HC Deb 30 October 1990 vol 178 cc943-6

14.—(1) It shall be the duty of each licensing authority, as respects licences for which it is the licensing authority, to maintain, in accordance with regulations, a register containing prescribed particulars of or relating to—

  1. (a) applications for licences made to that authority;
  2. (b) the licences issued by that authority;
  3. (c) variations of licences effected by that authority;
  4. (d) revocations of licences effected by that authority;
  5. (e) convictions for any offences under section 9 above;
  6. (f) information obtained or furnished in pursuance of section 8(3), (4) or (5) above;
  7. (g) the occasions on which either of the Ministers has carried out any operation under section 10 above; and
  8. (h) such other matters relating to operations for which licences are needed under this Part of this Act as may be prescribed.

(2) No information shall be included in any register which in the opinion of either of the Ministers is such that its disclosure on the register—

  1. (a) would be contrary to the interests of national security, or
  2. (b) would prejudice to an unreasonable degree some person's commercial interests.

(3) Information excluded from a register by virtue of subsection (2)(b) above shall be treated as ceasing to prejudice a person's commercial interests at the expiry of the period of four years beginning with the date on which the Minister made his decision under that subsection; but, on the application of any person to whom it relates, the Minister shall decide whether the information should be included or continue to be excluded from the register.

(4) Where information of any description is excluded from a register by virtue of subsection (2)(b) above, a statement shall be entered in the register indicating the existence of information of that description.

(5) It shall be the duty of each licensing authority—

  1. (a) to secure that the register maintained by the authority under this section is available at all reasonable times for inspection by the public free of charge; and
  2. (b) to afford to members of the public facilities for obtaining copies of entries, on payment of reasonable charges.

(6) Registers under this section may be kept in any form.

(7) In this section "prescribed" means prescribed in regulations.

(8) Either of the Ministers may exercise any power to make regulations under this section and any such power shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament." ")

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

Ms. Walley

Given what has been said about the importance of access to information, we welcome the public register and the access to information about sea dumping. We have some concern about commercial confidentiality, albeit with the proviso that there is a four-year limit on the amount of time that must elapse before the information can be made public.

We are somewhat concerned about the philosophy behind the new clause. The Lords amendment causes us much concern, especially as the 13th sea dumping convention is taking place in London this week. I do not want to miss this opportunity to press the Minister further. I tabled a question on 26 October, asking for assurances that the Government favour a global ban on industrial waste dumping at sea. Will the Minister assure us that he is backing the demand of the Nordic countries and that he is concerned to ensure an end to sea dumping? Will he give a firm statement on the view that the Government have taken?

Mr. Simon Hughes

I welcome the new clause, but we are getting near to the controversial bit of the Bill—the next new clause is on dog registration, which we debated yesterday and will no doubt return to tomorrow.

Will the new clause cover what is probably the most severe allegation made against the Government's environmental policy—their policy on marine pollution? The Minister will know—I have read the exchanges between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) in Committee—that there is a commonly held view, backed by plenty of evidence, that our practice on dumping at sea is among the worst in western Europe.

Will the register of information allow the public to know accurately, and on a regularly updated basis, the amount of sewage and toxic waste being dumped and the amount of chemicals incinerated? The Minister and his colleagues have had to try to explain the range of dumping, but it has been impossible for them to defend it. They said that they would ban the dumping of certain types of waste at sea, yet they gave exemptions to about 70 per cent. of the practices in question. The register is good only if it provides information by which people can decide whether the Government, as the relevant authority, and the other authorities are dealing with what is probably the worst aspect of our pollution practice.

If the Minister is satisfied that the register will do that, at least some ammunition—which may perhaps be used against him—will be available to the public. I hope that he realises that, so far, the pressure that has been applied by private and public agencies has not achieved a sufficient change in policy to give us an environment record of which we can be proud. I hope that he can give some significant assurances.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

I assure the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (M r. Hughes) that, although he may want much ammunition, the target will become smaller.

I shall briefly list the items that are dumped at sea and the termination dates that we have agreed for them. Incineration will finish at the end of this year. Incineration is not carried out in British waters; the only incineration site is in Dutch waters, but we no longer practise it. Only two industrial liquid wastes will be dumped by 1992, because of the major industrial and employment implications. We have made it clear that the dumping of those wastes must end by early 1993, and that that date will not be extended.

The dumping of power station fly ash will finish at the end of 1992. The dumping of colliery stone occurs on beaches in the north-east in particular. I recently announced that we had given British Coal a period within which it had to make an application for continued disposal and prove that there was no valid alternative disposal. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey will be aware that the implications for the future of colleries must be considered. Sewage sludge will end by 1998, and the only dumping that will be practised by almost all countries is dredged spoil. No countries have plans to end that.

The timetable shows that there will be precious little dumping. Our objective remains clear: where there is a valid alternative, we shall take it and insist on it being observed.

We have no contentious issues to raise at the dumping convention, as we do not practise the dumping that it is seeking to ban. The United Kingdom is exploring with the Nordic countries the proposals for the phasing out of industrial waste. I reassure the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) that we take this matter very seriously. Our policy is the absolute minimisation of the dumping of industrial waste at sea. We shall continue to pursue that, but as soon as a viable alternative comes forward, we shall insist that it is followed.

Ms. Walley

Will the Minister say, yes or no, whether he will support a global ban on dumping at the convention that is taking place in London this week?

Mr. Curry

We are exploring with the member states at the convention precisely what they are seeking, and precisely the terms and the scientific basis on which the views are being stated. The United Kingdom does not practise the dumping of the products that are being discussed.

Question put and agreed to. [Special entry.]

Subsequent Lords amendments and amendments to Lords amendments agreed to.

Manuscript amendment to Title agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill; That Mr. Boswell, Mr. Gould, Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Trippier be members of the Committee; That three be the quorum; That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—[Mr. Trippier]

Mr. Simon Hughes

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that this is a debatable motion?

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows from the expression on my face that it is a debatable motion.

Mr. Hughes

I read that in your face, Madam Deputy Speaker. This point has been made by me and my colleagues at the same stage in earlier Bills. I hope that, sooner rather than later, the House will change the practice so that the famous Committee, which goes off and meets in a huddle behind your chair in what appears to be a broom cupboard and then emerges a couple of minutes later having, as if by magic, produced reasons for disagreeing with the Lords in certain amendments, can be more widely representative of the parties in the House. If it is possible for this change to be undertaken by Ministers or by Whips, it would be most welcome not only to me and to my colleagues, but to hon. Members of other parties who share my concern.

I want to place on record the fact that there were reports in the press last night and this morning that, if the other place were to stand firm tomorrow in its view on any of the matters on which we disagreed with the Lords amendments yesterday, there would be a crisis which would result in the Bill being lost. That is not true. In reality, if the Lords decided to reaffirm their position on, for example, the registration of dogs, the matter would come back to this House. Even if we had to sit a little late tomorrow night, there would be plenty of time for the constitutional process——

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is attempting to inform the House of what appears in the press. Although this Chair has many responsibilities, it has none for what appears in the media. Is this a point of order for the Chair, or is the hon. Gentleman debating the motion?

Mr. Hughes

I am coming to the conclusion of my speech on the motion. The motion should be accompanied by a clear view from this House that there is no problem if the House of Lords decides to stand firm because the matter can come back to this place. We have time to debate it and decide whether to agree with the Lords. If the Lords want to stand firm, they should be encouraged to do so. I encourage them to stand as firm as they can. We are happy to support them tomorrow, and we may be able to get an extra four people here to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee to withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords amendments reported, and agreed to: to be communicated to the Lords.

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