HL Deb 16 January 2004 vol 657 cc826-32

4.34 p.m.

Lord Whitty rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 11 December 2003 be approved [3rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft regulations laid before the House on 11 December 2003 be approved.

The regulations will complete the transposition in England and Wales of Council directive 1999/13 on t he limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain industrial activities and installations, also known as the Solvent Emissions Directive. This is an environmental measure that will help to reduce pollution, and protect public health.

We have already partly transposed the directive in England and Wales by means of directions issued in March 2002 under the existing environmental regimes of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations 2000. The directions bolt on to the existing regimes and set limits as required by the directive for those solvent activities that were already in place under the existing pollution control regimes.

The regulations amend the PPC Regulations 2000, thus using the existing pollution prevention and control regime as the vehicle for implementation. They give effect to the remaining parts of the solvent emissions directive by extending the powers of local authorities to regulate fugitive emissions to air, water and soil for solvent emissions directive activities. They regulate for the first time all those remaining activities that were not regulated before under any existing environmental regime. The pollution prevention and control regulations, as amended by these regulations, will eventually replace the directions. These regulations will provide the necessary framework for the regulation of all solvent activities in accordance with the requirements of the directive.

We have the benefit of a regulatory impact assessment, which has set out the cost/benefit analysis of these proposals, and it has been presented to the House. I commend these draft regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 11 December 2003 be approved. [3rd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting and explaining, slightly briefly, these regulations before us today. They are quite considerable and, I know that the hour is late, but I thought that the Minister was a little too brief. The Opposition broadly welcome the purpose behind the regulations, although, clearly, they should have been in situ earlier. We are discussing the 1999 directive which should have been transposed into national law by April 2001.

The statutory instrument sets limits on the use of solvents in a wide range of industrial activities. The measures should help to reduce pollution and protect public health, something that I am sure we all welcome. When this statutory instrument was being discussed in another place, the Minister, Alun Michael, stated that there are likely to be additional costs to industry as the result of charges and fees for applications for the permits to operate. What cost analysis has been undertaken, and what are the implications, on average, for small, medium and large businesses? The Minister also claimed at that time that the industry broadly supported the proposals. How many industries did not give their approval, and how many did? Were more than half in favour, or did many more express reservations? Why is it that only the dry cleaning industry has been hit so hard? What research was done?

Further, when collected, how is this income to be used? What is the estimated total income likely to be? Will this income fill the Chancellor's black hole or will it be ring-fenced in some way? Will the income raised be sufficient only to cover the cost of registration or will there be spare monies? In his response. perhaps the Minister would answer these questions which were left unclarified in another place.

Would he also tell us how the various levels set in the solvent consumption thresholds in tonnes per year were arrived at? They vary from zero for dry cleaning to 100 tonnes for the manufacture of coating preparations, varnishes, inks and adhesives. The Explanatory Memorandum states: Ground level ozone is a widespread and chronic problem within the European Community. Concentrations of ozone can have a detrimental effect to human health and can cause damage to vegetation, crops and building materials. The rise of ground level ozone experienced during this summer months all over Europe suggests that there is an urgent need to curb the emissions of solvents and other pollutants into the media. The new Regulations would add to our armoury for tackling air pollution as envisaged in our air quality strategies". We would all accept that, but the questions that 1 raised earlier need to be answered.

The Government claim to have applied a "light regulatory touch" to avoid unnecessary burdens on regulators and operators, but are all present EU countries adopting the UK interpretation of this statutory instrument? In other words, is the legislation being applied throughout the current EU? Will the same rate be applied to the 10 incoming countries that expect to join in May this year? If not, does the Minister accept that UK businesses may be put at a competitive disadvantage?

I return to the dry cleaning industry. The Minister, Alun Michael, said that the reduced charge for dry cleaners was part of the light touch that the Government were considering. Why are the Government considering that only now? Why was that consideration not settled before the statutory instrument was brought before the House on 7 January in another place? Has any new information emerged since that debate took place?

Finally, the Minister in another place said that the delays to the introduction of the statutory instrument were due to a period of fairly challenging Bills and significant secondary legislation. He particularly mentioned the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, on which considerable work was involved, and added that considerable work still had to be done. How much money was allocated for the implementation of that Act, and what to date is the total cost of the mapping exercise, which I understand has gone well over budget?

If the Minister cannot answer those two last questions—and I am aware that he may not be able to—I would be grateful if he would write to me about it. If it is true. it is concerning that there is not enough money in the budget to fulfil the environmental obligations to the extent that some statutory instruments that should have been brought in earlier had to be deferred. The department should address those financial needs.

The Government should not hide behind those various predictions, although I am sure that genuine excuses are there, and I have no doubt that the Minister will share them with us. We are entitled to clarification on that point.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. who is going to hear me say it for the third time this afternoon, but I must again register my dismay. It is now a quarter to five. The Minister will probably be quite brief in his response, but my calculations tell me that we shall have been sitting for six and three-quarter hours on Friday, which is a day on which we are not supposed to sit late. If it were a Thursday, and business started at three o'clock, we would be rising at a quarter to ten tonight. However, because it is a Friday, which is supposed to be for private Members' Bills and to have fairly light business, we are likely to rise not before a quarter to five. However, if 1 end there, perhaps the Minister will make it before five, and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will have the chance to put his response to this statutory instrument.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, as the noble Baroness rightly says, I have listened to her upbraiding on more than one occasion today, and I accept it. However, she will appreciate that the miscalculation was done on all sides: the usual channels agreed this form of business, and of course we have rather radically miscalculated. We shall learn our lessons from this event, I am sure.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I am grateful for the spirit in which the noble Lord has responded. I am sure that all usual channels will consider the matter further.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I should like to subscribe to most of the points made so clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. In particular, the solvent emissions directive came forward in 1999 and should have been adopted by April 2001. We are still discussing it, however. My colleague Norman Baker, the honourable Member for Lewes, drew the Minister's attention to that in the debate in another place. It is not good enough.

The noble Baroness has made many of the points that I wished to make, so I shall make only two, which concern me greatly.

First, one provision in the regulations is predicted to result in the closure of all coin-operated laundrettes. Many people on low incomes use those laundrettes—we are talking about unmanned laundrettes—and this will make it extremely hard for them—perhaps particularly at unsocial hours, which arc the only hours they have in which to do their washing. Many single people, for example, are in that situation. Will the Government take account of that situation? It seems to be very unfair.

Secondly, zero emissions appear to be the aim of this regulation. There are 7,000 dry cleaning shops in the United Kingdom, of which only 5 per cent are immediately able to have zero emissions, as the Government, through this regulation, would like. What is the Government's plan for the other 95 per cent that cannot meet this standard? The aims of this regulation are very worth while from environmental and human health points of view, but there are certain practicalities, to which I have just drawn the Minister's attention, which deserve a response.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for getting me on at 4.45 p.m. and I promise to finish at least by 5 p.m. It should not be left off the record that while the rest of the House concluded at 3.30 p.m. yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham and I—and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey—were all still involved in Grand Committee at 7.00 p.m. Our other colleagues should at least read that.

Lord Davies of Oldham

And the Deputy Speaker.

Lord Whitty

And the Deputy Speaker, my Lords. Indeed, my apologies. Here we are again.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised a number of issues. She started with the issue of the delay. Clearly, it is embarrassing for the Government to have to accept that there was a delay. The regulations were squeezed out by the number of other priorities, plus the government reorganisation following the creation of Defra. The CROW Bill was doubtless part of that. I am not sure that it was the totality of that. If there is any information I can let her have on the CROW Bill costs, I shall do so. However, there were other priorities in the transposition of directives that also squeezed this work. Although any delay beyond the due date is regrettable, in practice it will not make as big a difference as all that. As far as existing installations are concerned, the main provisions of the regulations will not come into effect until 2007, and never would have done.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about the costs to industry. They are set out in some detail in the regulatory impact assessment. They are not dramatically high. She also asked how industry responded. A substantial majority of the industrial sectors were in support. The main concerns related to dry cleaning, to which both she and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, have referred.

As for the compliance costs of inspections and so forth, the costs charged to industry will cover only the costs of inspections themselves and therefore will not go into the Chancellor's general coffers, no doubt much to his regret. Nevertheless, that is rightly the way in which we do these things. Small businesses, specifically dry cleaners, as the noble Baroness accepted. will face a much lower charge level.

I am not sure that we have any international competition on coin-in-the-slot laundrettes. However, as regards the rest of the industry, all countries, including the accession countries, will have to comply with these regulations. As far as I am aware there is no derogation for any of the accession countries. Existing installations have until 2007 to comply. It is a light-touch regime with a simplified procedure for dry cleaning.

I accept that coin-in-the-slot dry cleaning has been a feature of at least some laundrettes although, of course, we are talking about the dry cleaning side not the general washing machines. In most cases now dry cleaning is attended as opposed to people using coin-in-the slot machines. Much of that could continue provided the requirements are met. The zero figure is the point at which the regulations come into effect. Generally the regulations must be observed whenever a solvent is used. Significantly higher thresholds apply to manufacturing processes. It is not that solvents cannot be used, but they must be subject to rigorous controls when they are.

I believe that most of the concerns that were expressed during the consultation period have been met by the Government. As I say, the majority of industries that are affected support the measure. In any case it is a European requirement. When everything is in place it will form part of an overall regulatory system rather than creating its own regulatory structure. Therefore, it should form part of an intelligent system of regulation rather than constitute an extra part operating on a different basis.

In general this is an example of good regulation that has the support of at least the majority of those affected by it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at eight minutes before five o'clock.