HL Deb 11 July 1995 vol 565 cc1477-80

6 Clause 11, page 13, line 19, leave out ', with the consent of the Treasury,'.

7 Clause 13, page 15, line 33, leave out ', with the consent of the Treasury,'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 6 and 7. I would also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 14 to 23, 26 to 30, 191, 194 to 201, 285, 286, 290, 302 to 304, 307, 329, 330 and 332 on the subject of payments, charging powers, revenue and funds.

Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 191 and 194 to 201 remove the requirement for Treasury consent to payments made to members of the agency, SEPA or their various committees. Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16 respond to concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth in this House at Committee and Report stages that subsistence charges in relation to waste management licences should not he levied until works have commenced at the site. Amendments Nos. 18, 286 and 329 are minor and technical amendments which provide a more straightforward approach to the agencies' powers to charge for incidental functions.

The underlying purpose of Amendment No. 19 is essentially technical. It would enable the return to the Consolidated Fund of receipts, other than surpluses which, in line with the normal rules of government accounting, ought to be returned to the Exchequer. An example would be windfall receipts relating to products developed by the agency following research or development work funded by central government grant. The amendment is necessarily drafted in wide terms. But I can assure your Lordships that there is no expectation that the power will apply new provisions to any of the sources of income inherited by the agency from its predecessor bodies. If it ever did, any income returned to the Consolidated Fund because of a technical reclassification would, under standard procedures, be offset by matching additional public expenditure provision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, both spoke during our Committee stage about SEPA's borrowing limits. Having reflected on what they said during that debate, the Government brought forward Amendments Nos. 22 and 23. Amendment No. 22 would increase SEPA's borrowing limit from £2 million to £5 million. Amendment No. 23 would further enable my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to increase this limit by order up to £10 million.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 5, 27 and 30 is to extend the definition of "environmental licence" in Clause 53 of the Bill to include the registration of an activity exempted from waste management licensing under paragraph 45(1) or (2) of Schedule 3 to the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994 (as amended).

The majority of the other amendments in this group are minor and technical.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 6 and 7.—(Earl Ferrers.)

3.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for explaining the amendments. It appears that Treasury approval has been removed by another place in relation to certain payments, salaries and expenditure. Why was Treasury approval required in the first place? Your Lordships have argued this point on many occasions. Although I accept that the Treasury has to approve certain matters, why did the Government produce a Bill to your Lordships which included Treasury approval for practically anything one could think of and then suddenly in another place concede that the Treasury has no right to impose limits on any of these payments? Can the noble Earl please clarify that point?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, before my noble friend responds perhaps I may make a few remarks with regard to Amendments Nos. 14 to 16.

In his opening remarks my noble friend the Minister outlined the scope of the amendments. As my noble friend mentioned, Amendments Nos. 14 to 16 are the first of the amendments with which I was involved all those weeks ago. I am very pleased that on more mature consideration after the Bill left your Lordships' House the Government and the other place were able to accept a number of suggestions that I and other noble Lords made during the long passage of the Bill earlier this year. I am grateful for that further consideration.

In order to save your Lordships' time, I shall address the same remarks to the amendments to Clause 15(4), starting with Amendment No. 30, dealing with contaminated land. I and those in the industry who are involved in these matters are grateful that upon more mature consideration our suggestions have borne fruit, as we see in the amendments before us this afternoon.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I wonder why, if it is now to be dropped, the provision for Treasury consent was originally included in the Bill. It is very unusual to find a government amendment supporting the removal of the necessity for Treasury consent. As an old Treasury hand I look on that with a certain lack of sympathy. I believe that we should be told what was the argument for including the necessity for Treasury consent which moved the Government to put it into the Bill and to keep it in the Bill up to this stage.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, first, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth for the gratitude he expressed not only for Amendments Nos. 14 to 16 but also for others to be dealt with later.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked why the Treasury had changed its mind. The Treasury always has to keep a tight rein on how money is spent. That is perfectly right. Some people curse the Treasury because it keeps too tight a rein and regard that as intolerable. Now, when the Treasury releases that control, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter seem to think that that is a retrograde step. There is nothing particularly bad about it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I did not say that it was a retrograde step. I asked what was the argument for the inclusion of the provision in the Bill originally.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I asked exactly the same question. Why did the Bill come to us in this House with Treasury approval? I am neutral on the subject. And why, when the Bill went to the other place, was the need for Treasury approval removed? I do not understand that. I echo the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and I repeat my question. Will the noble Earl please explain why the Bill came to us in the first place with Treasury approval and then went to another place and now returns to us with that provision removed?

Lord Renton

My Lords, what was in the Bill originally is now part of history. The Bill has been magnificently improved by the Government, at the behest of your Lordships. I should have thought that we could rejoice in the present situation in which the Treasury is relieved of one of its many obligations.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend, who always makes penetrating and sensible observations.

I was in the process of trying to explain the matter to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, but he gets so impatient. It is part of the Treasury tradition to have these matters in Bills because it has to keep a tight rein on expenditure. However, on giving further consideration to the matter Treasury Ministers decided that this was not necessary. That decision reflects a relaxation, with which I should have thought my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter would have been delighted. Indeed, he said that he was delighted.

Nevertheless, the payments and conditions concerned are still subject to the approval of the relevant Secretary of State or Minister. In other words, there has been only a marginal change. One does not need to obtain Treasury consent, but these matters arc subject to the approval of the relevant Secretary of State or Minister.

Lord Hughes

My Lords, I can understand my noble friend wishing to have information about this rather unusual provision. However, I suggest to him that we should not look a gift horse in the mouth.

On Question, Motion agreed to.