HC Deb 22 May 1991 vol 191 cc972-84

'In section 105A of the Highways Act 1980 (environmental assessment of certain highways projects), after subsection (2) (cases in which environmental statement must be published) insert— (2A) Any project for the construction of or improvement of a special road which falls within Annex II of the Directive or is likely to have a significant effect on the environment shall be treated as having such characteristics that it should be made subject to an environmental assessment in accordance with the Directive.".'.

New clause 5—Environmental impact assessment'Before entering into a concession agreement, a highway authority shall carry out and publish an environmental impact assessment of the proposed road which shall include the local effects as listed in the Manual of Environmental Assessment and in addition the following objectives—

  1. (a) an assessment of land use changes which would occur if the proposed road is built;
  2. (b) an environmental impact assessment of road construction and maintenance;
  3. (c) an assessment of the existing means of alternative transport available to persons likely to undertake journeys for which the road is proposed;
  4. (d) an assessment of the transport need which the road is designed to meet, and
  5. (e) an assessment of the environmental, social and economic effect of providing alternative modes of transport for persons likely to undertake journeys if the proposed road is built.'.

New clause 6—Duty of the Secretary of State regarding special roads, etc.—

'For subsection 16(8) of the Highways Act 1980 there is substituted— Before making or confirming a scheme under this section, the Secretary of State shall give due consideration to—

  1. (a) the requirements of local and national planning including the requirements of agriculture, and of
  2. (b) in the case of a special road subject to a concession agreement under Part I of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, the environmental impact assessment carried out and published by the highway authority as required under that Act.".'.

Amendment No. 37, in page 2, line 15, clause 1, at end insert— '(5A) It shall be the duty of the concessionaire in discharging any of its functions under this Act to so exercise its powers as to have regard to the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservation of flora, fauna and geological and physiographic features of special interest and the protection of sites, buildings and objects of architectural, historical or archaeological interest.'.

Government new clause 10—Essential assessment of projects involving special roads in Scotland.

Mr. Freeman

New clause 3 provides the requirement for environmental assessments on roads.

Since the Committee stage, I have had a chance to talk to the Council for the Protection of Rural England. I may not be able to satisfy it on several issues that it raised, but on one point I can do so and it is reflected in the new clause, which requires that every special toll road shall be subject to an environmental statement. European Community directive 85/337 makes provision for environmental assessments for all roads in annexe I, which are mainly motorways, and there is some leeway on roads in annexe II.

The new clause provides that all toll roads will be subject to environmental statements. Under the Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988 an environmental assessment must be made of local authority toll roads. To the extent that there is a problem, it is more in perception than in reality. The new clause makes it clear that there must be an environmental statement for all toll roads.

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Fundamental opposition has been expressed to the Bill's provisions, such as those affecting the toll road to Skye. Leaving aside those disagreements, we must consider the substance of the Bill as we can do little to change its main provisions.

The Minister has not been able to meet all our concerns, but we are grateful that he has met many of them. We have made much ground since we began debating environmental assessments in Committee. New clause 3 is a considerable advance, but it does not meet all our concerns. None the less, we welcome it as, for the first time, it provides an explicit requirement for environmental assessments.

Existing procedures fail to tackle the fundamental need for environmental protection. The new clause ensures that is a private road falls under annexe II of the EC directive on projects involving special roads, an environmental assessment will no longer be discretionary but will be made compulsory. That is welcome as far as it goes, but we want the Minister to give an assurance that meets the provisions of new clause 4. Some private roads will still fall outside the directive's annexes, but all private and public roads should be subject to environmental assessment. We agree with the views of the Council for the Protection of Rural England that certain road improvements that have significant environmental impact could be exempt.

6.15 pm

There is tremendous resistance to environmental assessment, possibly from within the Department of Transport, with which a Labour Government would deal within a few days of taking office. There is some reluctance to believe that environmental assessment is good in its own right. It has been stated that—perhaps the Minister is aware of this—an environmental assessment may attract the objections of conservationists. We believe that, throughout the country, structure plans have been accompanied by honest and open debate. It is essential that any potential conflicts are identified and addressed in the planning stages rather than when it is too late. The concessionaire would be fully aware of the opportunities and constraints of any proposal for a toll road.

Full environmental assessment of new road schemes should take into account the need for a new road. Existing procedures do not provide an opportunity to question whether a road is necessary, which is considered when it is too late to do anything about it. Full environmental assessment of new roads should take into account their associated development effects and public accountability in the decision-making process.

It is important to recognise what has happened in the past few years, because we do not want a repeat of the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for the Environment, in which he described the M40 as a "corridor for growth", thereby back-tracking on firm promises given in 1984.

In a press release, Andrew Purkis, national director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said that firm promises made in 1984 that the planning system would resist development pressure arising from construction of the M40 have been turned on their head. We want to ensure that the need for a road is taken into account and that the environmental assessment is made at an early stage.

We do not want roads to slip through the net of environmental protection, which is why we urge, at this late hour, the need for a fail-safe against the criteria set out in the departmental standard. We want a firm undertaking from the Minister that the Government will extend their commitments to environmental assessment to cover all private roads. We should like an early reform of the environmental assessment procedures for all public and private road schemes.

The Government have already taken powers in the Planning and Compensation Bill, which has recently been considered in the House, that enable them to make regulations applying environmental assessments more rigorously to road proposals. If that Bill can reflect such concerns, why cannot the Secretary of State for Transport take them on board?

I put it to the Minister, who has been very reasonable throughout our discussions, that the Department of Transport is lagging behind other Government Departments in its commitment to environmental protection. I hope that we shall receive from him an assurance that he will fully review the whole issue of environmental assessment in respect of all roads. That would take us a little way along the route that we want to take.

It is clear that, at present, environmental assessment is made available too late to ensure that environmental matters are material considerations in the selection of a private road scheme. The whole procedure is flawed. The current departmental standard should be reviewed. We should like from the Minister an assurance on that point also.

One of our reasons for tabling the other new clauses in this group is to provide that, at an early stage in the planning of a concession road, steps will be taken to make sure that the road complies with relevant national, regional and local policies. In new clause 1 we are unashamedly pursuing a theme that was raised during earlier stages of the Bill.

The new clause reflects our debates in Committee. At that stage, the Minister referred several times to the proposed concession roads in the west midlands—the western orbital route and the Birmingham northern relief road. The new clause and a number of other Opposition amendments are designed, in part, to reflect concern expressed by local authorities in that part of the country. In Committee, we considered a new clause that would have required a highway authority, before inviting tenders from the private sector, to satisfy itself that the concession road proposal was consistent with relevant policies. That new clause was withdrawn following fairly lengthy debate, and the revised version takes account of that debate.

The Minister, in support of his case for rejecting the new clause at that stage, outlined what he saw as being the six key steps in the approval of a concession road. I remember this vividly. The first step was the selection of the route. The Minister made it clear that there were two ways in which a route could be selected—by the highway authority or by the prospective concessionaire. He said: My argument, in brief, is that environmental considerations start from the word go. We absolutely agree. He continued: Where there is no preferred route and some of the groundwork has not been done any sensible contractor will take into account the likely environmental impact."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 14 March 1991; c. 13.] Step two was a competition for the building of a road along the preferred route or within a broadly defined corridor. Step three was the designation of the winner of the competition, and the drafting and signing of a concession agreement between the winner and the highway authority. Step four was the publication of the draft orders for the special road, including detailed designs. Step five was the public inquiry to consider the environmental impact of the proposed road. Step six was the announcement of the decision following the public inquiry.

In response to debates on the environmental impact of concession roads and their effects on local planning policies, the Minister emphasised the importance of the public inquiry. However, it is clear from the timetable, as outlined, that important decisions will have to have been taken by the time the inquiry is held. A decision in principle that the road is necessary will have been taken by the highway authority—most probably the Secretary of State—and the selection between a number of means of providing the road may well have been made. This point has been brought to my attention by the local authorities and has been highlighted in correspondence between the Department of Transport and the metropolitan districts in the west midlands.

The Secretary to the west midlands planning and transportation sub-committee wrote to the Department in March, expressing serious reservations about plans for the development of the western orbital route and the Birmingham northern relief road, to be financed under the provisions of the Bill and to be operated as toll roads. The Department's response attempted to reassure the authorities that the wider economic, traffic and environmental effects of any tender submissions would all be taken into account in deciding the winner.

I appreciate the fact that this is somewhat confusing. The Minister has been arguing that the appropriate stage for detailed environmental scrutiny of toll road proposals is the public inquiry, yet he has acknowledged that the decision in principle to build a road is taken at a much earlier stage and that environmental considerations start from the word go. Developers submitting proposals to the Department are expected to have taken environmental factors into account, and a range of environmental and economic considerations will be taken into account in deciding who the prospective concessionaire should be.

However, the Bill as drafted is silent on all those points. It was precisely to fill that gap that we tabled the new clause. It reflects the various ways in which concession road proposals could be developed. In essence, it would do no more than write into the Bill the assurances that the Minister has already given. The importance of environmental considerations and of securing the implementation of transport and land use policy make it essential that those assurances are embodied in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will announce that further consideration will be given to those issues.

Amendment No. 37, standing in my name and in the names of several of my hon. Friends, concerns environmental duty. The Bill, as amended in Committee, provides no power to ensure that the private sector will consider the wider consequences of its activities. For that reason, we are suggesting the inclusion of a general environmental duty. It is necessary to have such a provision so that private road developers may be put in the same position as public authorities in respect of the general responsibility to protect the environment affected by their activities.

Currently, public authorities are very clearly required, in several Acts of Parliaments, to consider the environmental effects of their actions. The duty applying to all public authorities is contained in section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968. If public authorities have such a statutory duty, can the Minister assure us there will be a similar duty in relation to the financing arrangements for private toll roads? As private companies become increasingly involved in activities previously the domain solely of public authorities, it is vital that the same level of responsibility and concern for the environment should apply.

Let us consider how the Environmental Protection Act 1990 deals with some of these issues. There may not be a direct relationship, but that Act certainly contains a provision to the effect that British Rail is responsible for embankment litter. We must ensure that private companies have the same environmental protection responsibilities and duties. As we pointed out in Committee, it is clear that there are good precedents for this. The Electricity Act 1957, in a section entitled "Preservation of amenity"—which requires the generating board and the area boards to take into account the effects of their proposals on countryside, wildlife and historical features—provides such a precedent. The same concern has arisen in respect of the electricity industry and the coal industry. We simply wish to ensure that, with regard to environmental duties, the Bill falls into line with other pieces of legislation.

We have heard from the Government a great deal about the importance that they attach to environmental protection. It seems to us that they could go further down this road. They have paid lip service to the principle but are not prepared to commit themselves fully in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances on these important issues.

Mr. Fearn

I want to make it clear from the outset that my party is not against toll roads in principle. However, we are concerned about the impact on the environment if parts I and II of the Bill are enacted. It is obvious from the amendments that have been tabled that many people share that concern for the environment. New clauses 5 and 6 are not too dissimilar from amendments debated in Standing Committee. It is important that the issue should be raised again today.

I would have given my full support to new clause 1 and withdrawn my amendments if I had believed that it was easy to establish what national, regional and local environmental land use and transport policies really are and, where they exist, that they were formulated with environmental impact as a major concern. I do not believe that that is the case. Perhaps a few local authorities have good land use and transport policies, but many have not, as we are all aware. As for national strategies and policies, where are they and what are they?

6.30 pm

As far as I am concerned, the national transport policy consists of building new roads at the expense of other transport systems. In such an atmosphere, any special road scheme is likely to fit in with national policy. Local people and the public at large have a right to know the immediate and future consequences for the environment of privately-funded roads.

An article in The Guardian last Monday week referred to a claim by Friends of the Earth that 17 new towns and villages may be built if a proposed privately funded motorway along the east coast of England goes ahead. The development potential associated with private toll roads causes alarm.

The Minister brushed that concern aside in Standing Committee by stating: Any development adjacent to the road…is subject…to normal planning laws."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 14 March 1991; c. 26.] I am afraid that that comment does not fill me with confidence. I am sure that hon. Members can identify planning decisions that fly in the face of the wishes of local people or decisions that have had damaging effects on the environment. The possible changes in land use and the associated effects cause alarm. Local planning authorities should be involved in the overall decision making with regard to road construction. Future patterns of land use should be identified and publicised at an early date to allow for differing views to be aired.

There was much debate in Committee about when and at what stage an environmental assessment should be conducted and about what that assessment would entail. Most of the time, the Minister appeared to think that the public inquiry process was the right forum, although he later appeared to say that environmental considerations would be taken into account from the very beginning. That confusion is still prevalent. If it is to be left to the public inquiry stage, that will be far too late, as we are led to believe that the public inquiry is the fifth stage in a six-stage process. I do not share the Minister's faith in the public inquiry system.

There is no guarantee that, in an inquiry, the environmental considerations will be given the weight that is demanded in today's climate. Once again, we are all aware of cases in which the public inquiry system has proved to be a poor method of protecting environmentally sensitive areas and in which the scope of environmental considerations was very limited. It is also theoretically possible for a road to be built without a public inquiry, and the Secretary of State has the power to overrule the decision of any such inquiry.

In Committee, the Minister made many well-intentioned statements on the Government's behalf and on behalf of the unknown concessionaire. I am afraid that good intentions with regard to the environment are not sufficient. Clear objectives must be written into the Bill.

Previously, when public money has been involved, environmental considerations have taken second place to financial considerations. The fact that the Government face one, and possibly three, prosecutions by the European Community is an indictment of their commitment to protect the environment. Why should we be reassured when private money is involved, particularly when we are dealing with a Government whose underlying philosophy is that all problems can be resolved with private profit and through the marketplace? What chance is there of such a Government turning away private investment if to do so would mean that the road would have to be funded from the public purse?

I am pleased to see that the Minister has taken some of the environmental concerns on board in new clause 3. Although I will support new clause 4, which is wider in scope and offers more guarantees, we must still go further. The Minister was also fond of saying in Committee that private roads should not be treated any differently from public roads. At the time the Minister misinterpreted my support of his view. It would be acceptable if the environmental assessment for public roads was as far-reaching as today's amendments.

I press the Government for a commitment that there will be an early reform of the environmental assessment procedure for all roads. Until that reform has been carried out, privately funded roads should be treated differently because they are different. They start from a completely different premise. Privately funded roads will be driven by a profit motive. The concessionaire's first responsibility will be to shareholders and not to the public.

Despite some protests to the contrary, I am convinced that private toll roads will be development-led. I do not envisage a private enterprise coming forward on the basis of profit from tolls alone. The tolls would have to be high, and the risks would be too great for the concessionaire. I am also concerned that a Bill of this type will create a culture of road building. It will allow greater emphasis to be placed on roads—even more than there is now—at the expense of other forms of transport and at the expense of the environment.

Liberal Democrats are committed to finding ways of reducing the need to build more roads. Before any road is built, and particularly before a privately funded road is built with its potential for development, a thorough assessment of providing alternative means of transport should be carried out, and wherever feasible a highway authority should consider ways to fund alternatives including attracting private finance.

There are many possible alternatives, including light rail schemes, reopening existing unused railway lines and, in some cases, opening new ones. Other means may include finding ways to improve existing modes and if necessary providing a missing link to meet the requirements of an integrated travel system.

I stress the importance of ensuring that, before this part of the Bill comes into force, we build in a safeguard to protect the environment from unnecessary and unwanted destruction. The only way to do that is to write into the Bill a requirement to carry out an environmental impact assessment incorporating the objectives that I have outlined. The assessment should be carried out at the earliest possible moment before the wheels are set in perpetual motion. I listened carefully to the Minister as he moved new clause 3, but he did not answer the points that I have just made.

Mr. Freeman

I must tell the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) that my advice is that every toll road will be covered as a result of the amendments. The hon. Lady described a hypothetical situation in which what she described as a private toll road might not be covered. If she reflects on that and takes further advice, I hope that she will accept my assurance that the intention is that all toll roads, whether initiated, authorised or sponsored by the Secretary of State or by a local highway authority, will be covered. That is the intention and I have taken the best possible advice on that subject.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to environmental assessments. The Government regard the environmental assessment process as extremely important and we share that view with the Opposition and with the CPRE.

On the proposed high-speed rail link between the tunnel and London, I have read some of the environmental assessment work that has been done so far. It is not yet published, but I hope that it will be published shortly. It is a monumental effort in respect of the eastern section—a process that has been going on for six or nine months. When a preferred route is published, there will be perhaps six to 12 months of further work, before the planning permission process can even commence, for the environmental assessment of the western part of the route. We take the matter seriously. British Rail is taking it seriously. It is extremely important, and that is why I am glad to have brought forward the new clause.

Ms. Ruddock

The Minister tempts me by his references to the Government's deep concern about environmental assessments. I wonder whether he thinks that relevant to that concern and the new clause is the prosecution on the M3 extension going through Twyford Down, the possible prosecution of the Government by the European Community over the Hackney-M11 link, and the possible prosecution for driving a road through Oxleas wood.

Mr. Freeman

I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would not allow me to be tempted to go down that route. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) knows what we are discussing and my specific responsibilities. There will be many opportunities to discuss the specifics. In a moment, I might mention the M40 and the east coast motorway, which have been referred to.

The argument of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North was that we must establish need first. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) said on a quite separate but related point that we must have an environmental assessment at the outset. The two points are related, but not directly.

On need, I cannot commend the encapsulation of that thought in a legislative amendment to a Bill as the right way to proceed. First, it should be fairly apparent that if there is a process by which either the Secretary of State as the road authority or the local authority is overseeing a toll road procedure, that authority, whether central Government or local government, will have had to be satisfied that there was a need in the first place. That is a practical point. It cannot be escaped; it is an essential part of the process. Secondly, I regard the process as iterative. I do not regard it as being logically compartmentalised into need or environmental assessment stages being exclusively completed at a certain procedural point before a toll road is completed.

The lack of need or the greater need for a road, or the precise environmental impact, will become clearer as the process proceeds. We know that it is quite a long process for the Birmingham relief road. I was criticised because of what was regarded as an excessive delay in the construction of the Birmingham northern relief road, in part because of the very detailed procedures that have to be gone through. That is why the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North and I part company about incorporating an amendment to require a specific statutory procedure for establishing need. It will happen anyway. It is difficult to set down in precise legal terminology what needs to be done, because it would be a fairly exhaustive list of references.

Ms. Walley

I can understand the Minister's point about difficulties and trying to introduce an amendment at this stage. However, if he gives the matter the importance that we give it, will he assure us that he will fully review the departmental standard in relation to environmental assessment? If he would give that commitment, we could start to examine the way in which decisions are made, their timing and their relation to the need for road planning. That would take us some further way towards greater environmental protection.

Mr. Freeman

I am happy to give that assurance. I alluded to it in Committee, but, for the sake of clarity, I repeat that assurance. We expect advice before the end of the year on the modalities—for example, how we quantify some of the consequences of road building, whether toll roads or public roads, on the environment. That matter is extremely important. It is equally important for rail schemes. I give that assurance to the hon. Lady and, through her, to other hon. Members and the Council for the Protection of Rural England, of which, as the hon. Lady knows, I am a member. I have as much interest as she has. I fully expect to receive advice before the end of the year. We shall consult on the conclusions before any changes are introduced.

6.45 pm

The hon. Lady talked about the M40. Whether it was my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic who talked about a corridor for growth, I hope that the hon. Lady is not taking that comment out of context. It is an important corridor between the west midlands and London. That is the sense in which the comment was made. The hon. Member for Southport mentioned the east coast motorway. That is not a Department of Transport scheme. It is not promoted by us; it is promoted by a group of local authorities and private sector contractors. It has a long way to go before it reaches serious consideration by the Department.

I do not believe that the toll roads that I have seen or can conceive of as viable or acceptable will be developer-led. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's view that that evil will come about. If there is to be any development, it must come about through the normal planning procedure. No provision in the Bill gives any right of compulsory purchase or any short-cuts through the planning procedures for the construction of a toll road.

Ms. Walley

As the Minister has given an assurance that he will consult with the Council for the Protection of Rural England on environmental assessments in relation to all roads, public and private, will he give the same undertaking on the extent to which new roads allow more development to happen? I quoted the director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. The Minister would best be advised by that body on the relationship of the extent to which developments arise out of new road building.

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Lady has had a concession from me, and she seeks to extend it even further. Let us be quite clear about what I said. I said that advice from the standing advisory committee on how environmental assessments are made and how we quantify the impact on the environment is expected before the end of the year. That is the subject on which we shall consult. I cannot give wider assurances about how the procedure is carried out. I am aware of the views of the CPRE, but that is not the subject of the Bill or what I am seeking to address.

The hon. Lady asked me for an assurance about the duty to take care of the environment—a conservation duty—and whether it would indirectly be placed upon concessionaires. I can give her that assurance. Highway authorities, whether the Secretary of State for Transport, local authorities or their opposite numbers in Scotland, are public bodies and are bound by the legislation. Therefore, by definition, they have control over the activities of concessionaires.

The hon. Member for Southport spoke about the environmental assessment procedure occurring at a very early stage prior to the signing of a concession agreement, which, as he knows, is part of the procedure before the public inquiry so that the public inquiry has something specific to consider. The implication of his suggestion is that one must go public on the various proposals of the competitors. If there are three, each must be subject to an environmental assessment so that there is a full public debate. That goes a little further than what happens with a public road scheme, for which there is normally a helpful leaflet, an exhibition and a public consultation procedure on the options—A, B, or C—before draft road orders are drawn up for a preferred route upon which the Secretary of State for Transport, if it is a trunk road, will decide.

I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Southport—and it is probably shared by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North—that there is no obvious public participation in the social and, especially, the environmental impact of the alternatives before the selection of a winner, or potential concessionaire, who then makes public his proposal. Then an assessment or statement has to be completed; then a public inquiry.

I understand that argument, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman satisfaction. The point troubles me, but I cannot see a solution, for three reasons. First, there would be a greater blight if, for example, the three final competitors had to publish the details of their routes so that an environmental assessment could take place, and that is leaving aside the question whether the private sector companies would be prepared to disclose their propositions at an early stage.

Secondly, I do not honestly believe that a specific proposal could be tested unless it was enshrined in a concession agreement. A specific route needs to be analysed in terms of its environmental impact, but if an assessment were sought at a much earlier stage the ideas would be far too vague and woolly.

Thirdly, environmental assessment is part of the whole process of bringing a toll road proposal to a conclusion. Proper understanding of the environmental impact of a road is important for the private contractor right from the word go. He must talk to the local authorities, the statutory bodies and the lobby groups in order to understand some of the issues. If he does not, he will not be successful.

Mr. Fearn

Does not the Minister agree that, behind any successful concessionaire, there would have to be something which he said I described as an evil—although I am not sure whether I used that word? There could be a hidden agenda to favour development-led schemes.

Mr. Freeman

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance in respect of that assertion, but the propositions that I have seen which, speaking on behalf of the Government, I believe are likely to be acceptable and viable are not developer-led. If such a proposition were to be advanced—I have seen this with some putative rail schemes—I do not believe that it would commend itself either to the local authorities, which in the case of a major national scheme have the power to force a public inquiry, or to local opinion.

The hon. Gentleman is asking the impossible. I cannot give him an assurance that no scheme would be motivated by such factors, but it is neither our policy nor our intention that such roads should be born of a desire to capitalise on developer gain.

Mr. Fearn

The Minister referred to schemes that he had already seen. Does that mean that there are schemes for toll roads already before us?

Mr. Freeman

No, I was referring to schemes that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has already announced. I hope that I have answered all the questions asked during the debate.

Ms. Walley


Mr. Freeman

Clearly, I have not.

Ms. Walley

Briefly, and for the sake of clarity on the issue of the environmental duty, I should like to check with the Minister whether I heard him correctly. Was he saying that private companies, by virtue of taking a licence from the highway authority, would have the same duties as public authorities in connection with the prescription of section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968?

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Lady knows that that was not what I said. Because public sector bodies are bound by the legislation, they will ensure that those to whom they grant a concession or licence will also take care of their environmental duties. I know that that may not be acceptable to the hon. Lady, but my argument. on amendment No. 37 was that I honestly believed the proposal to be unnecessary. The hon. Lady may believe in writing into law that which is unnecessary, but as a Conservative I do not.

The legislation on the duty of conservation is laudable, and general in nature. The procedures already in the Bill are sufficient to ensure that, right from the conception of an idea through the whole process until the final confirming orders, an environmental conservation duty will be uppermost in the minds of the promoters of roads. I hope that the hon. Lady does not believe that, simply because toll roads are involved, the private sector promoters will have a lesser duty and interest in minimising and mitigating the environmental impact than would be the case if a public road were involved.

Ms. Walley

The Minister says that nothing should be written into the Bill, and that the duties will be taken up by any respectable private company. Will he consider giving advice and guidance to private companies on carrying out that which for local authorities and other public bodies is a duty, but which they will be expected to undertake voluntarily?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we are not in Committee but on Report. We are making very slow progress.

Mr. Freeman

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall try to ensure that we make progress as fast as we can. The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that the amendment concerning concession agreements, which I hope we shall soon reach, will provide a solution to her problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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