every borough and every district before abolition day. It does not weaken what was in the Bill; it strengthens it.

We have achieved that in three ways. We have moved from giving the Secretary of State merely a power to intervene, and turned that power into a duty. In any case where satisfactory arrangements are not made voluntarily he will now have a duty to make them himself by order. Secondly, and as a consequence of that, we have moved from the security merely of an undertaking that the Secretary of State would act to the certainty of a duty on the face of the Bill. Thirdly, by inserting a deadline we have made the very precise requirement that satisfactory arrangements should be made and if satisfactory arrangements are not made by that date the Secretary of State must act. I shall spell out in a moment what we mean by satisfactory arrangements, but let me first pick up a point of concern which has been repeated in one way or another two or three times this afternoon.

When we were debating this amendment when it was last in this House I said that the Secretary of State would invoke his reserve power to make an order if he was not satisfied with what had been done by the end of September. In the proposals now before us from another place the date for making an order—and it is a date for making an order, I must tell the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, and not the date of takeover, which has not changed and was and always will be 1st April next year—we put in the Bill as 15th November. That is one and a half months later than the date to which I referred.

That is not a slippage of six weeks and it is not a change in our intentions or a weakening in our resolve. It merely represents the fact that we have moved from the Secretary of State having to be informally satisfied that what was proposed would be all right to the statutory duty to know that it would be all right; and that means that he must have a written, signed, mutually binding and legally binding agreement among the co-operating authorities which is enforceable at law on his desk in time to satisfy himself that it is workable by 15th November. If it is not, he has to start preparing his order—the statutory order that your Lordships will want to see if a satisfactory voluntary arrangement is not available. He cannot do that overnight and so he will be inquiring ahead of the date to see what is happening.

Let me explain. As I foreshadowed in my original undertaking, we shall invite boroughs and districts to submit detailed proposals by 30th September at the latest. We shall let them have our reaction within about 10 days and invite them to draw up the draft terms of a binding agreement. If those terms look satisfactory we shall ask for a signed agreement by early November so that the Secretary of State can take his decision on 15th November. We originally set out the criteria against which the Secretary of State would judge whether those proposals were satisfactory and the considerations which he would weigh in a guidance note issued to boroughs and districts on 28th March.

I entirely accept, as my noble friend Lord Cranbrook suggested, that that guidance has been overtaken by events. If, as I hope, your Lordships accept the Commons amendments in lieu, we shall therefore bring that guidance up to date to reflect progress made, concerns expressed and knowledge deployed in your Lordships' House by issuing further advice to the boroughs and districts very shortly. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady White, that that will include guidance on the provision of contingency plans for any interruption in the accessibility of points for the disposal of waste whether by reason of a fog down the river or for any other reason.

The guidance will also reflect the enhanced role for the residuary bodies in reviewing and possibly employing groups of specialist staff. In working out those arrangements many authorities will have reached a final view on their proposals for employing specialist staff, but some may not have done so and the residuary bodies will be there to take on such staff until final arrangements are settled.

I shall be as brief as I can, but your Lordships will want me to refer to hazardous waste and will want to know what sort of voluntary arrangements my right honourable friend would be prepared to consider and might find satisfactory. I have already made it clear that we envisage special arrangements for hazardous waste in all the abolition areas, and those arrangements will generally need to be county-wide. In any case, if they are not effective for the whole county, the Secretary of State will of course be obliged to set up a joint authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Gregson, in particular, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, I think, expressed concern at the creation of a county-wide body to deal with hazardous waste alongside local groupings to deal with ordinary or other waste. That does not imply a basic separation, as some of your Lordships seem to fear. We envisage that both operational and regulatory functions will rest with borough and district councils. Under the special arrangements for hazardous waste we should expect to see central units of specialist staff with specialist resources. Their job will be to give expert advice on hazardous waste problems; to advise a joint committee or lead authority which will administer the control of pollution (special waste) regulations; to monitor compliance with site licence conditions; to maintain common databases and records of the location and movement of hazardous waste; to provide an emergency service to deal with incidents; to give advice on general site licensing matters to the borough or district councils; to underpin their common consideration of general regulatory problems; and to co-ordinate planning and research and development work.

Lord Gregson

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can explain how that will help co-disposal, which means operational activity both in the disposal of hazardous and domestic waste together? What he has described is an advisory body, but that does not seem to meet the case at all.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think that it does. I do not want to detain your Lordships but I think it is an important point. The functions will remain with the groups—with the individual authorities—but centrally they will have the expert team and resources to advise them. If the noble Lord reads Hansard he will see that the team will actually be inspecting sites on which the disposal by the co-operating authorities has taken place on its advice. If there is a departure from the regulatory standards which are set up under its guidance, it will be for it immediately to report; and if a hazardous incident occurs it will provide the emergency service.

We are not in Committee. Your Lordships can see by the pantomime that I have not satisfied the noble Lord, and you will not be surprised at that. But I think that your Lordships will agree that the machinery is there. What it needs to work it is good will, and good will will be there when we come to the end of the day. Your Lordships have spent much time considering, debating and improving the arrangements for keeping specialist teams of exactly this sort together and in business. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, I am convinced that they will work.

In spite of the fact that a number of points remain which have been raised on the Floor of the House, I think that I can best reply to them in correspondence. However, your Lordships will want to know that we share the concern about the position of the major contractors which dispose of most of the waste in London and the metropolitan county council areas, and that they should not suffer as a result of abolition. We recognise the importance of the role played by these contractors and the heavy investment involved. We have made clear to successor authorities that any large-scale abandonment of existing contracts would he unacceptable and I am glad to be able to reinforce that. So what—

Lord Ezra

My Lords, will the noble Lord perhaps indicate why it is that, in spite of those reassurances, the private sector contractors are virtually unanimous in still expressing major apprehensions about the way in which these matters will be handled?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not in the least surprised that apprehension is expressed, not merely by major contractors but also by people involved in the waste industry generally, because of the uncertainty that has been cast upon all operations by news first of all of your Lordships' amendment and then news that your Lordships were about to insist on it—

Lord Ezra

My Lords—

Lord Elton

No, I really—

Noble Lords


Lord Elton

My Lords, from tonight that uncertainty will be resolved. From tonight we shall know where we are going.

Baroness White

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but what about the assurances to the staff, who have been told that the Minister expects the authorities to provide him with the means for the dissolution of these new authorities, which therefore gives them no certainty?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Baroness helpfully anticipates the very next point, which I might have left out to save time, and that would have been a disastrous omission. First of all, the staff will know the likely position in September when the Secretary of State inquires of the local authority what its outline plans are and those will be known. However, as to the future, there is a misconception. My right honourable friend will, as the noble Baroness and others have said, have power to include in the order a provision requiring the authority established by the order, where he makes one, to submit a scheme for winding itself up. Your Lordships will see in the text of the Bill that here the word is "may" and not "shall". Throughout your Lordships have been assuming that every order will include such a requirement, but that is not the case. I think I should elaborate a little on what my right honourable friend said about it in another place because there is good reason for what we propose and I have discussed it with him. We include the provision because time is, as noble Lords have reminded us, short and because some councils which wish to have voluntary arrangements and have in fact started to prepare for them may simply not be able to get it ready by 15th November. If that happens, the Secretary of State is bound by the Bill as it is now drafted to bring in a statutory scheme of his own. We believe that where that happens, the wish to move to devolution by voluntary arrangements accounted as satisfactory by the Secretary of State ought not to be prematurely thwarted.

I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that we are not therefore preparing to arrive, as she put it, at the same destination by another route, involving the wholesale institution of temporary authorities. I can assure my noble friend Lord Caldecote and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that we shall not use this provision as a means of wholesale so-called voluntary devolution by compulsory means.

In circumstances such as that this provision will provide both the safe, immediate cover of a statutory arrangement and the means for constituent councils under that cover to complete their plans for their preferred voluntary arrangements to replace it in due course. It is no more sinister than that.

The Government proposals guard against all the dangers seen by your Lordships at Committee stage as justification for the amendments that you then put in the Bill. In the old form the Secretary of State was only permitted to act; now he is forced to act. In the old form the expectation of his action rested only on the word of a Minister; in the new it rests on the face of the Bill. In the old form he could be satisfied merely by outline proposals; he now needs a signed, legally binding document.

We have heard that the new group authorities will be too small to be effective. By that standard half the counties in England are too small as well, yet your Lordships have not complained about them. We have heard also that what is proposed is dangerous as regards hazardous waste. Why was it thought dangerous?—because there would be a separation between those who deal with hazardous waste and those who deal with the rest. I have shown to some of your Lordships' satisfaction that these powers and functions remain together and that we have provided in addition for the retention of all the central specialist staff and resources necessary.

This is a revising Chamber. It was as a revising Chamber that your Lordships asked another place to think again. It has thought again and so have Her Majesty's Government. The result is a Bill materially strengthened in respect of the matters about which your Lordships were concerned. No authority can now be left without a satisfactory scheme. The element of doubt has been removed. The sanction of the law has been imposed. The continuation of specialist support teams has been provided for and the date for completion is to be fixed by statute. For I hope the very last time in the long progress of this Bill I invite your Lordships to listen to my advice and to vote "Not-Content".

6.16 p.m.

On Question, That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 22 to which the Commons have disagreed and do disagree with Amendments Nos. 23 to 27 proposed by the Commons to the words so restored to the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 154; Not-Contents, 213.

Airedale, L. Fitt, L.
Amherst, E. Foot, L.
Ardwick, L. Gaitskell, B.
Attlee, E. Gallacher, L.
Aylestone, L. Galpern, L.
Bacon, B. Glenamara, L.
Banks, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Barnett, L. Gregson, L.
Barrington, V. Grey, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Grimond, L.
Bernstein, L. Hampton, L.
Beswick, L. Hanworth, V.
Birk, B. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Birkett, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Blyton, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Boothby, L. Heycock, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hirshfield, L.
Bottomley, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Briginshaw, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Broadbridge, L. Hughes, L.
Brockway, L. Hunt, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Ilchester, E.
Bruce of Donington, L. Ingleby, V.
Buckmaster, V. Irving of Dartford, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Jacobson, L.
Caradon, L. Jeger, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Chitnis, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Collison, L. Kirkhill, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Kirkwood, L.
Crawshaw of Aintree, L. Kissin, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Leatherland, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Listowel, E.
Darwen, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
David, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Lockwood, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Longford, E.
Denington, B. Lovell-Davis, L.
Diamond, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Donoughue, L. MacLeod of Fuinary, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. McNair, L.
Ennals, L. Mais, L.
Esher, V. Meston, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Milford, L.
Ezra, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Falkender, B. Mishcon, L.
Falkland, V. Molloy, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Monkswell, L.
Monson, L. Shepherd, L.
Morris of Kenwood, L. Shinwell, L.
Morton of Shuna, L. Silkin of Dulwich, L.
Mountevans, L. Simon, V.
Mulley, L. Soper, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Stallard, L.
Nicol, B. Stamp, L.
Ogmore, L. Stedman, B.
Oram, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Phillips, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Strabolgi, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.] Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Rea, L. Underhill, L.
Reilly, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Ritchie of Dundee, L. Walston, L.
Roberthall, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B. Whaddon, L.
Rochester, L. White, B.
Ross of Marnock, L. Wigoder, L.
Russell of Liverpool, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Sainsbury, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Scanlon, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Seear, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Seebohm, L.
Sefton of Garston, L. Winstanley, L.
Serota, B. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Shackleton, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Crawshaw, L.
Aldington, L. Cross, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Allerton, L. Davidson, V.
Ampthill, L. De Freyne, L.
Annaly, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Arran, E. Denman, L.
Astor, V. Donegall, M.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Dormer, L.
Bauer, L. Drumalbyn, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Dundee, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Dundonald, E.
Beloff, L. Eccles, V.
Belstead, L. Eden of Winton, L.
Bessborough, E. Effingham, E.
Bethell, L. Elibank, L.
Biddulph, L. Ellenborough, L.
Birdwood, L. Elles, B.
Boardman, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Bolton, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Elphinstone, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Elton, L.
Brain, L. Falmouth, V.
Brentford, V. Fanshawe of Richmond, L.
Bridgeman, V. Ferrers, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Ferrier, L.
Broxbourne, L. Fisher, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Forbes, L.
Buccleuch and Queensberry, D. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Butterworth, L. Freyberg, L.
Caithness, E. Gainford, L.
Caldecote, V. Geddes, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Gibson-Watt, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Glanusk, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Glenarthur, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Gowrie, E.
Carnock, L. Grantchester, L.
Cathcart, E. Granville of Eye, L.
Cayzer, L. Gray, L.
Chelmer, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Clinton, L. Greenway, L.
Coleraine, L. Gridley, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Grimthorpe, L.
Cowley, E. Haig, E.
Cox, B. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Craigavon, V.
Craigmyle, L. Halsbury, E.
Craigton, L. Hanson, L.
Crathorne, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Crawford and Balcarres, E. Harvey of Tasburgh, L.
Harvington, L. Rankeillour, L.
Henley, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Hives, L. Reay, L.
Holderness, L. Redesdale, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Renton, L.
Hood, V. Renwick, L.
Hooper, B. Richardson, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Rochdale, V.
Ironside, L. Romney, E.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Rootes, L.
Kemsley, V. Rotherwick, L.
Killearn, L. Sackville, L.
Kilmany, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Kimball, L. St. Davids, V.
Kinnaird, L. Salisbury, M.
Kinnoull, E. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Kitchener, E. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Knutsford, V. Sandford, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Savile, L.
Lauderdale, E. Selborne, E.
Layton, L. Sempill, Ly.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Shannon, E.
Loch, L. Sharples, B.
Long, V. Skelmersdale, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Somers, L.
Lyell, L. Southborough, L.
McFadzean, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Mackintosh of Halifax, V. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Strathcarron, L.
Malmesbury, E. Sudeley, L.
Mancroft, L. Suffield, L.
Margadale, L. Swinfen, L.
Marley, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Masham of Ilton, B. Terrington, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Teviot, L.
Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Thorneycroft, L.
Merrivale, L. Thurlow, L.
Middleton, L. Tollemache, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Torphichen, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Townshend, M.
Mottistone, L. Tranmire, L.
Mountgarret, V. Trefgarne, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Trenchard, V.
Moyola, L. Trumpington, B.
Munster, E. Ullswater, V.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Vivian, L.
Onslow, E. Westbury, L.
Orkney, E. Whitelaw, V.
Orr-Ewing, L. Wigram, L.
Peel, E. Windlesham, L.
Pender, L. Wise, L.
Perth, E. Wolfson, L.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Wynford, L.
Portland, D. Yarborough, E.
Quinton, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Radnor, E.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.

6.27 p.m.