§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, I must first apologise to your Lordships' House. Later in the day I must attend upon Her Majesty the Queen for a brief period of time and I shall then return to your Lordships' House. The arrangements were made a considerable time ago.
I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The 147 clauses of the Bill cover much territory but they are united by one goal—a safer, cleaner environment. The Bill gives us the means of making further substantial progress towards that. It reforms the control of air pollution, land wastes, nuisance and radioactive substances. It provides an integrated system of pollution control and controls over genetically modified organisms; measures for tackling litter; the means for improved conservation of our wildlife and countryside; and a battery of smaller measures.
Tying together these provisions are common threads. There is encouragement for individual citizens to act to protect their environment, not least through the improved access to environmental information. There are greater powers of enforcement and tougher penalties for law breakers. Accountability is increased and there is a significant extension to the environmental responsibilities of local authorities. The new powers and duties given to them in this Bill underline their central role in protecting the local environment.
The Bill is the outcome of a substantial process of development and consultation. Many provisions take forward recommendations of Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament as well as of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The result is a series of measures which have generally received warm endorsement. Even regarding the reorganisation of our conservation agencies, there is wide agreement on the principle of devolution. I am delighted that the Bill was the subject of constructive and co-operative debate between all parties during its passage through another place. That, I hope, bodes well for its further progress in this House.
It would be a daunting task to describe in detail the many provisions of the Bill. Let me therefore outline the main features of each part in turn. Part I introduces an innovatory system of integrated pollution control (IPC) which will be operated by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. IPC has been welcomed widely. That is a credit to the work of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in developing the concept of the best 481 practicable environmental option. That concept, which is central to IPC, means reducing or modifying waste generation and directing the waste which arises to the environmental sector where the least overall environmental damage would be done.
I also pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee on European Affairs, which reported last November on freedom of access to information on the environment. Part I, in common with other parts, introduces measures to increase such access. They are in full accord with the Community directive that was the subject of the committee's investigations as well as with the committee's findings.
Processes prescribed under Part I will need an authorisation before they can operate. In setting conditions within it the enforcing authority will have as its principal objective the prevention or minimisation of the release of prescribed substances by the application of the best available techniques not entailing excessive cost. As techniques and our awareness of environmental risks improve, so will authorisations be updated.
Part I recognises that we cannot treat environmental media in isolation. It is not enough to limit the releases to water if in so doing we increase releases to air and thereby cause greater harm to the environment. That is why both operator and enforcing authority will have to have regard to the effect of releases on the environment as a whole.
The most potentially polluting or complex processes will be prescribed for IPC. But Part I also gives major new air pollution control powers to local authorities over a second tier of less polluting processes, together with the resources, through cost recovery charging, to discharge them. That significant extension of local authorities' remit on pollution control is a major vote of confidence, and a recognition of both their wish and their need to involve themselves fully in environmental protection. This part of the Bill marks a major step forward. Indeed, IPC is an environmental first for Europe and I commend it to your Lordships.
Part II of the Bill deals with waste. The proposals in it spring in the first instance from a report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson. They also closely reflect the findings of the RCEP's eleventh report. They tighten the controls that we already have, extend new controls over fresh areas and reform the role of the enforcing authorities. This will promote higher and more consistent standards of waste management.
As elsewhere in the Bill, we provide for greatly increased information to be available to the public. Not only will information be available on registers, there will be obligations on local authorities to publish reports on their performance. I hope that this will bring greater accountability to bear on them.
Part II confirms our confidence in the ability of local authorities to regulate waste management to high standards. It separates out their executive job of waste disposal, freeing them to concentrate on regulation. They will be subject to closer central scrutiny and be bound to take account of central guidance on how to improve standards.
482 The Bill provides these reformed waste regulation authorities with stronger and more effective powers. Waste controls will apply at every stage from the duty of care on a waste producer right through to the control of landfill gas at a disposal site 30 years or more after its closure.
The duty of care is the key. It extends legal responsibility for waste to each person who produces or holds it. Failure to discharge the duty will be a criminal offence. This is a more effective and fairer measure than putting either civil or criminal liability solely on the producer. We need to pin responsibility for waste on the person who controls what happens to it at each stage.
That approach is being extended to increase the legal responsibilities of licensed waste managers. Authorities will have power to vet licensees so as to exclude the criminal, the technically ill-equipped and the under-financed. Once a licensee is allowed a licence, he will have to stick with it. meeting all his environmental responsibilities without leaving any poisoned chalice for future generations.
We shall be looking to local authorities to use their new powers responsibly and effectively to raise the standards of waste management. And we are confident that this new regime will bear comparison with any in the world.
Part III of the Bill carries over, with improvements, existing legislation on statutory nuisance. This legislation is long-standing—there is a clear genealogy from a Leeds local Act of 1842 through the Public Health Acts to the provisions of this part of the Bill. It has stood the test of time well. However consultation has shown that some aspects needed strengthening to reflect modern conditions—for example, the parchment making trade is not what is used to be, whilst neighbourhood noise is an ever-increasing problem.
Part III deals with activities that can cause discomfort or distress to individuals rather than significant damage to the environment as a whole. It is about preserving the balance between an individual's right to a decent quality of life and the need to allow local businesses to operate effectively.
Part III aligns the regimes in England and Wales for dealing with statutory nuisance and noise nuisance, and streamlines the procedures for dealing with statutory nuisance by cutting out a time-consuming stage in the legal processes. It gives local authorities a new anticipatory power to deal with transient nuisances such as dust from demolition or sand-blasting of buildings. Perhaps even more importantly, it raises the maximum penalty which can be incurred by businesses from £2,000 to £20,000. This will be a very real deterrent to any company that is tempted to behave in an anti-social way.
I am pleased that our proposals in Part IV of the Bill have generally been welcomed by all who wish to see an end to littered streets and open spaces. It is a truism that if only people would stop dropping litter the problem would cease to exist. The importance of education, both in schools and in the community, cannot be overemphasized. Substantial government grants to the Tidy Britain Group have 483 enabled them to continue their sterling work in this field.
But despite entreaties some people continue in their selfish habits. To bring these wanderers back into the fold will, I fear, require an assault on their wallets. The Bill proposes an increase in the maximum fine for dropping litter from £400 to £1,000. I have no doubt that fines of this magnitude will bring home even to the most anti-social the message that the vast majority no longer wish to live with the squalor they create. The Bill also provides a power for local authorities to operate fixed penalty schemes along the lines of that operating successfully in Westminster. The Government recognise the key role of local authorities in the war against litterers, and we are determined to give them the powers they need to wage it.
Even with these deterrents we would be optimistic to expect the eradication of litter overnight. It is vital that once dropped, litter is speedily and efficiently cleared up. To this end the Bill proposes a duty on local authorities, statutory undertakers, educational institutions and some owners of other land to keep their land clear of litter and refuse. This duty will fall also upon the Crown. A code of practice will describe standards which should be met and will advise on methods for achieving them.
Many complaints relating to litter focus on commercial operators such as fast-food restaurants. I applaud the efforts being made by many businesses to keep their frontages clear of litter. However, too many still have no regard for their responsibilities. The Bill therefore proposes a power for local authorities to issue "street litter control notices" against commercial frontagers, requiring them to take appropriate steps to keep the land clean.
We have also sought, in Part IV, to deal with the nuisance of abandoned shopping and luggage trolleys. By giving local authorities powers to seize them and charge for their return, we hope to give owners an extra incentive to manage their trolleys efficiently.
Part V of the Bill provides a number of amendments to the Radioactive Substances Act 1960. Under the Act no radioactive material can be kept or used without a registration granted by the Department of the Environment or the relevant territorial department. Similarly no radioactive waste may be accumulated or disposed of without authorisation.
Our view that the Act continues to provide an effective control mechanism was endorsed by our public consultation exercise. The current system will therefore remain, but amendments will be made to improve its operation and extend its scope.
We propose that the responsibility for issuing registrations and authorisations in England and Wales should pass to the Chief Inspector of HMIP, with a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. Similar systems will operate in Scotland and Northern Ireland. To back up these new controls the powers of entry and inspection of inspectors are being extended and the penalties for offences are being increased.
484 The 1960 Act at present partially exempts the activities of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. The Bill provides for this exemption to be terminated. It also provides that the activities of the Crown which at present are exempted will be brought within its scope, though for reasons of national security the exemptions in respect of MoD and visiting forces will remain.
Part VI of the Bill introduces wide-ranging controls to protect the environment against damage from genetically modified organisms—GMOs. Biotechnology using techniques of genetic modification is well-established and developing fast. It offers the prospect of great benefits. So far, the safety record has been good. Existing health and safety legislation has provided protection against the risks to man for many years. Part VI is designed to ensure that the environmental risks are also properly controlled and that the good safety record continues.
Our proposals have been widely welcomed and will implement the environmental provisions of two European directives on GMOs which were adopted in April. They closely follow the recommendations of the RCEP's invaluable 13th report. I am pleased that our debates on this part of the Bill stand to benefit from the counsel of present and former members of the commission who are also Members of your Lordships' House.
The core of Part VI is a structured risk assessment regime, underpinned by a general duty to use the best available techniques not entailing excessive cost to protect the environment. The system would match the scrutiny appropriate to proposed operations with the potential risks. At the basic level, we would require everyone who proposed to import, acquire, keep, release or market GMOs to carry out a risk assessment and keep records. Where the risks were higher—for example, because of the large scale of a new plant—the user could be required to notify the Secretary of State of his intentions and the results of the risk assessment. Finally, where it was clear that operations should only proceed subject to conditions—perhaps in the experimental release of a novel organism—the Secretary of State's consent would be required before the operation could proceed.
The new provisions will interlock with existing controls. The Government will be advised on notifications, consents and other matters by a single expert committee to be called the Advisory Committee on Release to the Environment—ACRE. The appointment of a chairman—professor John Beringer—and members of a forerunner to this committee were announced in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. We expect those appointed to assume the role of ACRE on the passage of this Bill.
In keeping with our policy on openness, public registers will give details such as the nature of the GMO involved in a particular operation, the location of the operation and any foreseeable effects on the environment.
I believe that this approach reflects the best principles of this Bill. It gives proper weight to concern for the environment while accepting 485 industry's need for well-balanced, unbureaucratic regulatory systems. With Part VI, we intend that the environmental damage will not detract from the benefits of GMO biotechnology.
Part VII of the Bill contains the first comprehensive reform of our conservation agencies since they were established as the Nature Conservancy Council and the National Parks Commission more than 40 years ago. The reform has been criticised in some quarters, but quietly welcomed in many more, particularly by those who have experienced the impact of the current arrangements in Scotland and Wales. There have been suggestions that the Government will drop the proposals or kick them into the long grass by reissuing them in some green-edged pages of the forthcoming White Paper.
I make no apology for the fact that the Government are not going to turn those suggestions into substance. We believe that the case for our reform stands undiminished. It is needed to equip the agencies with a structure more accountable both to Parliament and the public, and more relevant to the challenges of the 1990s. Nor has any argument of substance been put forward against our strategy of creating integrated agencies in Scotland and Wales covering both NCC and countryside commission interests. Conservationists know in their hearts that this will strengthen arrangements for the protection and enjoyment of wildlife and the countryside in these two countries, where separate bodies would be unlikely to be as effective as the "one-door" agencies we are establishing. In England, the circumstances are significantly different and we have decided that the additional pressures on the English countryside, from conflicting interest, make it sensible to retain separate organisations, at least for the time being. But in all three countries the effect of our reform will be to create agencies which are less bureaucratic and more responsible to the needs of the countryside and all its inhabitants.
The new agencies will have exactly the same functions as the current bodies, including responsibility for the designation and protection of sites such as national nature reserves, SSSIs and AONBs. They will be committed to carrying out these functions thoroughly, something which the Government have underlined by the appointment of three shadow chairmen with such fine track records in conservation—my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, Magnus Magnusson and Michael Griffith. I should like to explain that my noble friend Lord Cranbrook is unfortunately prevented from attending today's debate because of his duties as Leader of the International Tropical Timber Organisation's Mission on the assessment of sustainable forestry in Sarawak. My noble friend has asked me to present his regrets to your Lordships that these duties oblige him to be absent today.
Both my noble friend and the other shadow chairmen will have the resources to do the job; a point which the Government emphasised from the outset. Furthermore, they will have the resources and staff to carry on the NCC's international, UK and Great Britain work through the statutory joint committee to be established under Clause 123 of 486 the Bill. Its first chairman will be Professor Fred Holliday. He has previously served with distinction as the NCC's chairman, and his qualities are recognised on all sides of this House.
I now wish to turn to the Government's response to the excellent and persuasive report of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology, prepared under the chairmanship of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. The Government's response to the report is contained in a Written Answer made yesterday to my noble friend Lady Carnegy. Copies of that reply have been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. With the permission of the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and his colleagues, I am able to say that the Government have been pleased to respond positively to almost all of the report's 24 recommendations. Several of our responses will require amendments to the Bill. These include provisions to ring fence the joint committee's resources more securely; to provide voting rights for the scientists appointed to the committee by the Secretary of State; to allow non-voting assessors to be appointed to the committee to represent Northern Ireland interests; and to clarify the respective roles of the country councils and their joint committee. The necessary amendments will be brought forward at Committee stage.
There is only one significant caveat, in that we do not accept that the statutory remit of the joint committee should be extended to cover countryside matters. We shall however take two steps to ensure that the committee is well placed to take account of countryside interests. First, the chairman of the countryside commission will be a permanent, ex officio member of the joint committee, with full voting rights. This is itself in line with another recommendation in the Carver Report. Secondly, the chairman of the committee, Professor Holliday, will invite the chairman of the Scottish Countryside Committee to be a non-voting assessor on the joint committee until the commission merges with the NCC for Scotland to form a Scottish Natural Heritage Agency.
I can also make a further announcement today about the composition of the joint committee. As our reply to the Select Committee indicates, we have accepted their recommendation that there should be three independent members of the joint committee appointed directly by the Secretary of State for their scientific excellence, and enjoying full voting rights on the committee. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has secured the services of three distinguised scientists who have agreed to work alongside Professor Holliday immediately in a shadow capacity, with a view to formal appointment after Royal Assent. The three appointments cover the key disciplines of botany, earth science and zoology.
For botany, we propose to appoint Professor John Harper, emeritus professor at the University of Wales. For earth science we have been fortunate in securing the services of Professor John Knill, currently chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council and a member of the present NCC, as well as a distinguished academic. For zoology, we 487 intend to appoint Professor Robert May, a professor at Oxford University and Imperial College. There can be no doubt that these are men of outstanding achievement and expertise. This announcement will give further substance to the concept of the joint committee. When these names are put alongside the appointments already announced and the amendments we intend to bring forward I believe that the concept will win the endorsement of this House.
I conclude this part of my speech by quoting the report of the Select Committee:The Committee take the opportunity to praise the admirable work done by the NCC for conservation generally in Great Britain. Whatever local difficulties there may have been, the NCC has achieved a great deal. These achievements should not be sacrificed".The Government endorse that sentiment wholeheartedly. They believe that Part VII will build on the achievements of both the NCC and the countryside commission in a way which will make this Bill—like the 1949 Act—a milestone in the protection and appreciation of our natural heritage.
I turn finally to Part VIII, which provides for a number of smaller but nonetheless significant measures. Notably, Clause 133, in line with developing international policy, extends existing powers to give us jurisdiction over dumping anywhere on our continental shelf by foreign ships loaded in foreign ports. The UK is the first North Sea country to seek such power. Clause 135 provides powers to ban the burning of crop residues. Noble Lords will be aware of the major nuisance caused by the burning of crop residues, otherwise known as straw burning. The Government feel that that practice has to be stopped. Any exemptions to the prohibition will be kept to a bare minimum.
In addition to the provisions already in Part VIII, in Committee I shall be moving amendments to the Bill to meet shortcomings in the legislation controlling the location of hazardous substances. Those amendments will enable the new controls to be brought into operation on a much more satisfactory basis than would be possible under existing provisions.
I have, I hope, demonstrated that this Bill contains many far-reaching and welcome measures. It brings fundamental improvements to our system of pollution control and conservation. It does not, however, provide an alchemist's stone to turn everything green at one touch. The environmental challenges that face us are too many and too varied for that ever to be true. But responsible and responsive legislation continues to have a crucial role to play. It offers the possibility of further substantial progress towards a cleaner, greener environment. This excellent and important Bill holds the key to such progress. I am confident that it is welcome to your Lordships, and I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Hesketh.)
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I first thank the Minister for that very clear, thorough and 488 indeed sometimes new introduction to this Bill. Let me say immediately, because a large part of my speech will inevitably be devoted to criticism of the Bill, that in principle we support the motivation behind the Bill and many of the provisions made in it. That will be obvious, I think, from the way the Bill proceeded in Committee and on Report in another place, where my honourable and right honourable friends paid many tributes not only to parts of the Bill as originally proposed but to the willingness of Ministers in another place to listen to arguments and to make amendments accordingly. I hope that that precedent will be followed in this place. Indeed, knowing the Minister and his colleagues I am sure that it will be.
Before proceeding to deal with the Bill in detail perhaps I may also say how much I look forward to the three maiden speakers who are to speak today. I will be forgiven if I say that I am particularly looking forward to the speech of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, but I am sure that all three maiden speakers will make a valuable contribution not only to this debate but to future debates.
Having said that, I am bound to say that this Bill does not deserve the title of Environmental Protection Bill. On behalf of her party the Prime Minister took a very important initiative in 1988 in her speech to the Royal Society. She indicated a new awareness of both global and national environmental problems, which was very welcome and, I believe, has been taken up by all parties. It deserves the support of all well-meaning citizens in all parties. However, hosting international conferences in London and putting forward legislation of this nature by no means fulfils the expectations which the people of this country have in regard to their government in dealing with environmental pollution on a large scale.
I question whether this Bill should be called the Environmental Protection Bill at all. When I look at it in detail the most apt description is the "Control of Pollution (Amendment) Bill"; though it could be call the "Litter and Related Purposes Bill", the "Dogs (Fouling and Licensing) Bill", or indeed the "Nature Conservancy Council (Fragmentation) Bill". It is certainly not the Environmental Protection Bill which we were led to expect and which we now learn we are not to have even in the next Session; in other words, the last full Session, if it is a full Session, of this Parliament.
We are told that the White Paper which is to sum up the Government's views on all matters of environmental protection is to come in time not for this Session of Parliament but for the Conservative Party Conference. We are told, unless the Minister wishes to correct me, that there will be no major legislation on this subject in the 1990–91 Session. Therefore, we must look at this Bill in its proper role as the last major Environmental Protection Bill which this Government will be able to introduce. We must look at the gaps in the Bill as well as the provisions in it. It is in that sense that we shall have major amendments to put forward as the Bill proceeds.
I illustrate that by starting with Part I, which introduces a welcome concept of integrated pollution 489 control. I also pay tribute at this stage to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham, is to speak this afternoon. What the Bill does not do is pay any serious attention to the vital issues of energy conservation. It is a Department of the Environment Bill. No energy Ministers took part in the debate in another place. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel has agreed to take part in the debates on this part of the Bill and I wish that the Government would follow suit and recognise that environmental protection is not confined to the Department of the Environment but must affect all departments of government.
There is no coverage in the Bill of transport policy. The absolutely vital issues of vehicle emissions and of carbon dioxide—both relate to transport and energy—dwarf some of the detailed provisions made in the Bill. Unless those aspects are controlled the detailed provisions in the Bill become, not worthless of course—they are still worth doing—but far less significant than they are claimed to be.
In dealing with pollution control we need not just integration but a national strategy for charging for pollution and discouraging pollution by our charging policies. The Bill provides that the spearhead of integrated pollution control shall be Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. I am sure that that is right but there must be two major qualifications to that. First, the resources for the already demoralised inspectorate must be improved. The measures which have already been implemented have not worked. There is still a large number of vacancies in the inspectorate. It remains to be seen whether the measures now being announced will work. It is clear, however, that to restore confidence within the inspectorate is not just a matter of money but of giving this fine body of men and women a real sense of purpose and self respect and a feeling that they are being treated seriously by government.
The second requirement for this policy to work is that the relationship between local authorities and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution should be worked out correctly. After all, local authorities are the environmental protection agencies for this country and have been such for at least 150 years. Unless the inspectorate is to work closely with local authorities and unless the division of labour between them is rational and not purely arbitrary, as in this Bill where many kinds of air pollution are the responsibility of the inspectorate and some less serious pollutions are the responsibility of local authorities, the division between them will not be rational and the expertise of local authorities will not be used to the best effect.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the Select Committee on Science and Technology, to which the Government have today paid such tribute in regard to the Nature Conservancy Bill, was highly critical of the Government's failure in regard to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, with his expertise in this 490 area, for his confirmation of the point that I was attempting to make. If integrated pollution control is to succeed it must be extended to cover all agencies and not just some. In particular, it must be extended to cover the National Rivers Authority.
Part I also introduces the concept of BATNEEC. I was interested to hear the Minister, in his introduction, refer instead to the best practicable environmental option—BPEO—whereas the Bill refers to the best available techniques not entailing excessive costs. The best practical environmental option is a much more simple and clear concept and has far fewer boltholes for those who wish to elevate cost above environmental protection in the way in which they deal with offenders. Our problem with BATNEEC—and we have looked carefully at the practice note which the department issued in April—is that it could too readily be interpreted as putting cost above environmental protection. I was interested to note that the Minister made no reference to this point in his speech.
Above all, in dealing with Part I—I regret that I shall have to return to this when dealing with other parts of the Bill—there are significant duties placed on local authorities, but there is no indication whatever that there will be adequate resources for the local authorities to carry out the tasks which are to be imposed upon them.
Again, Part II of the Bill is largely welcome. We welcome the improvements in the Control of Pollution Act in so far as they deal with waste management, and the fact that they are improvements. I remind the House that Section 1(1) of the 1974 Act said that there should be a national waste strategy which imposed a general duty on local authorities to act on a national basis in accordance with that strategy.
What is interesting about the 1974 Act is that it does contain provision for a national strategy but that in the 16 years since the Act was passed that particular section has not been put into effect. If we now talk about a national strategy for waste management we are doing so not by improving the law but, we hope, by improving the willingness of governments to act on the legislation which they have. I have to make this a non-party point because it refers to the Labour Government of 1974–79 as well.
There are major problems with the waste management proposals as far as they affect local authorities. One of them is that waste management is to become part of compulsory competitive tendering. The argument behind that is that it will deal with the poacher-gamekeeper conflict. In fact, what is likely to happen is that the polluter pays principle will be interpreted to mean, "You can pollute if you can afford it" rather than that the polluter pays for the prevention of pollution which is the correct interpretation of that principle.
We shall be seeking amendments to make sure that local authorities retain control over the waste management activities which they will be forced to put out to tender under the Act and to be sure that the polluter pays principle means that he pays for prevention. It is no good saying that local authorities 491 will be able to recoup by charges up to 90 per cent, of the cost of improved waste management. The Bill restricts the amount of charges which can be levied on polluters. It makes it more difficult for local authorities to have the resources which will be necessary.
The recycling and reclamation provisions of the Bill concentrate on planning for recycling and reclamation rather than dealing with the much more important issue of providing the resources. One of the local authority experts to whom I was speaking recently said that there is no pot of gold at the end of the recycling rainbow. That is certainly true. There must be ways of dealing with the problems which were discussed last week during the debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon. As things stand, the value of recycled materials is less than the cost of the recycling in comparison with virgin materials. Whether it is through compulsory deposits on cans or some form of recycling credits, there must be ways to rationalise the economics of recycling. That is what is neccessary. It is not simply a matter of plans.
I shall refer very briefly to Part VIII of the Bill which is part of the same subject. We do not think that the provisions for dumping at sea or the increased fines are adequate. The fines should be related to the profits available from dumping at sea rather than for them to be at a fixed level. The restrictions on the import and export of hazardous materials are inadequate. They should include hazardous or polluting recyclable materials. We shall certainly seek to ensure that the straw burning provisions do not have loopholes which will enable Ministers to provide too many exemptions and therefore negate the whole purpose of the legislation.
I turn now to Part III. The Bill is extremely complicated and deserves proper attention. The House will wish to know the lines of argument which the Opposition will put forward in Committee. The rationalisation of existing legislation is extremely welcome. Clause 76 of the Bill refers to nuisances which are prejudicial to health or which are a nuisance. In an Environmental Protection Bill we should refer to factors which are prejudical to health or to the natural environment or a nuisance. I suggest that there should be improvements in the definition of health so that it can mean not merely the avoidance of illness but also include positive well being.
There are particular points to be made about floodlighting, cable burning and the noise of vehicles off the road to which we shall have to pay attention as the Bill goes through Committee. We shall certainly wish to make the provisions for fines more effective than they are in the Bill as it stands. As I suggested at the beginning, this is also a litter and related purposes Bill. Any movement towards the better control of litter has the full support of the Opposition.
However, there are still considerable difficulties about the way in which this part of the Bill deals with the subject. Above all, there is the problem of resources. In effect, all the expenditure is to come 492 from local authorities which are subject to standard spending assessments for the poll tax. We think that more emphasis should be paid to the responsibilities of traders. The responsibility for publicity should be a national charge rather than a local one.
There are major points concerning the standards to be imposed as regards litter with those authorities which have already been obliged by the compulsory competitive tendering procedure to put contracts out to tender. They have specified standards for litter which are different from those imposed by the Bill. We shall be seeking to ensure that the highest possible standards are part of any tendering procedure. It may be that there will have to be a way of looking back at the previous and existing tenders.
There are matters concerning enforcement and the lack of powers of local authorities to ensure that people who are accused of dropping litter give a correct name and address so that they can be pursued. There are also the problems of the obstruction of litter wardens and the danger that a local authority will be asked to be a de facto police force without having police powers.
I can pass over Part V of the Bill fairly rapidly. The improvements in the legislation on radioactive substances are worthwhile. It is good to know that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and the Crown are now largely included. Points concerning information to local authorities and consultation with them which have been revealed by the Dudley case will undoubtedly be raised during Committee. There are only 27 pollution inspectors concerned whereas there are at least 568 premises involved; therefore, there are major problems of resources.
The duty of care provisions concerning genetically modified organisms are worthwhile. The duty of care and application of BATNEEC are not the same as the strict liability which was recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The Minister somewhat skated over that point in his opening speech. We shall be looking to strengthen those provisions just as we shall be seeking to strengthen the statutory responsibilities of the advisory committee on release to the environment. We welcome the appointment of Professor John Beringer to the chairmanship of that body.
I turn now to Part VII of the Bill which as I see from the list of speakers will occupy the attention of probably a third of the speakers this afternoon. I do not mind confessing that my starting point is that Part VII should not be there at all. The unilateral announcement in July of last year, at the stage when the Nature Conservancy Council had just completed its own plans for devolution and had been presenting them to the Government, was a disgrace to proper Government procedures of consultation. The virtually unanimous—I am not sure who the exception is—opposition of the voluntary bodies is evidence of the outrage of this maladroit attempt to, I am afraid to say, appease the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office at the expense of environmental protection. It is evidence of how severely things are wrong. If I had been in another place for the Bill's Second Reading I am pretty sure that I would have voted against it.
493 The responsibilities of this House mean that we have to approach it in a slightly different way. Our responsibility here—this is what I shall be recommending to my noble friends—is to seek to achieve the greatest possible improvement to Part VII. This includes adopting the improvements suggested in the Government's response to the Carver Committee report and also looking at the many areas in which the Nature Conservancy Council and the voluntary bodies have suggested that the improvements are not enough. We have then to consider the Government's response and decide whether Part VII, as amended, is acceptable to us. I do not know what the answer will be but I have no hesitation in saying that unless we achieve certain requirements for nature conservation, unless we are sure that countryside activities are good enough and unless we are sure that the proposed joint committee has enough powers to deal with the responsibilities which ought to be put upon it, we shall seek to overturn the entire procedure. But we must do it in the way of seeking to achieve improvement first, and then making a judgment whether that improvement is adequate.
It is already obvious that there are gaps in the Government's proposals even as amended by the statement yesterday and by the Minister's speech. It is not clear that the joint committee will have adequate control over national standards of nature reserve agreements, of the compulsory acquisition of land for nature reserves and of management agreements of nature conservation areas. It is not clear that there will be a national quinquennial review rather than three quinquennial reviews which may not add up to a proper national policy. It is not clear that there is adequate protection for SSSIs, for national nature reserves or for marine nature reserves.
In the past few minutes the Minister has said that there will be ring fencing of the joint committee's income. That could mean two things. It could mean that the country councils are not allowed to spend more than a certain amount or that they are not allowed to spend less than a certain amount. It is not clear from what the Minister said that that will be achieved.
We welcome the appointment of Sir Fred Holliday as chairman, and appointments announced today. We are sure that they are distinguished scientists who will fulfil their role very well. But we are far from satisfied that the joint committee will achieve the requirements which not only the voluntary bodies but all experts in nature conservation and in the preservation and enhancement of the countryside expect of that body. If that is achieved we shall be satisfied. If not, we may have to look again at the whole principle put forward in Part VII.
I said at the beginning of my speech that this is not a true Environmental Protection Bill. If it were it would have been closer to the Environment Protection Bill introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, before Christmas. Such a Bill would include an Environmental Protection Executive which is not responsible to the Secretary of State for the Environment but independent of any one department. It would include, as the Labour Party 494 will suggest in its election manifesto this year and for the next election, an Environmental Protection Agency responsible in particular to an Environmental Protection Minister. We shall be looking for very much stronger coverage of the wider issues of vehicle emissions, of energy conservation and of response to our international obligations which are simply not covered by the Bill.
I cannot overstate the seriousness of the issues facing us. At the Bergen Conference this week Jan Syse, the Prime Minister of Norway, compared what is necessary in terms of environmental protection with arms control verification. Arms control verification is essential to our survival, but so too is environmental protection. When the Bill finishes its passage through your Lordships' House we should like to see environmental protection taken no less seriously than arms control verification. The future of our planet depends upon it.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for his lucid introduction of the Bill. He went through it very clearly and we understand what it contains. On these Benches we give a qualified support to most parts of the Bill. It is a hotchpotch of measures but they are welcome nevertheless. The criticisms of the exclusions listed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, are fully justified. There is nothing in the Bill to cover energy conservation and transport problems. Those matters will have to be resolved.
My special concern is with Part VII to which I shall come in due course. On that issue I part company with the Government. We are certainly supporters of the principle of integrated pollution control but there are reservations to which I anticipate my noble friend Lord Ezra may well refer in his speech. Certainly the CPRE feels that more should be written into the Bill and not left to regulations. That is a common complaint about all modern legislation.
Over the past 12 months we have heard and read welcome speeches by the Prime Minister and her Secretary of State expressing concern about global warming and the many other threats to our environment. Too often the bold words uttered have not been matched by action. Time, as we all know, is not on our side. We are constantly accused by those of our more forward-looking European colleagues of delaying tactics, no doubt for financial reasons. But as has been said many times, in the environment business problems do not go away; rather they pile up, like the rubbish in our streets. If the measures contained in the Bill are to work, the vitally necessary financial resources will have to be forthcoming too.
A good many extra responsibilities will fall on our hard pressed local authorities which must be thoroughly sick of being accused at least twice weekly in another place of being blatant overspenders and, apparently now, a major part of the cause of current inflation. For instance, the Association of County Councils draws attention to Clause 33 and the duty of care. Its members will be required to monitor the 495 forthcoming code of practice. But the consultative paper blandly states:no new costs are expected to be incurred".The association is still unhappy about the Bill's proposals for recycling; and so it should be. It is astonishing to me that we are still unable to establish sustainable markets for all our waste paper, bottles and tin cans. Anyone who saw the recent television programme on the subject will no doubt be aware of the problems. But if other countries can do it, why cannot we? Every two weeks or so my dear wife helps in the collection of waste paper. But if at the end of the day the whole lot is going to be dumped in a hole in the ground, what is the use? Willing helpers become disillusioned and give up.
Visitors to our capital city interviewed on the "Business Programme" last Sunday complained of the litter and filth in our streets and the indiscriminate graffiti everywhere which must cost British Rail, London Underground, bus companies and local authorities vast sums of money. One walk through the underpass at Elephant and Castle was enough to convince me of how right they are. I never want to go near the place again. It is quite disgusting. Yet thousands walk through it every day apparently oblivious to their surroundings.
We are rightly concerned about mad cow disease, but surely we should be far more concerned about the filth which surrounds us and the vermin which that attracts. If we do not act quickly, I suggest that it is quite possible that we shall again face a rat infestation plague. I cannot understand why we cannot oblige the football hooligans who break up places like Bournemouth to carry out their community service orders by clearing up some of the graffiti which appears all over the country. Indeed, a Saturday or Sunday spent doing just that might do them a world of good.
We must change the present climate of opinion. The obvious place to start is in our schools. Other countries, notably Australia, have done this and so can we. I well remember travelling on a train in Yugoslavia. It was totally packed. There was an old boy in the corner with a bottle of beer in his hand. When he had finished swigging he chucked the bottle out of the window. The whole coachload of people descended upon him and he ran for his life right the way down the end of the train. I think that we should start doing likewise in this country. There will have to be suitable incentives and plenty of publicity. Of course, the increase in the rates of fines is certainly a step in the right direction. However, we must do a great deal more.
It is to be hoped that the influence of children will work through to their parents, many of whom are every bit as guilty as the younger generation. Local authorities should be obliged to empty their litter bins daily and their bottle banks far more frequently than they do at present. They should also be obliged to start road sweeping operations on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Of course, that will entail overtime and extra costs. However, it would not prove such a problem, if they were to do so, for the poor old road sweeper who turns up to do his job 496 on the Monday morning. Everywhere in town one can see that all the drains are clogged. I do not know what it costs, every time we have a heavy rainfall and flooding occurs, to put the matter right. In my view, all that is needed is a little more time spent on actually carrying out a good job.
Near to where I now live is a peaceful valley but it is full of tyres. We have a massive tyre dump there which is some 60 feet deep where tyres have been dumped for the past 20 years. It recently caught fire and is now causing problems of pollution as regards the local stream. I know that the situation has been monitored and thus far I do not think that anything too serious has happened. But this pollution could get into the River Teme which is one of the better fishing rivers in the Border country. Nevertheless, it is an obvious health hazard and one of several that exist in the UK. There was one such dump in Glasgow that has been on fire and there is certainly another one in Staffordshire.
However, there is an answer to the problem—or, at least, a partial one—of what to do with surplus tyres. A Connecticut-based firm wants to build a £32 million recycling power station near Stafford which would be capable of burning half the 25 million scrap tyres produced each year. It would provide enough electrical power for 20,000 homes into the bargain. I suggest that the firm should be encouraged to do so and that it should be assisted by grants if it becomes necesary.
I was told only yesterday that at the recently modernised Oxford Railway Station the gents toilets have already been vandalised. That must be soul destroying for British Rail which daily faces enormous repair bills for actions which should never have happened in the first place. Why our fellow countrymen take such fiendish delight in smashing up public conveniences has always been beyond me. Apart from making the public pay, as is the case at some of our mainline stations, I do not know what is the immediate answer to the problem. However, I believe that we can change people's attitudes both through the schools and through the skilful use of television.
Why the Government continue to oppose a dog registration scheme is also quite beyond me. I very much hope that in this House we shall carry an amendment on the issue. I personally welcome the proposal to ban straw burning; but I see the need for a dispensation where crops are diseased, full of weeds or incapable of being harvested, such as occurs after heavy storms. In all other cases, I believe that the ban should be absolute.
I intend to devote the rest of my speech to Part VII of the Bill which deals with the reorganisation of the NCC. However, first, I must declare an interest as I am chairman of Wildlife Link. The link is the liaison body for all the major voluntary organisations in the UK that are concerned with the protection of wildlife. It has 43 member organisations, ranging in size from the largest voluntary conservation bodies such as the Royal Society for Nature Conservation and the RSPB, to the smaller ones, such as the Marine Conservation Society, the Otter Trust and others.
497 The objective of Wildlife Link is to enable its member organisations to co-ordinate their views on national and international wildlife issues and thereby work together to influence UK policy on wildlife protection. Any action by Wildlife Link is taken on behalf of those member organisations which specifically express support for such action. Wildlife Link is not a representative body and does not issue statements on its own behalf.
The member organisations have expressed considerable reservations about the Government's proposals to break up and reorganise the statutory conservation agencies since the announcement in July 1989 which was itself, I believe, constitutionally questionable. If implemented, the proposals will have a detrimental impact on both the GB science base and the delivery of nature conservation by the statutory and voluntary bodies.
The Minister boldly attacked that view and said that the Government were going ahead, that they would not in any way withdraw or consider putting the matter back until the publication of the White Paper on the environment which is promised for the autumn. He made clear that everything in the garden was lovely. In fact, they have been conceding all down the line. If it had not been for the opposition, and the views of the committee chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, we would not now have the central co-ordinating body with an independent chairman. Moreover, we would not have achieved the concessions which were announced today. However, the Minister boldly ignored all these developments.
There was a great opportunity, if we were really looking at the role of the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council, to look at other bodies such as the Forestry Commission, the Crofters' Commission and so on. We could look at all the bodies involved in one way or another in the environmental problems of this country to see whether i: is not now time after 40 or 50 years to renew some kind of overall heritage body. However, that opportunity has been lost and it is a great pity.
I turn now to the real complaint which we have. First, there is the total lack of consultation; indeed, there is still no consultation on the matter. In the evidence given to the committee of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, that point was clearly made by bodies such as the CPRE, the National Trust and others. I shall not read out the comments which were made to the House because many noble Lord wish to speak in this debate today. However, they are there in printed form and anyone can read them.
Since October 1989 Wildlife Link has been urging the Government to establish a full independent inquiry to undertake a deeper, and more wide-ranging review into the merits and terms of reference of the new countryside agencies, the required conservation and recreation policies and the requirements for the effective implementation in all pats of the United Kingdom. The White Paper, the publication of which we now hear will be delayed—and I was also interested to hear that apparently there will now not be legislation 498 introduced in this Parliament—was surely an opportunity to do just that.
Other problems have concerned the dangers to the science base. That case has been argued very strongly and concessions have been made. But as to whether they are adequate I cannot, at this time, express a view. However, we can take, for example, the evidence given by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust which Sir Peter Fox set up. In its evidence to the Carver Committee it said:We believe that international and national conservation require a strong independent, widely respected science base such as the NCC now provides and which will apparently be lost under the reorganisation. Others will have told you of the outstanding international reputation which the NCC deservedly enjoys".Indeed, it does—and throughout the whole of Western Europe. It is a great shame that that reputation is now in jeopardy.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but I must ask him whether he is speaking for the Liberal Party officially? Is he aware that the Scottish Liberal Members opposed this view and that his party in the House of Commons supported the Government's scheme of decentralisation in the field?
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will kindly wait, I shall come to that point. I am speaking on behalf of the party. All the points I now make were actually made by my honourable friend Mr. Malcolm Bruce in Committee in another place.
I turn finally to the question of resources. Members of the voluntary bodies are concerned that very substantial extra resources will be needed for the proposed new three agency structure to enable it to be effective in the delivery of conservation policy. However, no indication has been given that the resources allocated will be adequate. The NCC puts the additional cost at £20 million. World Wildlife talks about £38 million. But it is estimated that an overall figure of about £80 million will be required. That is almost, but not quite, double the NCC budget.
In any event, there is much more money involved and we want to hear from the Government during the passage of the Bill whether that money will be provided. For a Secretary of State who in all fairness has—thank God!—reversed previous tendencies (and there is much we can thank him for), he is beleaguered in having to try to battle not only for money for the environment but also for housing and for so many other fields. Will he be able to come up with the money that will be needed for what is now proposed for nature conservation in this country?
Finally, there is the problem of the relationship between the voluntary and statutory bodies. I was grateful for the comments in the report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, which said:
"If the reorganisation is going to work, it will have to command the support of the voluntary bodies as well as those connected with the land". The voluntary bodies are powerful. The RSPB has over 600,000 members. I am sure that Ministers have received many letters from them. They are important for the future, and there is no question but that they will have to play an increasing role if the 499 Government are hell bent on proceeding with what they propose. It is important that the voluntary bodies are kept on board. They must be listened to.
I shall finish—this is perhaps where I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—by assuring the House that neither Wildlife Link nor my party (the Liberal Democrats) object in any way to a properly constructed, fully funded federal-type structure for the NCC. We shall study with care the Government's response to the recommendations contained in the Carver Report, which was published only yesterday.
We recognise that valiant attempts have been made to repair the damage caused by the ill-conceived proposals, and they include some good appointments. I repeat, there have been some good appointments to those new bodies. However, we fear that the cost and the commitment now required from government may not be forthcoming. If the Government think that they can allay those fears, we are more than prepared to listen.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Viscount Mills
My Lords, perhaps I may say how pleased I am to be making my maiden speech on a Bill that seeks to strengthen environmental protection.
As a biologist by training and an employee of an organisation whose primary aim is to protect the environment, I am keenly aware of the challenges that are before us, not only as a nation but in a global context. The Environmental Protection Bill is a lengthly piece of legislation and in order to keep my maiden speech brief, as is the custom, I intend to speak only on that part of the Bill which deals with the control of genetically modified organisms.
Genetic engineering embraces powerful techniques which can be used to introduce, delete or enhance the characteristics of living things. Potentially that allows genetic material from almost any organism to be introduced into almost any other organism regardless of sexual compatibility or of evolutionary relationships and processes. It is possible that that could result in the breaking down of the barriers between life forms as we know them and in the engineering of new combinations of genes that are unlikely to occur in nature.
The actual and potential applications of genetically modified organisms are many and diverse spanning the field of medicine, industry, agriculture and indeed pollution control. Those applications promise great benefits to mankind. Last week in a Sunday Times article it was reported that in as many as 25 areas of human medicine genetically engineered products are beginning to provide cures. So far, the commercial use of GMOs has been restricted to contained systems in the laboratory which offer little potential for escape.
A report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution cites only six cases of deliberate release of GMOs into the environment in the United Kingdom, all of which took place on an experimental basis. None of those releases was shown to have any adverse effect on the environment, but as bio-engineering moves rapidly from an experimental to a commercial phase so 500 the scale and number of releases will be bound to increase. What will be the outcome of such releases? There are fears that some releases could have a detrimental effect on the environment or public health or both. At the moment our knowledge is limited. We simply do not know enough. Because of that it is vitally important that there should be legislation to minimise the dangers of careless or possibly even unscrupulous use of the environment.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the driving force behind this industry is a commercial one. Potentially there are huge profits to be made from genetically engineered crop and livestock production as well as microbiological processes. Rapid developments within the industry could result in the possiblity of long-term interests being sacrificed to short-term profits. Instead, I suggest that the long-term interest of the biotechnology industry, the public and the environment are best served by the type of regulation provided by the Bill. A release or escape of GMOs that resulted in serious damage to either public health or the environment could easily provoke a reaction which resulted in severe restrictions being imposed on the industry, thus impeding its development and delaying the application of its benefits.
The introduction of the proposed legislation will provide a system of control, but, however good that system is, there is a possibility that sooner or later the release of GMOs into the natural environment may result in damage. It has been asked why the Bill does not stipulate absolute liability and compulsory insurance for all those who will choose deliberately to release GMOs. However, doubts have been expressed as to whether companies would be able to obtain insurance cover against unspecified risks to the environment which might or might not take place at an indeterminate time in the future. Even if that insurance becomes available, the costs might be prohibitive and constrain the expansion of the industry.
The assessment of "damage to the environment", and hence liability, poses further problems. Is there any foolproof definition of what constitutes damage in that context? Can one prove a link between the suspected GMO and the damage caused? Those questions are far from straightforward. In those cases where GMOs can be proved to have caused damage, the extent of that damage may be difficult to quantify and cost, and anyway how does one assess damage that is irreversible or the extinction of a species?
I welcome the principle of the setting up of public registers of the information relating to GMOs. The need to build public confidence in this technology is vital if we are to make full use of its advantages. A potential problem to the acceptance of GMOs could be widespread public suspicion of what they are and the dangers they present. Certain well publicised reports, such as that of the genetically engineered pig in America which suffered such severe arthritis that it was unable stand up, have fuelled public fears.
The Bill provides legislation that goes some way towards safeguarding the environment from any harmful effects that introduced GMOs might cause. However, developments in techniques and in the 501 scale of bioengineering operations are likely to continue to increase rapidly. As public awareness of the issues involved increases, so too will public debate on the possible ethical, moral and legal problems; of GMOs. I believe that the provisions before us might be only a first step. Further legislation could well be required in the future to address some of the wider issues associated with genetic engineering.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the noble Viscount and to be able to congratulate him on its clarity, the deep thought behind it and the persuasiveness of his arguments. I welcome the speech as an important contribution to the debate on the Bill. His expertise in fish biology will, I hope, often be available to the House when environmental matters are concerned. I note also that the noble Viscount lists as one of his interests fine wines. I hope that his expertise in that field may be of benefit to the House.
I speak on this Bill as chairman of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which reported on 1st March on the effect of the Government's proposals, now in Part VII of the Bill, on the science base of the Nature Conservancy Council. The report has not yet been debated and it seemed appropriate that it should not be so before the Second Reading of the Bill. It has been referred to a good deal in another place and also today by the Minister and others.
Compliments have been paid on the report, and I have been somewhat embarrassed by its being mentioned as the Carver Report or the Carver Committee. It was the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology of this House; I was merely the chairman of the sub-committee. The members of that sub-committee were almost all of far greater expertise in the subject than myself. I wish to take the opportunity of expressing my great gratitude to all of them.
I shall confine my remarks to Part VII of the Bill. I start by emphasising that we did not address the question of the rights or wrongs of the decision to reorganise the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commissions. Individual members of the sub-committee have their own views on that, and some will express them no doubt in this debate. I shall keep firmly to the terms of reference of the sub-committee which were to examine the effect on the science base of nature conservancy of the Government's proposals and to make recommendations about it on the assumption that the reorganisation in its general principles would go ahead.
The principal objects of our concern were first, that the quality of the science supporting nature conservancy should be maintained; secondly, that the strength of the effort to conserve nature should not be weakened and should be enhanced; thirdly, that the reorganisation should not result in disintegration. Although we heard some strong Scottish views that the fauna, flora, and geology of Scotland were distinct from those in England and 502 Wales and Northern Ireland, we were quite clear that the British Isles form a bio-geographical entity, and that the science needed to support its natural features is one science.
For those reasons, we were much concerned to see that the scientific back-up for the separate country agencies should be adequate, and that the joint committee, charged under Clause 123 of the Bill with the discharge of functions which applied to the whole of Great Britain, should be so composed and have the powers and the staff to enable it to do so effectively. I shall have more to say on those two aspects in a moment.
There can be no doubt that the Government's proposals, as originally put forward in July last year, were seriously flawed and their presentation appallingly badly handled. However, as time passed and while our committee was taking evidence, the Government have improved them, although that is not reflected in the Bill as it now stands. Their first and most important concession was the agreement to the appointment of an independent chairman to the joint committee.
Yesterday, as your Lordships know, we received the Government's response to our report. Some of it has been reflected in the Minister's speech this morning. We welcome the fact that most of our recommendations have been accepted. We particularly welcome the Government's agreement to our recommendations about how the independent scientific members of the joint committee should be appointed and especially that they should have votes. So would the chairman of the Countryside Commission for England whose membership of the committee we recommended, as we did that of an independent, non-voting assessor from Northern Ireland. We also welcomed the Government's confirmation that although the funds available to the joint committee for the discharge of its functions derive from the three country councils, they will be ring fenced by their respective Secretaries of State so that the joint committee is not financially at the mercy of the country councils.
Although almost all our recommendations have been accepted, and the Government have said that they will introduce amendments to give effect to them at the Committee stage, there remain some significant differences between their views and those of the committee. The first is over the cost. From the evidence we received, we concluded that the extra costs would be significant. For instance, the Royal Society of Edinburgh estimated that at least one-third of the staff at the headquaters of the Nature Conservancy Council at Peterborough would be needed to transfer to the new Scottish agency. The Scottish conservation office of the Worldwide Fund for Nature has produced a detailed paper which estimates the total permanent staff for Scotland at 557 and an annual budget of £28 million. This applies only to the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland, before the intended merger with the Countryside Commission of Scotland.
In their response to us, the Government state that although they are committed to provide the necessary resources for each separate council, 503it does not necessarily follow that the new arrangements need be considerably more expensive than present arrangements, although there will inevitably be some additional costs arising from reorganisation".We remain sceptical about that.
The other main point on which we differ is over the power of the joint committee to give a final and decisive verdict, if there is a dispute between it and one or more of the country councils as to whether or not a subject comes under Clause 123—that is one that is the responsibility of the joint committee. In their response, the Government take a rather rosy view about the unlikelihood of such disputes and give a legalistic answer as to why our recommendation could not be accepted. I admit that their agreement that the independent members should have votes and the independent chairman a casting vote has made a considerable difference to the importance we attach to that power.
The Government have also turned down our recommendation that the joint committee should make a separate report to Government from the country councils to their respective Secretaries of State. It seems to us obvious that although the wording of the Act is that the country councils, acting through the joint committee, are responsible both for international representation subjects and for a subject which applies to the whole of Great Britain, the latter is one where they should make a separate report.
We considered that it would be anomalous that once the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission in Scotland had been merged, as is intended, the joint committee should only be empowered to discuss nature convervancy matters.
We also thought it illogical that when the two organisations were merged in Scotland and Wales, they should remain separate in England. However, we recognised that there were difficulties with a merger in England. The arguments produced by the Government as to why such a merger was not suitable seemed to me to be arguments as to why it should take place. If conflict both in number and extent between the interests of the Countryside Commission and those of nature conservancy are much greater in England, it is an argument for merging them and not keeping them separate.
The argument of the Government on the first point was that the presence of the chairman of the Countryside Commission for England on the joint committee should be adequate and that to give the committee the wide remit of considering Countryside Commission matters would overburden it. The Government say that both aspects of the matter would be best served by retaining two separate organisations. However, if the last sentence of their reply to our recommendation 4.22 means that they will consider the matter further in the context of the forthcoming environment White Paper that is something which we welcome. The sentence states:But the options for institutional change across the whole range of bodies concerned with the environment are being considered in 504 the context of the Environment White Paper, and the Government will consider the question further in that context.I should like to make two further comments. The first concerns a point that has already been made. The evidence we have received from all the voluntary bodies, including those in Scotland, who play such a vital and essential part in every aspect of nature conservancy, is that they oppose the reorganisation. Some suggested that Part VII should be deleted from the Bill and that the whole issue should be deferred for consideration in the context of the White Paper.
We did not support a deferment, principally because we thought that it would cause even further uncertainty to staff of the Nature Conservancy Council, with the result that they might drift away, as the new chief scientist has already done. I admit that not all of the staff share that view. The trade union side certainly does not. Some say that as there is so much uncertainty at present, a few more months of uncertainty would make little difference.
If the sentence that I have quoted from the government response means that the whole question of reorganisation will again be thrown into the melting pot, I am sure that the committee would have supported the view that Part VII should be taken out of the Bill and considered in the context of the environment White Paper. I hope that the Minister will clarify what that sentence is intended to mean.
I express no opinion on the merits of the reorganisation, as the committee did not. We welcome the Government's acceptance of most of our recommendations. We thank them for the compliment that they have paid us in doing so and hope that they will again consider the issues on which we differ.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I feel very privileged to be seeking your Lordships' indulgence in this important debate on the environment. At the same time I am somewhat intimidated by the excellence of the speeches not least that of the noble Viscount whose maiden speech preceded mine. I should like at the outset to declare a specific interest as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea and as a member of a number of other environmental organisations.
I recognise that I should be uncontroversial. That is a little difficult in my case. Within relatively few minutes of my coming into this House I committed an act of the utmost provocation by participating in a Division which the Government lost by one vote.
For four years I was the European Commissioner charged with the responsibility for transport, environment and nuclear safety. I was able to witness first-hand the utterly remarkable changes affecting the development of environment policy. Back in 1985 environment was still regarded as something of an add-on extra—largely the interest of the slightly eccentric, the sandalled and the hirsute. Happily, that is no longer the case. There has been a massive change in perception. The driving force for change has not been governments but the public throughout the European Community—a public which has 505 become more aware, more concerned and more determined that the environment should be defended. That public, let it be admitted, is much more sceptical of experts, some of whom have been extraordinarily patronising and yet, on so many occasions, have been proved wrong.
Chernobyl illustrated tragically and vividly that pollution does not stop at frontiers and that international action is required on an increasing scale to deal with regional and global environmental problem;. Therefore, the environment is today at the very top of the political agenda: it is right that it should be.
Environmental policies go to the heart of what today's European Community is all about. It is not only about market refining; it is about society improving. It involves some intervention and planning. It is about 12 nations coming together to reduce pollution when that pollution may not affect individual countries or communities. It is about pooling national resources to obtain benefits that will be shared internationally. And it is about taking decisions in common where advantages may accrue elsewhere or to generations yet to come.
The Single European Act, including the environmental chapter introduced for the first time into the Treaty of Rome, will help to promote progress, I am pleased to see ideas emerging which will ensure that environmental legislation, like that relating to the completion of the Common Market, will be subject to qualified majority voting rather than to unanimity.
A very useful check list for all environmental legislation, this Bill included, should be the principles laid down in the European Community's Fourth Environmental Action Programme, adopted by ministers in 1987, together with the principles adumbrated in the Single European Act. The question for your Lordships is whether and to what extent the Bill will help to translate those principles into practice. I shall not be critical of the Bill today; that is not permitted of me. However, I should like to reflect shortly on some of the principles.
The first is the principle designed to prevent irreversible damage to the environmental heritage of our Community of 329 million people. That principle: involves tackling pollution at source. It underlines how much more desirable is the anticipation of problems rather than crisis management, and it appreciates how costly that is. For too long so many countries, including those of the Community, engaged in a policy of progress by catastrophe, if one could deign that to be a policy at all. Governments reticent about making progress in the field of environment would use every and any excuse to frustrate progress. Even when a clear majority of scientists supported remedial action, as in the case of atmospheric pollution and acid deposition, we would hear the plea that more research was required as though that excluded taking any action in the interim. Environmental ministers tended to argue that scientific evidence to establish cause and effect needed to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt, whereas a far more logical test would be to act on the basis of scientific probability. Therefore, on issues which were of immense moment 506 to the protection of all our citizens, ministers from a number of European countries seemed all too often to hone inertia into a fine art.
I believe that things are changing. However, I find it infinitely depressing that in the negotiations currently taking place in Bergen concerning the cutting of emissions of CO-the Bush Administration is repeating the plea for more research rather than for action.
Secondly, the polluter pays principle is rightly being reviewed by the European Commission. In the past it has more closely resembled the "consumer pays" principle. We shall have to put that right and make it far more relevant to the needs of ordinary people.
Thirdly, there is the inelegantly titled—to use Euro-jargon—"subsidiary principle". That really means that the European Community is an area of considerable diversity with different local needs. It is essential to give member states the maximum flexibility in choosing how to meet environmental standards and also the freedom to impose higher environmental standards than the European Community norm provided they are compatible with the terms of the treaty.
Fourthly, there is the principle of economic efficiency and cost-effectiveness. That involves making a choice of relevant economic incentives to attain environmental protection objectives at the lowest possible cost to the economy but at the same time affording permanent incentives to pursue necessary improvements. It is a principle which needs to be reinforced, as I believe it will be, by the burgeoning concept of strict liability for environmental damage. We shall want to hear much more from the Government about that matter in due course.
The fifth principle is that of legal enforcement. When we recall that for the most part environmental legislation has been adopted by ministers acting unanimously, the 400 or so breaches of environmental law which have been identified by the European Commission represent a very serious reflection on member states. Indeed, it is perhaps the worst example that one could point to of the so-called "democratic deficit" that governments themselves refuse to enforce laws which they have made. All governments are guilty to a lesser or greater degree. No society can operate effectively unless the rule of law is honoured. A distinguished American jurist, Mae West, once declared:There ain't too much harm if you crack a few laws now and then, as long as you don't break too many!".There is far too much cracking and breaking of environmental law and good practice. We have to be sure that law enforcement becomes more effective. That means that we cannot skimp on the necessary resources, especially those affecting local authorities which, according to the Minister, will play a key role.
Sixthly, there is the principle enshrined in the Single European Act that environmental requirements must be an essential component of all other policies. My noble friend Lord McIntosh had 507 a good deal to say, very trenchantly, about that, and in particular about energy conservation, transport and similar matters.
I am glad that ministers have reached agreement on the question of the draft directive concerning access to environmental information because I had the privilege to take that through the Commission.
Policy makers face daunting challenges. There is a need to strike that often elusive balance between sustaining—or indeed building, in the case of the developing countries—an industrial society while at the same time preserving an environment rendered all the more fragile by that very process. There is a place for sensible regulations, tight enough to guarantee conservation and flexible enough to permit growth.
I hope to be a little more controversial as the Bill wends its way through your Lordship's House. I wish to conclude today on this note. Good environmental management is an imperative. It is a good investment. I am emboldened in that belief by a contemporary scriptural commentary which I came across recently:We waste what we have—our food, our fuel, our wealth, our gifts. Then we watch in surprise the destruction of our world. What we do not explode or gouge out of the earth we pollute; what we do not pollute, we kill. We do not see, or wish to see, the damage we do. Later, we regret".Action to protect our environment gives us the opportunity not to go on just regretting. I hope that we shall, all of us together, seize that opportunity.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Viscount Blakenham
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and to have the privilege of congratulating him on behalf of the whole House on his brilliant speech. No amount of modesty could hide the fact that it was a brilliant speech. The noble Lord will contribute a tremendous amount of knowledge on European and environmental matters to our debates in the future. I should also like to add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, on his important contribution to the debate. When three maiden speeches are made on a Friday afternoon that is a sign of the importance of this debate.
While I welcome many parts of the Bill, I intend to concentrate my remarks on Part VII. It concerns an area which I know something about, and as it stands I believe it lacks merit.
I have been actively involved in environmental work for the past 15 years. That involvement has included 12 years as a member of the council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, including five years as its chairman; seven years as president of one of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation's local wildlife trusts—the Sussex Wildlife Trust; and in March I completed a three-year stint on the Nature Conservancy Council. Therefore I have had plenty of opportunity to understand how conservation is currently delivered in this country, through both government and non-government organisations, and how those organisations interact.
508 There are many other Members of this House who have had similar experience and who may not agree with me. However, I am clear—and I believe that this will be supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ross—that what I shall say has the support of most of the voluntary conservation movements and the majority of the staff of the NCC. It also has the strong support of my noble friend Lord Buxton, who recently resigned from the council of the NCC in protest against what is proposed in the Bill. He was most anxious to speak today, but was already committed to being in Washington when the date of this Second Reading was fixed.
The case against the splitting up of the NCC which is proposed in the Bill is straightforward. It would weaken the scientific base; it would cost more to deliver the same amount of conservation; it would make it harder to provide a Great Britain overview; and it would weaken our conservation voice in international affairs. It is illogical and it is ill thought through.
That the proposals could do the job at all is thanks to the presence of the joint committee. It should be remembered that the joint committee was an afterthought. It will function through co-operation; and long may that last. It has no executive role. For constitutional reasons, according to the Government, it cannot be given binding powers for they lie with three (or is it five?) national bodies, with their serveral different remits, reporting to three different Secretaries of State.
Wait a moment. We understand since last night that the Government are to introduce amendments to establish that the joint committee can give advice to country councils and require them to have regard to it. Any disagreement between the councils about the division of functions will be subject, in the final analysis, to the arbitrament of the Secretary of State. One wonders which Secretary of State.
That the situation is a muddle is evident to anybody who has listened to the anguished arguments of the voluntary bodies and of the chairman and staff of the NCC, who has read between the lines of the Carver Report, and to anyone who listens to the arguments in the debate today. So why has it happened and what can be done about it? When the split was announced last July, all three Secretaries of State put out press announcements to stress the insensitivity of the NCC in carrying out the work on the ground. The contention was that the new arrangements would deliver better conservation because they would be better in tune with the needs of local committees.
Perhaps the NCC has not been as sensitive as it might have been in all cases. However, being entrusted by Parliament to designate large numbers of sites of scientific interest, some of which are already being damaged and destroyed, and having to tell the landowners concerned that they cannot undertake certain activities on their own land, is not an intrinsically popular job. I believe that, on the whole, it has been well done. What worries me is that, although greater sensitivity is a seductive argument and sounds admirable, it is likely to mean that more sensitivity will equal more scientific compromise which, in turn, will equal less effective conservation.
509 The Ministers concerned have shown great insensitivity. Perhaps the time has come for a new look at the role of the NCC. Ministers knew that the NCC iteself was working on a federal framework in which a much greater measure of devolution would have been possible. In the past, matters that profoundly affect the national heritage have been introduced only after widespread consultation and submission of written reports. In that case, no consultation took place with the Government's own conservation advisers, the scientific community or the voluntary bodies which, it must be realised—this point was made earlier—now play a vital financial as well as managerial role in the country's conservation strategy. A long-established constitutional convention has been abused, and as a result we end up with a highly unsatisfactory situation.
I have great respect for the science and technology Select Committee and for the Carver Report, which has done its best to show how the present proposals could be made to work; but it does not pretend that they are the right proposals. I also have considerable sympathy for the present Secretary of State for the Environment who inherited what appeared to be a fait accompli. However, I ask him: need it be a fait accompli? The Secretary of State himself pointed out in an interview in October that he regarded it as a priority that the scientific base of the Nature Conservancy Council's work should be safeguarded. In the same interview, he said:It certainly won't be simple when we get to the House of Lords because they will take these matters profoundly".It is right that we should take those matters profoundly. I suggest that, despite what my noble friend the Minister said at the beginning of the debate, the proper way forward is for the Government to withdraw Part VII from the Bill, to postpone any restructuring of the NCC, to consult widely and appropriately and to come up with better thought cut proposals in the comprehensive White Paper in the autumn.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for my maiden speech. I should like to start by saying how much I welcome this timely Bill. I shall spend part of my speech on what I believe might have been included in the Bill.
First, I should like to mention Clause 7(4), to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred. It has acquired the acronym "BATNEEC" and it states:Subject to subsections (5) and (6) below, there is implied in every authorisation a general condition that, in carrying on the process to which the authorisation applies, the person carrying it on must use the best available techniques not entailing excessive cost".The purpose of imposing conditions as part of an authorisation seems to me to be largely nullified by the phrase " not entailing excessive cost". Who is to say what is excessive? By whose criteria is the matter to be judged? Would it be those of the organisation or would it be those of the individuals who risk being harmed? Would the cost in terms of the degree of nuisance or danger be taken into account as well as the monetary cost?
510 That brings me to an important point about which I feel strongly. The definition of the word "environment" given on page 2 of the Bill differs markedly from the two definitions given in the dictionary. I am not sure why that should be. I appreciate that, when framing legislation, the Government must make enforceable law, but I am sure that that would still have been possible with a more comprehensive definition of "environment".
There are many existing environments that few of us would seek to protect. I think particularly of living conditions in parts of many of our cities. I should have preferred the word "ecological" which contains the idea of a system, originally in a state of balance to which it could be restored, or rather where a new equilibrium could be achieved. However, if we are stuck with the word "environmental", could we perhaps think in terms of enhancement rather than protection?
Returning to my earlier point concerning Clause 7(4) about whose criteria we consider in deciding on the question of excessive cost, perhaps we may also look at the origins of the words "economy" and "ecology". Many noble Lords are far better schooled in the classics than I, but my dictionary tells me that the root "eco comes from the Greek word "oikos", meaning house, and that economy originally meant household management, not simply money not just the monetary cost of something. In that context, I believe that household management puts a duty of care on all members of the household, for all members of the household, including those not yet born.
There are short-term costs which affect the person or organisation doing whatever is being done and which they can see; in other words, costs that affect short-term self interest. There are also costs that affect others directly and in the short term, such as the dangerous practice of discarding loops of plastic and metal strapping. There are many costs which it is difficult to quantify in isolation, but whose effects can be cumulative, drastic and long-lasting. I am not a Luddite; we cannot nor should we try to unlearn knowledge and techniques, but, as I said earlier, we all have a duty of care.
We are now able to have an enormous effect on the world around us, as was illustrated in our recent debate on the disappearing peat bogs. A farmer and his family digging enough peat for their own needs is one thing; a large commercial undertaking with sophisticated machinery and an aggressive approach to marketing is quite another.
It may well be that our climate is changing and that the world is getting warmer. I have read a suggestion that the rainfall in East Anglia may become less even than it is now. If that change were coupled with periods of high wind, such as we have experienced in the past 12 months, I fear that, with the removal of hedges and the creation of almost prairie-like conditions, the fertile topsoil of that region could end up in the North Sea. A small change in the climate coupled with intensive agriculture could possibly create an East Anglian dust-bowl, so we could go from a surplus of grain to a shortage which would mean importing grain from a reduced world supply at higher cost than before with an adverse effect on our balance of payments.
511 The point I am making is that everything is a process. To start from such a limited definition of "environmental" is to exclude from consideration activities which have at least as powerful an effect on our ecological balance as individual prescribed processes.
I also regret that there is no mention in the Bill of the pumping of sewage into the sea at whatever distance from the shore. I am convinced that the processing of human waste should be a prescribed process. Certainly, the uncontrolled decomposition of such wastes releases large quantities of methane, one of the more pernicious of the greenhouse gases, and also gives rise to the excessive growth of algae.
That material should be regarded as a resource, and, if ways can be found of separating out heavy metal and other industrial residues from organic matter, processing results in a continuous supply of bottled methane and a completely sterile, high nitrogren, organic fertiliser. That is already done in many parts of the world. Adoption of that practice would have several other benefits. Sea bathers would enjoy safer and better swimming; we would comply with EC directives in that matter; our natural gas supplies would last a little longer; marine life would benefit; and we would need less oil to produce fertiliser.
I regret also that the Bill does not contain provisions to encourage a substantial reafforestation programme. I must declare an interest. My woodcraft business, making tent-pegs, consumes about 50 tonnes of indigenous hardwood each year, consisting of ash thinnings which are replaced by regeneration or replanting. As a tree grows it absorbs carbon dioxide and gives out oxygen. That carbon dioxide is stored until the tree dies and decays when the stored carbon dioxide is released along with the heat energy stored in the timber. When the same tree is burned, the carbon dioxide and the heat are simply released much more rapidly.
When coal, oil or natural gas are burnt, the carbon dioxide which they contain is also released. The difference is that the carbon dioxide in the tree would have been released sooner or later anyway, whereas that in the fossil fuels remains locked in for ever unless we burn them. In the late 19th century a scientist stated that oil was too valuable a resource to burn and that it should be used instead for other purposes. During the 18th and 18th centuries the Forest of Dean and probably other areas had thriving wood-based chemical industries. It would be interesting to know whether any of those processes or their products would have any usefulness today.
I should like to make a plea for a massive reafforestation programme in this country, preferably of our very beautiful indigenous hardwood species and other useful introduced trees such as the relatively fast-growing southern beech. In time this would provide a valuable renewable fuel source, a means of soaking up large quantities of carbon dioxide without adding to the total quantity, considerable amenity value and a good example to third world countries whose deforestation is taking place a few hundred years after our own.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, it has been my good fortune to congratulate a number of noble Lords on their maiden speeches when they arrived in this House. I am constantly amazed at the variety of new Peers, whether they take their place by succession or are created—Peers such as my noble friend who made such an excellent speech, or the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, the biologist, who sits on the other side of the Chamber. The noble Lord who has just spoken has brought to the subject a knowledge, expertise and intellectual quality which do not surprise us. We all knew his father who was a popular Member, and I am glad to see his son sitting on his father's Benches. He gave a speech which contained a great deal of information, including his own personal activity in the field of wood, making tent-pegs, and told us of his interest and study. He then branched off into a subject which I should have loved to debate for the rest of the afternoon; namely, the meaning of environment and ecology.
As a past classicist, I have long been bothered by the misuse of the word "ecology". I went on an ecological expedition—to an area where the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is at the moment; in Sarawak—at a time when ecologists were not even known. I remember Julian Huxley writing to my friend Charles Elton asking, "Tell me what ecology is". The word is now being abused. It is quite clear that the noble Lord knows exactly what he is talking about. He is very much to be congratulated on an admirable speech. Traditionally we say that we want to hear a maiden speaker speak again. We certainly want to hear the noble Lord on this subject. He can be well pleased with his performance.
My chief contribution to this debate is to throw away my speech. Many noble Lords will speak and most of the big issues have now been brought out. I take part in this debate because I have been involved over many years both in another place and in this Chamber with the matter of conservation and particularly the Nature Conservancy Council. The father of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and I together with a number of other noble Lords were responsible after the reorganisation and setting up of the Natural Environment Research Council, when the Nature Conservancy Council was deprived of any right to do any research at all, for managing to put that right, very largely through action in this House. We are now confronted with a worse threat. It is deeply worrying.
In his opening speech the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, touched lightly on the fact that there had been some criticism from certain sources and, he said, support from others. However, I do not believe that the Government can give us the name of any conservation body that believes in this reform—if the word is "reform". It is a backward move and a destruction, as we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, a member of the research council.
Nor am I happy about what the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, had to say about co-operation. There has been no co-operation by the Government on this matter. We know about their extraordinary performance. The noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, 513 and other noble Lords have referred to it. My noble friend who spoke from the Front Bench said that the Government took their decision the day before (or it may lave been the day after) some sort of agreement had already been reached between the Nature Conservancy Council and the chairmen of the regional advisory committees for a reform and a federal solution. I do not know why the Government paid no attention to that. Perhaps when he comes to reply the Minister will tell us what happened about talks between the Nature Conservancy Council, Ministers and officials. They were encouraged by officials to do their own thing.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said that the right place to think of this was in the Nature Conservancy Council. Then suddenly for reasons which an; not apparent unless they wished to get the credit for the decentralisation, which would not have been achieved if it were carried out as part of the general process, the Government made that decision. I think it is absolutely tragic that the Government should have played fast and loose with a system which, although it may not be perfect, should certainly not be destroyed.
I was not a member of the sub-committee which was chaired so very ably by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. The noble and gallant Lord is a little sensitive about its being called the Carver Committee, but I have attended some of the meetings and I am bound to say that he is entitled to much of the credit for this report which the Government have praised so thoroughly.
However, as the noble and gallant Lord pointed out, there are points on which the Government have not been right. There is the item about which there was a recommendation that in the event of disagreement between the councils, where the functions; relating to nature conservancy fall within section so-and-so or special functions relating to Great Britain, the decision of the joint committee should be binding. The Government make a reply of astonishing futility. They say that there is a constitutional point at issue. It is absolute nonsense to make such a statement.
The Government and Parliament are perfectly capable of legislating in any way that they want. This is the last resort of those who do not have an argument. The truth of the matter is that they do not want the joint committee to be a really effective body. They say that they do, but it is deeply worrying that there is no reference in any of the Government's statements about the obligation on the Nature Conservancy Council under the Wildlife and Countryside Act as to whether an issue such as the future of the flow country in Scotland is a national or an international issue.
There is no provision for that in the Bill. It has been forgotten. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will comment on that point. The Government say:For the avoidance of doubt we shall introduce amendments to establish that the Joint Committee can give advice to the country councils and to require the country councils to have regard to it".I can see that in the end this will become a kind of lawyers' fun. There will be great battles. A particular 514 regional council will support some development—for example, in the flow country—and the Nature Conservancy Council will take the view that this is a matter of international importance. Then what will happen? The Minister will have to intervene. There is no clear procedure. That is something that we shall have to look at in Committee.
The other point to which I wish to refer is the extraordinary statement made by the Government which is based, so far as we know, on no information at all, to the effect that each country council must have a strong scientific base. The Select Committee said that that would be considerably more expensive than the present arrangements. It has been stated:The Government has already committed itself to the point of principle. It does not necessarily follow that the new arrangements need be considerably more expensive".I wish the Government would say that they accept that there will be a great deal of expense. I refer not only to the figures of the voluntary bodies but to those of the Nature Conservancy Council. Aided by consultants, it has already produced figures which show increased expenditure, in some cases of £10 million, £20 million or more, in different scenarios. I should like the Government to confirm the statement that they have committed themselves to ensuring that the new organisations are adequately resourced. That is the most important statement that I should like today from the Government.
We shall have much to do in Committee. My noble friend has summed up the attitude of the Opposition. When I speak as a member of the Select Committee I do not necessarily wear a party hat any more than did the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, and others. I beg the Government to answer some of the questions that noble Lords have asked. How will they handle issues of national and international importance without giving authority to the joint committee to do the job that the Nature Conservancy Council has done in the past?
§ 1.51 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I too was rather disappointed at my noble friend Lord Hesketh's speech. However, I am glad that I heard the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, because he gave me hope. From the press and other media I was of the opinion that the Nature Conservancy Council was going to be abolished. That would have been appalling. One cannot foretell the future but it may not be abolished for a long time yet.
I should like to draw attention to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hesketh on Clause 6 regarding nuclear waste. My part of Scotland is favoured by the Government for the disposal of nuclear waste. A very big hill was tunnelled out. It is not on my land but it is not far from me. Local people have not been too happy about it for obvious reasons. Presumably when all the rock has been taken out it will be filled with nuclear waste. I know nothing about nuclear waste, but that situation is rather unsettling for the local population.
I refer to Clause 4. Now that I have heard some of the debate I am comforted, although I could be more so. I was comforted by the speech of the noble 515 Lord, Lord Shackleton. He was firmly of the opinion that it would be a very bad thing to downgrade the Nature Conservancy Council. I completely agree with him. It would be appalling to destroy the Nature Conservancy Council. It has existed for about 30 years. The people at its core are very experienced scientists as regard wildlife. It would be hard to replace them.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Blakenham, whose father was well known for his interest in wildlife. My noble friend takes the view that nothing more should be done about scrapping the Nature Conservancy Council until the new White Paper on the environment is published and then we should try to put the body together more sensibly.
There has always been slight friction between the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. From my experience the Countryside Commission does not always act in favour of wildlife and birds. Quite rightly, although protecting the countryside, it provides places which thousands of people can visit and enjoy themselves. That is very good but it sometimes encroaches on wildlife. I hope that it will take care that when providing places where people can walk they do not affect the wildlife too much. I am all for people enjoying beautiful countryside and the wildlife but if too many do so it can be spoilt. It is a very difficult problem. I do not know the answer.
I have been against planting the flow country in Caithness and Sutherland. I wrote about it to The Times. It is wrong that people should approach rather rich entertainers and others and say to them, "If you give us £50,000 or £100,000 we shall buy you some land in the Highlands and it won't cost you a penny. You can take it out of your tax. We'll plant it with sitka spruce or pinus contorta. You will do very well out of it financially." Such an approach is unsatisfactory because local people do not know who the landowner is. The purchasers never saw the land. The people did not have a landowner who took an interest in them. I hope that that has now ceased.
I am also interested in birds of prey. Some of my fellow landowners in the highlands are not so keen on them, especially the peregrine falcons and golden eagles. During the past eight or nine years 30 golden eagles have been poisoned. I have no idea by whom, but I believe that some were poisoned by keepers and others by crofters. The crofters can be excused to some extent because it is bad luck for them when a golden eagle occasionally takes a lamb. A golden eagle can be a nuisance on good grouse moor if it appears in a grouse drive. Grouse moors fetch a great deal of money from rents.
It is crazy that farmers, encouraged by government, plough up wetlands and then grow various crops. We have now reached the absurd position where the Government are paying farmers a minimum of £80 per acre not to cultivate their land. If the land is rich in nitrogen they will pay even more, which is quite mad.
I wish to emphasise that whatever happens we must not do away with the Nature Conservancy Council because it has done sterling work. I do not 516 object to Wales, Scotland and England being more independent in their regions but when we speak to the rest of the world we must do so on the basis of Britain as a whole. I have probably spoken for too long. I have rambled a little and I shall now sit down.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Lord Lewis of Newnham
My Lords, I compliment the triumvirate of maiden speakers. The noble Viscount, Lord Mills, was most sensitive in recognising many of the problems that will arise in genetic engineering. We all look to the occasion when we shall have unmuzzled the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and he will be able to set forth his real feelings on many issues. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McNair, will lead the House with sensitivity through many of the problems which are part of the centre stage picture of pollution and pollution control.
I welcome many aspects of the Bill. During the past six years the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, of which I have the privilege to be chairman, has studied and reported on three aspects of the Bill. The first was waste management which was the subject of the 11th report produced under the chairmanship of my distinguished predecessor, Sir Richard Southwood. The second aspect was integrated pollution control. It was one of the thrusting points of the 12th report on the BPEO study. The third aspect was the release of genetically engineered organisms which was the subject of the 13th report of the Royal Commission. The Bill incorporates many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and we are pleased about that. A great deal of effort is involved in investigating such situations. It is consoling to see that the Government recognise the findings and that the matter is incorporated in the Bill.
Today I wish to address myself to two of these aspects. Part I of the Bill deals with integrated pollution control. For many years the Royal Commission has argued for a single pollution inspectorate. My noble friend Lord Flowers was chairman of one of the early commissions which generated that concept. The control of air, water and land as a unified concept is extremely important. Cross-control was an important feature of many of the early writings of the Royal Commission. Three years ago the Government created Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution to fulfil that remit. Essentially it is a new way of looking at pollution problems. I believe that it is right to give a leading role to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution in England and Wales. However, I wish to emphasise a point that has already been made. It must be adequately resourced. Clearly, some of the problems which face the inspectorate in its present embryonic stage must relate to funding.
The important feature of the inspectorate is that it has a vast experience, particularly of process control. It is in a good position to decide whether protection of the environment would best be served by the transfer of pollution from one medium to another and whether changing a production process might prevent rather than remove pollution. It can 517 also deal with pollution equipment control, another important feature of the system.
It is most important to consult the National Rivers Authority. Polluting substances discharged into water must meet a standard whereby the water quality objective in receiving water courses is preserved. Under the imaginative and vigorous guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, the NRA has quickly established itself as a firm champion of water quality in both England and Wales. Nevertheless, I believe that it would be damaging to the concept of integrated pollution control for the HMIP's responsibilities provided in the Bill to be diluted. It is important to emphasise the point. We must not allow our valid anxiety for water quality which I believe is very necessary to divert us from the importance of looking at the environment as a whole. For that reason, I regret that the proposed arrangements for the IPC in Scotland are not based on the same logic. Once again, there is a discontinuity.
I turn to my second point about the release of genetically modified organisms—GMOs—to the environment. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution reported on that topic last year. I believe that the Government have acted with commendable speed in bringing forward proposals for legislation so quickly. As yet, no environmental damage is known to have occurred but there are problems, as the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, recognised. The legislation is to be welcomed as an anticipatory move by the Government to guard against possible irreversible damage to the environment. It will help to provide the emerging biotechnology industry with a sound regulatory framework which is tremendously important. During the course of the Royal Commission's investigation, over and over again industry made it absolutely clear that it wanted to know what would be the rules of the game because the rules had not been stated in any other condition. I regard as important any help we can give to industry on this aspect.
However, I have a certain reservation. The Bill makes provision for releases and other activities not involved in releases to be the subject of one of three different levels of control. First, it involves specific consent of the authorities. That is very much a recommendation for the Beringer Committee which we are all very happy to see enforced. However, there are two other possibilities: namely, notifying the authorities in advance of a release or following a special procedure for risk assessment. I have no quarrel with those in principle. However, I am anxious as to whether the Government, when drawing up regulations under the Bill, may immediately allow certain classes of releases to be subject only to the second and third categories.
My belief—and it is also the belief of the Royal Commission—is that that would be premature. At present, every prospective release of a GMO should be subject to the full consultative procedure. I believe that to be very important not only for the safety of the community but also for the sensitivity of industry as a whole. We have not enough knowledge of the possible impact of such organisms on the 518 environment to allow exceptions to that rule. I merely reiterate what the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, emphasised so elegantly.
There are other points to which I could bring attention—public access to information and a need for a public register of those authorised to carry out releases. However, I hope that those points will be developed in Committee.
Finally, I turn to Part VII dealing with the NCC. On a previous occasion I have made my views felt on that point. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, has presented a very good summary of what I feel to be a great danger; that is, the science base as a whole. I shall not amplify upon that now; I recognise that there are still many speakers to follow me. However, I worry about it and the over-view which the major committee will have together with the power which can extend to various divisional-type committees.
In many ways I am happy to welcome the Bill. During its consideration in another place it has been modified. There is little doubt in my mind that the measure will be further improved during its passage through your Lordships' House.
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I apologise to the House for missing the beginning of this debate, which I deeply regret, but I shall read it most carefully. Like other noble Lords I wish briefly to refer to Part VII. My only interest is a lifelong and amateur interest in anything concerning the natural history of these islands, from which I derive great pleasure and knowledge. I have nothing else to declare in that respect.
I strongly support the Government's intention to split the Nature Conservancy Council into three parts. If I may say so, it is time that somebody did so in this debate. I cannot agree that it will weaken nature conservation in Britain. The NCC has made a great contribution since it was formed, but time has moved on and things have changed considerably since that time. It could do a great deal more in the future if it is divided into three parts.
I must explain why I hold that belief. No country of comparable size contains more varied or diverse habitats. In no other area are there such extreme variations in climate, geology, vegetation or, for that matter, human pressures. The problems of nature conservation in England, Wales and Scotland are more often than not quite different from each other.
The bodies advising government on these matters need to be made up of those who have intimate knowledge of each country and whose opinions are respected in each country. To have a Scottish or Welsh sub-committee is not the same thing and is not good enough. Three new Nature Conservation Councils will give more room for more local residents to be appointed.
The present NCC has often been unpopular in Scotland because it was regarded as a remote English bureaucracy. It has often not succeeded in persuading those who earn their living in the countryside that it knew the full story of what it was doing. A Scottish Nature Conservancy Council will 519 have far greater respect and influence in Scotland. We must never forget that in the long run conservation policy is heavily dependent on carrying local opinion as far as possible along with it. If I were a Scotsman—which I am not—I would far rather have advice from Edinburgh than from Peterborough. I also believe that the problems associated with peat bogs in Islay or the planting of trees in the flow country of Caithness would have been solved more easily if there had been a Scottish NCC in existence at that time. Furthermore, sooner or later this country will need to address the concerns of devolution. In my view we shall need to consider a greater measure of devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. That is the kind of activity which could, with great advantage, be devolved straightaway.
I am sorry that the RSPB, for which I have the highest respect and which is a most powerful lobby, cannot see its way to support the Government's suggestion. Were it to do so, there would be many more ornithologists on all three bodies. I do not believe that any one person could be an expert on the needs, let us say, of the Dartford warbler in Dorset, at one end of the country, and the greenshank in Sutherland at the other end of the country. I am sorry that it does not see the increased possibilities which the Bill offers.
A good point was made regarding under-funding. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, referred to that so ably that there is nothing more to be said beyond categorically stating that if the councils are not properly funded they will not work. However, that does not seem to be relevant to the debate.
The whole of the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which we only saw last night, seems to make a great difference and should have reassured those noble Lords who were unhappy about the Government's proposals. It is to be hoped, too, that even the twitchers in the RSPB, when they have read the debate, may think the same.
I welcome the proposed establishment of a joint co-ordinating committee which covers all three countries. That seems to be a very wise way of putting Great Britain's overview on all these matters. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to express my pleasure that Professor Holliday has been appointed to chair the committee. There can be no more experienced scientist; no better person could have been selected and we can have total confidence in his judgment. He is himself a former chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council and for 10 years has been vice-chancellor of an important university. I am sure that that will start the committee off in the best possible way.
We must also be careful at this stage to see that not all members of these new bodies—I understand some names were announced earlier this afternoon—are political nominees. The power of the councils will be greatly increased if all possible interests are represented. As I have already said, there is now room for many more. I hope that those who may at some time give unpalatable advice to governments will not always find that their 520 appointments are abruptly terminated at the first opportunity.
In England we should also be delighted that the Government chose the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, to chair the English committee. Those who have heard him speak and, like me, sat under his chairmanship will know that that is another very wise choice. He is a very distinguished scientist and experienced naturalist and England can at least be certain that the committee will set off in the right direction.
I conclude with a story which some time ago illustrated the difference between England and Scotland in the field of conservation. There is a bird called the goosander which at one time was rightly persecuted in Scotland as a voracious devourer of young salmon and trout. A bounty of half-a-crown was placed on its head. It was a very rare breeding bird in England so it was, again rightly, protected at that time. The story goes—I cannot vouch for its accuracy—that riparian owners on the south side of the Tweed would wave a flag to drive the bird over to the Scottish side of the Tweed. The Scottish riparian owners would shoot it and claim the half-a-crown, giving one shilling and threepence to the English.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, in a debate with 35 speakers of whom we have heard only a dozen so far, and that without a sandwich break, one must be selective. We have had three admirable maiden speeches and I am sure we are all delighted to have three new colleagues who have shown by their speeches today that they will be of inestimable value to this House as a revising, debating Chamber. If I single out my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis it is because I have had the pleasure of working with him, first on ACOPS—the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea—and also when he was a commissioner in Brussels in charge of EC policy on the environment, among other matters.
I propose to concentrate on Part VII, as so many other noble Lords have done, but before doing so I cannot refrain from first mentioning the apprehensions expressed by my noble friend Lord McIntosh about Part I. As with so much of this Bill, Part I does not seem to have been fully thought through. We have had the benefit of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham. I was a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution when the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, was chairman and when we discussed the integrated inspectorate of pollution. Since then other events have prevailed. I am particularly anxious to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has to say. It appears to me that we are repeating in this Bill the confusion, to which we drew attention last year on the Water Bill, between the enforcement functions of the local authorities, those of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and those of the National Rivers Authority.
We all know of the lamentable position of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, despite belated departmental efforts to remedy it. We know that former senior members of staff resigned, and of the 521 lamentable suicide of the director. However, even if future recruitment on satisfactory terms succeeds it still does not, to my mind, remedy what I see as the functional confusion in regard to water-based pollution. I shall not elaborate on that aspect further but will listen, as we all will, with great attention to what the chairman of the National Rivers Authority has to say.
My particular interest in the Bill is, as I said, Part VII. It stems partly from the fact that, together with my noble friend Lord Shackleton, I can claim to have been one of the instigators of the inquiry which was carried out so effectively by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and his team on behalf of the Select Committee on Science and Technology of this House. The terms of reference, as we fully understand, were necessarily restricted to the science base.
However, the Government's response, at paragraph 4.2 of the paper which we received only yesterday afternoon, which claimed that the committee endorsed the official concept of the joint committee of the Nature Conservancy Council, should not be taken to imply that the Select Committee approved of all the details of the status and function of that joint committee, other than those commented upon directly in the Select Committee report. It could not rationally have approved them, in view of the comments made on Part VII of the Bill by the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council as recently as last week. Members who attended the all-party meeting with him and his colleagues have the details of their apprehensions and reservations in the document that was distributed. I am sure that most noble Lords who have taken part in this debate will have seen it.
The document emphasises the numerous uncertainties as to how the proposed joint committee will be able to function in practice. It is to be non-executive and it must depend on the country councils for its finance. It is by no means clear how effective the ring fencing, as it is called, will be. As my noble friend Lord McIntosh indicated, it is far from clear—to slightly change the metaphor—whether it is to provide a floor or a ceiling.
It was all very well for the departmental witness, the director of rural affairs at the Department of the Environment, who appeared before the Carver Committee, to give a smooth answer to Question 9 which was put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Daintor. The joint responsibilities proposed in the Bill are in many respects different from the ring fence position to which one is accustomed in public administration. That is because the responsibilities are divided not only between the three country councils but also between the three Secretaries of State, or at least, according to constitutional fiction, between the three manifestations of one being because, as we all know, the Secretaries of State are regarded as a single personage.
The joint committee will have the last word on which clause of the Bill is to be operative but it will not produce the cash. There are many apprehensions which we shall have to discuss later in our proceedings. They may possibly be misapprehensions about how effective the joint 522 committee will be in practice. It is disturbing that the Government themselves had almost to be coerced into setting up the joint committee. As regards the legislation now before us, it is far from clear how effectively it will be supported.
Our attention has also been drawn to various legal discrepancies between the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission—that particularly affects us in Wales where the two bodies are to be combined—about grant-making and other powers which again are not dealt with in the Bill as drafted. In fact, there are endless details which need attention if the practice for Wales is to be based on one pattern and that for England on another. I speak as one of several Members of this House who are former presidents of the Offa's Dyke Association. Its concerns proceed up the Border, sometimes in England and sometimes in Wales. To whom does the association turn for its advice, its technical support and its grant?
I am in favour of the Welsh pattern on the major issue provided that it is properly financed and staffed and that the Welsh Office staff is strengthened. I am not the only Welsh Member of this House or of another place to feel ashamed by the utterly inadequate showing of the Welsh Office at the Carver Committee inquiry. All that came from the Welsh voice at the sitting of the committee was one sentence only and that was of little account.
The discrepancies between the Government and the various organisations concerned with the estimated financial requirements of this new system are extremely worrying. The Government seem to think that about £1 million will be adequate for the early stages. That is ludicrous by comparison with some of the calculations which have been made, as far as one can understand, by people with reputable experience and resources. On this point one must be critical on many of the details. However, I side with the Select Committee that, for Wales, it is probably better on the whole to retain Part VII and do our utmost to improve it. If we were now to go right back to square one it would be regarded in the Principality as a damaging procedure. I believe therefore that, with all its defects, it is better on the whole to try to improve this part of the Bill than to turn it down altogether.
I am very much concerned about the position in England. Simply to shrug off the suggestion, which is what is done in the response that we received yesterday afternoon, that what is good for Scotland and Wales will not do for England is surely a completely inadequate argument. As the Select Committee pointed out, the English position is completely illogical. Clearly, it cannot be dealt with in the present Bill. It would involve a considerable degree of change as it is a complex situation. It is discouraging to know that there is to be no prospect of legislation emanating from the proposed White Paper until we do not know when. As the Government have suggested that they are not prepared to legislate on anything that is included in the White Paper, I very much hope that they will not on that account close their mind to a position which the Carver Committee itself designated as utterly illogical.
523 There is much to be said for combined consideration of the more specifically scientific aspects of nature conservation and those of landscape, access and so on. What meaning can one attach to the words in paragraph 4.11 of the response that the joint committee should be able to take account of considerations of landscape and of wider countryside matters? Those words "take account of are weasel words beloved of parliamentary draftsmen and of Ministers who cannot make up their minds. They have no real meaning.
I hope that before we conclude our deliberations on the Bill we shall probe very carefully what the Government really think and make it impossible for them to sit on the fence as concerns the English position. I shall take up no more of your Lordships' time, but I foresee a long and arduous Committee stage on the Bill.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, because this important debate is being held on Friday I have to make an apology. I have interrupted long planned engagements to return to London but I am afraid that I will have to leave before the end of the debate—something which I always try to avoid. I shall of course read what is said.
Noble Lords will be aware that I am chairman of the National Rivers Authority. I have re-read the Addison rules. The rules indicate that experience acquired as a member of a public board can often be relevant to a general debate. I believe that that is the case on this occasion. I am also in the happy position of being able to congratulate an employee of the National Rivers Authority, my noble friend Lord Mills, on an outstanding maiden speech.
This is a much more important Bill than some critics have judged it to be. In a field as complex as this, it is unreasonable to think that we can do in one measure all the things that need to be done. There is much to be said for a step-by-step approach and this Bill takes very important steps forward. The Government have been criticised for the reorganisation of the countryside bodies. I fear that they have again been their own worst enemy because of their reluctance to consult responsible bodies before coming to decisions. Having said that, I make it clear that I support the Government in the changes they are making, particularly now that we are to have what I regard as substantially effective arrangements to safeguard the interests, especially the scientific interests, that go wider than those of a particular part of the United Kingdon.
My experience has led me quite firmly to the conclusion that there is a great deal to be said for structures that embrace a variety of responsibilities and which therefore help to reconcile desirable but often conflicting objectives. For that reason, and others, I welcome the proposed arrangements for Wales. I think that these will work well in achieving the best possible balance of environmental interests.
Many national park officers have written to me saying that that is also their view, while the Committee for Wales, the Countryside Commission 524 and the NCC Wales Advisory Committee have welcomed the proposed amalgamation. However, some of the critics have been almost insulting in their view that the Scottish and the Welsh cannot be trusted with such important matters. On a recent "Panorama" programme on television, Mr. Ian Prestt of the RSPB made remarks of that kind which would have certainly offended me if I had been a Scot. By a delicious stroke of irony, the very next shot on the programme featured the President of the RSPB, Sir Magnus Magnusson, saying that he was confident that the new arrangements would be very much better for the cause of nature conservation in Scotland. I think that he is right and I am sure that in his new post he will see that they work well.
I turn now to the central part of the Bill which introduces the system of integrated pollution control. I strongly favour the principle of IPC. However, it is a matter for regret and concern to me that the NRA, which quickly won wide public confidence as an independent agency, should, so soon after the assumption of its powers, see primary responsibility for the overwhelming majority of industrial discharges taken from it and transferred to HMIP working within the Department of the Environment.
My fear has been that the ability of the NRA to achieve its stated objective of improving the quality of the water environment might be undermined. IPC could have been achieved in a number of ways. I regret the fact that the Government did not choose a system which would have given HMIP the responsibility for dealing with an application and determining an IPC authorisation but which would have incorporated a consent for discharges to controlled waters in such a way that the NRA would retain primary responsibility for its monitoring and enforcement. I still think that that would have been possible. However, it was not done and we would do better now to look for other ways of ensuring that the NRA can continue to do its job effectively.
My second cause for concern has been the complexity of the arrangements, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady White, both for the regulators and for industry. It never seemed to me to be realistic to talk of one-stop shops or to assert that the system would not give rise to a great deal of confusion. If I were given more time than is available, I could explain these very considerable complexities. They are now increasingly recognised by industry.
As the Bill has proceeded through Parliament and amendments have been made, many of my fears have subsided. The Bill enables the NRA to set whatever conditions it considers necessary to protect the quality of the receiving waters and requires HMIP to include these conditions in any authorisation that it may grant for operating a prescribed process. That means that the NRA retains in effect the power to set conditions on all discharges to water. Further, the information on discharges to water obtained by both the NRA and HMIP, will be duplicated on the public registers of both bodies.
What is absolutely crucial is that the NRA should not be inhibited from carrying out such monitoring and enforcement proceedings as it thinks is necessary in order to protect the water environment. The 525 NRA's view of what is necessary may not always coincide with that of HMIP; but so long as it has the responsibility for the water environment it must be the judge of what measures should be taken. Nothing that I am arguing for is in conflict with the need pressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham, for HMIP to have overall responsibility for IPC.
I have been encouraged by the assurances that have been given by Ministers in correspondence that the NRA will be able to carry out such monitoring as it thinks necessary and will retain the right to initiate enforcement proceedings unilaterally. Noble Lords will, I dare say, wish to press for such assurances to be repeated in the House. They will also wish to examine the financial provisions which should enable expenditure incurred by the NRA in connection with applications for IPC authorisations for discharges to water, and any sampling and analyses of effluents or receding waters, to be recovered from dischargers through HMIP. The NRA should be able to charge or recover the costs by grant in aid for all the actions it needs to take.
It is no good having the power to do something if it cannot be financed. Clearly neither HMIP nor the NRA will want unnecessarily to duplicate each other's work although there may be disagreements about what is necessary. I have been encouraged by the practical progress that has been made by the two organisations with the object of arriving at a memorandum of agreement of their respective roles; but there are real, practical difficulties to be overcome. I can assure noble Lords that the NRA is determined to overcome those difficulties and make the system work.
There are detailed matters in the Bill to which I shall want to return in Committee. For example, there is (he new provision to enable local authorities to recover the cost of recovery and storage of supermarket trolleys which, in principle, is welcome. We shall need to probe the details of that proposal and make improvements. In Peterborough, in a recent clean-up, 100 supermarket trolleys were recovered from the River Nene. In an average year, 6,000 trolleys are recovered from rivers in the Thames region alone.
The Government's decision to require local authorities to compile and maintain registers of potentially contaminated land uses and to introduce an amendment in the House is welcome, although until I see it I cannot be sure that it goes far enough. I am concerned about closed and long dormant waste sites. We need to be sure that the waste regulation authorities keep the NRA informed of potential pollution. We need a code of practice for the redevelopment of contaminated land. Planning applications should incorporate a declaration of previous use, and the NRA needs powers to investigate and impose conditions. We may need to have another look at the provisions on GMOs to ensure that the NRA has adequate access to necessary information about consents.
Early in my speech I said that the Bill was an important step forward. I am clear that further steps will be needed. Like many others, I eagerly await the autumn White Paper. It is essential that HMIP is enlarged and strengthened.
526 I trust that my expressions of confidence that HMIP and the NRA will be adequately funded will in the event be justified. It is vital that they should be. Freedom may be as important as resources. I hope that we shall see HMIP taken out of the department to act independently like the NRA. That is a necessary step if public confidence is to be maintained. It is also necessary if we are to avoid possible conflict of interest problems where the Secretary of State has to settle appeals.
I have referred to the complexities and complications which I believe are inherent and unavoidable with the present structure. They will inevitably lead to a demand for further changes. I am sure that we do not want to copy the American version of an EPA. The Americans have not achieved an integrated system of pollution control.
It is also a waste of time talking in grandiloquent, generalised terms about environmental protection agencies without stopping to define objectives or to examine the nature of the organisations which might be incorporated in any such authority. The NRA, for example, is not simply a regulator. It is also manager of a major resource—water. I believe that it would be a profound mistake to dismember that organisation and separate its functions. Such considerations have led the NRA to make some suggestions to government about the way in which we might move to a simpler and more coherent arrangement for integrated pollution control and bring together the activities of those responsible for discharges to air, land and water.
There will be ample opportunity to debate all that when the White Paper is published. However, in the meantime this Bill is an important step forward. The House will, I hope, devote its usual skill and energy to its improvement, to make it a really effective and practical measure.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I propose to comment on only three aspects of the Bill.
I have listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has just said (which I shall study carefully), and to what my noble friend Lord Lewis of Newnham said earlier. One of the matters that worries me about the Bill is the impact of integrated pollution control—a good concept in itself—on the work of the National Rivers Authority in controlling river pollution. Last year the Government set up the NRA, to general applause, in order to clean up and regulate our rivers. It has been up and running for just over eight months. As chairman of its Fisheries Advisory Committee for Wales, I have seen a good deal of its work. It seems to me to have made an excellent start, with enthusiastic, highly motivated staff—6,000 of them throughout England and Wales—with expert knowledge and long experience.
In handling river pollution, it seems to me to have shown the right mixture of toughness and reasonableness. It has successfully prosecuted big polluters like Shell, Welsh Water and now Courtaulds. But now its responsibilities for controlling the release into water of all red list 527 materials—the worst polluting substances—and for prescribed processes—a huge list of some 5,000 of these that includes almost all important industrial and agricultural processes—is, as I understand it, to be taken away and given to another body. That is HM Inspectorate of Pollution, a tiny organisation with a minute staff which is not, like the NRA, independent but part of a government department, which has been beset by difficulties, cannot recruit enough staff and has not the same experience of monitoring discharges to water.
To do this seems to me the reverse of sensible. Surely the NRA should be left to get on with the job it is doing well. If HMIP has to be involved, cannot its small staff be merged with that of the NRA? I am sure that all who are concerned about our rivers, and all anglers, will be deeply worried if the Government persist in weakening the NRA's control functions in this way and creating duplication and confusion. The Government seem to have an unfortunate habit of setting up an organisation and then, if it turns out to be effective, hitting it over the head. I hope that they will put this right, as they surely must.
I turn briefly to litter. I welcome the Government's proposals to do something about this. As long ago as 1937 George Orwell wrote:In a crowded, dirty, little country like ours one takes defilement almost for granted … even in the depths of the country when you drive your fork into the ground you half expect to lever up a broken bottle or an empty can".It is still true, both in our cities and in the country. Sometimes one is inclined to despair of one's fellow countrymen. As children, they throw away sweet papers and pop bottles; when they are grown up it is cigarette packets and beer bottles. I give a warm welcome, then, to ICI's new product, Biopol—a biodegradable plastic made from the fermentation of sugars. I have talked to ICI about this. Biopol is still expensive, but it is already in use and when thrown away it can be broken down by fungi and bacteria in a matter of weeks. ICI are to be congratulated. They hope that it will be the first of a whole family of biodegradable polymers. I hope that the Government will promote and encourage the use of totally biodegradable sacks, bottles and containers of all kinds so that the litter problem in the country can be made more manageable.
I must say a word about the reorganisation of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. Up till now, we have had two excellent organisations in this country. The NCC has earned a European reputation for its nature conservation work. It is to that organisation that one turns when one wants expert advice, as I found last week when I introduced a debate in the House on peat. The organisation is not perfect. There is, I think, substance in the criticism that it has been overcentralised and on occasion clumsy in its handling of landowners and farmers, and not only those in Wales and Scotland. And it has got across the Scots.
The Countryside Commission has done valuable work and has come forward with imaginative proposals, some of which I have referred to in your Lordships' House.
528 No doubt some changes are desirable, but there seems to be no case for what the Daily Telegraph called "ill-conceived surgery".
It is not easy to devise the best way to organise nature conservation and the care of the countryside in a country like ours. Various patterns have been tried over the years, none of which has been ideal.
Four former directors of the NCC told the Carver sub-committee that,speaking from direct experience … the two previous re-organisations, in 1965 and 1973, both set environmental conservation back by several years; and these were less drastic and conducted with much greater consultation than is the case with the present proposals.Any major reorganisation surely then needs to be very carefully considered, with wide and thorough consultation, and to be based on a broad consensus of all those involved. Above all, there is a need in this field to carry the all-important non-governmental organisations with it; for example, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of which I am privileged to be a council member, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation and its constituent trusts, the Councils for the Protection of Rural England and Wales and many others. This is where much of the knowledge and dedication are concentrated.
All this is surely so obvious as scarcely to need saying. But the Government announced their proposals with no consultation of any kind. This way of proceeding was so extraordinary, so unprecedented and so shocking that it is not surprising that the proposals were greeted with outrage by virtually all the NGOs, including those in Wales and Scotland, and by most of the staff of the NCC. Nor is it surprising that the NGOs suspected that the Government were doing this largely to punish the NCC, a body they appointed and paid, for criticising them on matters such as the flow country in Scotland and the Cardiff Bay Barrage in Wales, while at the same time giving a sop to nationalist sentiment in Scotland and Wales. Those organisations were alarmed, too, when they saw that the editor of a magazine called Forestry and British Timber had to be firmly rebuked by the noble Lord on the Front Bench for writing that:One of the tasks of the new Scottish natural heritage agency will be to investifgate all SSSIs and sweep away the dross created by indiscriminate conservation,That seemed to them to be letting the cat out of the bag.
Many people hoped that a new Secretary of State for the Enviroment would drop this scheme and start again with a carefully though-out reorganisation. But instead, he has clearly been trying to give it an acceptable face by agreeing to an independent chairman of the joint committee and by making excellent appointments to its chairmanships and now to the committee. He has done his best, but he has not been able to secure anything like general agreement. The BGOs remain unreconciled.
Consequently it would seem better to drop Part VII of the Bill and to set out afresh, with, not against, those who really know about these matters, many of whom gave evidence to the Carver Committee. I am convinced that that would be the right thing to do.
529 The National Trust told the Carver Committee that, "the present proposals for restructuring the NCC should be put in abeyarce"
until a full review had been conducted.
However, the Minister has made it clear that the Government are unlikely to change their course. If they an; determined to go ahead, the report of the Carver Committee shows the minimum that needs to be done in order to make the proposed arrangements work.
As a co-opted member of that committee I should like to thank our chairman, my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver, for allowing me to take part in this important inquiry in such distinguished company. I should like to pay a particualr tribute to our Clerk, Mr. Paul Hayter. Many have remarked upon the speed and skill with which a clear report was distilled out of a huge mass of evidence. The credit should be his.
Yesterday afternoon I found by chance in the Printed Paper Office the Government response to the Carver Report which has just been released. I have only had time to read it rapidly. It accepts many of our recommendations. But some things worry me; first and foremost the key question of resources. On that I entirely agree with what was said by my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. Every expert we saw agreed that the reorganisation was bound to be expensive. I have seen estimates of a need for some 300 ex:ra posts and extra annual cost of anything from £.20 to £80 million.
Scotland and Wales may need a doubling of expenditure. I am not persuaded by the Government's statement that,it does not necessarily follow that the new arrangements need be considerably more expensive.That may be the Treasury's view; but, if the Government insist on their reorganisation and nature conservation is not to suffer, there will have to be much more money. There is no escaping that.
Although I welcome the appointments announced today by the Minister, I am not altogether happy about the Government's concept, as defined in their response, of the relationship between the country agencies and the joint committee, with the independent chairman and independent assessors simply assisting—the Government's word—the country councils.
The Royal Society, which knows what it is talking about in the field of science, told the Carver Committee that:essential needs will be well served only by the creation of a strong, central, independently-funded science group responsible for coordinating advice and commissioning research. This will not be achieved through present proposals for separate agencies".In my view the co-ordinating committee must be made strong enough to enforce common standards, enforce a Great Britain—and preferably a United Kingdom—perspective and speak with one United Kingdom voice overseas.
The Government reject our recommendation that the remit of the joint committee should extend to 530 countryside and landscape conservation, arguing that they have,seen it as being concerned solely with matters of nature conservation".In that case, one must ask, why amalgamate the Countryside Commission with the NCC in Wales and Scotland? I also believe that we were right to argue that the joint committee itself should report annually to Parliament. The Government's reply on that point does not seem to me to be good enough. They are still being totally illogical, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, pointed out, in planning apparently to keep the Countryside Commission separate in England. I know that there are arguments for and against amalgamating the two very different functions, but it cannot be sensible to do one thing in Scotland and Wales and the opposite in England.
Finally, I should like to say a word about Wales. I hope that the Association of Welsh Wildlife Trusts is wrong in fearing that the Government's proposals will lead to,immense confusion, evasion of politically difficult issues and cost-cutting exercises that will be detrimental to wildlife conservation".I myself believe that there is a strong case for Welsh autonomy, provided always that the joint committee is properly constituted.
When I joined the Carver Committee I found that it planned to visit Scotland. I urged the committee to spend just one day visiting Cardiff and offered to arrange a full series of meetings. The suggestion was dismissed. That brought home to me very forcibly how even the most distinguished Englishmen are apt to wave aside the concerns of those of us who live in Wales as peripheral and of little importance. At my request we subsequently obtained a great deal more evidence from Wales, but I began to understand why so many in Wales favour the reorganisation.
The worry is that a small local body will not find it easy to stand up and speak out as the NCC under Sir William Wilkinson has, to its credit and its cost, when it believes that the Government may be adopting policies which damage nature conservation. Provided it has the courage to do that, all may be well. If it comes to pass, all of us in Wales wish the Welsh countryside council and its shadow chairman, Mr. Michael Griffith, well in their enormously important task. It is also important, as the report of the Carver Committee makes clear, that the Welsh Office, which has done so much to promote development in Wales, should be substantially strengthened on the environmental side to undertake its new responsibilities in this field.
Although it has good things in it, this is in some ways a disappointing Bill. It is not the green Bill and the great leap forward on environmental matters that some of us had hoped for. Now that is perhaps put off until the proposed White Paper. We must hope that that will give us a new, strong environmental framework which will enable us to halt and reverse the damage that is being done to so many aspects of our environment. If it does not I am afraid that people will simply by-pass our Government and turn for action to Brussels.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, we have heard most interesting maiden speeches. It is not for me to repeat the congratulations. However, perhaps I may just say how pleased we are to have my noble friend Lord McNair with us today with his keen interest not only in protecting the environment but in seeking to enhance it. We look forward to hearing him on many occasions, not least on this Bill. His father was a very good friend of mine and often gave me help and support until his tragic death last August.
Today we have speakers with considerable knowledge of and involvement in environmental matters. I speak just as a long-time supporter of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and someone with a great love of my land. My interests are indeed British, and I spend holidays with pleasure in Scotland and Wales. I have also enjoyed the beauties of Northern Ireland, and I am not clear why the Province is not considered to need environmental protection.
I speak today because I am not easy in my mind about the way in which we treat our countries. I am worried at the kind of world we seem likely to leave to our children and the problems that they and their children in turn may have to face. I do not think that we are good trustees of the planet Earth.
The Duke of Edinburgh has said that he believes that environmental and population problems now pose a greater threat to the happiness of mankind in the years to come than nuclear warfare. I believe that he is right. I am not convinced that the Government have an effective and comprehensive policy on the environment, and that disturbs me. We look forward with anticipation to the green White Paper, if that is a correct description, in the autumn, but what action will it bring? We are now told that it will bring virtually none.
Obviously and inevitably, any environmental policies will have to radically change habits and attitudes, but, despite many good points, the Bill has many omissions. It does not tackle the problems of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions. Nor does it relate to the need for much greater emphasis on public transport rather than private cars—a point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ross as well as by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—with their disastrous contribution to pollution. I believe that my noble friend Lady Robson may also refer to that point.
When environmental matters are so vital today, I cannot see that it makes sense for the Secretary of State for the Environment to have to spend so much of his time trying to sort out the poll tax problems. Today, green issues are very much to the fore. I sometimes think that the Government lag behind when they should lead.
Disturbing statements are made which I find impossible just to brush aside. Perhaps I may recall a few from the past week or so; first:What was seen as the world's seemingly bottomless pit of natural resources is beginning to run out".It cannot be disputed that oil is not in indefinite supply, nor are many minerals, and nor, over a longer timespan, is coal.
532 It has also been said:Our beautiful world is being spoiled and ruined".There is much truth in that. We live in a convenient but generally ugly age. I acknowledge that people should be our prime concern, not the environment. However, paradoxically, the environment has a great influence on people and must merit our serious consideration. The two are simultaneously inter-active.
Finally, I quote as once before from an article by the Bishop of Dudley, assistant in the diocese of Worcester where I live. He writes:The fabric of this planet cannot sustain for much longer what we are doing to it … The nineties will be a crucial decade for global survival, the time when we nearly lose the world through greed … The world cannot be saved by scientists and governments, but only by a change in human wills, by a conversion of hearts and minds".That was written by an intelligent and responsible man. I find it most disturbing, as have friends to whom I have shown it.
The proposed ban on stubble burning in the Bill appears sensible, but pales almost into insignificance if we see any truth in these words. I am tempted to use the expression that I have heard; namely, that the Government are busy peddling the poll tax while the world runs down.
Do the Government see any truth in the quotations that I have listed, or can they dispel all worry? There is certainly no sense in panic, but the situation is more grave than they accept. The title Environmental Protection Bill may give the impression that more action is being taken than the proposed series of somewhat isolated actions.
If he were in his place, the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, might not be surprised that I return to transport matters. That is a serious omission from an environmental Bill, as I have already mentioned. In the debate on the Queen's Speech, he virtually accused me of being "anti-car". That is quite untrue. I value the freedom that my car gives me as much as everyone else does. But we must accept that, both moving and parking, it can be a somewhat selfish method of transport and a nuisance to others.
Looking through the AA Book of Villages published by Drive Publications Ltd. in 1980, I was impressed by two things. First by the great beauty of all the illustrations, and secondly by the fact that in only one single photograph was there even a distant view of a car. From Abbots Bromley through the list to Zennor, it was only in the picture of Borth-y-Gest that, if one looked hard, one could detect a few cars behind a fine foreground of water and boats. That seems to be confirmation that it must be accepted that parked cars can be a nuisance and spoil the environment.
We believe that we cannot press the Government too often for a much greater concern for public transport and a considerably increased subsidy for British Rail. A massive road building programme would be disastrous for the environment. Virtually every week, even at present, we read of a threat from some proposed road building in a green belt, national park or area of exceptional beauty. Finding the right answer is not easy but while the car is a splendid servant it can be a tyrannical master.
533 Perhaps I might end by briefly declaring my strong support for a dog registration scheme—my noble friend Lord Ross also touched upon this matter—by which the owner of a dog can easily be traced and dog wardens funded. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, may have a lot to say about this matter at a later stage. The idea was defeated in the other place but by so narrow a margin that it should be considered in your Lordships' House and perhaps sent to the other place for a second thought.
A greater control of dog ownership would be valuable first to help check the danger of strays running onto roads and causing serious accidents and secondly to help prevent vicious assaults by ill cared for dogs on passers-by. Recently all too often we have read of vicious attacks being made, particularly on small children. Thirdly, it would act as a greater check on the unpleasant fouling of public places. I was particularly pleased to learn that a dog licensing scheme operates in Northern Ireland and that the chief environmental health officer of Belfast believes that it is useful, while admitting that all the problems following its introduction have not yet been solved.
I have referred to what I see as some of the omissions in this Bill, but I do not wish it to be thought that I do not appreciate the many good proposals also.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, noble Lords will be delighted to know that my train goes in about 15 minutes. Those noble Lords who have to travel seven hours to reach this House do not appreciate business of great importance to Scotland being taken on Friday afternoon. I notice that the Bill seriously affects Scotland and in particular the provision for the future of the Nature Conservancy Council. I think that only two of my colleagues from the Scottish Peers Association are able to be present this afternoon.
In the few minutes at my disposal I shall be able to deal with only one specific issue, to which I hope we shall return in Committee. I mentioned earlier that in Scotland there are now 700,000 hectares under SSSIs designated by the Nature Conservancy Council. I am reliably informed that that figure will rise to 1 million hectares. It is a vast area in which there will be very little development. I suspect that the Scottish people have some interest in establishing an organisation which will have influence in the designation of those areas. They will not readily appreciate being directed from Peterborough. If the experience of the Nature Conservancy Council is anything to go by, noble Lords may understand the desire of the people of Scotland to have their own Nature Conservancy Council and Countryside Commission combined in the new national heritage organisation.
The chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council called a press conference in London some time ago. He announced that there would be no more tree planting, in the flow country. He did so without consultation with the Highlands and Islands Development Board which is responsible for the 534 economy of that area, or consultation with the local authority in Sutherlandshire which is the elected representative of the people of that area. Such bureaucratic arrogance makes it necessary for the organisation to be decentralised. I had rather hoped that decentralisation would commend itself to the SLDP and the Labour Party. Both parties are on record as wanting a Scottish Parliament, presumably with substantial economic and political powers. At the same time there seems to be a degree of criticism about devolving matters concerning the countryside in Scotland. That suggests a certain inconsistency.
I hope that at Committee stage we shall be able to demonstrate that such decentralisation is desirable in the interests of good devolution and good government.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. The noble Lord asked on whose behalf the noble Lord, Lord Ross, was speaking. Is the noble Lord speaking for the Labour Party or the Liberal Party?
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will permit me to proceed. There has been a suggestion that such a device will minimise or reduce the power or influence of the Nature Conservancy Council. I do not often speak in support of the Government. However, they are to be commended with regard to the Nature Conservancy Council. The expenditure on the Nature Conservancy Council in the past five years in grant and aid has increased from£11.6 million to £36.105 million last year. That suggests that the Government are not intent, as has been suggested in another place, in some way to diminish the Nature Conservancy Council. I believe that the Government's proposals are aimed at making the council more effective, more democratic and more acceptable to the people who are affected by its decisions. Having said those few words, I shall run for my train.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, before my noble friend departs, I must detain him for one moment. He must accept that in speaking for the Labour Party I was not arguing against devolution but for a stronger international voice and for a stronger joint committee. I hope that we shall have his support.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I am quite sure that the Labour Party is committed to a policy of devolution. However, perhaps we should see how far we can apply those devolution devices with regard to the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Dulverton
My Lords, I apologise to the House because, owing to exigencies with which I 535 shall not bother your Lordships, I was unable to attend the House until after lunch. I find it particularly felicitous to be following my noble friend Lord Taylor—although protocol demands that I should say my friend the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. On many occasions he and I have discussed Scotland and we see it eye to eye. I wish to follow up briefly many of the remarks that he made.
There are many eyes upon what your Lordships will do with this extremely important and compendious Bill. I hope that it is not inopportune to congratulate the Government on the Bill's most careful preparation in the interests of environmental concern in this country and throughout the world. Despite what many people say, we lead many nations in concern over practical measures in good and positive directions.
I wish to focus on Clause 118 et sequentes relating to the re-organisation of the Nature Conservancy Council. It has attracted vociferous criticisms from a number of quarters, mainly of an English base. With a name indicative of Somersetshire connections, I nevertheless wish to urge upon your Lordships the fact that the merits of the proposed NCC for Scotland are great. Why, with an English name like mine, do I venture to express any such opinion? It is because for about six years I was a member of the NCC's Scottish Advisory Committee. I am proud to say that, when it looked in danger of giving up, I managed to persuade it to continue with the introduction of the white-tailed sea eagle from Norway which was once a native of Scotland. I claim to have won the day and noble Lords will know of the success of the white-tailed sea eagles in breeding naturally in this country.
For 20 years I directed the affairs of a large Highland estate over which the NCC had certain rights. It gave me some experience of an NCC directed from Peterborough, which I was unable to applaud. Decisions were taken which were inapplicable to the Scottish scene and circumstances. Incidentally, today I am wearing my Lovat Scouts tie which has an early connection with Scotland.
I can also claim to have received recognition for services to wildlife and conservation. More importantly, I am in touch with a large number of eminent conservationists in Scotland, all of whom are strongly in favour of the Government's plans for a Scottish NCC.
It is difficult to choose from among a number of distinguished names, but I wish to mention two. One is Professor Fred Last, the recently-retired chairman of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Scotland. He is indeed an eminent man. I have been in touch with him and he thoroughly and emphatically endorses the sentiments to which I have tried to give expression. The other is Magnus Magnusson, KBE, an Icelander who has given such service to this country. He has willingly accepted the chair of the proposed NCC in Scotland. He was an eminent president of the RSPB, which has been rather critical of him. However, he is quite definite in his belief that that is the right course and he is prepared to chair the Scottish NCC.
536 Magnusson says to me in a recent letter:I am totally convinced … that the Government's proposals for a devolved NCC in Scotland, followed by a merged agency, is far and away the best approach".He goes on in that same vein.
With such Scottish and wildlife connections as I can claim, I hope that your Lordships in England—and there are not many here today—will give the measure to which I refer the welcome which I feel sure it deserves.
The final and unconnected point which I make is that I fervently hope that at a later stage of this Bill noble Lords will raise again for consideration a national dog registration scheme, as the noble Lord opposite said a few moments ago. That is greatly desired by many people and many eminently respectable bodies which know about dogs. It was so narrowly rejected in recent days in another place to the dismay of many intelligent citizens.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord Nathan
My Lords, I welcome the Bill. For 10 years from 1979 to 1989 I had the privilege of serving as a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. During that period we published reports on matters which are reflected in Parts I, 11 and VI of the Bill. It is a matter of great satisfaction that at long last those matters are before Parliament for consideration.
However, I feel some anxiety as to whether the main provisions of the Bill will be brought into force. I am very mindful, as will be your Lordships, of the grave delay of many years in bringing into force certain provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 for one reason or another. Last year there was an amendment Bill which passed through both Houses and became an Act. The Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act was primarily concerned with the registration of transporters of waste. It is not currently, effectively, in force because the regulations have not been made. In broad terms therefore this is a good Bill. But it is essential that after all the time and trouble taken here and in the other place, it should be brought into force.
One provision which has not been mentioned a great deal is the establishment, for the first time, within Part II, of a duty of care in relation to the management of waste. The purpose is to ensure the security of the waste stream, to provide an audit trail and an unbroken chain of responsibility and accountability from the stage of production to disposal. That is a matter of great importance: it is very timely that it should be introduced now. The disposal of waste will become increasingly expensive as standards are improved to meet public pressure. With the likelihood of the abandonment of disposal of waste to the sea in accordance with the North Sea conference decisions and the increasing shortage of landfill space, incineration wi1l become more popular. The temptation to dispose of waste in unauthorised ways, particularly by fly tipping which is now so prevalent, will therefore increase. These measures are needed to combat such practices. And the need is urgent.
537 One point which is not made clear in the Bill can perhaps be considered in Committee. It is whether, despite references being solely to criminal liability—the creation of an offence—civil liability in fact arises where a claim is made on grounds of breach of statutory duty. The point needs to be clarified; otherwise it will lead to much litigation and confusion. A draft directive recently issued by the Community for consideration related to strict civil liability for damage to the environment by waste. Consideration might be given to integrating the two elements of liability. I believe it to be practical.
Duty of care is also dealt with in Part VI of the Bill relating to genetic engineering. My noble friend Lord Lewis who chaired the Royal Commission with such distinction has already spoken. I merely want to refer to the fact that the Royal Commission considered that the duty of care should be put quite simply. There should be a statutory duty of care obliging those responsible for the release of GMOs—whether for experimental or commercial purposes—to take all reasonable steps for the protection not only of human health and safety, but also of the environment. We recommended that, in addition to existing liability for damage, any person, or the directors of any company responsible for carrying out a release of GMOs without the necessary licence, should be subject to strict liability for any damage arising.
This part of the Bill—quite separate from Part II—contains elaborate and circumscribed provisions relating to the duty of care. I believe we would do well to look at that and attempt to simplify it. Again, there is the question of civil liability and of liability for damage to the environment.
I wish to comment from a slightly different angle on certain points covered by my noble friend Lord Lewis. There is widespread concern among the public about the development of genetic engineering. This has much potential for improvements in medicine, industry and agriculture. But there are risks. There is public anxiety concerning the manipulation of natural processes. The only prospect of ensuring that a fast developing technique is not stultified by public opposition is to put in place effective regulation which has public confidence coupled with the maximum public availability of information. There is a need to balance that with industrial requirements of commercial viability which may tend toward confidentiality.
However, my discussions with industrialists indicate a full understanding of the need to give priority to the availability of information to the public to avoid the stultification of the whole process coupled with some adaptation of intellectual property protection to which we referred in the Royal Commission report. A very affirmative approach was evidenced by the Patent Office in that context.
A related matter is the necessity, in my view, to introduce authorisation of people to release genetically engineered organisms. There is no such provision in this Bill. It would be odd (would it not?) that the release of genetically engineered organisms should be controlled to a lesser degree than the 538 spraying of insecticides for agricultural purposes, which is now subject to quite stringent controls. It seems to me that the whole question of registration and approval of those involved in releases should be put on the agenda for consideration.
Finally, I refer to our recommendations about public access to information in which there are no provisions in the Bill other than for the advertisement of applications for consent. As I said, the potential benefits which are likely to arise from the exploitation of genetic engineering could be, and I fear will be, frustrated by public opposition motivated by fear of the unknown unless that information is available. Relevant information relating to releases of genetically engineered organisms should therefore be made available to the public before the release takes place. That information must be open to examination and assessment by qualified scientists, perhaps engaged by public interest groups. By those means I hope that we shall prevent the sort of opposition to genetic engineering which, for good or ill reasons, has developed so effectively in relation to nuclear power and atomic energy. I regard this as a matter of the very first importance and I hope that we are able to consider it at a later stage of the Bill.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, the Bill before us is a rather strange creature. Much of its content is useful and important in strengthening control over pollution and nuisances; though it could go considerably further in addressing the significant global threats now facing us and in integrating environmental regulation and assessment more fully. On the other hand, it raises an issue which I feel should have been given much more careful and deliberate consideration. I refer, of course, to the proposed re-organisation of the statutory conservation bodies: the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commissions.
I shall turn first, and briefly, to Part IV which deals with litter. This country has many tough problems to deal with, but litter should not really be one of them. If we cannot deal with litter what can we deal with? It is a serious issue; it defaces our towns and cities, our railways and roads as well as our open spaces and countryside. Litter attracts litter. There are only two ways to tackle it: not to drop it, and to pick it up.
At last we have a Bill that imposes the necessary obligations. It should have happened years ago. There is, however, one further aspect which I suspect would be difficult to put in an environmental protection Bill, but which is nevertheless important. This point was mentioned by the Minister. Our children should be taught at school that to throw down litter is the antithesis of good citizenship. Indeed, they should be encouraged to act as our guardians by objecting to litter louts, and that lesson should be a clear priority in our schools. I hope the Secretary of State for Education will take note of it.
One of the most important parts of the litter provisions in the Bill is the duty imposed on statutory authorities to clear it up. One can only hope that this duty will impinge on the railways, 539 whose record in allowing litter to remain on the track for months and sometimes years without being cleared is little short of a disgrace. The obligations of Clause 86 on local authorities will be immense and clearly if the anti-litter campaign commands general support—and I believe it does—it should have a high priority in calls upon public funds. In addition, of course, local residents themselves can act as litter collectors.
I commend to the Government the example of the tiny Suffolk village of Marlesford. It is a beautiful village and is designated as a conservation area. Marlesford parish council decided that it would have to employ a part-time litter collector or call for volunteers. It chose the latter and there are already 18 parishioners who are prepared to keep the village clean on a regular basis. Their example should be followed elsewhere.
Industry as well as the general public have an important role to play both in investing in recycling and in less wasteful packaging. Both can help to reduce the wasteful use of raw materials and the contribution of such packaging to the litter problem. Perhaps that can be best encouraged by a resource tax which would discourage the use of raw materials and favour improved resource efficiency and the use of recycled materials.
I now turn to the vexing question of Part VII of the Bill which sets out to reorganise the NCC and the Countryside Commission. As I said earlier, this part does not sit comfortably among the other welcome provisions of the Bill. Being very involved with the voluntary conservation movement, I share their dismay at these proposals. It is not just that there was no consultation before these proposals were announced, but that, more importantly, the conservation world is of the firm belief that conservation on the ground will be considerably weakened by this reorganisation.
I am at a loss to understand the Government's haste for this reorganisation and their insistence against all the opinion from the conservation bodies. They would have found the passage of their proposals so much smoother if they had consulted with all the interested organisations and parties before embarking on such a restructuring of these important institutions.
I am pleased that the Government have responded so positively to the recommendations of the Carver Committee. However, that deals with some of the detail. The concerns of the conservationists go much deeper than that and are much more fundamental. I must stress that the voluntary bodies are not opposed to reorganisation; far from it. Many are very excited by the possibilities that reorganisation can create. However, they have been given no opportunity to have an input to these proposals and neither have the Government's own statutory advisers, the NCC and the Countryside Commission, been consulted. That hardly befits such a major institutional reorganisation.
I share the anxieties of the many voluntary bodies including Wildlife and Countryside Links, CPRE, RSPB, RSNG and the recreational users of the 540 countryside such as the Ramblers' Association and other members of the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR). All of these organisations would like to see reform properly addressed in the forthcoming White Paper and within a positive and constructive framework of consultation.
The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) with which I am very much concerned, among many other conservation bodies, is extremely anxious that the extra resources needed to pay for the inevitable triplication of administration by the country bodies will mean less money available for grants to voluntary conservation projects. That is a very real concern, despite the Government's prediction that the new arrangements will not need to be considerably more expensive than the present arrangements.
When we look at the other parts of the Bill before us we see many good initiatives for dealing with pollution, nuisances and, as I have already mentioned, litter. All these proposals were the subject of considerable consultation beforehand. It was only Part VII which was brought forward without any consultation or hint of what was to come. Is it any wonder therefore that the voluntary bodies are dismayed by these proposals? On top of that the proposals were announced on the very day that the NCC had agreed to move forward with its own federal structure for administration.
Recreational users of the countryside such as campers, hikers, canoeists and anglers want to see the best mechanisms imposed to conserve, enhance and rehabilitate our natural surroundings. They believe that the preservation of a beautiful landscape cannot be separated from scientific understanding of the ecology of plants or animal life.
This Bill as proposed will disrupt scientific research and conservation for as much as two years while introducing a reduced and impoverished system. I wish now to address the findings of the Carver Committee which are clearly so important in this debate. The Government have at last responded to the Carver Report. I welcome the mainly positive reaction to the committee's recommendations. At the same time we must remember that its remit was very narrow. Its remit was to examine the science base of the NCC.
The committee stated at the outset that it did not take up a position on the merits of the Government's proposals. So it neither endorsed nor dismissed the proposals laid out in Part VII of the Bill. It was not its place to do so. The Government have taken on board much of what the Carver Committee recommended, though not I am afraid the countryside integration. Of course, in accepting many of the recommendations, the Government also recognise the deeply flawed nature of their original proposals.
However, even the Carver Committee—again because of its limited remit—was not able to follow through the logic of its recommendations. Particularly in countryside matters, the committee, while recognising the importance of including countryside conservation in the remit of the new councils for each country, and also in the joint 541 committee, was unable to elaborate on the detailed countryside functions of the joint committee or the councils, or on how full integration would actually be brought about.
The committee was also in some difficulty in believing that the joint committee could be improved to the extent that it had sufficient stature, clout, staff and resources without effectively creating a United Kingdom-Great Britain quango. I would dismiss the arguments for not creating a United Kingdom-Great Britain quango as misleading and diversionary. The number of quangos created should surely be a secondary consideration to getting the administrative structure right. If a United Kingdom-Great Britain quango is the best solution, so be it.
For all the need for devolution of powers and responsibilities there must still be a United Kingdom-Great Britain structure which can direct the country bodies where national and international priorities should take precedence over more parochial country-based opinions. The joint committee as proposed, even as amended by the Carver recommendations, will have real difficulties in taking decisions on controversial issues, and the recourse to the English Secretary of State for the Environment, or even the Secretaries of State collectively, does not inspire confidence.
The Carver Committee recommended the full integration of countryside and nature conservation. The Council for the Protection of Rural England, for instance, also attaches great importance to the principle of thorough and careful integration of countryside and nature conservation. However, it stresses that this must be done with the utmost care and within a positive framework of all the interested bodies and the Government working together. I still believe, as do the vast majority of conservation and recreational organisations, that these proposals should be removed from the Bill to allow a more relaxed and less antagonistic scrutiny of the best way of delivering nature and countryside conservation in the United Kingdom. The White Paper is clearly the place to start since the Government have already made it clear that they will consider institutional reform in the environmental field as part of that process.
Why preclude the possible establishment of more effective environmental agencies through the White Paper process by putting in place now an array of different bodies in different countries? The arrangements for the evolution of the separate agencies in England, Scotland and Wales are disjointed and contradictory. The delay would not be significant; and surely we are actually interested in achieving the best structures for conservation, not merely the quickest.
The practical problems of marrying the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission functions demand proper consideration and consultation. The cobbling together of an array of amendments to something this important is not the way that such institutional change should be brought about, especially in what is normally the non-partisan field of conservation. Integration requires a new and better mandate for 542 the new bodies, arrived at after very careful consideration. What we have in these proposals is frankly a rushed job.
The functions of the NCC and the Countryside Commission cannot simply be spatchcocked together. The term "spatchcock" is, I feel, a particularly appropriate one here. It is of course a culinary term which refers to the splitting open and flattening out of a chicken or a game bird, which is then grilled. The NCC and the Countryside Commission cannot just be split apart and cooked together under intense political heat. One always has to be careful when spatchcocking that the finished article does not fall apart and that none of the limbs is burnt or disjointed.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, despite the criticisms which have been levelled at this Bill, very much of it is to be welcomed. Waste products created by the human race are threatening to destroy the planet. Every country must learn to accept that fact and must accept its responsibility to deal with the problem to the best of its ability. We may not be among the worst, but we have still a long way to go before we can equal the best.
The aim must be to reduce input to the waste stream at all stages of our activities and to ensure that our consumption of resources is no more than is needed for our comfort. I say "our comfort" at this stage because unless we take that consideration on board it will cease to be for our comfort and will become for our existence. One step in reducing unnecessary waste is to ensure that the cost of waste disposal reflects the seriousness of the problem it causes and thus becomes an important element in the cost of the goods or services provided. The Bill seems to provide a framework for such an evaluation.
However, we must avoid a situation where any form of pollution is acceptable if the polluter is prepared to pay. That was a point made by my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey at the beginning of the debate. The BATNEEC principle—that is, the best available techniques not entailing excessive cost—which has been referred to by two other speakers, could prove to be a dangerous loophole. I have yet to hear anyone explain what "excessive cost" means. I wonder whether the Minister who is to reply to the debate can give us some idea of how that formula is applied.
I welcome the establishment of a system of integrated pollution control. I appreciate the fact that other speakers feel that it is incomplete. Although they have criticised the present structure, there is the potential for coherent control which must be an improvement. However, we need to look carefully at those proposals which affect our fledgling NRA which seems to be in danger of having its wings clipped before it has even left the nest. In spite of the brave words of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I think that that is something we must watch carefully. It is no secret that there are severe difficulties in manning our present inspection services. We need to be convinced that the new 543 service is properly resourced. We have not yet heard very much about that from the Government.
It is encouraging that both the Confederation of British Industry and the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors support the new proposals. But their support assumes that the new regime will make life difficult for unscrupulous operators. It would be most unjust if proper policing allowed the cowboys to get away with lower standards. Legislation which is not backed by proper policing is useless—in fact, it is worse than useless.
Of course, I welcome the proposal to ban straw and stubble burning. It will receive much support in this House. However, the exemptions should not be too freely available and should not be given unless there is no alternative. I hope that the existence of that ban will not prevent the Government encouraging, to whatever extent is necessary, the search for alternative uses for straw. In my view, we owe it to our agricultural industry to give it every support in the need to dispose usefully of the 6 million tonnes of straw which we produce annually.
Extra powers to deal with litter have been welcomed by many speakers. However, they are only useful if local authorities are given the resources to deal with them. There is little point in legislation which creates a situation where local authorities can be blamed for not dealing with litter when government policies starve them of the resources to deal with this and many other vital services.
I support noble Lords who have spoken in support of a dog registration scheme. I trust that this issue will return to the House and that it will receive support as it has done in the past. Not only does such a scheme have the support of responsible organisations such as the National Farmers' Union and the RSPCA; it also has general public support. I do not think that I have spoken to anyone who does not feel that some kind of registration scheme is now essential.
I now turn to Part VII of the Bill about which we have heard so much today. I shall try not to rehearse the facts again because your Lordships have heard them over and over again. I have two things to say about the debate so far. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said—I hope that I understood him aright; perhaps he will correct me if I did not—that the funding of those organisations was not appropriate to the debate. It is absolutely fundamental to the debate. I was astonished that he should make such a remark. I see that he is not in his place so perhaps I shall hear from him later.
In his opening remarks the Minister described the Bill as being designed to achieve a cleaner and safer environment. I should feel a great deal happier if he had also said that it was designed to achieve better nature conservation, but he left that out of his aims for the Bill.
As a member of the Carver Committee, I have naturally read the Government's response with great care. It is encouraging that they were prepared to accept so much of the advice offered. However, the committee was at pains to point out—I do not believe that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, 544 has said anything to contradict that view today—that its scrutiny was limited. The general feeling appearing to anyone who has read the entire report is that the committee "would not have chosen to start from there". In other words, it set out to solve the problem as it found it. I have to remind your Lordships that that problem was not the one originally addressed by the Secretary of State; it was the one created by him. It is obvious to anyone reading the report that the committee took that view. A great deal has been made of the personalities of the chairman and the members of the new joint committee. They are all admirable men, and I am sure that they will do an excellent job. We should not rely on the personalities of the chairman or the members of the committee as the structure upon which we should entrust our nature conservation. The structure must be capable of standing on its own, irrespective of the chairman's personality.
I am intrigued by the Government's commitment to devolving powers to Scotland and Wales. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that it was not their policy during the passage of the Water Bill only last year when valiant efforts made by my honourable friends in another place to create an NRA for Wales were dismissed by the Government as creating duplication of effort and unnecessary bureaucracy. Those are the accusations that have been levelled at the present NCC system. There seems to be some inconsistency. In that case the Government were removing powers which Wales had enjoyed under previous water legislation.
It is now being suggested that those who wish to remove Part VII of the Bill are opposed to giving more responsibility to Wales and Scotland. That is not true. Here I must take issue with my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who has left the Chamber. I was concerned to hear him at Question Time today refer to the 700,000 or so hectares of land which had been protected in Scotland as land that had been sterilised. If that is the view of the new body in Scotland, we are right to be a little anxious. I hope that it is not its view.
It is accepted that some aspects of conservation can be better delivered locally. Indeed the NCC, as we have heard from so many speakers, had started discussions to that end. I understand that it had almost completed its plans, but as far as I know the Government were not prepared to listen. Despite the matter being raised in previous debates on several occasions and in Questions, to my knowledge the Government have never commented on the NCC's proposals and why they are unacceptable. I wonder whether we might have that comment today.
I feel strongly that as we are to have an environment White Paper this year, which is to look at the whole nature conservation scheme, it is ludicrous to press ahead with these proposals. That is the unanimous view of all the major NGOs, as we have heard so many times. I should perhaps declare an interest at this stage as a member of the council of the RSPB. Without those NGOs and their dedicated work, nature conservation in the United Kingdom would be in a sorry state. Their advice and co-operation is vital to the Government's proclaimed aims, yet they were not consulted before 545 these hasty plans were made. The Government's response to the Carver Report was published only yesterday. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, referred to it, but I am not sure that he read out for the record the following extract from paragraph 4.22. I now propose to do so. It says:the opinions for institutional change across the whole range of bodies concerned with the environment are being considered in the context of the Environment White Paper, and the Government will consider the question further in that context".Does this mean that the structure we are now asked to approve is to be reviewed yet again in a year's time? Or do the country bodies—the English Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission—not rank as,bodies concerned with the environment"?Either way, madness lies.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, shares my view that despite the valiant efforts of the Carver Committee to make the best of a bad job, there is only one sane answer: forget the whole thing and start again. Then the legitimate aspirations of Wales and Scotland can be met on the basis of proper consultation with and the support of all those involved in the struggle to reconcile the conflicting pressures on our countryside.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I start by apologising to the House if I have to leave early. I am due in Yorkshire tonight for a dinner and I apologise to my noble friends on the Front Bench if I am not present to hear what they have to say on the Bill.
I am a member of the Nature Conservancy Council and I welcome the Bill. I am tempted to expound my theories on many aspects of it, but it will not surprise your Lordships to know that I intend to refer in my remarks to Part VII, as many other noble Lords have done. I cannot share the extreme pessimism that has been expressed by so many individuals and organisations about the proposed changes to the Nature Conservancy Council. Similar feelings were expressed by my noble friend Lord Norrie. To me, these proposals seem logical. Admittedly, there are and will be many uncertainties which will need clarification. However, I feel certain that as with any major legislation the proposals will take time to work through and we shall find a more effective and efficient operation at the end of the day.
I cannot help wondering what the reaction would have seen from those who criticise the Bill as severely as they do if the country councils were the status quo. If the Government were proposing a Bill to centralise nature conservation in Peterborough, I am certain that the criticisms and cries that we have heard would be considerably louder than they are. There would be cries that the new administration was out of touch with people on the ground. How could the Government possibly conceive creating such a large, unwieldy and unmanageable quango? It is precisely for these reasons that the Government have taken the initiative to put nature conservation on a more localised and practical basis. I congratulate them.
I move on to the Bill. More specifically, it seems to me that the crux of Part VII revolves around the 546 realationship between the country councils and the joint committee and their various responsibilities. As I see it, the joint committee will oversee the science base by setting the common standards for the implementation of nature conservation, including the standards for SSSIs and NNRs, the database and so on. The country councils will then implement those responsibilities. I hope that they will develop their own priorities and their own style, which would be a very healthy situation.
However, there remains one important safeguard. Should a country begin to move away from an important principle or standard that has been agreed by the committee, it could be prevented from doing so by the composition of the joint committee. That is a very important matter.
Voting on the council of the NCC is a very rare occurrence. Generally, decisions are carried out on a consensus basis. I am sure that that will continue to be the case with the joint committee. However, there is an important fallback. I agree that the joint committee should have an overriding power to control the country councils. It is imperative that the joint committee should remain the servant of the countries, as expressed in the Bill. However, I notice that the Government in their response to the report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, state that they will introduce a clause proposing that country councils should take note. I welcome that proposal but I believe and sincerely hope that that is as far as one can take the matter.
Many questions that have been posed in regard to the Bill have been answered in the Government's reaction to the report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I join other noble Lords in saying that it is a pity that we did not have an opportunity of seeing the response a little earlier than we did. I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord and his committee for having produced the report in a clear and succinct manner, which has made the tasks of all of us considerably easier.
I should like to ask my noble friend a little more about the subject of ring fencing and the financial contributions from the country councils to the joint committee. Is it just the staffing and the technical support that will be ring fenced or will it also be a percentage of the full grant and research? I hope that that will not be the case. I look forward to receiving an answer from my noble friend.
On a more general note, it is important that we do not at this stage enter into the question of specific staff numbers for the joint committee. It seems to me that it is for that committee to decide, as it evolves under the new regime, how many staff it will require. Obviously, there will be key staff which must fit into such a joint committee, but I hope that senior management will evolve as time goes on.
Regardless of the details that we may discuss, at the end of the day success must be judged by results. The 1981 Act and the voluntary system were severely criticised by many people, myself included. I made my maiden speech during the passage of that Bill. I was critical of the Government, but I think that I and others have been proved wrong: it has worked 547 remarkably effectively. I believe that the new structure that is proposed in the Bill will be equally successful.
One absolute, straightforward fact is that it will cost more money. I hope that the Government will be fully committed to making sure that the three new country councils can carry out nature conservation in an effective and responsible way, because there is no question but that without proper resources it will not work. I therefore ask for that commitment. There have been many different assessments of what it will cost, ranging from £60 million to £80 million. It will cost a lot, but so be it.
Obviously, the standards of science, the monitoring of change, the collation of facts and the database are intrinsic ingredients of effective nature conservation. If conservation is to work effectively on the ground it requires the constant understanding and diligence of NCC staff. It depends on their ability to creat dialogue and to communicate with farmers and landowners. The NCC has been particularly successful in that field. The voluntary system revolves around that work.
I believe that there is a geniune shortage of NCC staff on the ground. They are struggling even to complete their statutory duties as regards SSSIs. If that work suffers then dialogue, contacts and the whole message of conservation will suffer. I hope very much that the problem can be addressed because I believe that it is at the root of the success of nature conservation in this country.
As many noble Lords will know, 7 per cent, of the land mass of this country is under SSSIs or NNRs. One noble Lord considered that a rather large proportion. It may be, but I am worried that we are developing a nature conservation strategy in this country which will be based on ring fencing. I do not believe that that is the way forward. I believe that we have to consider the wider countryside. I believe that that is self-evident. We need to look more closely at integrating nature conservation and the farming community on a larger scale than at present. That goes back to the need to have people on the ground to be able to implement that policy effectively.
In that connection, there are two amendments to the Bill which I hope that the Government will consider. I believe that it would be very advantagous if there were management agreements in the wider countryside, initiated by the NCC. At present such agreements are restricted to SSSIs. I am talking about management agreements and annual payments rather than grants. That may not require very much money but the fact that such a scheme existed—with the odd sweetener here or there—might bring about a wider involvment of the NCC in the wider countryside.
Regarding common land, I believe that there is a need for the Nature Conservancy Council to be able to enter into management agreements with grazing commoners who are not, in terms of the law, classed as occupiers. That would give the Nature Conservancy Council the opportuntity to resolve 548 many of the problems regarding SSSIs on common land.
I do wish to say much on my final point, particularly as I am standing next to my noble friend Lord Swinton, who is a member of the Countryside Commission. However, I believe that we ought to swallow him up. I believe that the Nature Conservancy Council should merge with the Countryside Commission. For all the reasons given, it makes total sense.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, in order to redress somewhat the balance of the debate so far, I do not propose to refer to Part VII. I should like to concentrate instead on Part II, dealing with the important subject of waste, and Part IV, dealing with the important subject of litter.
However, before turning to those topics, I should like to take up the point raised early in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and reiterated by my noble friends, Lord Ross and Lord Hampton about some of the omissions. Frankly, I was surprised that there was no reference to energy. In my opinion, there should have been a part related to energy. Of all the factors affecting the environment today, the combustion of energy is probably one of the most important. There are available ways in which that can be minimised. During the debates on the Electricity Bill, we spoke at length about the need to promote the use of combined heat and power. There are renewable resources which could also be developed. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, when he replies, to tell us the Government's intentions in that regard. Will they deal with that subject in the awaited White Paper and, if so, will that be followed by appropriate legislation? If not, that will leave a wide gap in environmental protection.
Turning to the subject of waste, the Government are taking an important step forward in the positive treatment of the subject. The imposition of a duty of care under Clause 33 is to be much commended. It is a more comprehensive approach to the matter than has been tried so far. However, there are one or two aspects that cause concern. One aspect which causes me concern and which has been commented upon in another place is the large number of waste regulation authorities which will be created under the Bill. There will be 173 in Great Britain and another 26 in Northern Ireleand, making a total of 199. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply why the Government did not pay greater attention to the recommendation of the committee chaired so effectively by Sir Hugh Rossi in another place that there should be 10 regional authorities based on the successful London Waste Regulation Authority. That would put us on all-fours with Continental countries and would simplify the whole operation. We shall be interested to hear the Minister's response on that matter.
I am much concerned about another aspect of the question of waste, particularly so as I am president of the UK Reclamation Council. We should do nothing which inhibits reclamation and recycling, but some aspects of the Bill do that very thing.
549 Among the members of the UK Reclamation Council is the British Secondary Metals Association whose task is to recycle secondary metals; in other words, non-ferrous metals. It is concerned with the definition in the Bill of waste, under which the association would be included among those who would have to be licensed as dealers in waste, whereas it considers that it deals in and reconverts a recoverable material.
It might be helpful if I were to remind your Lordships of the valuable work done by that secondary metals industry. For example, in the past year it recycled some 1.6 million tonnes of metal and, in so doing, provided this country with £1.5 billion in imports saved or exports made. Reclaimed metal accounted for almost three-quarters of Britain's needs for lead, almost half our tin, copper and nickel supplies and a quarter of our aluminium supplies. From the statement of those figures, it must be clear that nothing should be done to inhibit that development. Yet the current definition of waste classifies recyclers as waste handlers and means that they would have imposed upon them restrictive licensing regulations.
When the matter was debated in another place at Report stage, there were hints from the Government that something might be done about the matter. The EC is also considering the matter. One of my concerns about Part II in respect of waste is that it is more negative than positive. It imposes perfectly proper regulation, but there is insufficient incentive. That point was brought out in our recent debate so ably initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon. So I hope that nothing will be done to discourage people from making better use of waste.
There is also the case of the Borough of Richmond upon Thames which has developed a successful operation in recycling. Under these new rules it would be unable to continue in that direction. That is rather sad. Here is a local authority which has shown great initiative but which can be prevented from going ahead in the direction in which that initiative was launched. That point too was raised in another place.
I fully support the proposals made in connection with litter. For many years I have been active in the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign. I am pleased to note that the work of that group figures largely in the legislation and the supporting documentation. It is timely that we should now approach the problem of litter on a more structured basis than hitherto. The Bill tries to do that.
However, among other things I am concerned about one aspect of the Bill, to which many noble Lords have referred; namely, the question of resourcing. I should like to know whether these admirable propositions, for example in the case of litter, which will devolve more responsibilities on local authorities, will be adequately resourced. Just as noble Lords asked in connection with HM Inspectorate of Pollution under Part I of the Bill, whether it would be adequately resourced, will the new waste responsibilities imposed on local authorities be adequately resourced? I said that I would not refer to Part VII and I only refer to it in 550 this context; namely, the question of the resources required under the reorganisation.
I end by saying that there are some very positive moves in this Bill which need encouragement. In my opinion there is at least one major omission and there is the big question mark on resourcing. If we intend to do these things, we need absolute assurance from the Government that they will provide the necessary funds. If the funds should not be available, it would be far better for us to cut down the amount of regulation and the number of measures that are proposed.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I declare what I now hope is my widely known interest on behalf of British Rail. In the context of this Bill I have also consulted my friends in Tyne and Wear. Noble Lords will know that I am a national judge of the Best Kept Station contest run by British Rail and Tidy Britain. I am therefore aware of the litter problem which British Rail sometimes creates of its own accord but which frequently, as I shall show, has thrust upon it. I am interested in particular in the proposals contained in Part IV of the Bill.
The litter problem for railway undertakings is of two kinds: on stations and on trackside land. In respect of stations, litter stems primarily from passengers—the customers. To a certain extent it can be dealt with by education, which was a theme touched on by my noble friend Lord Hesketh in his introductory remarks. Tyne and Wear have certainly been successful in demonstrating that creating local pride in the underground railway contributes to a solution of the litter problem by pre-empting it. To use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in his excellent maiden speech, one is trying to tackle the problem at source rather than deal with it by crisis management.
When education fails, the provision of litter bins, regular cleaning gangs and even a degree of nudging of one's fellow travellers from time to time can contribute to a solution of the problem. British Rail and most of the transport undertakings of which I am aware are getting on top of the problem. But I feel also that they are a party to the creation of litter in that particular environment. It is therefore fair that its customers should make a contribution to the cost of tidying up.
However, a much more difficult problem is posed by trackside litter. That material is often nothing to do with British Rail or its customers but is third party refuse. In my travels last week I have seen a number of supermarket trolleys—presumably those which have not fallen into NRA rivers—a car, a bedstead, a fridge and more traffic cones than ever graced the M.4 in its heyday. Whatever British Rail does, it does not use traffic cones. The material is usually scattered at random, and is inaccessible on cutting sides or embankments. It cannot readily or immediately be dealt with largely because the safety requirements are such that one must close the railway to get at it.
Hence I foresee problems in particular with the abatement orders which the Bill makes available to individuals and to litter authorities.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, I am anxious to take advantage of his expertise. Does not "relevant land" under Part IV of the Bill refer, in the case of British Rail, only to land to which the public has access? Am I not right in thinking that the cuttings, embankments and so on to which he refers, and which are visible from the train, are not available for public access and are therefore not covered by the abatement orders?
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I shall have to look at that further. If the public do not have access there is a matter called trespass. My reading of the Bill was that the abatement orders could be applied to any British Rail land, even land cleared by the property board but not developed over a period of five or six years.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord should talk to his friends in British Rail. I take the view that if it is not covered in the Bill it should be. British Rail may support that view.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend who has officials there will, in the short term, act as a referee as regards the dispute.
I believe that the abatement procedures can reasonably be applied to railway stations but I should like to see all lineside areas specifically excluded. That is contrary to the view of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. If that is unacceptable, I suggest that the cost of clearing this third party refuse—and those costs are a reflection on the community rather than on British Rail—should be shared. I should also like to be certain that the code of practice that will govern these matters will favour periodic cleaning by agreement rather than emergency shut-down procedures under certain very restricted timescales. I very much look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say on this dimension of the Bill.
I conclude with two questions. One is minor and the other merits a speech or an Unstarred Question in its own right. Clause 76(2) exempts steam locomotives from the smoke emission restrictions. Should we not apply those exemptions to preserved road steam engines and to the small number of preserved steamboats that are around the country?
The other issue is much greater. The Bill sets out to deal with environmental pollution. I believe that grafitti are the most widespread and growing forms of environmental pollution. I am very sad that the Bill does not address the problem.
§ 4.24 p.m.
My Lords, I ought to be frank with your Lordships and confess that unfortunately I have not been able to give this very substantial Bill the detailed scrutiny that it deserves. The reason—not an excuse—is that I have been busy all week trying to get legislation passed to enable women to be ordained to the priesthood and episcopacy of the Church of Ireland. Interestingly enough, it was the female laity who were in the lead in opposing it. However, we made it—so let no one say again that 552 the Church of Ireland is the most conservative province of the Anglican Communion.
Turning from the ecclesiastical environment to the protection of the secular environment, I welcome the Bill. However, perhaps I may confine myself to the subject of exhaust emissions. In my view, commercial diesel vehicles present the greatest hazard in terms of atmospheric pollution and noise nuisance. Perhaps I have missed something in the Bill but I have seen nothing to satisfy me that it will impose sufficient control on that hazard.
I turn to a point which I have mentioned before in this House. I continue to adhere to the view that Her Majesty's Government should do all that they can to encourage as much freight and passenger traffic as possible to go by rail rather than road.
In contrast, there is the importance of preserving in working order examples of historic machinery. There is a vast amount of traffic on the roads and, I am glad to say, on the railways, but the contribution of historic machinery towards pollution control is minimal. I well remember the 1950s when the majority of rail working were steam hauled. I welcome the fact that there are now more steam workings than there were 20 years ago. However, they are so limited that their contribution towards pollution control is insignificant.
I welcome Clause 76(2)(3) because as originally drafted in another place it referred only to emissions of steam. Smoke from railway locomotives has been added and that is to be welcomed. I hope that the provision covers all exhaust emissions including ash and various sulphurous gases. I wonder whether the term "exhaust emissions" would better cover the entire point.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, that logically the provision should apply to traction engines, steamrollers and the few coal-fired steamships which now exist. I suggest that it should also apply to stationary engines in which there is an increasing interest; that is, steam, gas and oil. Being at a constant speed they are clean running and their owners take a pride in the fact that they are so. Their owners do not wish to be embarrassed by seeing clouds of black or blue smoke belching out of the engines. Perhaps there is a case for tabling an amendment to the Bill. I do not know whether the Minister wishes me to deal with the point now or to table an amendment. I believe that traction engines, steam-rollers, steamships and stationary engines should be included if that clause in the Bill is to be logical.
At the risk of being considered opportunist and of wearying noble Lords who already know about it, I wish to refer briefly to leaded and unleaded petrol. Lead was introduced as an additive to petrol in the 1920s. At that time maximum revolutions per minute for most engines did not much exceed 3,500. However, by the late 1930s they had risen to a great extent and therefore lead became more essential for engines revving up to about 5,000 per minute in order to prevent exhaust valve seat recession. That can be a very serious problem in the case of cast iron cylinder heads and, in the case of side valve, cylinder blocks.
553 Even more necessary is lead in petrol for the post-war classic cars such as the C-type and D-type Jaguar, the Cooper-Bristols, the Fraser-Nashes, Aston Martins and so on. The aluminum heads are not quite as subject to the same problem. However, with the absence of lead in petrol, many of those cars could find that the cylinder heads would be so eroded that they would become scrap. Unfortunately, new cylinder heads are not available for them.
Therefore, in view of the fact that the additives so far on the market have not proved entirely successful, although they help to a certain extent, I ask that there should be a concession on the use of leaded petrol for cars built before a certain date. That date should be fairly recent because it is only recently that manufacturers have been consciously designing cars to take unleaded petrol. I believe that there should be a concession and that leaded petrol should continue to be allowed to be used for cars which are part of our heritage and part of the transport collection in this country, which is something of which we can be proud.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, tempts me into discussing with him the emissions of diesel and other engines and the use of leaded and unleaded petrol. We may debate that as we proceed through the various stages of the Bill. However, I shall resist that temptation this afternoon save to say to him that the motor and oil industries have taken on board over recent years much of what he said and have been driven to some extent by the European Commission directive on fuel emissions.
While the use of the catalytic converter in three years' time on all new cars will only make a small contribution to the problem of motor vehicle emissions, it will make that small contribution while further work continues by the industry, in particular on the design of engines and so on.
Having said that, I want to say a few brief words on Part:; I and II of the Bill particularly because I believe that there is a conflict of interest between Parts I and II. Part I makes certain provisions for waste and yet Part II puts the responsibility for its disposal into another area altogether. That seems to me to cause confusion both for the polluter and for the disposer of such waste.
Part II sets out provisions for the control of waste management. In fact, it provides that the licensing enforcement of the complex system remains a function of local authorities. On 9th May the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, said to your Lordships:voluntary co-operation will lead to greater consistency in waste regulations".He argued:We must not disrupt local authorities just at the time when they are being given the tools to do the job".—[Official Report, 9/5/90; col. 1394.]I find it rather difficult to reconcile that statement with the fact that some 173 authorities, each with the enabling power to produce its own rules and regulations, will provide for the kind of consistency 554 for which I am quite sure we are looking. We shall undoubtedly return to that topic at a later stage.
I turn now to two elements in Part IV of the Bill, and in particular to those provisions which deal with the general subject of litter; that is, Clauses 87, 90 and 91. I totally accept the work that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has done through his involvement in and leadership of the Keep Britain tidy campaign. I also accept what he said regarding resources because the Bill provides that retailers, in common with occupiers and owners of commercial land—a point made in greater detail by my noble friend Lord Mountevans when speaking of British Rail—have a duty to keep their land clear of litter.
That will undoubtedly place a heavy financial burden on the business community. We should remember that, with the introduction of the uniform business rate, there is an additional burden. It has long been thought that the rates should look after that element of our local environment. Additionally, business pays yet another fee for the clearance of certain types and quantities of normal trade refuse. We need therefore to look carefully at how the work is to be resourced.
When the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, opened his remarks he was fairly complimentary in his first paragraph, as I am sure we will see when we read Hansard tomorrow. He then went on to say, "From now on I shall have to be somewhat critical". I am not concerned about that because I am sure he will accept that it is the duty of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition to oppose, criticise and put forward alternative suggestions. I do not mind that.
In his discussion of street and general litter, the clearance of which was to be the responsibility of the local authority, he said, "I am a little worried that the local authority de facto will become a police force without the necessary powers", or words to that effect. I share his concern in that regard but I have a wider concern. I believe that there is already too great a proliferation of uniformed personnel on our streets. They come from house detectives in big stores in uniforms with badges, whistles and numbers on their epaulettes; they come from the security services; they come from wardens. Westminster council has now developed its own traffic warden system. We do not know who has authority and power and who has not. Before we know where we are the entire streets will be covered with uniformed personnel, and I do not like that idea at all. I shall want to consider that aspect when we come to that part of the Bill in Committee.
My noble friend the Minister described the changes in penalties for infringement by businesses. The proposed law would contain an increase in penalty from £2,000 to £20,000. He said that that would provide some incentive to comply with the law. He then described how the fine for an individual would be substantially enhanced from £400. He said that by hitting the wallet we may make people more responsive to the proper requirements of society. I am sorry that my noble friend should place that kind of emphasis on the punitive side rather than the other side; that is, the encouragement that business already gives to the collection of refuse and refuse 555 thrown down by other people. We should have another look at some of those penalties.
Finally, Clause 93 provides for the control and return of shopping and luggage trolleys. It is sad that we find them scattered all over the place. Clause 93(1) provides that a local authority may resolve that Schedule 4 is to apply. The subsection continues:and if a local authority does so resolve, that Schedule shall come into force",and so on. However, subsection (3) goes on to say:It shall be the duty of a local authority from time to time to consult about the operation of Schedule 4".Those two subsections do not sit happily together because the implication is that the authority shall consult about the control of trolleys, and so on, but subsection (3) does not say that the authorities must consult before they resolve to do that which is provided for in the earlier subsection. That seems to me to be grossly unfair.
Similarly, paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 4 states:The local authority, in fixing the charge to be paid … shall secure that the charges so payable by claimants",and so on. There is no suggestion of guidelines or a code as to what such charges should be. We have debated in this House on many occasions the rights of local authorities in making charges. Therefore, we shall need to look further at that provision.
I am sorry, in general terms, that the Bill attempts to cover so many issues. There is a proliferation of regulation-making powers through the Secretary of State, local authorities, and so on. In common with other noble Lords, I am fearful that there will not be adequate resources to implement the law and that the law will then fall into disrepute as so many laws in the area of pollution control and litter have done. That would make a nonsense of even your Lordships' very best endeavours over the next few weeks.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, the scene in our planetary environment is that of a sea infested by sharks. This Bill would suggest that the Government are fishing for them with a bent pin. As my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey and others have pointed out, the Bill is much more noteworthy for its omissions than for what is included in it.
The Bill is supposed to be an environmental protection Bill. Can we protect the environment without doing anything about global warming, about the import of toxic waste—on which I had a Question earlier today—or about dumping in the North Sea? As my noble friend, and others, have said, can we do anything serious about the threat to the environment without including measures concerning energy and transport? Can we do anything serious about the environment without even mentioning CFCs?
I point out to the noble Lord who is to reply that a Bill, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, to outlaw CFCs and other gases by certain specific dates, has passed through all its stages in this House. No doubt that Bill will be buried in another place. We hope to use it as the basis for 556 relevant and direct amendments of the Bill that has been introduced.
I know that certain measures have been taken to introduce what is known as a comprehensive, integrated pollution control. However, as has been asked constantly throughout the debate, when will the Government tell us whether they are going to provide the essential resources for the implementation of a genuine integrated pollution control? Even if they do, the philosophy is that you regulate pollution, you do not prevent it. That philosophy is not accepted by any genuine environmentalist.
An apt description of the Bill was given by a spokesman for Greenpeace, Mr. Colin Hines, who said:The United Kingdom is home to the largest source of deliberate radioactive pollution in the world, Sellafield; produces more ozone-destroying chemicals than any other country in Europe and it is the only country dumping chemical and sewage sludge waste in the North Sea. Fining the litter louts will not solve these problems".Earlier today I asked the appropriate Minister about the future of THORP which directly comes under the question of waste. He told me that THORP at Sellafield would be dependent for two-thirds of its input on imports mainly from Germany and Japan. In Germany, particularly in Bavaria, local public opinion has forced the government to abandon plans for reprocessing nuclear waste. It will be sent to Britain. The British Government's excuse is that it will help our balance of payments.
We are bolstering our revenue and our treasury at the cost of the health of people in the Sellafield area where, as I hope the noble Lord knows, the incidence and degree of leukaemia, particularly among children, is much higher than in any other part of the country. Below the surface of the Bill there flows a continuous stream of Conservative dogma and ideology. That can be see in the emphasis on the free market; the antipathy to local democratically-elected authorities and spending for the public interest; and the protection of powerful vested interests. Conservative dogma and ideology can be seen particularly in the clauses concerning commercial confidentiality and, as has been mentioned by numerous speakers, in what is meant by excessive costs.
Those are precisely the policies, the measures and the actions which have caused the environmental pollution and the menace to our planet that we see today. The dependence on the free market, the search at all costs for profit and the philosophy which puts cost above safety are the policies which have produced the dangers that we now face. If the Bill continues to be based on that philosophy, not only will it not succeed in even its minor role but it will contribute to that public opinion which, unfortunately, over the past 10 years, has come to put money and money issues before social health.
Various responsibilities are placed on local authorities. How can they find resources for inspectorates and for the various measures they are expected to put into practice—not least on litter, waste and so on—when at the same time the Government are capping the poll tax? It does not 557 make sense. From where will they get the resources? The Government say that local authorities cannot get them above a certain limit from the local community. From where will they get them? Will the Government provide them? We are entitled to an answer today.
The Bill is nothing more than a ragbag of measures camouflaged to deceive the public that the Government are genuinely concerned with the environment, despite the number of times the Government have blocked environmentally benign measures at international conferences. Indeed, they have continued to do so over the past few weeks. At its very best the Bill is peripheral to the real and accelerating menace to our planet. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will accept the principle laid down by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, when introducing the debate on his report. It has become known as the precautionary principle—giving the environment the benefit of any doubt and not using the argument that we cannot do anything until it is absolutely established.
I have no doubt that the Government will say that a good many of the things mentioned by noble Lords will come out in the White Paper. I want to ask one direct question. When will the White Paper be produced? Is it the case that it will be produced in time for the Conservative Party conference, or will it be produced in time for inclusion in the next Queen's Speech of legislation which will come before Parliament during the 1990–91 Session? I think, I believe, and I am certain, that we have a right to a direct answer today. If it is the case, as has been suggested, that the Government intend to prepare the White Paper and to launch it at the Conservative Party conference, it would be a scandal and a disgrace. We are entitled to know whether we can expect legislation from the Government in the next Session of Parliament.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Layton
My Lords, as usual in any debate on the environment, I have to declare an interest. I am a director of a small company concerned with research and development into a container for the transport and storage of toxic waste. I am also a director of an environmental consultancy.
It was with some sadness that I listened to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, during the debate tabled in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, on 9th May on the case for a national environmental waste policy. He said:I do not believe that the Bill is very important … and the subject must be treated as a high priority by the Labour Government which will be elected at the next election".—[Official Report, 9/5/90; col. 1387.]I am saddened that the common cause of the preservation of the environment may be degraded by partisan wrangling and also that the noble Lord could consider any environmental legislation unimportant. It is the function of this House to ensure that the weaknesses of the Bill which are apparent to all sides, as indicated in this and previous debates on the environment, should be firmly 558 addressed and rectified in the Bill's progress through the oncoming Committee and Report stages.
As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, also said in that speech (at col. 1387 of Hansard):the Government will be surrounded by well-informed and very able critics … I do not mean faced … I mean surrounded in the sense of the Cross-Benchers and the Minister's own Benchers".That has been very ably shown by the quality of the debate today.
There is a great deal of work to be done on the Bill and much has already been done in Committee in another place. There are 27 new clauses and five new schedules in the Bill before us today. The Bill has increased from its original length of 147 pages to its present total of 207 pages. There are still considerable problems to overcome. Problems to which we must put our very best efforts to correcting in this place.
This is a framework Bill and an enabling Bill. In many ways it is also a strategy Bill, though at times the strategy is vague and disseminated. What the Bill lacks or is most unclear about are tactics and logistics, to continue the military metaphor.
I should like now to consider some of those problem areas, although they have all been mentioned at some length during the debate. They are areas which have also received the most prominence in every briefing which I, and I am sure many other noble Lords on all sides of the House, have received from such bodies as the Chemical Industries Association, the National Association for Waste Disposal Contractors and the Commission for the Preservation of Rural England, to mention but a few. They are also anxieties which have been widely voiced in private discussions that I have had with well-informed and concerned individuals. The main thrust of everything that I have to say is about resources.
The concept, the strategy of integrated pollution control, has been widely praised from all directions. As the Government have said on many occasions, it is a step forward that other countries can look to as the best direction that their own policies should take.
But that is where the praise stops. I shall now outline the problems of IPC which are not sufficiently dealt with, or dealt with at all, by the Bill. As I said before, they are problems which have already been covered to some extent during today's debate. I refer to resources both in finance and in manpower.
How can you have IPC, or a system of IPC, for the licensing and enforcement of the most complex system, which covers the whole waste management cycle, rather than a simple focusing on disposal, as it is under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, where licensing and enforcement remain functions of local authorities (the waste regulation authorities of this Bill) of which there are 199 in Great Britain each operating a system in its own small area? As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out, among other things, how will they have any consistency?
A production of 199 district disposal plans will simply not be able to deal with the problem on either a regional or a national level. How are they to deal 559 with the need for national or regional facilities? Not every district needs an incinerator, for instance, which means that movements of waste are necessary to fill varying capacities. What happens to the Government's concept of self-sufficiency? There will be as much, if not more, NIMBYism than ever before. For example, in Scotland and Wales where district councils will be the WRAs, the range of scientific, technical and legal skills necessary to operate the new system will not be available to every authority. Does that burden then pass to HMIP? Let me quote some eminent reports on the subject. Paragraphs 14 and 15 of the April 1989 report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology states:Local authorities lack two essential tools for carrying out their duties: staff resources and information".It continues:The decision to split disposal and regulation functions is also going to exacerbate the situation. Unless the number of competing authorities is reduced, many will have inadequate staff (both inspectors and scientific support staff) in small departments with low status and poor career prospects".Paragraph 123 of the second report of the Environment Committee of another place in February 1989 had the following comments to make on staffing and resources:The Institute of Wastes Management provided us with evidence of the resources available in a number of authorities in relation to the size of the waste management task. It is clear that the majority of DWAs have very small teams of staff; and some are extremely small. These very small authorities cannot possibly have access, in-house, to the range of disciplines necessary for effective waste management. Of the 39 English DWAs for which the IWM provide information, 18 employ 4 or fewer waste disposal officers. Only 5 employ 10 or more staff. The LWRA, whose professional competence was universally applauded and whose Chairman and officers were impressive witnesses, operates in a completely different league with a staff of 86, of whom 58 are qualified waste management officers".One solution is to put a regional basis for controls on the face of the Bill. The Government have rejected that form of integration at every opportunity, feeling that waste management is a local issue, and to achieve self-sufficiency should be left at that level. The way that the system is structured at the moment, it is almost inoperable.
My noble friend Lord Hesketh has talked about that regional question. In his speech on 9th May in the debate introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, he said:Running alongside all those measures to raise standards, there will also be encouragement for authorities to co-operate in voluntary joint arrangements for waste regulation…. I am convinced that the associations will play their full part in formulating voluntary regional arrangements. Indeed there has already been some co-operation between authorities".—[Official Report, 9/5/90: col. 1394.]I hate to say it, but the evidence would seem to indicate that such voluntary associations are anything but popular with HMIP or the authorities themselves. South Yorkshire, Sheffield and Doncaster are considering withdrawal from their group. Who is to stop them? Experience with the Welsh regional groups demonstrates that individual authorities may well also refuse to accept advice from their regional group. That is not a great confidence booster for the concept of voluntary regionalisation.
560 Every authoritative document on waste management has come to the same conclusion. The responsibility must be national, regional and local and contained in legislation. The idea that waste management can be standardised by the application of voluntary principles has been proved to be inadequate again and again, and no amount of hoping will change that.
I should like to ask about the relationship of Parts I and II of the Bill, as once again the indication is that the Government have not considered the logistics deeply enough, and it would once again seem to be a resourcing problem at the end of the day. It is a situation that has been talked about previously; but I should like to emphasise it again as a problem that has to be resolved. I shall quote the brief I received from NAWDC as it puts the problem most succinctly:Part I introduces integrated pollution control (IPC) for prescribed processes and prescribed substances, applied by authorisations granted by a Chief Inspector … or, in cases to be designated in respect of air emissions only, by a local authority. IPC is intended to control pollution caused by the release of substances into air, water or land. But, most substances released into land are likely to be waste materials—which are to be dealt with under Part II of the Bill".In the other place the Government have made clear that certain waste disposal facilities, such as incinerators above a specified capacity, will become prescribed processes. They would not require waste management licences under Part II of the Bill. That was a helpful clarification, but there are still likely to be anomalies arising from the interface of Part I and Part II. For example, special waste may be produced by one authorised activity controlled under Part I; it will be notified, and will travel under Part II controls, in order to be disposed of by another authorised activity controlled under Part I. This all adds up to more manpower, more work, more money, none of which I am opposed to. However, why are the Government so adamant that the financial provisions and personnel commitments contained in the Bill are adequate when it is patently obvious that they are not?
The effectiveness of the powerful controls introduced by the Bill will depend crucially upon the financial and manpower resources available to HMIP, the Department of the Environment and the waste regulation authorities. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum estimates that for HMIP an additional 15 posts are necessary for IPC; and 70 to 75 per cent, of the budget is to be covered by charging for IPC authorisations. No additional staff are envisaged for HMIP duties under Part II—auditing WRAs, preparing technical guidance—although three are proposed for the hazardous waste inspectorate in Scotland. For the Department of the Environment, an additional 10 posts will be needed to deal with appeals under Parts I and II. For WRAs, extra regulation costs will be covered by charges. There is no reference to staff numbers.
I view the estimates with considerable scepticism. The difficulties which HMIP has had in obtaining and retaining staff have been well publicised. The Sunday Correspondent of 10th December 1989 had the banner headlines: 561Crisis grips green watchdog … Pollution agency in chaos as staff quit".There is no indication that the Bill will improve the situation, especially in light of the additional tasks that will be undertaken by HMIP, the DoE and the WRAs.
No additional staff are envisaged for the audit role under which HMIP will examine the performance of WRAs to enable the Secretary of State to carry out his functions under Clause 65(1)—to keep under review the discharge by the WRAs of their functions. Similarly, no additional resources will apparently be available to prepare guidance in the form of waste management papers for the purpose of Clause 34(8)—the discharge of the WRAs' functions in relation 1o licences.
The additional 10 posts for the Department of the Environment to handle appeals will undoubtedly be necessary. However, Part II alone contains 16 regulation-making powers: 13 powers to give directions, and three powers to give guidance. The enabling nature of the Bill is necessary in view of the continual development of knowledge about the nature, causes and consequences of environmental pollution. However, no allowance has been made for the preparation and production of the secondary legislation which is envisaged and which will call for significant technical, administrative and legal resources within the DoE.
The assumption that the WRAs have adequate staff already is simply not valid. If each of the WRAs were to seek to employ the full range of skills necessary, it is doubtful whether the supply exists anyway.
The implication of all this is clear. There has been a long-standing shortage of manpower at a local and national level to enforce the existing regulations. Under the Environmental Protection Bill the whole business becomes much more complicated, both at a local and a national level. In addition, under the Environmental Protection Bill three authorities—the waste disposal authority, the waste regulatory authority and the local authority waste disposal authority—will be created; there is now one: the waste disposal authority. It would be naive to assume that there will be a tripling of manpower requirements to service these, but it is inevitable that significantly more manpower is required—perhaps even a doubling of requirements.
In addition, the concept of integrated pollution control will impose a significantly increased burden on Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. Included in that responsibility may be such matters as monitoring the prenotification and manifest documents which accompany shipments of special wastes. On a reasonable assumption that major waste disposal facilities receive more than 1,000 notifications each year, a considerably increased resource would be necessary within HMIP simply to take over that function from the waste disposal authorities—for those are the major waste management facilities which fall under IPC.
We are all anxious to ensure that waste management, which is an environmental protection service, is properly regulated and controlled. The 562 provisions of the Bill, if fully and effectively implemented, should do so. But I have serious reservations about whether the organisation and resourcing in finance and manpower will be capable of carrying out the task.
The Government talk a great deal about market forces in the waste management business. I tend to talk about what the Government have to say about market forces. Market forces over the years, combined with a lack of knowledge and direction, have created the current problems. The only way in which market forces can be constructively used for environmental improvement is within a strong framework of regulation, monitoring and enforcement.
I am very glad that the duty of care, the cradle to grave principle, appears in the Bill, as outlined in the second report on toxic waste of the Environment Committee of another place. There is no assumption of voluntary commitment, although there are many associations which have that responsibility in mind. The duty of care is an essential part of the framework in which the constructive operation of market forces can go forward. The implementation of regulations, monitoring and enforcement, are other tasks for the already swamped HMIP, WRAs, and the Department of the Environment.
The Bill, when it becomes an Act, will go nowhere if there is not a serious reconciliation of the jobs to be done and the resources that are necessary to attract personnel of the required standard.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ The Earl of Shannon
My Lords, the Bill demonstrates three sentiments: the chiding of the offender, the brutalising of the vulnerable, and the politic of slamming the door after the horse has bolted.
Statistics speak for themselves. Officials of the United Nations environment programme state that approximately 2,500 million tonnes of waste are disposed of every year in countries of the EC. Hazadous waste represents 20 to 30 per cent, of the world's manufacturing waste. British business and the manufacturing industry produce approximately 50 million tonnes of solid and drummed waste. To that figure must be added some 2 billion tonnes of liquid effluent, wastage of raw material, water and energy. However, those are only the most obvious figures.
These horrific tablets of conservatively estimated waste production lead me to say that in no schedule, clause or sub-paragraph in the Bill am I able to glean one positive cohesive response to the desperate pleas of the Bergen conference for governments to put politics and vested interests aside for the sake of the environment. I say that because a senior official of Directorate General XI of the EC states:Waste is now the priority environmental issue for the foreseeable future from any point of view".The same official added:Self-sufficiency, in operational terms, means that the problem is not transferable and that a solution to the problem cannot be found at somebody else's expense".563 The plea of the Bergen conference and the thought-provoking comments made by the EC official were central themes in my short debate on 9th May last when, with me, other noble Lords considered my call for a national environmental waste policy.
The shortcomings of the Environmental Protection Bill and the appalling abuse of natural resources in this country persuade us all to reconsider the depth of meaning of the Prime Minister's Royal Society address when she referred to experimenting with the systems of this planet earth. I hope that the directors of Britain's 850,000 waste-producing companies are mindful of what the Prime Minister said to all, and that the same directors will remember the words of the European Commission spokesman and the spirit of the Bergan conference.
On 23rd April, shortly before my debate, it was my privilege to host a conference here on the theme of the need for a national environmental waste policy. That theme was the same as that of my debate, to which I have just referred and during which the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and other noble Lords kindly made encouraging references to that conference. I am glad to hear that the report of the conference is being published jointly by the research association of the paper and board, printing and packaging industry (PIRA) and Strategy Europe Limited. The conference was attended by distinguished guests and eminent speakers from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the European Commission and the Government among many other specialist and scientific contributors.
Out of that conference, and also out of an important survey of the waste industry which I had requested, came a clear call for a national environmental waste policy, to be developed through a new proposed and potentially effective organisation to be called the National Council for Environmental Waste Policy.
The Minister, the noble Lord. Lord Hesketh. wondered whether there was a need for such a new body. He believed:The CBI and the CIA … already produce excellent guidance on waste management for their members"— [Official Report. 9/5/90; cols. 1397–1398.]I assure the Minister that there is a need for the proposed new council as, unlike the CBI and the CIA, it would not have vested business interests and would represent all quarters with the public's health and well-being at the forefront of its concerns. I say that while fully recognising the purposeful endeavours of those organisations.
Those attending my conference have already had some encouragement from the Minister of State for the Environment and Countryside, Mr. David Trippier. At the conference he said, in response to a request for his support for the proposed National Council for Environmental Waste Policy:Providing there is a high local government consultation, the concept of the new council would be 'moving in the right direction'".564 In my short debate the Minister also agreed with me, saying that there is a need for a national strategy.
I am mindful of the encouragement given by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in that same short debate. He said that my initiative was welcome to him and that he agreed with a very large part of what I had to say.
The national survey to which I referred earlier received responses from many leading companies in this country, together with waste management companies, local and waste disposal authorities, waste trade associations, environmental research organisations, universities, polytechnics, professional bodies and Members of both Houses of Parliament. The responses revealed considerable support for a national environmental waste policy. There was also support for the involvement of manufacturing industry and the public in the development of a policy for waste. Strong responses were given by industry as well as by others for a statutory direction of industry's own policies towards the environment.
The proposed National Council for Environmental Waste Policy would evolve an integrated environmental waste policy related to waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and disposal. That policy would be based on consultations with local authorities, industry and the business community, both directly and through trade and employer groups. Trade unions, public and consumer pressure groups and specialists in the waste sector would also be consulted.
Other responsibilities of the council would include ensuring that manufacturing companies committed themselves to using raw materials which were conducive to environmental criteria laid down by the council. Environmental audits leading to acceptable corporate environmental strategies would also be monitored by the council and, where waste-producing businesses did not meet an accepted environmental criterion laid down by the council, a notification would be posted to shareholders and investors involved with that company. The appropriate government departments would also be informed. Too few companies have such strategies at present, although some have taken the initiative.
The council would have its own corporate investigative arm. The method of investigation would be best compared with the quality systems procedures employed by leading companies such as Shell UK, which are checked by independent third parties against the requirements of the British Standard for quality systems, BS 5750. The investigations of a company's environmental audit and corporate environmental strategy by the new council's quality systems-type investigators would be paid for by that company and that company should be obliged to co-operate by law.
Earlier, I drew attention to the public reaction to the politico-economic exploitation of our environment related to waste issues. Like the United States group Environmental Strategies, I believe that matters would be dramatically improved if the following conditions were fulfilled: first, when industry, government and the public co-operate in 565 addressing environmental issues; secondly, when voluntary disclosure of information relating to the environment is common practice, company by company; and, thirdly, when we have compliance with effective legislation providing for strict liability. The public would then have peace of mind, knowing that resources were being directed to resolve environmental problems rather than being diverted to litigation and transactional costs, as has been the case in the United States. However, at the moment, the public sees no ideal world and lacks confidence in the ability of national and local government to solve environmental problems. That view is endorsed by many experts in the field.
Those behind the setting up of the new council, and myself, believe that there should be regional waste management authorities, as local councils will not have the resources or specialist skills that the Government hope for.
In terms of the investigative aspects of the proposed National Council for Environmental Waste Policy, we believe that that proposal should be welcomed by the Minister, particularly when one bears in mind the substance of the MINIS 11 report now circulating in the Department of the Environment. The report graphically points out the hopeless staffing problems of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and the limited effect the body would have in that field because of the enormous areas of abuse of our natural resources. I am mindful of the fact that air pollution inspections have dropped by half during the past five years and that HMIP failed even to reach its reduced target of 6,000 inspections of potentially serious polluting factories. Those alarming facts are reported against the background of the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment:It is vital that there is an adequately resourced pollution inspectorate providing clear and consistent enforcement".I believe that the working of the proposed National Council for Environmental Waste Policy should demonstrate to the Government the vital need to establish an environmental protection agency, for which there is widespread support. Clearly, such an agency has proved in many respects to be in the public's interest in the United States. I must also stress that the proposed new council will not follow the Government's lead in that it will not tackle its task in a piecemeal manner; nor will it adopt "fire-fighting" measures.
The council will not be reactive but proactive and will not wait for the media to fan public opinion, as with the case of imported toxic waste and gas leaking out from abandoned waste disposal sites. It will go to the heart of waste environmental problems, the boardrooms of waste producers, by invitation or no.
I hope that today the Minister will remain other than disappointed by this contribution. Meanwhile, I should like to quote from the final report by the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, on the Responsibilities of the British Public Company published by the CBI council on 19th September 1973:A company should, as is indeed the practice of the best companies, pay proper regard to the environmental and social consequences of its business activities, and should not sacrifice 566 the safety or efficiency of goods and services in the interests of expediency and competitiveness. In environmental matters it is usually the company that is the first to know of a potential hazard or critical situation; it has a duty in such circumstances not only to take all possible remedial measures but also to inform the responsible authorities".That report, at the instigation of Mr. Peter Thompson, as a member of the CBI-ICC multinational affairs panel, some three years ago, was reassessed and became a main theme of a subseqent CBI national conference. I should like to remind noble Lords that the sentiments of that report are as valid today as they were in 1973, when one considers the obligations of large waste producing businesses in terms of public well-being and the environment.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, it seems hours ago and indeed it is hours ago that my noble friend Lord Hesketh introduced this Bill. Like some great maître d', he produced a menu with many choice items on it, and like many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, I shall start with litter and move on to Part VII.
I was delighted to hear and read that the Government are to attack litter. They have a very hard job on their hands. The litter problem arises not just in the urban areas but also in the rural areas. On my estate we are lucky enough to have what I suppose would be described as a beauty spot and we have put there some fairly moderate facilities for the public to use. We produced small picnic areas and that kind of thing. We found that litter problems arose. We consulted with our local district council which said that if we produced a litter bin it would empty it. We did that. We built it ourselves out of timber. It looked rather rustic and I thought rather nasty, but everyone said it looked nice. The moment we put the bin in the area it overflowed with litter. We therefore put in another one; and that also overflowed. We wondered what was going on and found that once we produced the litter bins people came long distances from the towns with their car boots full of litter which they tipped into the litter bins. When people came for picnics they found the litter bins full.
That situation may have arisen because the local authorities in these areas were failing to produce the necessary litter clearance; I do not know. But that is what happened. However, it is not simply people coming from the towns despoiling the countryside that worries me. My concern relates to the local population. I do not believe that there is a great problem in the small towns and villages especially in that wonderful season of the best kept village competition. Every piece of rubbish is swept up by the Boy Scouts or members of the Women's Institute. One never sees any litter there. At other times the scene is not so attractive.
However, young men take their young ladies out in cars and park in gateways in the surrounding countryside. In the morning one finds cans of Carlsberg and Coca Cola, and much nastier things that they seem to consider essential to their evening's activities.
567 One also finds, I am afraid, that the farmers are not good at controlling their own litter. One sees paper bags that have had seeds in them, and plastic fertiliser bags which have blown across a field ending up in the wood or against a fence. I am also ashamed to say that I and some of my friends—some noble and some not so noble—very often spoil the countryside by leaving empty cartridge cases lying around.
The British public are thoroughly amoral with regard to litter collection. It is not only necessary to increase the fines. Our police should be advised to bring far more prosecutions. Our magistrates should also be much tougher when they impose penalties.
I pass to Part VII. We have debates from people with many different views on this Part of the Bill. That is only natural. As my noble friend Lord Peel said, I am fortunate enough to be a countryside commissioner. I am also a Member of your Lordships' House. However, I do not speak in this House as a representative of the Countryside Commission. These are very much my own ideas. However, without infuriating any fellow countryside commissioners, I believe that what I say is fairly well echoed by the commission and by my fellow commissioners. We took the same view when the Government's proposals came out, as did the committee of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, that we should consider the proposals that the Government have put forward, and as their advisers we should not criticise or suggest other proposals. We therefore tried to ensure that events occurred as best they could in Wales.
There are two Countryside Commissions. One is for England and Wales; and one for Scotland. Both are concerned with wildlife but not at quite the level and detail of the NCC. The Countryside Commissions have the responsibility of ensuring that the public has the opportunity to enjoy the conserved beauty of Britain. I hope that I dare say this in front of so many distinguished scientists and members of the NCC. It worries me that there is a danger from the new body of a surplus of "SSSI-itis". We have duties not only to produce the SSSIs, but also to allow the public to appreciate the beauty of the countryside.
I suppose that my noble friend Lord Peel was making a joke when he said that he would swallow me up. He might find me a rather large mouthful. But in fact I thought that it was a joke in rather bad taste. I know that in Wales it is not a question of the NCC swallowing up the Countryside Commission. There will be help and co-operation. I hope that the new body will succeed.
As was said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, it is right to go ahead with Part VII and to try to improve it. Matters have gone too far in Scotland and Wales to try to postpone the events until the publication of the White Paper. I hope that that will not happen. The Countryside Commission tried to help with the new body in Wales and has been successful. The change may bring advantages in England but there are none whatever in the NCC swallowing up the Countryside Commission. There 568 must be a partnership. It is important that we do not proceed along those lines in the Bill but wait for the White Paper. The matter should be argued out and talked through, but whatever happens there must be a merger and not a takeover bid.
There is one issue which worries me about Wales. It would help to have a mandate setting out the situation of the new body. The proposal was supported by the committee chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. We are gratified that the Secretary of State for Wales has issued a draft consultation document which will form the basis of the Government's understanding with the new council as regards the balance of its responsibilities. However, that is no substitute for a mandate written into the Bill. I was disappointed to see at paragraph 4.21 of the Government's response to the Carver Committee report that they still believe that a statement of draft policy is better than a mandate. I am sure that in this House I need not stress the importance of having provisions written into law and not left as an undertaking of goodwill. I hope that with all-party support I shall return to the matter in Committee. I draw the attention of my noble friend and others around the House to an excellent draft mandate on page 71 of the noble and gallant Lord's report.
It would be churlish of me not to thank the Government for their other response which is of extreme importance; it is to make the chairman of the Countryside Commission an ex officio member on the joint committee. There must have been an oversight in not doing so originally and we were grateful that the Carver Committee drew the Government's attention to it.
I congratulate the three maiden speakers. They have shown a marvellous "stickability", as have all noble Lords today. Does that not bode something for the Committee and Report stages of the Bill? Some of us remember the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill through this House. I have an awful feeling that this Bill will be the same but with brass knobs on. I wish my noble friends on the Front Bench and the Chief Whip the best of luck, but I believe that we are in for some very long nights.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I endorse the last sentiment because, remembering the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, I am sure that the noble Earl is right. Its passage was a mammoth exercise as I expect this Bill's will be.
We have had a long and interesting debate about a Bill, certain parts of which are controversial. No one has been entirely uncritical. The Bill is long. But, as my noble friend Lord McIntosh said, it is not the wide-ranging environmental measure long awaited since the Prime Minister's commitment to her party on environmental issues. I regret that there is no mention of environmental education.
The Bill contains an assortment of measures collected from numerous consultation papers and reports that have appeared over the past few years. The exception is Part VII: it is a big exception. There was no consultation paper nor any consultation. The 569 chairman was informed in confidence only a week before the announcement of the break-up of the NCC and it was made in answer to a planted question. The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has told me that had he been hen; he would have queried the constitutional propriety of two Ministers plotting together in a plan to overthrow an established part of the constitution. The noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, referred to the matter in his speech.
I propose to concentrate on Part VII but I should like also to say a few words about the other parts of the Bill. One can welcome some aspects of Parts I to VI; namely, integrated pollution and air pollution which is controlled in Part I. At the same time I have reservations amounting on occasion to grave doubts about whether the crisis in the manning and the morale of the inspectorate will enable the provisions to be carried out. I doubt whether the resources will be adequate. As Geoffrey Lean said in an article in the Observer last Sunday, the crisis threatens to make a mockery of the Bill. Will the Minister please tell us what are the Government's plans to overcome that crisis?
On waste, the duty of care is welcome. But the Bill's provisions on planning for waste management are haphazard. I feel strongly that there should be a national plan and proper incentives if real progress is to be made on recycling.
I welcome Part II dealing with statutory nuisances, particularly noise and clean air, and Clause 135 on the burning of straw and stubble. However, Part VII is different. The Government have still not thought through the matter and much remains unresolved even after the belated response to the report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. In the light of the uncertainty, the inadequacy of planning, the very grave doubts in the minds of dedicated conservationists and the strong opposition of voluntary bodies on which so much depends, I hope that we can persuade the House to force the withdrawal of Part VII so that there can be real discussion on the White Paper promised for September.
At the meeting chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, last week, I was encouraged to hear that Sir William Wilkinson favoured that course as did the noble Viscount himself. Sir William told us that the spokesman for the two main unions involved also preferred that course and that 80 per cent, of the staff in all three countries opposed the present plans—not because they were anxious about job security, which is guaranteed, but because of their doubts as to the effectiveness of the new plans for conservation which they care about.
It is significant that in a letter on 12th April to Mr. Rifkind from the chairman of the Scottish wildlife and countryside link, it was clearly stated that the very sincere and well informed anxieties of the great majority of people directly involved in conservation are failing to be met. The chairman repeats there an earlier plea that the Government should withdraw Part VII and that, in the interests of the joint support of voluntary bodies, the Government's plans and ideas should be exposed to wider debate within the context of the White Paper. That is a very clear message from Scotland.
570 The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in mentioning the Welsh response, did not refer to the Association of the Welsh Wildlife Trust. The association states that while in principle a complicated organisational structure in Wales could be evolved to cater for the anomalies, it feels that in practice it would lead to immense confusion, evasion of difficult political issues and cost cutting exercises detrimental to wildlife conservation. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is not in his usual place.
The costs and the manpower involved in what is a radical change have been grossly underestimated by the Government. We are no better informed as to the resources which will be provided even after the response to the Carver Committee. It seems strange that whereas control of public expenditure is usually the criterion by which every policy is judged, in this case obstinacy, pig-headedness and electoral or political advantage should have persuaded the Government to spend vastly more than the £45 million now granted to the NCC.
The World Wildlife Fund reckons that total expenditure will be £80 million. What will it be? In his reply the Minister must give a clear statement of the precise level of money and posts to be given to all the agencies including the JCC. Some estimates must surely have been made by now. I ask for some figures, as has almost every noble Lord who has spoken.
We know that the Carver Committee was not allowed to go into the merits of reorganising the NCC but concerned itself particularly with the scientific base. It is useless at this stage to go over the reasons, political of course, for the proposed split. However, it is all too often forgotten how much the NCC has delegated to the regions; there were separate committees and headquarters for Scotland in Edinburgh and for Wales in Bangor. Around 75 per cent, of the staff worked in the regions. It is ironic that in July the NCC was completing a plan for a more devolved structure of which the DoE officials and the Minister were well aware. We should like the Minister to explain that position, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, so eloquently asked when he spoke.
There have been complaints that the Secretary of State for the Environment based in London is responsible for Scottish conservation. However, that difficulty—if one wants to use that term—could be overcome in the same way as with the Forestry Commission. That is an undevolved Great Britain body with its headquarters in Edinburgh. It reports to the Secretary of State for Scotland as lead forestry Minister, but it also reports to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Wales as the forestry Minister for England and Wales. The alleged administrative anomaly could have been similarly solved.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has also left, but I should like to clarify one point that he raised regarding the Labour Party plan for devolution to Scotland and Wales. I should like to state that the Labour Party, when it planned that devolution Bill, did not plan to devolve the NCC. In the second annual report of the NCC, 1975–76, there is a brief statement which refers to the White Paper of 571 November 1975, entitled, Our Changing Democracy: Devolution to Scotland and Wales, Cmd. 6348. The report states that,The responsibility for the Nature Conservancy Council would not be devolved".I hope that that clarifies that point.
The view that the devolution of the NCC would give the people of Scotland more democratic and accountable control of nature conservation is almost a confidence trick. Scotland in particular is notorious for the domination of rural affairs by a clique of feudal landowners. The appointments to non-departmental public bodies are a travesty of democracy, especially under the present Government. The increased politicisation of the NCC during the past year was described by Steve Barry in an article in the Guardian on 2nd February. The council had consisted of 12 or 13 members, mostly eminent nature conservationists—never more than 15 in the 1980s—until, in April last, five new members were appointed; not at the chairman's request. I rather feel that the noble Earl, Lord Peel, was one of them. The council became much more typical of large landowners, farmers and country sportsmen.
If the House does not agree to postpone Part VII of the Bill until after the White Paper, there will be a need for many adjustments to be made to the Bill, which is full of gaps. The role, remit and finance of the JCC must be clarified. What does ring-fencing mean? Many people have asked and I hope that the Minister will explain when he replies.
The joint committee must be independent. The Government in their response to the Carver Report used many fine words and paid lip service to nature conservation, but in practical terms much is left uncertain. In my view the report did not go far enough. It did not ask for the committee to be independent, and I think that it should be. I could not disagree more with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, who said that the JCC should be the servant of the country councils.
The response to paragraph 4.16 of the Carver Committee Report, which asked for the decisions of the joint committee to be binding, is not satisfactory. Amendments promised to establish that the joint committee can give advice to the country councils and to require the country councils to have regard to it will not solve the problems of disagreements. "Have regard to" is a useless phrase.
The Carver Report took the Government proposals as a skeleton on which to put some flesh, though not enough to bring it to life. The joint committee is still too much a creature of the new agencies. The report is too vague on some of the most crucial issues, such as how to preserve a broad UK perspective; what the necessary level of resources should be; how the committee will be strong enough to drive forward the cause of nature conservation at a national level; how it will integrate a remit for nature and landscape conservation; and how independent peer review will work. The response to paragraph 4.15 does not help. There is no clarity about how the crucial matter of UK scientific policy 572 for nature conservation will be maintained. The noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, emphasised its weakness.
The comments of the chairman of the NCC in the green pamphlet of 4th May—I do not know its title but it refers to Part VII of the Environmental Protection Bill—and the people who attended the meeting last week chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, are very clear. There are a number of proposals which will have to be followed up. They put some flesh on the skeleton. The real issues to be addressed—the omissions, the difficulties—are admirably set out, but I shall not take up the time of the House by going through them now.
The illogicality of merging the Countryside Commission with the NCC in Wales, proposing a merger in Scotland, and leaving England with separate councils has been referred to by many speakers. The merits of amalgamating both nature and landscape conservation without losing sight of the differences between the two forms of conservation are on the agenda of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation. The Council for the Protection of Rural England attaches great importance to the principle of thorough and careful integration of countryside and nature conservation. However, it states:This must be done only with the greatest care and within a positive framework of government, statutory and voluntary bodies working together".The coming White Paper presents the opportunity for that to be done. Of course, one understands the national aspirations of the Scots and the Welsh but many of us believe that these could be satisfied in a different way from the drastic, ill thought-out action in the Bill, given proper time for consultation and discussion.
A great many of us are unhappy about Part VII. If not excised it will have to be substantially amended. I ask the Minister, in his reply, to answer the questions he has been asked and say that the Government will accept and take very seriously indeed the views expressed today by many noble Lords whose reputation in the field of nature conservation is very high. Indeed, in many cases it is unparalleled.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Robson of Kiddington
My Lords, it has been a great privilege to be present during this debate and to listen to three outstanding maiden speeches. I cannot remember attending a debate which had three maiden speakers, and very few debates when we had so many speeches on one subject. Perhaps that is an indication of the deep concern that is felt by all Members of the House, and by the population in general, on the subject of environmental protection.
Whatever we may think of the Bill, we are in many ways privileged to have the opportunity of legislating on environmental matters. I am sure that this opportunity is welcomed by all Members of your Lordships' House. It gives us an opportunity at later stages in the Bill, through the introduction of amendments, to strengthen and in some cases enlarge its scope.
573 I start by regretting, as did other noble Lords, that one or two matters are not included in the Bill. It will come as no surprise to the House that I very much regret that the Bill does not deal with the problems caused by carbon dioxide emissions and other gas emissions which can cause the greenhouse effect. In particular, I regret that there is nothing in the Bill to control and phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons.
I am fully aware of the Government's response when I introduced my Bill: that nothing can be done until the meeting in November on the Montreal Protocol and that it does not pay for one nation to go it alone. I still do not agree with the government statement to that effect because there are other countries in the world that have gone it alone, such as West Germany and Sweden. I am still a believer that every little bit helps. It is no good waiting until the whole world, including China and India, agree and then we all act together.
I also very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, when he said that there is not a word about energy conservation in a Bill which is supposed to deal with environmental matters. I also regret that the Bill does not set targets, standards or codes of practice as all these matters are left to regulations. I believe that they should be published in conjunction with the Bill so that your Lordships' House has some idea of their content.
I agree with and generally welcome the proposals for the control of pollution in Parts I to VI of the Bill. However, their implementation depends largely on the implementing regulations to be published and, as has been mentioned by so many noble Lords, the provision of adequate resources. In the minds of many people there is deep concern at the adoption of the principle of best available techniques not entailing excessive cost. That concern has been mentioned by many noble Lords. I regret the replacement of that terminology by the term "best practicable means". Without a doubt that could place too much emphasis on the cost of implementing the regulations.
As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, so ably told us, there is deep concern in the minds of many people about what appears to be the removal of the influence of the National Rivers Authority. That authority was fought hard for in both Houses and it has had such a short life. We regret that its influence seems to have been diminished under the regulations. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution is of concern to many people. I feel very strongly that it would be an enormous advantage, and it would give the inspectorate much greater freedom of action, if it were set up as an independent body and not staffed by employees of the Department of the Environment.
As he usually does, my noble friend Lord Ezra has adequately dealt with the questions of litter and waste, so I shall not add anything on that score. I also welcome the Government's proposals to regulate the possession and release of genetically modified organisms. It should be mandatory for the Secretary of State to appoint inspectors to enforce the regulations and not just for him to appoint inspectors. They should monitor that the rules are 574 adhered to. In order to put people's minds at rest it is essential that an annual report is published.
We had a deeply knowledgeable and scientific speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Mills. We are privileged to have him in the House. I hope that we shall see him here at the Committee stage when we deal with that part of the Bill because we certainly need expert knowledge on the subject.
I should also like to support the welcome of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for the ban by 1993 on stubble burning and to re-emphasise her request that there should not be too many exceptions to the ban. We must also remember that the farming community faces problems. There are occasions when there is no alternative but to burn. I hope that the Government will maintain their support for research into economic uses of straw.
There is no doubt that by far the largest part of the debate has concentrated on Part VII of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, accused not only the Labour Front Bench but also our Benches of having a split mind on what we believe is devolution of authority. He forgets that devolution of authority does not necessarily mean the complete removal of any central organisation. If, for example, one devolves powers to the regions in local government, one does not expect to remove the power of the state to be responsible for defence and for all national matters. The same argument applies in regard to the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission.
We believe in devolution to the countries but it is essential that the central joint committee should retain certain powers of national importance. We very much welcome the Government's acceptance of the recommendations on this issue of the committee of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. However, it seems to me that if it is right to merge the NCC and the Countryside Commission in Wales and in Scotland, it ought to follow that it is right to do so in England as well.
I am concerned about what appears to be the Government's intention that, probably in a year or two, this will happen. Not to do it now and to have that hanging over the NCC and the Countryside Commission in England so that perhaps there will have to be further legislation in two or three years' time would be wrong. The Government should make up their minds. There should be a merger between the NCC and the Countryside Commission.
I completely subscribe to the statement of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, that there should not be a swallow-up. There should be a merger. Both organisations have much to give each other. What I find desperately important in the Countryside Commission's remit is that its responsibilities involve enhancing as well as conserving the countryside. We must not lose sight of the fact that, much as we need strong powers to conserve endangered parts of the countryside, we live in this countryside and enhancement is equally important.
I very much look forward to the Committee stage, though I know that it will be lengthy. The House can make enormous improvements to the Bill and I hope that we shall achieve that.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I know that I shall make the most popular speech of the day because it is the one immediately preceding that of the Minister who will reply to the debate and who will, we hope, give us many answers. As with other noble Lords, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Robson said, it is for me a privilege to take part in the debate. However, I also look upon it as a pleasure and an educational exercise. I say that because one of the things which has emerged from the debate, in which 34 people will have spoken, is the fact that I have been able to listen to many fellow Peers for the first time. I have appreciated, as we often do, the enormous width of interests which are represented in your Lordships' House.
When we reflect that by the time the Minister sits down we shall certainly have had more than seven hours of debate, I think it can be said that seven hours on a Friday are the equivalent of at least 12 hours on a Tuesday. The Minister and his colleagues can look forward to the "stickability" that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said was one of the characteristics of today's debate.
Certainly the overwhelming majority of the 34 speakers in today's debate have not only given up their time on a Friday—and none of us likes to do so—but they have also been willing to do so because they had something important to say. As has been said more than once, they are looking forward to trying to improve the Bill.
In my view, the Minister should take on board the fact that this is not an issue about which there is immediately a party or a partisan cleavage. It is not as if he is putting forward a proposal which will be opposed root and branch. I believe that I speak for the whole House when I say that we want to finish the proceedings with a better Bill and one which contains provisions which we will be able to recommend to our friends and to the country.
The Minister and his colleagues sometimes forget the enormous good will that exists in the voluntary bodies and among the professionals who take part in their activities. I very much hope that he listened in that spirit, and very carefully, to all that has been said. He knows that the Bill left the other place with 389 amendments. I can tell him that we on these Benches already have 100 groups of amendments; that is, not 100 amendments but 100 groups of amendments as regards the first five parts of the Bill. Those groupings do not even touch Part VII. We are determined to try to improve the Bill with, I hope, the aid of the Government.
Perhaps I may say a word from this Front Bench about the excellence of the three maiden speeches that were made today. The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, referred to them with real pride as one of the speeches we listened to came from her Benches. I should like to do the same. All three maiden speeches were of very high quality. They revealed that the speakers will all bring to the quality of debate in the House a dimension which we shall all enjoy.
We heard first from the noble Viscount, Lord Mills. His speech immediately revealed something 576 about which I was not aware; namely, his specialism as a fish biologist. Of course he will have noticed the number of red herrings that float about in this place! However, he should contain himself on that point because the Minister has not yet spoken. He will be able to help us more thereafter. It was certainly a joy and a pleasure to listen to what he said. I look forward to hearing from him often in the future.
The third maiden speech was made by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who spoke in the context of his profession. I am sure that he will understand if I say to him that he sounded to me like a chip off the old block! All of us in this House knew and deeply loved his father. Moreover, if ever we cannot see the wood for the trees we shall know exactly where to go for some professional advice.
What does my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, who is a personal friend, bring to the House? He brings the quality of authority. He brings to this subject a depth of experience, authority and knowledge as regards our Parliament and the European Parliament where he was a Commissioner. We are fortunate that all three of our colleagues chose this debate in which to make their maiden speeches.
There is not much that has not already been touched upon. I am anxious to leave the Minister with the maximum time in which to reply. The Bill does not address the major environmental problems today; for instance, global warming. It does not accept that local authorities have a role to play as partners in environmental protection and enhancement. It does not recognise the need for the extra financial and staffing resources which local authorities will require to carry out its provisions.
I wish to make only one reference to Part VII, because a great deal has already been said. I believe that the Minister has listened and taken on board the anxieties. In among the many briefs that I have, I received some advice from the Sports Council for Wales. It wrote to me because of my responsibilities in the House as the shadow Minister for Sport. It drew attention to its anxieties about the proposed changes. Noble Lords will want to see how the changes contained in Part VII, as they affect Wales, will be carried out.
I wish to focus on one special aspect of the matter. It is inevitable that the new body, if it is ever formed, will face many difficulties in its early years. It is also inevitable and understandable that most of its attention will be directed towards conservation. Yet, the beautiful Welsh countryside is not a forbidden zone. It is a place which those who are brought up in Wales wish to know, to enjoy and to treasure. Recreation of all types—walking, orienteering, cycling, canoeing, caving, climbing, rallying, surfing, and many other sports have had, and should continue to have, a place in the country. Those activities are not the enemies of conservation. They can help to build up a knowledge and love of the countryside.
In recent years the Sports Council for Wales has begun to develop a useful relationship with the Countryside Commission in finding a place for sport and recreation as part of the balanced life of the 577 Welsh countryside. I am told that the relationship is now at risk with the abolition of the commission and the formation of the new body. It is greatly regretted that no duty has been laid on the new body to consult the Sports Council for Wales about recreation in the valleys, hillsides, lakes and coasts. It is equally to be regretted that the Government have so far refused to guarantee a place on the council of the new body for voices representing access and open air recreation. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board.
I shall make a point which was mentioned by my noble friends Lord McIntosh and Lord Clinton-Davis, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and many others. It relates to the sadness that they feel that the opportunity has been lost to pay attention in the Bill to energy matters and all that is related to them. Reference has been made to the conference at Bergen. Everyone knows that that conference was designed in the global context, and in the microcontext, to save energy. I wonder whether the Minister, perhaps not today but when we return with amendments, will say something about how the individual can help to save energy.
I represented Edmonton in the Commons, and I still live there. One of the largest employers of labour is the Thorn lighting company. The lighting industry has an important part to play in helping to reduce energy consumption and great improvements have been made in the technology of lighting. For instance, the chief scientists' group at Harwell has produced a report with remarkable figures demonstrating the amount of energy that can be saved if modern energy saving lighting equipment is introduced.
The report states that domestic, commercial and industrial users of electricity could, between them, achieve a 2 per cent, reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions. That is the main gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. It can achieve an additional 5 per cent, cut in acid emissions if only we would use the new compact fluorescent lighting which is produced in Britain. The Bill will provide an opportunity for such aspects to be raised. I draw the matter to the Minister's attention because there is a great deal of waste, not least in the Palace of Westminster, in the use of energy. That too can be taken on board.
I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised the problems and worries of retailers if the Bill remains as it is, and lays the responsibility for litter and waste on them. I took what he said as demonstrating that retailers are a responsible sector of the community. There are already placed upon them many burdens not of their choosing, certainly not voted for by me; I voted against most of the provisions that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested retailers do not like. I shall not say how he voted. Retailers are apprehensive about the additional responsibilities that will rest upon them. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also raised the problem of trolleys, as did the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I believe that we shall be able to return to these matters in later debates.
In reply the Minister has a major responsibility not necessarily to satisfy the House today but in the future and to state that he will listen carefully when 578 amendments are tabled. At the end of the day we all want a Bill that the people of the country can see is a used opportunity, not a missed opportunity. I do not believe that the Government should set about damping our enthusiasm; the Minister ought to strengthen it.
If I divide the total time used by the number of speakers today, the average time taken per speaker is 13 minutes. On this occasion I do not intend to go above the average.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)
My Lords, first I wish to thank all speakers in the debate, and say how good it was to hear three excellent maiden speeches, all of great import, on the subjects with which they dealt. The knowledge of my noble friend Lord Mills in the area in which he operates is recognised in this House, and I look forward to hearing him take part in the Committee stage.
The eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was well known before he came into this House, and that reputation has been only too clearly demonstrated today. He compared the Bill with the principles set out in the European Commission fourth action programme. I am glad that the provisions of Part I of the Bill in particular not only follow the principles of prevention and waste minimisation set out in the action programme but do so in a manner which is in advance of the Commission's actions and those of other member states. The fourth action programme pledged the Community to take an integrated approach to pollution control. Part I of the Bill takes this integrated approach. So far the Community has not yet taken any significant practical steps towards integration. I hope that they will be inspired by the provision of IPC to do so in the future.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, will be aware of my interests in forestry. I applaud the fact that somebody has entered this House who has such a great knowledge of afforestation. The noble Lord will agree with me, when he takes part in debates on forestry, that they are very lively affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, wondered about the meaning of BATNEEC (best available techniques not entailing excessive costs) and who should decide what they are. This is not the time to go into the detail of that interesting matter. However, I can refer your Lordships to a paper on the interpretation of BATNEEC which my noble friend Lord Hesketh deposited in the Library last month. That paper will allay many fears.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, criticised many parts of the Bill, which is only right; but I was grateful for the support given by the noble Lord for many measures in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asked whether the Government would listen. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will listen as the Bill goes through its various stages in this House.
579 The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, stated that we should be going a little bit faster. That view does not square with other utterances made during the course of the debate. This is a very difficult area which covers a wide spectrum, and I believe that step by step is the best approach. The White Paper will be forthcoming. The question of resources and spending permeated the discussion from all sides of the House. Spending by governments is always a contentious subject and I have no doubt that the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Shadow Chancellor in another place will be contemplating that matter as he talks to those who run City affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, asked me a direct question concerning the White Paper. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced at the last Conservative Party Conference that we would publish a White Paper before the next party conference, and that is still our aim. If that is the case, publication will precede Her Majesty's Speech, but it would not be proper for me to speculate on the contents of the Gracious Speech at this stage. I can assure the noble Lord that the White Paper will set out a strategy of dealing with a wide range of environmental issues over the next decade. Some issues may require legislation.
Reference has been made by the noble Lords, Lord Hampton, Lord Ross of Newport and Lord Dulverton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, to the subject of dogs. I am well aware of the strongly-held opinions on both sides of the argument in regard to dog registration. Members of this House may have the opportunity to express their views at a later stage. It remains the view of the Government that a national registration scheme, as advocated by the noble Lords, Lord Hampton and Lord Ross of Newport, is not the answer to the problems caused by irresponsible dog owners.
Much discussion centred around what was not in the Bill, in particular the subjects of energy and transport. I can assure all noble Lords that those topics will be fully addressed in the forthcoming White Paper. The Government have recently taken many measures to improve the environmental impact of energy and transport. In regard to energy, the Bill provides the means to implement our commitment to reduce the components of acid rain. As the Public Accounts Committee of another place reported yesterday, the Government's efforts to promote energy efficiency are on target to achieve annual savings of £7 billion by 1995.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, asked whether it was proposed to ban lead in petrol. That is not something that is proposed, but we have entered into commitments to apply new standards to cut car emissions by 1992 as part of a package of European Commission directives agreed in June 1989. That shows that this Government are very well aware of the problems in both energy and transport. While I accept what noble Lords have said about what is not in the Bill, from the length of the Bill they will realise that there is a lot in it.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, asked why we were 580 not addressing the greenhouse effect. The noble Baroness indicated what our answer would be. In the light of the emerging findings of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, the United Kingdom will be considering a national strategy for limiting CO emissions, as announced at the Bergen conference. As a key reform the second world climate conference in November will consider the IPCC report and take forward international action through the Convention on Climate Change. Part I of the Bill delivers a mechanism for controlling CO emissions from industry as and when appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, also asked about dumping in the North Sea. The Bill extends the Government's powers to control dumping in the North Sea, in Clause 133. The Bill also provides powers, in Clause 13, to control the import and export of wastes.
The question of straw burning arose. I detected agreement that the proposed measures were a popular move. I can tell the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicol and Lady Robson, that the Government will mount publicity campaigns and fund research into alternatives to burning. The question of increased aid to farmers was mentioned. It is not the current policy to grant-aid the purchase of machinery on farms, but grants are currently available to assist with the supply and installation of straw-burning boilers and furnaces at a rate of 25 per cent, in LFAs and 15 per cent, in non-LFAs.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asked about the Welsh situation. He mentioned a letter that he had recieved from the sports council in the Principality. With the announcement yesterday that the chairman of the Countryside Commission is to join the new joint committee, the noble Lord will be aware that that is designed to ensure that we do not lose sight of recreational interests. I am sure that that is a matter which will be taken up by the new chairman of the joint agency in Wales.
I turn now to Part I of the Bill, which deals with IPC. I welcome the strong support from the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, for the provision of the integrated pollution control regime and the role of HMIP. I know of his expertise in that area. We accept that a strong HMIP is essential to the implementation of IPC. I have repeated the assurance that the Government are committed to providing the resources that are needed to secure just that.
A general thread concerning resources ran through almost all of the speeches from all sides of the House. Under Part I the HMIP will have the resources it needs to do the job. We have raised the complement of HMIP staff in post from 148 to 250. Salaries were increased considerably last autumn. Numbers and salaries are both kept under review and we are commissioning consultants to look at non-pay issues that bear on recruitment policy and practice. I am sure that that is a matter to which we shall return again and again. I expect that to be the case at the Committee stage in particular.
The noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord McIntosh, and my noble friend Lord Crickhowell mentioned the National Rivers Authority and how it fits in with 581 the new systems. The IPC gives the NRA full powers to set conditions relating to discharges to controlled waters within the authorisation to be given by the HMIP. We consulted widely on different models as to how conditions should be set. The results showed that most industrial and environmental interests alike wanted to see a fully integrated system with single authorisation for all aspects of the process.
The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, asked about the IPC diminishing the role and power of the NRA. I do not see it that way, nor did my noble friend Lord Crickhowell who made it expressly clear that the NRA will retain responsibility for sustaining the quality of controlled waters and will have the powers to translate its requirements on discharges to water into the consents issued by the HMIP.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell also asked about the question of institutional arrangements for pollution control. They are being examined in the context of the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, referred to local authorities, and he said that the resources in Parts I and II were inadequate. He was right to raise that subject, but I and the Government hope that the charging scheme will ensure that local authorities have the resources that they need to run the new regimes. That is the object of the exercise, and we hope that that will be the case
As regards Part II of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, asked about the question of civil and criminal liability. We need to distinguish criminal liability in this case from civil liability. The duty of care only concerns criminal liability. It makes every person who holds waste liable to criminal sanctions, if he does not act responsibly. That is much fairer and more effective than putting all the blame on the producer alone. Civil liability for damages is the subject of a draft EC directive. There is therefore no conflict between that and the duty of care; indeed, the two may well be complementary.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the recycling of waste. He will be interested to know that an amendment will be introduced in Committee to make the payment of recycling credits mandatory. We do not believe that it is sensible to distort markets for products by offering subsidies, but we wish to ensure that the savings made by a disposal authority are fully passed on to those who make the effort to segregate and recycle waste. The amendment will require disposal authorities to pass those savings to collection authorities and allow such payments to other bodies which may also collect waste for recycling.
My noble friend Lord Layton has a great knowledge of waste and I listened to his speech with great interest. There is a need for authorities to recruit and train more expert staff. They will be assisted in that when charges are introduced, as I said earlier. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and my noble friend Lord Layton referred to recycling and the regional waste authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked why the Government did not give more attention to the recommendation of the Environment Committee for 10 regional authorities for waste regulation. We have given a great deal of attention to the question of where that responsibility should 582 lie. The Government believe it is right that responsibility for waste regulation should stay with the local authorities which are close to the problem, have local knowledge and are closely connected with the planning process for waste disposal facilities. However, we have made it clear that we wish to see much greater co-operation between authorities at regional level, both for licensing and the preparation of regional strategies for the provision of disposal facilities. Discussions are taking place with local authority associations to take forward that proposal.
The noble Earl, Lord Shannon, was also interested in the subject of waste and asked about the strategy of the National Council for Environmental Waste. I listened with interest to his comments and his ideas about a national council which were debated in this House on 9th May. On that occasion my noble friend Lord Hesketh said that the Government were not convinced of the need for a national council to guide industry. Industry is itself taking the lead in producing guidance for manufacturing industry. Both the CBI and the Chemical Industries Association have excellent documents for their members which are available to a wider audience.
The noble Earl, Lord Shannon, asked about waste minimisation. He said that it was vital and that self-sufficiency in waste disposal should be a priority goal. Under Part I of the Bill there will be a requirement on the operators of scheduled processes to minimise polluting waste at source. That will provide a powerful impetus to waste minimisation.
With regard to other matters, I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on the subject of steam engines. I believe that many noble Lords are in agreement with the intentions of the Bill on the subject of litter but I shall look carefully to see whether there are any detailed points to which I need to reply.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, raised the question of litter and British Rail. On that point there was also an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I welcome the noble Lord's comments on British Rail's efforts to tackle litter. I recognise the particular problem of dealing with litter and other dumping alongside railway lines. However, in the case of BR and any statutory undertaking the land is included within the duty, even though the public does not have access to it. The provision in Clause 83 was specifically drafted with the problem of littered embankments in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, expressed some reservations about the application of the levels of control of GMOs provided in Part VI of the Bill. This matter will be dealt with in regulations. We shall consult widely and listen carefully to the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, and the Royal Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, while welcoming the move of the Government in that regard, raised the question of whether all releases should be subject to consent. The need is for a structure in the enabling legislation which would allow appropriate rigorous levels on control, risk assessment, notification and consent, depending on the particular circumstances of the case.
The level of control to be applied to different categories of release is for regulations on which we 583 shall consult very widely. There is also a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State to release information. My honourable friend in another place, the Minister for the Environment, Mr. Trippier, has announced that we shall set up registers of information. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that answer.
I turn to the matter which obviously took up most of the time of the debate; namely, Part VII of the Bill and the Government's plans for the reorganisation of the NCC. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for the attitude that he took and for saying that it is his intention in later stages of the Bill to examine most closely on their merits the proposals in Part VII.
The Government have given an undertaking that amendments will be made to reflect our response to the report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, which I too would like to endorse as being most welcome to the Government. We shall also deal with some other gaps that we have already identified. To give an example taken from the list of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, we shall bring forward an amendment to put the responsibility for the quinquennial review of species unequivocally with the joint committee.
The noble and gallant Lord wondered whether the Government's response to recommendation 4.22 of the committee's report meant that the reorganisation of the NCC and the two countryside commissions was back in the melting pot. My answer is that the proposals in Part VII—and I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that there is absolutely no question on the Government's part of withdrawing Part VII—remain firm government policy. We have agreed to look more closely at the links between the existing environmental protection agencies, especially in England, in the context of the forthcoming White Paper. I believe that your Lordships ought to read very carefully the whole of the answer to recommendation 4.22, not just part of it. If noble Lords read it as a whole they will see that what I have said reflects the Government's intentions.
I had a little difficulty in deciding what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, had in mind on the reorganisation. I am very grateful that the grand old man, if I may so call him, of the Liberal Party, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said, in Country Life of 16th March 1990:I welcome the proposals and I hope they will be a success.I do not think that that coincides with or strikes the same note as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport.
I can assure my noble friend Lord Massereene that there is no question of wrapping up the NCC. I do not think that I need say more about that.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, supported the changes that are proposed. I pass very quickly to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who asked me to give two assurances today. The first was that the NCC's existing responsibilities for protecting wildlife in the GB and international context would be fully covered in Part VII. The second was that the new agencies and new joint committee would be adequately 584 resourced. I gladly do so. On the first point, I should emphasise that every single one of the NCC's existing duties including those for wildlife in the Great Britain and international context are being placed on the new agencies. We have undertaken to spell out the role of the joint committee in more detail in response to the good report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. On the second point, the Government deserve credibility when we say that adequate resources will be provided for the new agencies. After all, we have increased the NCC's grant in aid by more than 150 per cent, in real terms since 1979–80. I defy anyone to say that that is running away from the Government's obligations in that regard.
On the costings which have appeared from the World Wildlife Fund, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has written to the Worldwide Fund for Nature thanking it for the figures on resources and staffing. I would counsel your Lordships against accepting some of the wilder estimates which have emerged. I do not wish to criticise the World Wildlife Fund. Why should I? It is a very admirable organisation. But I am not sure that the Government or the NCC would consider that it had the expertise to advise on such budgeting matters. I wonder whether the World Wildlife Fund is in a position to advise the Government in that regard. The Government in co-operation with the NCC and the chairman designate are working out the details now. We shall announce them in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked about the annual report. He said that it was a recommendation. We want the annual reports of the countryside agencies which will be laid before this House to contain a common section covering the activities of the joint committee for which the chairman of that committee, Professor Holliday, will be responsible. I can assure your Lordships that the joint committee will be free to put the unvarnished truth before the House. We believe that a separate report is unnecessary and inconsistent with the status of the joint committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, also asked about the report in the Forestry and British Timber magazine. I shall have great pleasure in sending him my reply to that report. I shall not detain your Lordships with it at this moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, was also very interested to find out about the joint committee's budget. Ministers will have, and have to have, the last word about the joint committee's budget. That is only right because in the end it is Ministers who can be called to account, particularly on the question of our European and international commitments to wildlife.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I hate to detain the House, but when the Minister talks about Ministers, is he talking about the Secretary of State for the Environment having an overriding responsibility, or is he saying that the responsibility for the budgets will be devolved between the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales as well as the Secretary of State for the Environment?
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, the normal practice within Government on matters of finance relates to those who have the responsibilities; that is, the various Secretaries of State in Scotland and Wales and for the environment as regards England. However, in such matters, as happens with the Forestry Commission, there is agreement between Ministers about the ring-fenced amount.
As regards budgets, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked about ring fencing in particular and I must give a fuller answer than I have given. The precise details are still to be worked out but the principle will be that the core costs, including staff and the costs of research on GB/UK and international issues, should be included in the ring-fenced budget of the committee. In addition, we envisage that county councils will spend a proportion of their budgets on work assembling species data and so forth which will be fed into the JC. We are looking at the accounting arrangements in detail but the latter category may well be best laid outside the ring fence. I do not wish to say more about the subject of funding, which I have adequately covered.
As regards Part VII of the Bill, I was interested to hear the variety of views expressed about the Government's intentions and the views from various parts of the country. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady David, we have no intention of withdrawing Part VII. I say to my noble friend Lord Norrie, no, we shall not proceed with the reorganisation on a reduced base. I was interested in remarks expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady David, about the views of the Labour Party on the future of the NCC. They do not accord with those of the right honourable 586 gentleman the Leader of the Opposition who has welcomed the proposals in respect of Wales. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, yes, of course the structure must be right but an organisation is only as good as the people in it.
We have had a long day debating the Bill. I know that there are many questions to be answered but I have covered as many as I can at this time. I shall look to see whether there are any detailed points that I have not answered and I shall write to the noble Lords concerned. The support for the Government's response to the excellent report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, has come from many quarters—not least from Professor Holliday, the new chairman of the joint committee, and in a letter received today from Magnus Magnusson—and indicates that the future is assured for a better and sensible reorganisation of the Nature Conservancy Council.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.