§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the 1249 purport of the Environmental Protection Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ Bill read a third time.
§ Clause 1 [Preliminary]:
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 2, line 13, after ("and") insert ("the air within").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if in moving Amendment No. 1 I speak also to Amendment No. 33. Both amendments affect similar texts and are designed to remove a possible ambiguity. I beg to move.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend for spotting this drafting deficiency which has evaded us for so long. I accept the amendments.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Prescribed processes and prescribed substances]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 4, line 22, after ("regulations") insert ("(having effect on or after a date specified in a statement issued under section 162(3) below)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 5, 23, 24, 25, 28 and 40. Before I go any further perhaps I may thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for taking the graveyard slot this afternoon. It is always nice for somebody else to stand up while noble Lords are making their getaway after Question Time.
§ There is an ultimate and a proximate reason for the amendments. The proximate reason is that Clause 162 provides that nearly all of the Bill shall come into force at a date to be specified by the Secretary of State, without stating what that date should be. We believe that the uncertainty caused by such a provision could well be damaging for the many bodies and individuals who will have responsibility for implementing the Bill. Therefore we propose that a statement should be made by the Secretary of State within two months setting out the dates on which he expects the remaining provisions to be brought into force.
§ The ultimate objective of the amendments will be very clear to the Government. However, it may not be entirely clear to some noble Lords who are not used to the way in which we sometimes approach these matters from this Dispatch Box. That is to be found in Amendment No. 40, which, in addition to providing for the phased implementation of integrated pollution control in a manner already indicated by the Government, provides that Part VII of the Bill—that concerned with the dismemberment of the Nature Conservancy Council—shall not be brought into effect before 1st April 1992.
§ Noble Lords would expect me to spend most of my time dealing with that last point because it is a point which I threatened to bring back during the somewhat 1250 inchoate debate which took place last Wednesday. A number of noble Lords, including myself, were very dissatisfied with the position with regard to Part VII of the Bill. I shall not go over the detail of last Wednesday's debate; I would not be thanked for it. However, I ought to repeat where we stand on Part VII and why the immediate implementation of the Bill is virtually an impossibility, quite apart from its innate undesirability.
§ This measure has been brewing for approximately 15 months. It was in July 1989 that the then Secretary of State, on the same day as the Nature Conservancy Council announced its own reform procedures, decided to break up the Nature Conservancy Council. Since that time there has been constant prompting in an effort to understand whether there was any other reason than a yielding to the interests of those who might wish to frustrate nature conservation in Scotland and Wales—I must put it in those terms—for bringing about this major change on which there had been no consultation and for which there was no self-evident reason.
§ Throughout that period no satisfactory explanation has been given of the Government's motives for dismembering the Nature Conservancy Council. The only indication of support for the Government has been in the appointment of the chairman and more recently some of the members of the new country councils. I repeat that we on these Benches have no objection to the nominations that have been made, although they are incomplete, and we shall be looking for more names with an active interest in nature conservation. That is not the burden of our complaint.
§ The burden of our complaint is that the change is unnecessary; that it is likely to result in a decrease in standards; and, as we learnt only last Wednesday, that it will be enormously expensive. The expenditure of nearly £10 million a year from 1991 to 1992 simply on the reorganisation without a single improvement in the quality of our nature conservation work resulting from that expenditure is a distraction from the two purposes of public intervention in nature conservation. It is damaging in budgetary terms to other aspects of nature conservation. It is also likely to cause significant disruption in the years to come. That is a view which has been taken by the vast majority of bodies interested in nature conservation, not only in England but also in Wales and in Scotland where only a small minority have indicated approval for the move that is proposed in Part VII of the Bill.
§ Finally, having considered whether there is any reasonable motive for the Government's actions and not found any, having considered whether it could possibly be justified to spend that amount of money on reorganisation rather than on a service, we come to the issue with which Amendment No. 40 is concerned. That issue is whether it can possibly be implemented by 1st April 1991, which we understand to be the Government's proposed implementation date although it is not on the face of the Bill.
§ The answer, as I am sure any noble Lord who sat through the debate last Thursday will agree, is no. We have no chief executive. The advertisement for the 1251 chief executive is to be issued, if this has not been done in the past few days, before the end of this month. A considerable number of staff will have to be transferred from the existing bodies. If that is the case, and if they are to take up their posts before 1st April 1991, when the chief executive could well have been in post for only a few weeks, it will be imposed on the chief executive, which is not a satisfactory way to arrange such matters.
§ We have no firm indication as to where the long-term headquarters of the joint committee will be, although the indication is that it will start off where the NCC is at present; namely, in Peterborough. We have figures for the numbers of staff for the NCC but we have no assurance that the resources will be available to provide for those staff. We have been given an exact figure of £9.18 million for the reorganisation costs. What we have not been given in advance of the autumn financial statement is any indication that any of the tranches of funds which are universally agreed to be necessary will be provided for the new country councils or for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. So we simply do not have a plausible business plan for the new organisations, either for the country councils themselves or for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
§ I shall not weary the House with any of the other arguments which have been flooding in, even since our debate last Wednesday. For that reason we seek in this amendment to protect the Government by giving one more year for the implementation of the measure which the Government are forcing on nature conservation in this country. We should prefer to go further. We should like the Government to take back this whole misconceived proposal, think again about it and consult properly with the interests concerned.
§ However, we recognise that the role of your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber means that in the absence of any government agreement to the arguments that have already been put forward, that suggestion is unlikely to achieve noble Lords' support. Therefore this modest measure of delay, which is combined with a series of measures to provide for greater certainty about implementation of other parts of the Bill, is proposed to your Lordships as a worthwhile improvement to the Government's proposals. I beg to move.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment which has been so ably put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. It was suggested that perhaps I ought to table the amendment on the affirmative resolution that I had put down at Report stage. However, in all fairness, although we did not vote on that particular resolution, when we voted last Wednesday most people agreed that that was a test of the opinion of the House. Had we carried that vote, the Government would have accepted the purport of what we were trying to say.
We are very unhappy, as I am sure that the noble Baroness understands, that the whole process is to be rushed. There are far too many vacancies still to be filled. I do not yet have the updated figures so far as 1252 England is concerned. However it seems to me that it is probably England which will come off worst from this whole reorganisation.
As I understand it, there are 105 jobs yet to be filled in Scotland, 56 places in Wales and at least 15 places so far as concerns the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. We ought to know a lot more about many aspects of the JNCC. The noble Baroness reassured us that the incoming chairman's comments were not as had been reported to us and that he saw a full future for the JNCC. But we want to know whether its research side will be able to continue. Will it be in a position to drive forward Great Britain's research?
I know that we are attempting to make more use of our universities and other such bodies. That is perfectly acceptable to all the voluntary organisations. But the expertise is there at Peterborough and it would be absolutely daft to dissipate it. We want to know more about that matter. Reports were put in the Library after a great deal of pressure but the report on the total funding from Inbucon has apparently not been put in the Library. We ought to know more about that too. I do not think that any promise was made on that particular report.
I shall not tie her down, but in response to the debate last Wednesday the noble Baroness said that on the whole she did not have too much argument to find with Sir William Wilkinson's projects and that the £9.18 million was accepted. As we know, that money will now be found but there were two further charges of £10 million. The Government did not argue too much about them, although we do not know whether the amount will in fact be forthcoming. We are pretty sure that it will not. However, Sir William's view as to the future needs of nature conservation throughout Great Britain is of that order.
We ought to know much more about this matter before we give a Third Reading to this Bill. The situation is unsatisfactory. The Government will undoubtedly look to outside bodies in the future. The body which I represent and which had a small grant from the Department of the Environment has already been asked, "Can't you get the money from the RSPB or the Royal Society for Nature Conservation?". In fact we do receive most of our money from those bodies. We only get a small amount from the DoE, though we are grateful for it and it enables us to keep going a small secretariat of about three staff.
The whole idea is to achieve a common approach from conservation bodies. We believe that on the whole we have been successful in doing that. It takes a load off Ministers, who receive delegations from one or two bodies rather than from dozens. However, the membership of those bodies is enormous. There are now 800,000 paid-up members of the RSPB alone. The government White Paper puts the figure at around 4 million, although I suspect that it is greater. There are large numbers of people in this country who are very concerned indeed about the future of nature conservation and countryside matters.
I shall not go into any more detail about our feelings on how the situation could have been made so 1253 much better. I have been accused of not being a supporter of devolution. I am very much in favour of devolution. I voted for the devolution Bills for Scotland and Wales when they were brought forward in the other place. I am not so sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, voted in the same way when they arrived in this House. I believe in devolution.
I believe that a great opportunity has been missed. We could have gone further and taken in aspects of forestry, agriculture and many other matters. The opportunity has been lost. However there is still a chance that we can go on and allow time for these appointments to be made. We can look at other measures which need to be put in place. Let us hope for all our sakes that this reorganisation works. We desperately want it to work but it needs time. That is why I support these amendments. They are full of common sense. Let it be done today rather than have to wait for the Government to return in three or four months' time when they know darned well that they cannot make the appointments and must ask for a further six months or put the matter off again for another six months.
That causes untold problems for the staff. They do not know where they are. It was suggested at Report that this measure might be for the convenience of the staff. There is no question of that. Those people are committed conservationists and nature lovers. They want this Bill to work. They do not like the way that the reorganisation has been done but they are determined to make it work. However, they need time. To provide the kind of expertise which is required is bound to take time. It is only sensible to put the matter off for at least another 12 months. I support this amendment.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this group of amendments. Having listened carefully to the arguments advanced by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Ross, who put their names to this amendment, I find myself puzzled as to the nature of their objections.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made it perfectly clear that he understood that the Government's motive behind the changes in Part VII of the Bill was to reduce the amount of conservation work in Scotland and Wales. I paraphrase what he said. He made it clear that in his view Scotland and Wales will lose out as a result.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, took a different view. His view was that those who will suffer are those concerned with conservation in England. I believe that the two noble Lords who put their names to the same amendment might have put their heads together to put forward arguments in support of the amendment and against the Government.
With the greatest respect to the noble Lords, neither of them is right. It is clear that the needs of conservation are not the same in the three countries. There are areas in all three countries which have no parallel in the others. There are areas which require specific treatment by people who are familiar with 1254 those areas. That may be asking a lot of those who hitherto have had responsibility for the whole of Great Britain.
In this House and elsewhere we have rehearsed at great length strong arguments for splitting up the bodies into country commissions, with the joint committee. At this stage of the Bill it does not lie in the competence of this House, or within the conventions of this House, to seek to reopen that argument. Therefore the noble Lords have chosen the well-worn device of seeking to delay its implementation.
I believe that they have one point which they can legitimately make. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made it. Some of the details on how this will be done were made public only last week in the extremely helpful statement made by my noble friend Lady Blatch at the beginning of the last day of Report stage. However, it does not appear to me as though the movers of the amendment have taken on board what my noble friend said in her statement. Both have made great play of the fact that the additional costs incurred by implementing Part VII will be £9.18 million. That is the figure that my noble friend mentioned. She went on to talk about the publicly financed staff in the agencies, including the 86 in the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
I believe that it is worth reminding the House of the words that my noble friend used. She stated:That is 294 more than the present staffing levels. I should add that within those figures we are allowing the consolidation of a number of existing temporary posts as well as the creation of some new ones required by reorganisation. That means that far from there being a major increase in bureaucracy, there will be extra permanent posts in scientific grades and additional provision for policy and think tank work, particularly within the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, compared with current levels of activity". [Official Report, 17/10/90; col. 896.]If words mean anything, that means that there will be an increase in the amount of conservation work which will be done under the new system compared with what has been done under the old. It will be carried out in a different way. It will be carried out by organisations with greater understanding of specific problems in their own countries. But it will be an increase in conservation work.
If the noble Lord says, "Yes, but there are bound to be costs and change and some disruption in the process of change", that may well be right. Anyone who has had experience of substantial reorganisations knows that inevitably there are short-term costs. But what do we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Ross? He stated that we should have brought in far more change; that we should have brought in agriculture, forestry, and goodness knows what else.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, that is the whole argument. I do not think that the noble Lord has been present half the time. That is the real argument: that it was all arranged on the back of an envelope about two years ago between the then Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Perhaps he would talk to the CPRE, the RSPB, the RSNC or any of those bodies. They would like to see the NCC (as it was) organised in a more 1255 federal style. They would also like the forestry interests and others to join in. That is what is so important. That aspect has been missed out.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, the noble Lord knows perfectly well that if we wait for the best of all possible worlds nothing happens in the meantime. It is a classic example of the best being the enemy of the good. There is nothing to prevent the development and evolution of policy over the years ahead. There is much in this Bill which deals with both forestry and agriculture; I am not sure therefore that the argument that the noble Lord has put is entirely sound. There is nothing to prevent major new relationships between the world of forestry, agriculture and conservation being developed in the future when the country committees have settled down and the joint conservation committee has undertaken the role that has been spelt out in the Bill.
The arguments that have been advanced in favour of the amendment so far—there may be a number of other noble Lords who will wish to try to make more sense of them—seem to have great contradictions. Furthermore, the main argument that all is now chaotic and that only if one leaves more time will order emerge does not seem to bear any relation to the facts.
I agree with both noble Lords on one point. It is perfectly clear that the staff, and in particular the professional staff who are engaged in this conservation work—I remember meeting large numbers of them when I visited the Peterborough headquarters some years ago—are immensely impressive and dedicated. Of course they will do their best to make sure that this change is conducted with the minimum of disruption and the maximum continuity of work. However, I simply cannot think of anything that will be more disruptive to the processes of change which are now going on than that this House, supported by another place, should suddenly decide that the whole matter must be put back a year or more. That would create dismay among the staff. They would be driven to ask themselves, "Do we honestly know what we are up to?".
I detect in this group of amendments another opportunity for those who have never made any secret of their total opposition to the reorganisation provided for in Part VII to have another go on Third Reading. I hope very much that noble Lords will not be fooled by it. Some perfectly fair questions have been asked in amplification of the statement that my noble friend Lady Blatch made last week. However, the idea that somehow we should now put the concept back and make sure that nothing will happen until 1992 would be the gravest mistake. I hope that the House will not accept these amendments.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, that we ought not to be debating this on Third Reading. We ought to have done so much earlier but the information was not available. The noble Lord seated that the best is 1256 possibly the enemy of the good. The truth of the matter is that we have the worst. Those of us who are critical are not opposed to devolution. We are not opposed to some of the excellent reforms that no doubt will come. We are opposed to the way in which the change has been handled. We now have to debate on Third Reading matters that ought to have been dealt with at Committee stage.
I should briefly like to refer to some of the issues. I debated whether it was worth taking part in this debate because we have made so little progress in getting our views across. The noble Baroness has tried to be extremely helpful. I think she will agree that the House was kind to her when she was placed in an awkward position when we last debated the matter. She was very kind in making three reports available in the Library. The fact that they were not in the Library when she said they would be was not her fault. Why they had to wait until then to become available I do not know because some had been produced in June. The reports that were made available did not answer our questions. The vital Inbucon report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, referred, giving all the figures and the costs, was not available and is still not available. The three reports that were made available are very interesting. One was on the staffing of the joint committee and another was on common services. There was also a particularly interesting report on information systems. As someone who is very involved in the whole question of geographic information systems, I found it a valuable document. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for making it available. We saw in it some of the excellent quality of the Civil Service work being done in that area. The fact remains, however, that those involved had to make bricks without straw.
It is interesting to note that the inspector responsible for the review of staffing for the joint committee scientific and secretarial support unit said:In the absence of clearly defined objectives for the support unit we concluded that staffing could be almost as little or as great as one desired".In those circumstances, how could the Civil Service produce a meaningful scheme? When it took evidence from the chief scientist in the Nature Conservancy Council it rejected many of his suggestions. It chose a different level of rank. The document produces a most unsatisfactory result.
The most serious matter of all was the absence of the Inbucon report. Even at this late stage, as the Bill is returning to the Commons, I feel that the Government should make the report available. It will give the figures upon which the noble Baroness based her attack on the Nature Conservancy Council figures. Those figures are justified by the Inbucon report and not by her statement. She stated that the first £10 million was okay and that the third £10 million was okay but that the middle £10 million was unnecessary. I dispute that view. The Inbucon report shows that the chairman was justified in his statement. Those who produced these reports were working to 1257 instructions from the Civil Service. They were doing a difficult job as requested by their Ministers but they were not given a free hand to judge what was the best.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that no one is complaining about a large measure of devolution, but we are concerned that it is not the right measure. The Government are behind-hand as regards a timetable. Hardly any members of staff of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland have been appointed. How do the Government expect this system to start working on the date they have chosen? There is to be consultation with landowners and others but many more people will have to be consulted than has been estimated. Indeed, 20,000 have a right to be consulted, which is where some of that extra £10 million will go.
It is perhaps vain to expect the Government to do very much at this stage but I think it is a tragedy that an opportunity which could so easily have been taken has been missed. I fear that the wishes of the Secretary of Stab; for Scotland will not be carried out unless the Nature Conservancy Council for England is denuded of some of the staff it needs. I am told that the Scots are having difficulty in nominating suitable candidates for the post. However, it is a fairly futile business to list all the things which the Government ought now to be doing. When we come finally to the Motion, That the Bill do now pass, we shall pass it with a heavy heart.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, perhaps I may draw one or two points to the attention of the House. Amendment No. 5 appears to try to group Part VII of the Bill with Part II. Clause 32(2) refers to Schedule 2. I am especially concerned with paragraph 16, which deals with the transfer of staff. We do not necessarily need to link the transfer of staffs in waste disposal provisions with the transfer of staffs which may be involved in Part VII. I do not think that any of the amendments will improve the situation.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I should like to take up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. I have learnt from a number of unconnected sources that a majority of staff within the NCC at the moment would welcome a delay so that they might see the finished proposals for staffing and be aware of the picture as a whole before they had to implement them. It is the feeling of a very large number of staff, including some senior members, that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be up and running by 1st April. Amendment No. 40, which I support, would be welcome to them.
It was at the end of July 1989 that this House first debated, in the form of an Unstarred Question asked in the last few days of July, the proposed break-up of the NCC. On that occasion we posed a number of questions. Now, 15 months later, some of them still remain unanswered despite all the debates we have had. I shall not again go over the question of staffing but I must put to the Government a few of the questions of which still need to be answered before the Bill passes from this House.
1258 The first question was referred to earlier by my noble friend. What objection did the Government have to the proposals of the Nature Conservancy Council for devolution? I have spelt out this question on three occasions myself but I have not yet had anything approaching an answer or indeed any reference to it. I hope that the noble Baroness who is to respond will be able to answer that question. We have never said that we did not want to see powers devolved to Wales and Scotland. We simply objected to the way it was being done and to the lack of consultation. To this day there has not been consultation in England. There was a passing gesture to consultation in Scotland in the shape of a very thin document which went out quite quickly. But it was useless from the point of view of consultation. I do not know what has happened in Wales. I know that there has been no consultation in England.
We have heard that the names of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland have not yet been announced. It is asking a good deal of this House to have confidence in the new body in Scotland if it has no idea who, apart from the chairman, will be on that body. We have seen some of the names for Wales. As far as I can tell—I am perfectly willing to admit that I may be wrong, and if so I shall apologise to those concerned—there is not in the Welsh list what one might call a practising nature conservationist. I know that there are still gaps and that this may be remedied. Perhaps we may be told that today too.
There is the question of the appointment of the chief officers for all the councils. Is it true that the chief officer of the JNCC will be of a lower grade than the chief officers of the country councils? That is something we should have known and had a chance to talk about. If it is true, what will then be the status of the JNCC in relation to the other councils when it comes to interdepartmental discussions or inter-council discussions? Can the noble Baroness answer that question?
Finally, last week the noble Baroness gave us the figures for expenditure. My noble friend referred to that matter but did not specifically ask a question. Will the capital costs of the new JNCC headquarters, if there is to be one, come out of the £10 million transitional costs or is there to be a new establishment for the JNCC? If so, where is it to be? That is also very important. Is it to be an offshore island of Scotland or Wales, or will it be somewhere everyone can reach? We know nothing about that.
I am very dissatisfied with the answers we have received to a large number of questions. In Great Britain as a whole nature conservancy has been badly served by the Government's handling of this proposal. As my noble friend Lord Shackleton said, today we must pass the Bill: many of us will do so with a heavy heart.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will resist the amendment as so many other amendments have been resisted throughout the passage of the Bill. In the first stages amendments were designed to prevent the devolution of decision-making as regards conservation in Scotland 1259 and Wales. Later they were designed to try to frustrate the details. And now, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, there is a last-ditch amendment to delay the proposals.
I know that noble Lords opposite are sincerely convinced—at least I take it they are—that this devolution of decision-making to Scotland and Wales will damage conservation in the United Kingdom. They tell us that, and they have a right to their opinion. However, I wish that they had consulted their Scottish colleagues: many are well versed in this matter. I do not know a single one who believes that it is a bad idea to devolve to Scotland and Wales that area of decision-making. Noble Lords opposite should try to understand that when they talk in a grandiose way of political devolution and how that will solve all the problems—the noble Lord, Lord Ross referred to this—one must first want decision-making locally where that is a good plan.
Nature conservancy is an area ideally suited to devolution. It has close links with the devolution of decision-making already being carried out in Scotland and Wales covering access to countryside, preservation of the beauty of the countryside and so on.
Mention has been made of 800,000 members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, many of them Scots. Anyone who has talked to Scottish members of the RSPB individually will find that their views are no different to those of other people living in Scotland who are not members of the society. They want what is best for nature conservancy.
We need this measure; we need it urgently. I am convinced that there is no better way to improve nature conservancy and to kindle enthusiasm for it in Scotland—and, I am sure, in Wales—than devolving decision-making in the way proposed. That is good for nature conservancy in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Oppositions have a duty to oppose. They have done that very effectively. They have examined this part of the Bill very closely; that is quite right. However, I beg your Lordships not to allow this measure to be delayed.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, we have had an important debate on a very important group of amendments. At Committee stage in July the then Minister my noble friend Lord Hesketh gave an undertaking to publish our proposals for implementing the Bill once it is enacted. That we shall do. Since then, however, our timetable for implementation has also become clearer and I hope that the following details will be helpful to your Lordships.
I am pleased to say that the timetable for bringing into effect Part I of the Bill is quicker than that outlined in Amendments No. 2 and 40. Large combustion plant will indeed come under integrated pollution control from 1st April 1991. It is also correct, as the noble Lord's amendments state, that other categories of process will do so from 1st April 1992. But there is an important proviso in our 1260 implementation programme that all new processes and substantial changes to existing processes will also be brought within IPC from April 1991.
Part I also covers local authority air pollution control. Our discussions with the local authority associations and professional institutions confirm that they are ready to begin implementing their new powers under Part I of the Bill from April 1991. Indeed, our implementation timetable would bring all processes for local authority control within the system by April 1992. Amendment No. 40 suggests that that should be the earliest start date. I cannot therefore accept Amendment No. 40 on which all the others in this grouping hinge.
Amendment No. 5 would have the effect of requiring the Secretary of State to specify the date, or dates, on which he will direct every waste disposal authority in England and Wales to set up a LAWDC. Our intention is that, as provided for in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2, the Secretary of State will first write to every disposal authority giving notice of his intention to direct. At this point he will be seeking the views of local authorities about whether they wish to set up a LAWDC or make alternative arrangements. It may be that some authorities do not wish to have a LAWDC and would rather privatise, or an authority may have already made alternative arrangements for the disposal of its waste. Only when those representations have been received and considered will the Secretary of State issue directions and then only in the case where an authority has not applied for an exemption.
It must be right that those authorities which wish to make alternative arrangements should be given time to put them in place. The amount of time needed will be a matter for discussion. If the authorities do not make good progress the Secretary of State will however retain the option of directing them to set up a LAWDC. It is not our wish to impose unreasonable deadlines on authorities. Instead, we propose to work with them to establish individual timetables for the creation of LAWDCs, catering for their own circumstances.
Part IV of the Bill is a little simpler. The Clause 89 duty, referred to in Amendment No. 23, will come into effect from 1st April 1991, along with most of the provisions of Part IV. The code of practice issued under Clause 89(7) will also take effect from that date. The duty and the provisions of the code would then apply to the public land of local authorities, the Crown, designated statutory undertakers, some other landowners, and the land of educational institutions.
Orders may also be made to bring under the duty land of designated statutory undertakers to which the public does not have access. We intend to bring in railway embankments in urban areas, but not until 1st April 1992. There will be a separate category in the code for such embankments, which would also not apply until that date.
We also wish Part V of the Bill to be implemented as soon as possible. Subsection (2) of Clause 162 provides that certain provisions—paragraphs 7, 13, 14 and 15 of Schedule 5—will come into force two 1261 months after Royal Assent, and it is our intention that the remaining provisions, with the exception of the charging scheme in Clause 101, will be implemented at the same time through the commencement order. The charging regime will come into effect on 1st April 1991 to coincide with the commencement of the financial year.
We shall not be quite so quick in respect of Part VI of the Bill. This will be brought into effect by October 1991, fully in line with the requirements of the EC directives on which this part of the Bill is based.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving notice to me last week that he would be putting forward amendments to delay the implementation of Part VII of the Bill. Amendment No. 28, taken together with Amendment No. 40, would have the effect of delaying the implementation of the reorganisation proposals until ha April 1992. I have to say that the Government do not share the noble Lord's view that such a delay would be beneficial. We are convinced of the conservation benefits that will flow from these new arrangements and are eager to see them fully implemented as quickly as possible.
We have spent a long time in this House considering this part of the Bill, and the Government have been at pains to take on board suggestions from your Lordships wherever possible. At the same time, a huge amount of effort has taken place outside this House to prepare for the implementation of this part of the Bill in April next year. A delay to April 1992 would destroy overnight much of that effort. The delay proposed by the amendment would have a major effect on staff. The Government have, from the outset, done all that they can to allay the fears of the staff about their future. For instance, very shortly after the initial announcement was made my noble friend Lord Hesketh gave an assurance, now enshrined in Clause 137 of the Bill, that all those staff employed by the existing agencies would be offered a job in one of the new agencies on terms no worse than they currently enjoy. A delay in implementation would have a deleterious effect on staff morale by creating a climate of uncertainty both about the future of the proposals and the effect on staff. The effect of the amendment would also be to cause delay and confusion in the work programmes of the NCC—the work to be taken over by the successor bodies and the new programmes those bodies wish to develop. I need hardly say that such delay and confusion would be to the detriment of nature conservation as a whole.
The new agencies will be ready to take over their responsibilities from 1st April next year. Over the past 15 months the Government and the agencies concerned have undertaken a great deal of detailed work to ensure that the new agencies are up and running on 1st April. Working parties have been established in each of the three countries to take matters forward. A joint steering group had responsibility for directing the course of the working parties, monitoring progress and taking decisions where necessary. Priority was given to establishing agreed structures and organisations for the three new agencies. That has been done. Work is currently under 1262 way on the staff transfer schemes. I understand that details of placements have already been made available to staff on an informal basis.
Much work has already been done. Following Royal Assent it is our intention to bring the new agencies into effect as soon as possible so that they can continue this work, and to ensure that they are in a position to assume their full responsibilities as from 1st April next year. No useful purpose would be served by delaying the implementation of these proposals until 1992; indeed, to do so would only lead to chaos or, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding so cloquently said, order, counter-order, disorder.
I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, when he spoke to the amendment. It was much more his dislike of the Bill that motivated the amendments than sensible implementation of the changes.
I shall return specifically to points raised in the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, strongly contested the assertion that there would be any improvement on the figure of £9.18 million being spent. There will be considerable improvement. The new agencies will be able to deliver conservation in a more effective and sensitive way. They will be attuned to local needs. Furthermore, the sum will allow more than 100 temporary posts at the NCC in the regions, mostly of the grass-roots kind, to be made permanent. That point was very eloquently made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, and reinforced by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. That too should make the services provided more effective.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, referred to vacancies. He said that the proposals cannot go ahead because the vacancies will not be filled. There will be a number of vacant posts when the staff transfer schemes are agreed next month. That is natural as there will be more posts, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding said. There will be several hundred more posts in the new agencies. It is our view that the five months that will elapse between Royal Assent and the implementation date is a good time for inroads to be made in making those posts available to the agencies.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, said that England would be the loser. I must rebut the assertion that the NCC in England will suffer. I believe the comment was made in reference to something said by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. The NCC's existing regional network in England will be retained intact, and indeed strengthened. We are allowing many temporary posts to be made permanent. The NCC in England will also have an excellent chairman in my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, a Member of this House, as well as other experienced and expert members. I announced the list of members last week, and the noble Lord should be impressed by it. England, like Scotland and Wales, will obtain a better and more sensitive service from the new agencies.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the Inbucon Report. That report is the property of the NCC and therefore it is for the NCC to publish it. The noble Lord referred to the three tranches of £10 1263 million. We had no difficulty in agreeing the first and third tranches, but I must make clear that the middle tranche of £10 million was a subjective judgment of whether or not the NCC was properly funded. It related specifically to underfunding. I made the point that from the inception of the NCC, or from the time that the Government inherited the NCC, the annual grant was £8 million. It now stands at £44 million. That does not include the extra sum I made known to the House last week. We must recognise that sums of that kind are finite. Therefore, it must be a balanced judgment of any government as to how much money will be made available. We said that adequate funds will be made available.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, perhaps I could ask the noble Baroness whether the Inbucon Report will be made available.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the report is not the property of the Government; it is the property of the NCC. That is my understanding. If I am misleading the noble Lord in any way I shall write to him.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, does that mean that the Government will have no objection if the report is published?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, that must remain a matter for the NCC.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding was absolutely right, especially regarding the increased capacity to cover UK and international work and Great Britain data needs through the JNCC. I remind the House that the JNCC will, for the first time, bring Northern Ireland into the equation. Northern Ireland will be represented on the JNCC and therefore UK nature conservation issues may be properly addressed by the JNCC.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, is showing signs of frustration about receiving answers to her questions. She has received answers; I am sure that the noble Baroness is not satisfied with the answers, but the answers have nevertheless been given. Perhaps I could attempt an answer this afternoon. I promised before the debate that I would try to do that.
The main reason for rejecting the federal idea referred to by the noble Baroness was that it failed to meet two criteria the Government had set for reform and which the Government believed to be important: first, clearer accountability to Ministers; and secondly, improved sensitivity to local circumstances. A federal model would still mean Peterborough in control thereby continuing to muddy the waters between the responsibilities of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and his right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. There would continue to be a strong feeling, particularly in Scotland but also in Wales, that people in those countries were not to be trusted with bodies to look after conservation in their own areas. That is a view we find both patronising and unjustified. For one moment of relief I recall the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and my 1264 noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. They firmly support the ability of Scotland to have a stronger say in its own affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that he was surprised that we had made little progress. I am surprised that he should think that. The Government accepted virtually all the recommendations made in the Carver Report chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. We have said that many times during the debate. Not only did the Government take on board many of the report's recommendations; in the short period of my involvement with the Bill I believe that the Government have positively responded to many of the concerns raised by noble Lords.
The final point I shall address—if I have missed any points I shall write to noble Lords—was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. The noble Baroness was concerned about membership, and the particular skills the membership brings to the Welsh Conservancy Council. Virtually all the members announced so far have an interest in nature conservation, and some are employed in that field full-time. My understanding is that, for example, Miss Janet Barber, who is head of conservation for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, is to be a member of the NCC for England. That was one of the announcements I made last week.
In regard to the chief executive, I understand that he or she will be appointed at a higher grade—the equivalent of Grade 4 in Civil Service terms. That is higher than envisaged in the Bloomfield Report because we are aware of the sensitivity of the work and the need for the postholder to act as a sort of head of science. We agree with the noble Baroness on the importance of this post for the JNCC. In other words, the post will be seen as a head of the science profession throughout the agencies. That answers, I believe, the point raised by the noble Baroness about the relationship of the post to other agencies.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, that is an important statement in response to the point so ably put by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. It means that whoever is the chief executive of the JNCC will be appointed for his knowledge of science and that the JNCC will be involved in continuing scientific research for Great Britain as a whole. It will be a national role. Am I right in that assumption?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's agreement on the importance of this post. The postholder will be more senior than the chief scientists in the agencies but less senior than the three chief executives. We believe that that is the right balance. I hope that the noble Baroness agrees.
We have brought forward proposals of which we are proud to protect the environment. We wish to see the proposals implemented smoothly, effectively and quickly. I hope that this review of our implementation timetable is of assistance to noble Lords. Therefore, I ask the House to reject the amendment.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, we must be grateful to the noble Baroness for the very comprehensive way in which she has responded not 1265 only to the amendments themselves but to the debate. However, I am bound to say, having listened carefully, that I am not convinced that a case has been made out against the amendment.
Before dealing with contributions from noble Lords I owe the House an apology. Indeed, I probably owe an apology to the Government: they were possibly misled by the layout of the final Amendment No. 40. It is not that the wording was wrong but that the last phrase,and subject to paragraphs (a) and (b) above different days may be appointed for different purposeswas supposed to be justified to the left-hand margin (which I believe is the technical term) and therefore, as it says, to refer to paragraphs (a) and (b). The importance of that is not that the wording is changed but that it becomes clearer that there is a great deal of flexibility left in our amendments. The only lack of flexibility, in effect, is the very limited flexibility in Claus, 2(1) in Part I and the lack of flexibility, on which of course we insist, in Clause 128(1) in Part VII.
That should reassure the noble Lord, Earl Balfour, who seems to think that there is a necessary connection in the amendments between Part II and Part VII. There is not. The date in Part II is left open but the Secretary of State has to announce it within two months. I think that answers virtually all the points made by the noble Baroness when she gave the House worthwhile and welcome extra information about implementation dates; the point being that although the matter has to be addressed within two months there is flexibility for different days being appointed for different purposes.
I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness say that she does not want to impose unreasonable deadlines on local authorities for the institution of local authority waste disposal companies. I have to say that that is rather like a deathbed conversion. The Government have been imposing unreasonable deadlines on local authorities ever since I have been involved with these matters in this House or in the local authority sphere. I can remember the deadlines imposed for compulsory competitive tendering last year and the previous year. At that time I would have welcomed the sort of statement from government Ministers that we have now heard.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, disputed my argument that there could be lower standards of nature conservation in some parts of the country. He cannot deny that there will be different standards in different parts of the United Kingdom; otherwise there is hardly any point in devolving the powers to country agencies. The question of whether there will be lower standards of nature conservation in one part of the country or another is not proven. I do not believe anyone can say for certain that it will be the case. However, there is not much doubt that those who have been most strongly pressing for devolution to Scotland are also keen on land-owning interests and forestry interests. Let us come out into the open. There are many people in Scotland who would like to see 1266 nature conservation coming second to the interests of large-scale land holdings and to the interests of the forestry industry.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way on that point. What he says is simply not the case. People from all over Scotland have found it extremely difficult to have instructions emanating from Peterborough relating to the remote areas of Scotland and based on spasmodic visits to those parts; instructions which are based on a distant view and on theory rather than on understanding the problems of local people in Scotland. This is by no means a landowners' issue. It is a matter on which the people of Scotland feel very strongly indeed.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I do not deny that the noble Baroness talks to more individuals in Scotland than I do. That does not justify her claim to speak for the people of Scotland as a whole, which is what she did last week and has done again today. The fact is that however many people she may have spoken to individually and however conscientious she may be in doing so, the bodies concerned with nature conservation in Scotland have been almost unanimously opposed to these measures. To me, that is more convincing evidence than that produced by the noble Baroness.
I come back to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. He rightly pointed to the fact that there will be more professional staff. The question that arises is not the number of professional staff, nor indeed the competence of professional staff—I am not in any way attacking the competence of the professional staff—but whether their remit and the objectives which they are set will enable them to work as effectively as they should be working; whether much of their time will be spent, as many believe, in negotiations between one country agency and another rather than in original work; and whether the bureaucracy, which everybody agrees will be added to the staff complement of the nature conservation business in this country, will in fact help to further the cause of nature conservation.
There has to be a very good reason for spending £9.18 million on reorganisation and employing 274 extra staff. To say that some of them will be scientific staff rather than administrative staff does not detract significantly from the point of the argument. The argument for this rushed implementation will not stand up, and I am interested to see that the Minister has not given us any further information about the date proposed by the Government. The details have emerged at virtually the last stage of our consideration of the Bill. Therefore, I believe that the House should take a position on the matter.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall he agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 153.1268
|Division No. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Attlee, E.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Birk, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Longford, E.|
|Broadbridge, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||McNair, L.|
|Callaghan of Cardiff, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Carter, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|David, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Oram, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Peston, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Richard, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Ross of Newport, L. [Teller.]|
|Gladwyn, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Serota, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Grey, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Tordoff, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Varley, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Constantine of Stanmore, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Alport, L.||Crickhowell, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Astor, V.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Auckland, L.||Dilhorne, V.|
|Balfour, E.||Eccles, V.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Eccles of Moulton, B.|
|Beloff, L.||Effingham, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Elibank, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Elles, B.|
|Blyth, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Boardman, L.||Elliot of Morpeth, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Elton, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Flather, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Foley, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Brightman, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Geddes, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Byron, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Grimthorpe, L.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Haden-Guest, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone,|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Carver, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Havers, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Henley, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Hives, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Hood, V.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Hooper, B.||Orkney, E.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Pender, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Piatt of Writtle, B.|
|King of Wartnaby, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Pym, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Reay, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Rees, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Renton, L.|
|Layton, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Long, V.||Ridley, V.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Lyell, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Lytton, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||St. John of Fawsley, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|MacLehose of Beoch, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Shannon, E.|
|Mancroft, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Manton, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Mar, C.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Strange, B.|
|Merrivale, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Mersey, V.||Swinfen, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Monteagle of Brandon, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mountbatten of Burma, C.||Ullswater, V.|
|Mountgarret, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vinson, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Munster, E.||Walpole, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Wise, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Norfolk, D.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Clause 14 [Prohibition notices]:
Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 17, line 19, leave out ("exercise its powers") and insert ("perform its duties").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a short point and I hope that the Government will be favourably disposed towards it. Under certain circumstances there is a duty on the enforcing authorities to serve prohibition notices. The powers that are set out in Clause 14 merely represent subsidiary powers as far as that basic duty is concerned.
§ At present the Secretary of State can give directions only to enforcing authorities concerning the exercise of their powers under Clause 14. Consequently the reference in the Bill to the word "powers" is wrong. Instead there should be reference to the word "duties". If that does not apply, then the Secretary of State will simply have no authority to direct the enforcing authorities to perform their duties to serve prohibition notices. I beg to move.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for the explanation he has given of this amendment. We agree that, because Clause 14 places a duty by the use of the word "shall" 1269 on an enforcing authority to serve a prohibition notice in the circumstances described at subsection (1), the reference to "powers" in subsection (4) is incorrect. In the circumstances, we are happy to accept the noble Lord's amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]
§ Clause 36 [Grant of licences]:
Lord Reay moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 40, line 46, leave out ("or (6)") and insert (", (6) or (7)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple technical amendment, consequential on the amendments made in Committee which added the Nature Conservancy Council as a statutory consultee on waste licensing. The amendment adds a reference to the NCC in the subsection which allows 21 days for representations to be made. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 42 [Supervision of licensed activities]:
Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 46, line 35, at end insert:
("(1A) Where, at any time during the subsistence of a licence, if appears to the waste regulation authority that pollution of water is likely to be caused by the activities to which the licence relates, it shall be the duty of the authority to consult the National Rivers Authority as to the discharge by the authority of the duty imposed on it by subsection (1) above.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7, and with it goes Amendment No. 8 which is consequential. With these two amendments are grouped Amendments Nos. 14 and 15. Perhaps I may explain.
§ The four amendments taken together fulfil the purpose of one amendment which I tabled in Committee. My concern and the concern of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell was, and is, that the National River's Authority should be made aware of any problems at landfill sites which might pollute water. In this country we have been very fortunate—or perhaps we have been quite vigilant—in that no major public water supply has been lost so far by contamination from waste sites. Of course, there have been various other causes of pollution, but that is another matter.
§ The problems of long-term potential pollution from percolation from waste-filled sites will require continued vigilance by site operators and waste regulation authorities, so it is very important that the National Rivers Authority is brought into the process of co trot as soon as possible.
§ My amendment in Committee identified that gap and inadequately tried to fill it. I was particularly concerned about potential pollution from closed landfill sites; my amendment would have required the WRA to inform the NRA where there was any possibility of pollution of water from such sites. I am pleased to say that the amendments now before us go even further. In the first place, what will now be 1270 required is consultation about the steps to be taken to deal with the problem, not merely that the NRA should be informed.
§ I hope it is not putting the cart before the horse if I mention that the two later amendments, Nos. 14 and 15, deal with potential water pollution from closed landfill sites where there is no longer a licensee. But the first two amendments go further. They cover sites while they are still the subject of current licences. That would include closed landfills where the authority had not yet issued a certificate of completion that the site was safe and accepted the surrender of the licence, but it would also include any danger of pollution to water from current licensed waste activity not limited to landfill. So the whole thing is much broader than it was.
§ At present, the duty on the WRAs in the Bill is to consult with the NRA about licensed sites only when a licence is issued or modified, but there could well be pollution where the answer was not a modification of the licence. So that gap is filled.
§ Should any licensed activity seem likely to cause pollution of water, then it would be necessary for the WRA and the NRA to put their heads together as to what should be done.
§ This series of amendments taken together—and I am afraid I have spoken to them collectively—therefore provides complete provision for statutory consultation between those two bodies in all circumstances in which there might be any threat to water from waste.
§ If any noble Lord requires, I could go into more precise detail as to the effect of the amendments in reply to the debate, but I hope I have said enough to explain their purpose and their effect. Accordingly, I beg to move Amendment No. 7.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, I am always interested in the amendments that my noble friend Lord Renton puts down, and I feel that he gives a great deal of thought to them. I should be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister says in respect of the amendments. If they are acceptable, would it be possible to include the river purification boards of Scotland as well?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Renton has brought forward these amendments, for which he has given us a very full explanation.
In offering the Government's support, I am redeeming a pledge which was given in Committee and repeated by my noble friend Lord Arran at Report stage on 10th October, col. 377 in Hansard. We agreed that the Bill should provide for waste regulation authorities to consult with the National Rivers Authority in cases where closed landfill sites might threaten water pollution.
In fact, as my noble friend explained, the amendments before us now provide for consultation about sites in all cases where there might be any prospect of pollution of water by waste sites. This covers any case where there is still a licence and waste 1271 is still being treated or deposited, as well as sites where deposit has stopped, the licence has been surrendered and the site is closed.
My noble friend Lord Balfour asked me a question, to which I understand the answer is "Yes". I am sure that this important safeguard will be welcome to your Lordships' House, and I commend the amendments to your Lordships.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 46, line 36, leave out ("that duty") and insert ("the duty imposed on it by subsection (1) above.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 48 [Duties of waste collection authorities as respects disposal of waste collected]:
Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 54, line 19, leave out ("does") and insert ("shall").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment and at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11.
§ Here we come back to the question of local authorities who have made remarkable progress—and there are a number of them—in stimulating reclamation and recycling. In this part of the Bill we are concerned to see that waste should be properly handled and wherever possible sorted and recycled.
§ Having looked carefully not only at this Bill and its provisions but also at the Government's White Paper on the whole issue, I must say that I have come to the conclusion that there is positive encouragement to local authorities as well as to other organisations and enterprises to join in this endeavour.
§ What has created the concern of boroughs like Richmond-upon-Thames is the fact that, under the provisions of the Bill, if they were to become waste disposal authorities as well as being waste collection authorities, they would have to cease doing some or all of the desirable things that they now do. That certainly seems to be a step backward. When we debated the issue at a previous stage, I was glad to note that there was considerable support from both sides of the House to rectify that apparent anomaly.
§ Since then, I have received a most helpful letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I hope that she will allow me to refer to it because it gives me the impression that there may be ways in which local authorities which are disposal authorities and have already made progress in that area could continue to undertake some or all of those current activities. I should be much obliged if she would elucidate that point when she replies. There is a little uncertainty in what she said in the letter because she referred to the fact that the restriction on their activities in that regard could be limited to heavier types of equipment. The Bill does not make a distinction between types of equipment, so I should be glad if she would explain that point too.
§ Richmond is concerned and somewhat demoralised about those possible developments. It has it in mind to continue on the good path along which it is going. 1272 Having already established many collecting centres for different kinds of waste—bottle banks and other kinds of banks—it now proposes to develop a major recycling centre, to allocate greater space to the provision of equipment for recycling and to investigate other recyclable materials in addition to the half dozen which it already recycles—a most commendable continuing initiative. I therefore hope that, when the noble Baroness replies, she will be able to indicate that, even if it becomes a waste disposal authority, it will be able to continue more or less unimpaired in those directions.
§ However, as I understand it, there is the possibility that the borough may not be designated a waste disposal authority and that the West London Waste Authority may well continue. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness would indicate whether that will be the case, because that would resolve this issue, although it would not resolve the issue of principle.
§ The proposition in Amendment No. 11, which is being taken with this group of amendments, is that, because of the importance of not discouraging any local authority or any other body or enterprise in this country from engaging in effective recycling, the provisions of Clause 48(7), which would debar the disposal authorities from some of those activities, should be deferred for five years. During that period they should continue to develop those desirable activities and at the end we could find some way in which they might be merged progressively with those of others or perhaps continued for a longer period.
§ I therefore strongly commend to your Lordships the principles underlying the amendment on this basic issue. The purpose of this part of the Bill is to encourage effective reclamation and recycling wherever and by whomever it is done. The Government recognise that boroughs such as Richmond-upon-Thames have succeeded admirably in that endeavour. We must find a way round the difficulties which certain clauses of the Bill seem to present in their continuing in that direction. I beg to move.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, I feel some concern about this amendment because Clause 48(6) states:A waste collection authority may, subject to subsection (7) below, provide plant and equipment",whereas Clause 48(7) states:Subsection (6) above does not apply to an authority which is also a waste disposal authority".If the phrase used is "shall not", I believe that it will mislead. Equally, as Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 are grouped together, I believe that Amendment No. 11 should come before Amendment No. 10.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I should like to add my support to this amendment which bears my name as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was good enough to send me a copy of her letter to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. However, I was not at all convinced by the case that she put for the Government's 1273 proposals, although I understand that her personal predilection would be for the recycling activities of those councils to continue.
Understanding the letter of the noble Baroness was not made any easier by the fact that it refers in three places to Clause 47 when I believe that it should refer to Clause 48. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the use in the letter of the phrase "heavier equipment" which is not repeated in the Bill. The Bill refers to plant and equipment used for the sorting and baling of waste. There is no dispensation for equipment, whether it is light, heavy or anything else. That point must be explained with regard to the relationship between the letter and the Bill.
Of more substantial importance is the reassurance given in the letter that Richmond will be able to continue using bottle banks. It is not just a matter of bottle banks. My borough, Haringey, has sites for the collection of office waste paper, as I think do many other boroughs. This is not at all a party matter. Boroughs of all political shades attempt to do the same thing nowadays. These are generally recognised to be useful recycling activities which local authorities can undertake but which will not make money. That is the most important point. If it is suggested that, as a result of the Bill, they will have to go over to an outside contractor, whether it is a privatised contractor or a waste disposal company, there will be a complicated financial relationship between the local authority, which has in the past been willing to put money into recycling activities, and the contractor, who has to make money out of his contract. Despite everything that the Government have said, it still therefore appears that their action to take away the recycling powers of authorities which are both collection and disposal authorities cannot be justified. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is exactly right in the conclusions that he draws from that.
Neither am I reassured by the Government's undertaking to reconsider the abolition of the statutory waste disposal authorities. That may well be a welcome concession and it may well be that the boroughs and the statutory waste disposal authorities will want to take it up, but we do not know that and it is not in the Bill. If the statutory waste authorities are to be dismantled, the undesirable effects of the Bill, if it is not amended, will continue to be felt.
We need much more assurance than we have been given by the Government. If we are not to pursue the amendments, we must be told categorically that London boroughs such as Richmond and boroughs throughout the country which will become collection and disposal authorities will continue to have the right to carry out the valuable recycling activities that they do at present. Failing that, I do not think that the Government's words match up to their deeds.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 to Clause 48(7) are intended to allow those authorities which are both collection and disposal authorities a period of grace of five years before new arrangements for the provision of baling and sorting equipment must be made. We debated this matter on Report in the course of our discussions on an 1274 amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I am aware that there remains a great deal of confusion in the minds of authorities on the effects of the provisions in the Bill concerning powers to provide equipment for recycling. I am therefore pleased to have this further opportunity to try to clarify the position.
There is a restriction in Clause 48(7) on those authorities which are both collection and disposal authorities. These are authorities in Wales and districts in some of the metropolitan areas of England. The restriction is that such authorities may not themselves provide plant and equipment for the sorting and baling of waste that they retain for recycling, but they may arrange for its provision with a contractor. The restriction applies only to plant for sorting and baling of waste. It does not apply to the provision of receptacles to collect the waste for recycling, such as bottle banks or the range of other recycling banks that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, described to your Lordships' House as being provided by Richmond.
Further, there are two ways in which such an authority can arrange for the provision of that equipment which it is, itself, prevented from providing. As a disposal authority, the authority may arrange for whichever contractor is engaged to dispose of or recycle its waste to provide this plant in the course of its contract. Alternatively, the authority may apply to the Secretary of State, in the course of the submission on its plans to set up a LAWDC or to privatise its operations, for his agreement to the authority keeping the ownership of such plant and equipment and letting management contracts to run it. Therefore, perhaps I may stress that there are no restrictions on the provisions of receptacles for recycling. There are restrictions on the provision of heavier equipment to sort and bale waste for recycling, but there need be no difficulty in arranging for this to be provided by the private sector or operated by the private sector under management contract.
I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, whether Richmond would become a waste disposal authority. When the Government first consulted on the proposals for creating LAWDCs, it was proposed that the four statutory disposal authorities in London would be abolished—one of which covers Richmond —because the main point of their function would be transferred to the LAWDC. However, we received representations from the authorities concerned that they' would nevertheless have a useful role to play and that they should not be abolished. We have therefore agreed to reconsider the case for each of the authorities to remain in being when the Secretary of State considers the authorities' proposals to create LAWDCs or to privatise their operations. Whether it remains sensible to retain the authorities will depend to a significant extent on the plans for the operational work and the role that the remaining authorities would play. We do not have a closed mind on the matter. We shall reach a decision in consultation with the authorities concerned and their constituent boroughs.
1275 The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, asked me about sites for collection of waste paper. My understanding is that these will not be affected: boroughs can still provide any equipment for the separate collection of waste for recycling. He also raised the issue as to whether recycling would survive if it depended on the contractor to decide whether to provide the equipment. Such a decision will not be taken by the contractor. The waste disposal authority will be the contractor's customer and as such that authority will ask the contractor to provide the equipment at his site. The authority will continue to pay the contractor directly for those services it wishes him to provide. Therefore it will not be a matter of the contractor having to make recycling profitable. So provision of such facilities through the private sector should not affect the viability of recycling. My noble friend Lord Balfour asked a question about the wording in this connection. My understanding is that it would make no difference. Therefore, his suggestion is unnecessary.
I hope that what I have said will assist your Lordships and the authorities and that it will help dispel the fears surrounding these provisions. We cannot accept the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord which would delay the introduction of the Bill's provisions for five years. I also hope that I have said enough to reassure your Lordships that the fears of the authorities on this matter are not in our view well founded. We are convinced that there is no threat in these provisions to the provision of recycling facilities by any authority. I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for the very full answer he has just given. I am to some degree reassured by the fact that, as the Government see it, there is greater flexibility in these provisions than might have appeared to be the case from a simple reading of the Bill. In addition, it is in the power of the Government to apply those provisions flexibly. I hope that they will do so.
I am encouraged by the fact that the Government have said that they do not in any way want to impede measures already taken, or clearly about to be taken, to improve the whole question of reclamation and recycling. Without any question, we would have preferred that the prohibition contained in Clause 48(7) should not be there or, if it is there, that a longer period of time should be given. However, we divided on this issue on Report and I do not propose to put it to the House again. I merely wish to repeat my request to the Government that they do not in any way discourage these very real and successful efforts made by many authorities in the matter of recycling. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 not moved.]
§ Clause 54 [Special provisions for land occupied by disposal authorities: Scotland]:1276
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 62, leave out lines 22 to 27 and insert ("if the requirements of subsection (2A) below are satisfied.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 13. At the beginning of my remarks I feel that I should point out to your Lordships that there is a printing error in the Marshalled List. On page 3 at line 1 it reads:
(b) by another person, that it is with the current of the waste disposal authority".
The word "current" should be substituted by the word "consent", so that the line will read:
by another person, that it is with the consent of the waste disposal authority".
§ Amendment No. 12 is a paving amendment for the following amendment (Amendment No. 13) and I shall, therefore, address my remarks to it. It follows from the interesting discussion we had during the Report stage on the position in Scotland. Noble Lords may remember that my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Balfour supported me in my suggestion that the difference was not sustainable. The Minister at that time, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, said that he would consider what had been said and offered the opportunity for discussions. It is in the light of those discussions—for which I thank him and his officials —that I have tabled these amendments.
§ The major point of concern is that in Scotland local authority operations will not be subject to waste management licensing. The implications of this are far reaching. For example, there will be no requirement that an incinerator or a landfill site, run by a local authority in Scotland, should be managed by a "fit and proper" person. Moreover, if that management pollutes the environment, whether through neglect or misadventure, no criminal offence is committed. That position is unique. It contrasts with every other waste disposal operation in Great Britain, whether private or public.
§ During the discussions to which I referred, we were not able to see entirely eye to eye on two issues. Therefore the amendment does not—nor, indeed, could it—completely close the loophole which I have mentioned. For example, the amendment does not require that the management has to be technically competent or fit and proper. Similarly, it does not address the other issue that there will be no inspection or monitoring of costs for Scottish local authority facilities; nor will financial provision have to be made for long-term pollution control. Despite not having to meet those costs, under the terms and provisions of Clause 45 local authorities will nevertheless be able to compete with the private sector—which will have to bear all the costs. I understand that my noble friend Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne will be responding to this amendment. I hope that he will be able to address a few of his remarks to those two points and that he will be able to give me some assurances.
§ Amendment No. 13 provides that immunity from prosecution will arise only where a council resolution 1277 authorising the deposit of waste has suitable conditions and those conditions have been complied with. It means that the council resolution will have some of the force of a waste management licence which would bring it into line with the regime that is to operate in England and Wales. I beg to move.
§ 5 p.m.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has gone a long way towards meeting one of the defects that he had pointed out. I hope that the Government will look upon the amendment with some sympathy.
§ The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friends for their contributions to the debate. Local authority disposal operations will not be subject to the licensing provisions of the Bill. They will however be subject to a separate system of controls under Clause 54. Those controls are similar to the licensing controls. They are adapted to reflect the different status of the authorities. Let me assure your Lordships that the Bill provides a formidable array of controls. Moreover, it is neither practical nor desirable to specify everything on the face of the Bill. I am sure that some of your Lordships believe that the Bill is long enough as it stands.
It should be clear from what I have said that authorities will face substantial inspection and monitoring costs in respect of their own sites and will need the expertise to satisfy the requirements of other specialist interests—planning, nature conservation, water quality and health. My noble friend Lord Lucas has misjudged the attitudes of local authorities. My experience of them leads me to doubt whether any of them would prefer to pass their costs on to the community charge payers who elect them rather than to the waste producers. However, I can assure my noble friend that as we implement the Bill we shall bear in mind the need to ensure that the full costs of collection and disposal will be charged for industrial and commercial waste and that the management of all local authority sites is in the hands of fit and proper persons.
One thing that we cannot do by regulations is to create a criminal offence. I am willing to accept my noble friend's amendments on that point. The absence of a criminal offence was intentional, as the usual way of dealing with local authorities which fail in their duties is through the default procedures under the Local Government Acts. However, there are precedents for a criminal offence to apply to local authorities and the possibility of prosecution will provide another weapon in the armoury against pollution from disposal operations.
To prevent the House forming a misleading impression of local authorities' competence and diligence in this field I should like to stress two points. First, the Hazardous Waste Inspectorate reports that the worst-run sites in Scotland—as well as the best —are in private hands. There is a general need to raise standards, but local authorities are certainly not the main laggards in that respect. Secondly, local 1278 authorities are in practice well aware of the costs of running their own disposal operations and are increasingly entering into contracts with private companies to take their waste. The confidence of the private sector in Scotland in its own future is illustrated by the fact that one of the largest landfill sites in Europe was opened recently near Glasgow. I am glad to assure the House that that site is designed to the highest standards. Over the past four years the proportion of municipal waste going to private sites has grown from about 7 per cent. to about 20 per cent. and there is no reason to suppose that that trend will not continue. In the light of what I have said, I am happy to accept the amendments.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour for his support and I am rather more grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his acceptance of them. I was glad to hear what he had to say about the cost implications and the technical competence of those employed in waste disposal activities within the local authority. I am sure that that information will be broadcast widely. I accept, as he does, that there is always a need to raise standards whether in the public or private sector. The amendment will help to do that in Scotland.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 62, line 40, at end insert:
("(2A) The requirements mentioned in subsection (1) above are, where the deposit is made, or the treating, keeping or disposing is carried out—
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 61 [Duty of waste regulation authorities as respects closed landfills]:
Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 69, line 33, at end insert:
("(4A) Where, at any time during the period of its responsibility for any land, it appears to a waste regulation authority that the condition of the land is, by reason of the relevant matters affecting the land, such that pollution of water is likely to be caused, it shall be the duty of the authority to consult the National Rivers Authority as to the discharge by the authority of the duty imposed on it in relation to the land by subsection (6) below.")
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 69, line 35, leave out ("subsection (4)") and insert ("subsections (4) and (4A)").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 82 [Summary proceedings by persons aggrieved by statutory nuisances]:
Lord Byron moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 92, line 9, at end insert ("and may also impose on the defendant a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, an identical amendment was brought before your Lordships' House on Report, although not moved following an indication from the Minister that she would reconsider the point. Clause 82 deals with summary proceedings for statutory nuisances brought by individuals. It replaces Section 99 of the Public Health Act 1936. Section 99 is used regularly by tenants of private and public landlords to tackle housing conditions which are so poor as to make them prejudicial to the health of those tenants and their families.
§ Where a landlord is convicted of an offence under that section, the court may, and in most cases will, award compensation to the tenant for any personal injury, loss or damage caused by the offence. The magistrates will also order necessary work to be done. As drafted, the Bill will replace the current criminal procedure with a civil one, although still in the magistrates' court. No offence will be committed until a nuisance order made by the court has been breached, which issue will be determined by a second, later hearing. The power to award compensation to tenants will therefore be severely limited.
§ The purpose of the amendment is to restore the current power in relation to proceedings brought by individuals where, by Sections 99 and 94 of the 1936 Act, the existence of a statutory nuisance amounts to an offence and a court may fine a defendant and make an award of compensation in favour of the tenant under Section 35 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. The amendment will reproduce those arrangements in the Bill. Thus, under Clause 81, where the court is satisfied that a nuisance exists, the court shall make an order and, if the amendment is accepted, may impose a fine. The court may also in those circumstances make an award of compensation in favour of the tenant under Section 35 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act. That is possible only if, as is currently the case, a criminal offence has been committed.
§ It is the power to award compensation which will be lost, or at least substantially diminished, unless the amendment is accepted. There is no doubt that as the law stands at present the nature of proceedings under Section 99 is criminal and the offence is that of permitting the nuisance to exist. Magistrates' courts throughout England and Wales, especially in the metropolitan areas, are familiar with the criminal proceedings brought by individuals under Section 99 and would similarly be able to apply the law as set out in Clause 82 if the amendment were accepted.
§ The issue raised by the amendment is of great importance to tenants and other individual occupiers. Under the present arrangement, where a defendant is convicted in proceedings brought under Section 99 of the 1936 Act, the power to award compensation is used widely by the courts. In many of the busy magistrates' courts in metropolitan areas it is now common for awards of between £1,500 and £2,000 to be made in favour of individuals aggrieved by nuisance.1280
§ As presently drafted, the clause will reduce substantially the sums available for compensation in the event of the court choosing to exercise its discretion. This is because no offence is committed other than under Clause 81(5) where a nuisance order made at the first hearing has been breached and a tenant has proved the breach at the second subsequent hearing, once the time allowed for the work has expired. The time usually available for works in nuisance orders currently made depends on the nature of the works ordered. It could perhaps be eight weeks if the works are simple and up to six months for substantial works. The tenant having brought the matter back to court, there may be conviction at the second hearing. The individual may then seek to persuade the court to exercise its discretion to make an award of compensation in his favour.
§ However, in contrast to the present arrangements, the courts can have in mind only any personal injury, loss or damage flowing from the offence: that is, any such loss occurring as a result of the breach of the order. The court will have no choice about that. It will be unlawful to relate an award of compensation to any period of time before the commission of the offence. Evidence relating to injury and loss during the period before conviction in which the premises are prejudicial to health and nuisance will be inadmissible.
§ There are other reasons for and other major advantages to the present criminal process. Briefly, these are that the conviction and the discretion of the court to impose a fine allows the court to show its disapproval to the community. Further, landlords who allow premises to become dangerously unhealthy —and unhappily this also includes landlords in the public sector—take criminal proceedings seriously. The response to what is initially a civil claim may simply be to treat the matter as a commercial risk.
§ Finally, the powers to fine and make an award of compensation are entirely discretionary. It is therefore hard to identify any objection in principle to the amendment. Furthermore—and perhaps the most powerful point—there is no case for a change in the law. Proceedings by individuals for statutory nuisance have been criminal in nature for over 50 years. Lawyers, advisers and all other organisations involved in this type of matter all favour the retention of the existing criminal procedures. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I wish to add my support to the amendment, to which I have been pleased to put my name. Perhaps I may make it clear that in this matter, as in so many others, we are concerned that all landlords should behave responsibly to their tenants. That includes both public and private sector landlords. If frequently in this House I represent the views of local authorities and local authority associations, let it not be thought that I support the views of those local authorities which fall down on their responsibilities to provide decent conditions in public sector housing.
I have been impressed by the number of people active in housing, housing law and tenancy law who have written to me expressing the view that the decriminalisation—to use an unpleasant word—of the 1281 Public Health Act 1936 was undesirable. I say that in full recognition of the way in which the Government have acceded to our other proposals in this part of the Bill. The Government have accepted that there should be a reasonable period of notice to a local authority or landlord when proceedings are started under this part of the Bill. They have also conceded the important point that if the nuisance is proved, the costs should necessarily be awarded to the applicant.
The Government having made those concessions, it is difficult to see why they now resist this concession or rather this continuation of existing tenants' rights. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byron, that it is difficult to see why the courts should have authority to award compensation for acts after the issuing of an order, but not for the earlier period when the nuisance was taking place.
Not am I impressed by the Government's arguments that they have not had time to think about the ramifications—that is the word used in the Minister's letter to the noble Lord, Lord Byron—for other types of nuisance. In her letter, of which she was good enough to send me a copy, the Minister cites the report of the working party on noise which came out last Thursday. I have never seen a report of a working party acted on so rapidly as is now proposed. The Minister says that because the noise review working party said that the making of a noise should not be a criminal offence, therefore the amendment should be withdrawn. If only the Minister would undertake to act as rapidly on all other working party reports, then perhaps we would consider withdrawing the amendment.
However, these ramifications are not the particular concern of these amendments, which are designed to restore rights under the 1936 Act which worked. It would be a great shame from the tenants' point of view if those rights were taken away.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I too wish to support the amendment for the reasons which have been given. Those reasons are so strong that I have an instinctive feeling that my noble friend Lady Blatch will accept the amendment. If that happens, we can then be delighted that the first attempt to improve government legislation by my noble friend Lord Byron since he joined these Benches will have succeeded.
If the Minister accepts the amendment one should also take note that it will be the fifth Back-Bench amendment in succession that the Government have accepted. That too is a matter for pleasure and congratulations.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Renton, believes that we have to cross the Floor of the House to get our amendments accepted, I am afraid that he will be disappointed. I too wish to support the amendment. I, like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, believed that the Government had covered these points. I received many letters, as he did. I cannot believe that the Law Society would issue a press release, as it did funnily enough just after midnight on Sunday. I did not know that the Law 1282 Society issued press releases on a Sunday. I do not believe that a noble body like the Law Society would issue such a press release if it were not concerned about the situation that would obtain if the amendment were not accepted. Therefore I hope it will be.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I undertook at Report stage to take Amendment No. 162A back and to reconsider it. If I have correctly understood the position, this amendment would make the mere creation of a statutory nuisance an offence where the magistrates' court so directs. I understand that this is how the courts in practice currently interpret the existing legislation in the Public Health Act 1936. I also understand that this interpretation of the existing law carries with it implications for the court's powers to award compensation under the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973.
One difficulty the Government have had over accepting this amendment is that it would introduce a criminal penalty provision into Clause 82 when the offence to which it relates is not defined at all. There is another aspect of the matter which has caused us some hesitation. I understand that my noble friend's amendment is aimed particularly at the case of housing tenants who take action under Clause 82. However, Clause 82 enables private individuals to take action in respect of any of the forms of statutory nuisance mentioned in Clause 79(1). To make the creation of a nuisance an offence in itself could have implications for other noise nuisances which ideally we should like time to consider a little more fully.
My noble friend asks to have reinstated in the Bill rights to compensation which private individuals who take direct action in the courts at present have under the procedures in the Public Health Act 1936. We have listened to the Law Society's case and we are aware of the concern of Shelter, the national campaign for the homeless. I am pleased to say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that I can act rapidly in any direction he wishes on this amendment. I have also listened to the cogent case put by my noble friends and I am more than pleased to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Byron
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the way she has accepted this amendment and for the time and trouble she has taken over this part of the Bill, to which a number of other amendments have been tabled, some of which have been accepted. This part of the Bill has been brought closer in line with the Public Health Act 1936.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 17 not moved.]
§ Clause 86 [Preliminary]:
Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 96, line 12, leave out ("Her Majesty") and insert ("the Crown Estate Commissioners").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment to Clause 86 to put beyond doubt that the litter duty will apply to the Crown 1283 Estate Commissioners. Without it there could be uncertainty as to the meaning of land occupied by Her Majesty as part of the Crown estate.
§ It is possible that the Bill as drafted would not extend the duty to keep land clear of litter and refuse to land which is vested in the Crown but managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners. This would be an omission. The Government's clear intention is that the duty should apply to Crown land, including land forming the Crown estate and managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners. This amendment removes any possible uncertainty by referring to occupation by the Crown Estate Commissioners. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 89 [Duty to keep land and highways clear of litter etc.]:
Viscount Mountgarret moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 100, line 29, after ("land") insert (", in particular in residential and shopping areas and public parks,").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 20. My noble friend appears to be in a mood to be kind and understanding to amendments moved by noble Lords on the Back Benches. Therefore I express the hope that her mood may continue in considering my amendment. I should apologise to my noble friend in that I intended and tried to move these amendments on Report so that if any tidying up were necessary it could be done on Third Reading. I regret very much and apologise for the fact that I was unable to attend the Report stage of this Bill. Therefore I return to these amendments rather late.
§ Your Lordships may recall that in Committee I moved a similar amendment to Amendment No. 20. I should add that Amendment No. 20 is entirely consequential to and dependent on Amendment No. 19. I said in Committee that I found the reply that my noble friend Lord Reay gave less than satisfactory. I said that I wanted to have time to consider what had been said and to return to the matter. That is what I am now doing.
I do not want to explain yet again what is meant by Amendment No. 20. It suffices to say that I feel strongly that when we pass laws in Parliament we should try to make them as clear and as concise as possible. The words,
so far as is practicable",
leave enormous loopholes as regards people who may have committed an offence. The words allow the people defending the offenders to get the offenders off the hook. The word "practicable" can have a wide interpretation. The difficulty that I faced in Committee was the term "practicable" in connection with the clearance of rubbish on major trunk roads, motorways and other such places. My noble friend said at the time that it would be unreasonable to exclude the words.
so far as is practicable",
because it is obviously not always practicable for local authorities and people who are in charge of litter clearance operations to carry out their duties in such busy locations.
§ I considered whether we could clear the matter up by trying to define a specific area where there is an absolute duty for the occupier of the land or the local authority to keep it clear and free of litter and rubbish. The example I mention in this connection, which occurs particularly in London—I have no doubt it occurs in many other cities too —is that of black rubbish bags being dumped on the pavement and left for unacceptably long periods of time, particularly over weekends. That practice must be unacceptable. It is certainly unsightly.
In Committee, my noble friend agreed with me when he said:
As for the scourge of black bin bags, I can assure my noble friend that I share his disgust that all too often an otherwise clean and tidy street is reduced to squalor by their presence".—[Official Report, 27/6/90; col. 1684.]
That is exactly the situation that Amendment No. 20 seeks to avoid. Amendment No. 19 seeks to identify the practical area where the terms of Amendment No. 20 can be applied; namely,
residential and shopping areas and public parks".
I believe the terms of the amendment are entirely logical. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me some assurance that my suggestion is acceptable. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with my noble friend that the priority for litter clearance should be set on the face of the Bill. That is the only difference between us on this matter. This is a matter for the code of practice. But I am pleased to inform him that the code will make clear that the areas most heavily used and most prone to litter, such as shopping centres, central parks and high density residential areas, will need to be cleared more quickly than other areas. I hope that this will reassure my noble friend that we have the problem under control. I am grateful that he has accepted that there will be occasions when it will just not be practicable for motorways and other highways to be cleaned, which was the subject of his earlier amendments in Committee, but I believe that the concept of practicability must be applied to all aspects of the duty.
It is possible that the courts would interpret the duty to clear litter and refuse from land as being subject to the test of practicability. However, it is necessary to put this point beyond doubt by including these words in the Bill. The legislation must be seen to impose reasonable duties. We do not wish to see numbers of cases come before the courts which stand no chance of success. Just as the courts would consider practicability without the inclusion of a specific reference to this point, they would also come to a judgment as to whether an authority under the duty was hiding behind the term, "so far as is practicable". Duty authorities will not be able to use this as a defence for any laggardliness in carrying out their responsibilities.
1285 I hope that my noble friend is reassured by my comments. We wish to achieve the objectives behind the amendments and we intend to do so by regulations. I hope therefore that my noble friend will not press the amendment.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. I understand and agree to a considerable extent with the points that my noble friend made. I only hope that if when the Bill becomes law Members of your Lordships' House, Members of another place or members of the public find that the amount of litter on our streets increases or rubbish bags are left lying around all over the place they will draw it to the attention of the appropriate authorities. If someone has to be taken to task for that, I hope the appropriate authorities will, in taking the person to task, be armed with a copy of today's Hansard and my noble friend's reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
Lord Reay moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 101, line 19, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(3)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 21 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59. These are technical amendments. Without them the drafting of the Bill would be defective. We had anticipated that the ex sting Section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 would be replaced prior to this Bill being approved. However, the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill which would have altered the 1984 Act was objected to when it returned to the other place for consideration and has now fallen. Therefore it is necessary for the Bill to reflect the existing provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 5.30 p.m.
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 22:
Page. 101, line 24, at end insert:
("(7 A) Any code of practice prepared and issued by the Secretary of State under subsection (7) above shall include guidance on—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for returning to the question of keeping our roads and roadsides tidy. Unless that is done, our countryside will never be clean and tidy. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will be able to tell your Lordships that the code of practice will state clearly that when a highway authority cuts the verge it will be under a duty to do so in co-operation with the litter authority so that the rubbish exposed by such cutting is cleared up. At the moment the highway authority often cuts verges without considering the difficult position in which that 1286 puts the litter authority whose duty it will be to clear up the litter. I fear that there is a certain element of "I'm all right, Jack" here.
§ The second issue raised in paragraph (b) of the amendment deals with the problem of rubbish exposed when the highway authority cuts more than the verge under its duty to maintain a safe highway. On many occasions, I fear, highway authorities do so with excessive zeal, to the detriment of wild flowers which are destroyed by excessive cutting. I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that the code of practice will state that all areas adjoining the highway that are cut by the highway authority will be kept clean by the litter authority.
§ If my noble friend can say that that will be the case I hope that the Minister will tell the House what the public can do to encourage the litter authority to tidy up roads and verges. I am afraid that in my area writing to the county clerk is an unproductive occupation.
§ Once again, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Blatch for writing to me since Report stage. I hope that she or my noble friend Lord Reay will be able to spell out to the House the contents of that letter. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stanley has shown me the Minister's letter to him on the subject. It is certainly encouraging and interesting. Can my noble friend Lord Reay say whether it would be possible for the code of practice to suggest that local authorities have a standing arrangement, rather than a one-off arrangement, on co-operating on grass cutting and the collection of rubbish and whether the existence of that arrangement could be made known to the public? My noble friend Lord Stanley asked how the public would know how they could help. It seems to me that if that arrangement was known to the public they would be able to alert the authorities if the arrangement was not being put into effect. Have those possibilities been considered?
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stanley has touched on a subject which is very dear to my heart—the conservation of wild flowers on roadside verges and the cutting and keeping clean of those verges. Many years ago when I was on the other side of your Lordships' House I raised the point but I have not had an opportunity to do so since. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, who was sitting on the Front Bench on that occasion, was overheard to say in rather too loud a voice, "My noble friend rather likes his partridges". That may be true; there is nothing nicer than an English partridge, whether one goes after them for sport or just likes to see them.
With today's modern farming methods it is important that we should try to conserve areas for insects and grubs on which not only partridges but many other birds feed. Perhaps it could be suggested in the code of practice that local authorities should refrain from cutting roadside verges until later in the 1287 year instead of early spring since that would help to preserve wildlife. I hope that my noble friend can take that point on board.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I admire the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, for his campaign and I sympathise with the amendment, although not necessarily from a rural point of view. Some of our major motorways could have very beautiful verges. However, it has often struck me that someone arriving in this country at Heathrow and driving along the M.4 will have a rather unfortunate view of England because of the state of the verges. The North Circular Road is even worse than the motorways.
Someone has to be responsible, and it is significant that a number of local authorities do the job so much better than others. Is there some way that we can bring the matter home to the local authorities? It is not much good trying to work on the motorists because they are the people who throw the litter on to the roads. There is no doubt that the verges could and should be things of beauty; sadly, at the moment, they are not.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, Amendment No. 22 would require the Secretary of State to include advice in the code of practice on the possibility of a liaison between local authorities and highway or roads authorities to encourage the prompt discharge of litter clearance duties.
I hope that my noble friend Lord Stanley will have been reassured by the contents of the letter which my noble friend Lady Blatch sent him last week on this point. The separation of grass cutting and litter clearance duties between highway authorities and local authorities was an issue which my noble friend highlighted at Report stage. We agree that this is an issue which needs to be addressed, and I am pleased to be able to inform noble Lords that, as a result of my noble friend's representations, the code will now include guidance that authorities should do whatever is practicable to co-ordinate those activities. The arrangements that could be made would not exclude the standing arrangements which my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour asked for.
The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to include guidance to highway or roads authorities to clear litter from any hedge, tree or shrub, when they exercise their powers to clear the highway from any hedge, tree or shrub which is causing an obstruction.
We understand the point raised by my noble friend but we do not believe that we need be quite as specific in the code as he suggests. Under the litter duty local authorities will already be responsible for the clearance of litter from any hedge, tree or shrub which falls within the highway boundary. The code will also encourage local authorities to make arrangements to remove litter from any hedge or fence adjacent to a highway where it is accessible and visible from the highway—a point which I am sure that my noble friend will be pleased to see included given the concerns that he has expressed.
1288 Since we are already encouraging authorities under the litter duty to co-ordinate their activities with grass cutting by highway authorities where that makes sense, I am sure that such co-ordination could relate to litter made apparent by cutting the branches where that was appropriate.
The duty to clear will apply whether litter is exposed by grass or tree cutting, or whether it is thrown from a passing car. Whatever the circumstances, the code ensures that there is a clear responsibility for litter clearance on our roadside, and I am sure that all authorities will want to consider carefully how they undertake their duties most efficiently.
My noble friend Lord Stanley raised other concerns. One related to litter which was exposed on hedges which are not the responsibility of the local authority. As my noble friend Lady Blatch said in her letter to my noble friend, the code will specifically encourage local authorities to enter into private arrangements with landowners for clearing litter from roadside hedges. I hope that that answer deals with the point.
The noble Lord also asked what a member of the public should do. We hope that members of the public will not leave litter in the first place and that their children will be brought up similarly. However, should there be a situation in which there is litter and a member of the public wishes to take action about it, if the member of the public believes that the duty authority is not meeting its obligations he should take the following action.
First, he should find out what standards the code imposes. That can be done either by contacting the duty authority or in the case of local authorities by consulting a notice in a public library or town hall about the standards applicable in the relevant area. Having done that, if he is still convinced that the authority is failing in its duty, he should contact the authority and notify it of his intention to apply to the magistrates' court for a litter abatement order. If the authority has not cleared away the litter in question after five days, he can apply again to the court. If satisfied that the complaint is justified, the court can issue a litter abatement order compelling the authority to clear up or face a fine.
Incidentally, I can assure my noble friend that we shall take every opportunity to publicise the litter provisions of the Bill and I look forward to enlisting his support for that cause. I hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment now that I have responded to most of his concerns.
The whole essence of a code of practice is that it should provide a flexible way to specify how duty authorities should discharge their responsibilities for clearing litter. We should not want to specify on the face of the Bill particular matters that it should cover. The code will be laid before Parliament for approval. For the benefit of my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, I should add that the code of practice will urge local authorities not to disturb wildlife. I hope that my noble friend has been reassured by my remarks and feels able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may say that he has not quite responded to the point that I made. I probably did not make myself clear. Would it be possible for the code of practice to state that there should be a standing arrangement with the local authority which should be made easily known to the public? I do not believe that the procedure outlined by the noble Lord—providing that someone who happens to see litter on the road should go first to the library and then to the court and so on—will be followed very often. If there is a simple arrangement which is widely known to the public, people can simply complain to the litter authority. That would seem a clearer approach and a better one from the point of view of the public.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I indicated that the code will now include guidance that authorities should do whatever is practicable to co-ordinate such activities. In the code of practice there will be that specific instruction. It will include the possibility of standing arrangements being made but I believe that it should be left to the local authority to decide what in the circumstances they feel to be the best means of going forward. If they wish to do so, they may make those arrangements.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that explanation of what will be in the code of practice. Should I have to take the local authority to task for not doing its job, it might take me a little time and keep me away from your Lordships' House. That may be the object of the Chief Whip but it is another matter.
I am aware that there is a course of action that I can take and I am grateful to the noble Lord for spelling it out and making a most helpful statement. I hope that all concerned and in particular the local authorities, whether it is the highway authority or the litter authority, when this Bill becomes an Act, take note of their new responsibilities and the responsibilities which will be laid upon them to keep the roads, verges and banks clean and tidy. I hope too that the public will insist that those duties are carried out so as to keep our countryside clean and tidy. That applies in particular to me as a farmer. I have great pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Clause 106 [Purpose of Part VI and meaning of 'genetically modified organisms' and related expressions]:
§ [Amendment No. 25 not moved.]
Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 26:
After Clause 107, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Consultation on GMOs
§ —(1) The Secretary of State shall before making any regulations under this Part either—
- (a) consult such persons as appear to him to be appropriate and take account of their views; or
- (b) where for reasons of urgency he considers such consultation to be impracticable, issue a statement as soon as practicable as to the effect of any such regulations made.
§ (2) Any statement issued under subsection (1) (b) above shall be laid before Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Undeniably there is very considerable public concern about the whole question of GMOs. The case that we have sought to argue, which we hope is also the Government's case, is that the wider the knowledge and the wider the information that can be imparted about these matters the better. Consequently, going to the very heart of this matter is the instrument of consultation. I believe that it is only through that means that public anxiety can be allayed. I concede that it will not be easy, even if one has the most sophisticated means of consultation.
§ Having said that, it is clear beyond peradventure that in exercise of the very broad powers given to the Secretary of State under Part VI to establish in regulations activities which are considered harmful for the purposes of this legislation, it is imperative that the clearest possible assurances of effective consultation be contained in the legislation itself. That is the fundamental purpose of the new clause.
§ During the Report stage I wanted some specific assurances from the Government that all persons and organisations with a clear interest in the control of genetic modification would be consulted before regulations were made and that those bodies should include local authorities, primarily because of their responsibilities in terms of environmental health but also because they have perhaps the closest contact with the people to whom I referred earlier whose anxieties need to be allayed.
In response, the noble Baroness, Lady Batch, repeated assurances that had been given earlier in Committee that there would be,
full consultations on Part VI regulations".
My understanding is that local authority associations were pleased to observe that commitment and to be among the consultees. The reason given by the Minister for not importing statutory consultation into the Bill was that,
A need could, however, arise to amend regulations rapidly in view of the speed with which biotechnology is developing. Statutory consultation could result in unworkable delay in cases of exceptional urgency, but I stress that such cases are likely to be the rare exception and not the general rule". [Official Report, 15/10/90; col. 694.]
That is fair enough. It is a cogent argument that urgent situations could arise which would make consultation impracticable in some cases. In subsection (1) (b) of the new clause we seek to ensure that the Secretary of State should be permitted in cases of urgency to avoid consultation, provided that after the regulations have been made a statement is issued as to their effect which is then laid before Parliament. It would be for the Secretary of State to determine when it was impracticable for reasons of urgency to undertake statutory consultation, which would be the preferred course.
§ I suggest that it is a perfectly reasonable and workable amendment. It underlines the Government's intention to consult. It provides reassurance for the future in what will undoubtedly be an important and long-standing piece of legislation over many decades. At the same time the Secretary of State will retain the decision-making power as to which cases should not fall within the requirements for consultation.
§ The requirement to lay a statement before Parliament should be of considerable assistance to the Government. By doing so the body could explain its actions. It would then provide wider public and parliamentary understanding of the issues. They are often extremely complex. Undeniably it is the most democratic way to proceed. In those circumstances I beg to move.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, we are much too accustomed to writing into legislation that one body shall consult another. In the presence of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter I dare to repeat the nonsense about having to consult the Treasury. However, we are not told which body is to be consulted. The Secretary of State is merely to,consult such persons as appear to him to be appropriate".That gets us nowhere.
Even though the word "shall" is used the Secretary of State can defeat the whole objective by simply deciding that there are no persons who appear to him to be appropriate for consultation. We should therefore be enacting a dead letter. I say that with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who has put the case before us with his usual clarity and sincerity. I therefore not only expect but hope that my noble friend will not take up too much time in rejecting the amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the Government have given repeated assurances that we will consult and take account of the views of a wide range of bodies and individuals before making regulations under Part VI. The Secretary of State is the sole control authority for Part VI and specific provision is not necessary for him to ensure that those concerned are consulted on regulation proposals. Let me make clear once again that we will consult and take account of the views of bodies and individuals who can help to ensure that any regulations made under Part VI achieve the fundamental objective of protecting the environment against damage from GMOs.
Amendment No. 26 also addresses those circumstances when, for reasons of urgency, consultations are impracticable. We stressed at Report stage that such circumstances are likely to be a rare exception. All regulations, even those made in an emergency, would be subject to scrutiny and the Government would be required to account for their actions in the normal way.
In begging me to reject the amendment, my noble friend Lord Renton made an important point on the uncertainty about who should be consulted and who is appropriate. That surely must be a matter of trust for the Secretary of State. I hope that the noble Lord 1292 will not press the amendment and will accept, for what I trust will be the final time, the assurance that the objectives about which he is so anxious will be achieved.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I found the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, interesting as always. However, I was disappointed that he should liken what we seek to achieve to any consultation with the Treasury, which is bound to be fruitless. We seek to have worthwhile consultations.
The argument adopted by the Minister conceded what we say in effect. She said, "Yes, we shall consult. What we want to know is with whom". She stated that it will be for the Minister to define the position. That is fine. But why not agree to the amendment? Why not be absolutely precise? That is what we ask for. We had an illustration from the noble Lord, Lord Renton, of a despicable Minister who was bent upon a course of ensuring that consultation would be avoided at all costs and who would engage in many devices to procure that goal. It is much more difficult for him to do that if he is bound to account to Parliament.
With this provision he is bound so to account. One constantly hears requests in Committee on both sides of the Chamber that there should be consultation. When I was a Minister I well remember dealing with amendments to that effect made by the other side of the Chamber. Occasionally I conceded the issue. I cannot think of an example where it is more important to concede than where one has such serious anxiety expressed by the public. It is undeniable, not only in this country but also in the European Community, that people are worried and distressed. If those anxieties are not allayed public opinion will play a part in halting progress in this vital field of development.
With regard to the process of consultation, the Government involve industry, local government, environmental groups and even occasionally trade unions, although that is becoming rarer. That would therefore promote clear flexibility on the part of the Government. It would be helpful. I cannot understand why the Minister continues to resist what is self-evidently a sensible proposal.
Before I take a certain course the Minister may wish to indicate whether she is absolutely resolute on the matter. A nod of the head will suffice. I thought so; it is very disappointing. Having regard to that fatal nod of the head, I do not propose to divide the House. We are concerned that the Minister should have decided in this way. However, I do not wish to press the matter any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 27:
After Clause 112, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Order on strict liability in certain cases Liability on GMOs
§ —(1) The Secretary of State may by Order bring into force the provisions of this section where he considers it appropriate having regard to the application of strict liability within the European Community.
§ (2) Subject to subsection (1) above, where any loss or damage is caused by the acquisition, keeping or release of any 1293 genetically modified organisms, the person who acquired, kept or released that organism shall be liable for the loss or damage, irrespective of fault on his part, except where such loss or damage—
- (a) was due wholly to the fault of the person who suffered it; or
- (b) was suffered by a person who voluntarily accepted the risk of the loss or damage being caused; or
- (c) as a result of the keeping, acquisition or release of an organism within the terms of a consent issued by the Secretary of State.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, at Report stage I moved a new clause which effectively adopted the view of the Royal Commission on Environment Pollution to impose strict liability on persons whose GMOs inflict damage subject to certain exceptions—for example, when the person suffering the damage has been wholly responsible for that damage, or where such a person has voluntarily accepted the risk of loss or damage, or where the damage arises from the activities within the terms of consent issued by the Secretary of State.
§ What we sought to do at Report is mirrored in subsection (2) of the new clause. Perhaps I may summarise the reasons for urging this course of action to introduce a limited form of strict liability.
§ Despite the confidence of the Government—and when they are confident one needs to hang on to one's hat—a considerable body of legal opinion on the issue of GMOs is anxious that there is uncertainty about the application of existing case law. Until Report stage the Government had argued that Rylands and Fletcher applied: that liability for damage would arise in relation to the escape of dangerous things from land without proving negligence. At Report, the Government asserted that we were introducing the wrong vehicle into the proposal. It is a device frequently used by governments even when the proposal is perfectly sensible. We are told that it is inappropriate to amend the rules in civil liability; in this case, in Part VI.
§ They went on to assert that the phrase "special use" is appropriate to describe cases where strict liability will operate. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, said on Report that the damage would have to be above that which is normal for strict liability to apply. That was his definition of special use. He went on to say that it would be for the courts to interpret these strange phrases. I find it strange to hear that argument coming from a legislative body which ought to be making the task of the courts easier and not encouraging litigation in order to get a definition of what is in the Bill. That is a rather pessimistic way of legislating. What we seek to do here is to cure that mischief.
The noble Earl adduced another argument concerning the development of legislation in the European Community. He referred to the draft directive on civil liability for damage caused by waste and went on to refer to the draft convention on damage resulting from dangerous activities, including GMOs. He said that the Government,
are actively discussing the principles behind these ideas". —[Official Report, 15/10/90; col. 705.]
§ I do not know what "actively discussing" really means. One needs further and better particulars. He said that the Government did not wish to proceed in domestic legislation ahead of the European discussion. If the Government are in effect holding up the European legislation, that argument becomes a little flawed. My information is that the Government are very reticent about the question of strict liability as applied to waste and are not helping to progress the legislation in the European Community.
§ Strict liability is not a strange animal unknown to certain parts of the European Community. It is applied extremely successfully in France and in Germany. There is no legal barrier to it being applied here. Certainly, the argument in relation to waste and damage caused by waste and about strict liability applying in such circumstances would be of great benefit to claimants. That is what has happened in the countries I have cited. Why then have there been delaying tactics and obstruction as regards discussions in the Council of Europe? Is it that the Government dislike the whole concept of strict liability and will do everything they can to resist it?
It was further argued that it would be inappropriate to proceed in other than an international context. The Government pointed to the discussions in the European Community and in the OECD. This amendment cures that worry as well. It would enable the Secretary of State to apply, as appropriate criteria in relation to the introduction of strict liability, the words,
having regard to the application of strict liability within the European Community".
That is a sufficiently broad formulation. It would encompass decisions made by the Community and by the European Court. The amendment would provide a flexible instrument to offer some hope of tightening the law in this area in the future. I beg to move.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has the advantage that many of us do not have of having served on the European Commission. We have to take his suggestion very seriously. It is a fact that in various Continental countries there is much more strict liability—liability without proof of negligence—than we have here. On the other hand, it is a big departure for our system of liability for civil wrongs. It is a departure that ought not to be made by order of the Secretary of State even though that order might require an affirmative resolution of Parliament. Such a departure should be the subject of primary legislation if it is to be done.
It is a fairly narrow point. One must be careful not to overstate it. Parliament, it could be said, would have the last word even if there were an order of the Secretary of State to be affirmed by both Houses. It is a convention of this House that when another place has passed an order we can discuss it—we do not often do so—but we do not, except for overwhelming reasons, vote against it. This would be such an important change that it should be brought about by primary legislation after full discussion not only in 1295 another place but also in your Lordships' House. Therefore, on balance, I do not find myself able to support the amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Renton raises an important point. I want to emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that the Government are not being obstructive in these matters, which was the accusation made. It is because this issue is so important that we believe it makes sense to develop any policy on liability in the wider context. Primary legislation will not be necessary because the power is contained in Clause 154.
The Government acknowledge the potential utility of strict liability as a means of achieving environmental objectives. It is described in Annex A of the White Paper This Common Inheritance as one of the economic instruments which the Government are evaluating. But the issue is extremely complicated, with implications which stretch far and wide. To give the House a flavour of the complexities, we need to evaluate thoroughly questions such as the link between strict and unlimited liability; the implications of strict liability for the insurability of risk; the possibility of compensation for damage other than to property and person; and many other factors. We are actively considering these matters but we believe that it would be most imprudent to create ad hoc systems of strict liability before all these issues have been properly thought through.
As my noble friend Lord Arran said during our deliberations on Report, the subject of liability is on the agenda of many of the international organisations, including the Council of Europe, the OECD and the European Community, of which we are a part. I am sure the House will agree that it makes sense to develop policy on liability in the context of the international negotiations. That is why the amendment is not opportune. The power is contained in Clause 154. That will provide the Secretary of State with the power to give effect to Community and other international obligations.
The noble Lord has had something of that reply before. I have heard his case pressed before. I hope he will accept and take on trust that we are serious in making sure that we have a well thought through policy on liability as it is an important issue. I hope that he will not press the amendment.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, Clause 154 to which my noble friend referred gives power to the Secretary of State to give effect to Community and other international obligations. However, Clause 112, to which this new clause in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, refers, is on an entirely separate matter. It is a very long clause and I shall not take up time in an attempt to summarise it. It deals with consents, limitations and conditions, and especially implied consents for keeping genetically modified organisms under conditions which require reasonable steps to be taken, and so on. However, neither Clause 112 nor Clause 154 can be taken as an indication that Parliament has discussed, as a matter 1296 of inserting it in primary legislation, this question of extending to the United Kingdom the strict liability referred to in the new clause.
I do not know whether my noble friend is saying that under Clause 154 strict liability could be imposed on this country without more ado and without any further discussion in Parliament. If so, I must confess that I find that regrettable.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I ask for the indulgence of the House because I am not a lawyer. My understanding is that the general power given in Clause 154 would allow the United Kingdom Government to honour an obligation and to give effect to that obligation in terms of a policy on liability. Therefore, my understanding is that my noble friend is right in his interpretation that that could be done.
The general point which I wish to make is this. One reason for rejecting the amendment is that, until we have properly thought through the policy on liability, it would be quite wrong to be precipitous and take an ad hoc approach to a policy. If there is the backing of statute from Europe then that obligation is accepted by the Government. It will not be a choice for the United Kingdom Government but an obligation on their part.
I am advised that there is no reference in Clause 112 to consent conditions. Clause 154 will enable us to implement the changes in European Community law which affected matters in this Bill. I believe that that is probably consistent with the explanation which I have just given to my noble friend.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, raised an interesting point. I agree with the Minister that there can be no doubt at all that the normal procedures in relation to Community law must be followed. If it is regulations, they take direct effect as from the date prescribed; if it is a directive, the Government must legislate here. What the Government are doing is absolutely right. They are taking the power under Clause 154 to give effect to Community obligations. I do not believe that there is anything very radical about that. Also, there is the wider power to give effect to international agreements on a wider scale than the Community.
Having said that, the second point I make is that strict liability is not unknown in the law of England and Wales. We are told by the Minister that the Government are not being obstructive in the EC. My information is that they are not being very helpful. How long will the Government take to make clear their views on something which is not foreign to the law of this country, which is being practised in a number of European member states, which is being undertaken with some success and which is helpful as regards claimants? I do not concede that to import strict liability in this case is such an enormously complex matter. But the Government say that it is. I 1297 ask whether that is a device to hold up the discussion and the legislative effect of the proposal which lies on the table of environment Ministers at present.
We have been given a delightful and charming answer which is characteristic of the Minister. However, it is not very helpful. I was looking for a clear assurance that the Government would seek to expedite the debate taking place in the Council at present
The Minister imported an argument about insurability and strict liability making that very difficult. However, there is a mixture of arguments there. Strict liability goes to the issue of liability and the question of changing the burden of proof. Questions of insurability relate to quantum. Here we are not talking about unlimited liability. Unlimited liability is a question of quantum. Strict liability is a question relating to the burden of proof and evidence. I do not blame the Minister because she is not a lawyer; but the noble Lord, Lord Renton, whom I wrongly described on a previous occasion as "learned—and I persist in that belief—has indicated that today.
It is a non-runner as an argument from a legal point of view. I say that to the Minister not churlishly but helpfully. I am sorry that she has rejected the arguments. It would have been better to have had an assurance that the Government will come forward speedily with proposals to take on board strict liability in primary legislation. However, they have not chosen to do that. The arguments in the White Paper merely discuss the complexity and give no assurances at all. I should have thought that this House would seek assurances.
However, I need not anticipate the Minister's negative nod on this occasion. I am disappointed with her reply but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 128 [Creation and constitution of new Councils]:
§ [Amendment No. 28 not moved.]
§ Clause 130 [Countryside functions of Welsh Council]:
Bareness Blatch moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 135, line 27, at end insert:
("(1A) The Countryside Council for Wales shall discharge those functions—
§ (1B) The reference in subsection (1A) above to the conservation of the natural beauty of the countryside includes the conservation of its flora, fauna and geological and physiographical features.").1298
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment needs no introduction. Noble Lords will recall only too well the debate which we had on Report last Wednesday. On that occasion the noble Baroness, Lady White, moved an amendment to somewhat similar effect but it used a form of words which she described as clear, succinct, dignified and worthy of the occasion. Reservations were expressed about parts of the amendment, but much of it was favoured by noble Lords on all sides of the House.
§ The government amendment was criticised mainly because of the use of the word "particularly" which it was considered placed undue emphasis on national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty and because of what was considered to be an outdated and misleading use of the word "resorting". I had some sympathy with the views expressed and with the leave of the House I withdrew the amendment and undertook to give the matter further consideration before Third Reading. In view of that undertaking, the noble Baroness, Lady White, also begged leave to withdraw her amendment.
§ We have examined carefully the wording of our amendment to see what changes could be made to it to meet the wishes of those noble Lords who favoured the different words. As the House knows, the phrases which caused difficulties in the Government's amendment were deliberately derived from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Countryside Act 1968 so that the new Countryside Council for Wales and the Countryside Commission would have exactly the same statutory remit for their countryside functions, which will of course remain identical.
§ Any significant change would have required identical alterations to the wording of the 1949 and 1968 Acts to bring the Countryside Commission's remit into line with the CCW's. We did not regard it as acceptable to make significant changes at such a late stage in the Bill and decided to re-table the amendments in the form in which they were before your Lordships on Report.
I realised that that would be a disappointment to many noble Lords and thought it only courteous to write to the noble Baroness, Lady White, and other noble Lords who spoke in the debate on the amendment last week to explain my reasons for re-tabling the amendment in the same form. As a result of discussions with a number of noble Lords, we again reconsidered the implications of the alternative wording. We concluded that we could meet at least some of their wishes. Accordingly, we tabled alternative amendments, principally starred Amendment No. 29, instead of those I originally tabled.
§ The first part of the replacement amendment uses the same wording as that of the noble Baroness, Lady White, in her revised Amendment No. 30. Both amendments avoid the use of the offending word "particularly" in subsection (1A), paragraphs (a) and (b). In order to maintain consistency between the statutory remits of the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales, we also tabled 1299 new Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 which will change the wording of the Countryside Commission's functions to bring them into line with the wording of Amendment No. 29.
§ I regret to say that we are unable to meet the objections of the noble Baroness to the word "resorting" in subsection (1A)(b). In practice dropping the requirement that the council should pay particular attention to national parks amounts to a change of emphasis rather than policy. That is not the case with the other point at issue. Apart from the quaintness of the word "resorting", the main reason advanced for changing it was to extend the CCW's remit to include the provision of facilities etc. for people already living in the countryside. That is not a matter of semantics; it is a question of policy.
§ It is not our intention to make significant changes to the functions of the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales in the Bill, and certainly not at this late stage, with no opportunity to study the full implications or even to consult interested parties. I therefore concluded that we should retain the form of words in the second half of the amendment. It has stood the test of time for over 20 years without causing any problems to my knowledge. There may be opportunities in the future to review the functions of the countryside bodies when the views expressed by the House can be considered at an early stage in the legislative process. But that is not the purpose for which we are here today.
§ The Bill does not provide the vehicle for a fundamental review of the functions of the councils. That was never the intention of the Government. One of the safeguards for those concerned about the reorganisation has been the Government's undertaking not to interfere with those functions. We shall not depart from that principle now. It must be evident to the House that we genuinely tried our best within the context of the Bill to accommodate the wishes of noble Lords, and we succeeded, I hope, in regard to the use of "particularly".
§ I thank my noble friends Lord Swinton and Lord Renton and the noble Baroness, Lady White, for their time and the way in which they gave time to me to consider these matters since Report stage. I commend the amendment to the House. I beg to move.
Baroness White moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 29, Amendment No. 30:
Leave out subsection (1A) and insert:
("(1A) The Countryside Council for Wales shall discharge those functions—
and shall have regard to the social and economic interests of rural areas in Wales.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No.30 I should explain that it was tabled yesterday when the previous government amendment 1300 had been retabled without alteration and before the revised amendment became available this morning. I shall not press my amendment. As the noble Baroness explained, the major drafting problem has now been met. For that, and for the courtesy of the noble Baroness in writing to me and other noble Lords with an interest in the Welsh scene, I am grateful. The noble Baroness showed a degree of sympathy and, if I may say so, good sense which are greatly appreciated.
§ However, the noble Baroness confirmed what has been clear for some months past—that the Department of the Environment, with the support of the Welsh Office, has not thought things through. They pressed on with a remit and a pattern of organisation which to my mind will not meet the full needs of a new Countryside Council for Wales and which may therefore not last.
The departmental stance is explained as a matter not of policy but of law. The noble Baroness wrote:
It is an essential feature of reorganisation that the new country agencies"—
which in Wales means the Countryside Council for Wales—
should perform exactly the same functions as at present".
What is the point of going through all the personal and public upheaval, not to mention the considerable additional administrative expense, in setting up a new organisation in Wales when it is simply to continue to do exactly what it does now?
§ It is to be legally constrained, literally word for word, by legislation dating back to 1949 or 1968. The Welsh terms of reference must not be merely compatible with but identical to those obtaining in England. The amendments tabled to Schedule 8 loosen the bonds slightly in both countries. But what becomes of the innovative and potentially exciting experiment in Wales of putting together the nature conservancy element with the wider countryside interests in a single organisation under one roof? What are we to gain?
The two separate organisations in Wales are entering into matrimony, with no prospect of lawful consummation until the Government—or, one hopes, some other government—can find time to think out a policy. The noble Baroness explained in her letter, and confirmed it in her remarks this evening:
We have always emphasised that this part of the Bill [Part VII] is about organisation, not policy, and we do not regard it as the right vehicle in which to make important policy changes".
In other words, they organise first and then try to find a policy that fits. I, for one, and I am sure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and his colleagues, supposed that we were considering policy as well as organisation. The present official attitude is tantamount to telling the statutory and voluntary environmental organisations in Wales, "You are not to be a pace-setter in countryside affairs as you may have supposed. The smart new suit in the shop window is not for you". It is not for us in Wales. We must make do with the old-fashioned clothes handed
down from the generations which legislated in 1949 and 1968, with the slight relaxation proposed by Schedule 8.
§ I was the Minister of State at the Welsh Office in 1968. I secured the Welsh Committee of the Countryside Commission, which has functioned ever since. Twenty-two years on I can fairly expect more challenging innovations than a remit to continue doing exactly what we were doing before, but at considerably greater expense.
The noble Baroness writes that the Government cannot contemplate major changes at this stage of the Bill,
with no opportunity for sensible consultation with any interested party".
Those of us on the voluntary side, not least in the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW), the senior environmental body in the Principality, must smile rather wryly at that. What have we been trying to do since July 1989?
I conclude with a final quotation from the correspondence of the noble Baroness. It is important to get it on the record. She wrote:
There will be later opportunities to reconsider policy, most obviously in the context of the current review of national park policy and in taking forward the new countryside initiatives announced in the environment White Paper. We shall undoubtedly need to look at the remit of the countryside agencies again thereafter".
§ At the appropriate moment I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Meanwhile, I repeat my thanks to the noble Baroness for doing her best in difficult circumstances. It is clear to us that those circumstances were created by her senior ministerial colleagues, beginning with Mr. Ridley, who consulted no one either in England or Wales. However, 15 months have passed since that time. They might have been mire rationally employed at least as regards Part VII of the Bill. I can assure noble Lords that those of us in Wales who have sometimes been critical but, broadly speaking, have supported the new Countryside Council for Wales are deeply disappointed to find that it is to go on no differently from before, with the, single major change that it will move its office from Newtown to Bangor.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, as one who spoke in the debate on this subject on the last occasion I express my warm appreciation to my noble friend for the thoroughness with which she has considered this issue and for the helpful way in which she has sought to meet the objections which were put forward. I believe that it is a matter of considerable importance that the words "and particularly" have been removed because, although the emphasis still lies on national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, the very fact that the words have been removed in the way that they have, against the background of comment in this House, will give a clear steer to the new organisation that its responsibilities apply elsewhere and to all the very beautiful countryside of Wales, wherever it may be.
I listened with care, as always, to the noble 1302 Baroness, Lady White, but I feel that she overstated her case and, indeed, was trying to create an argument that is not justified. She used the splendid phrase that we were producing matrimony with no possibility of lawful consummation. I am bound to say that once matrimony has taken place it is not easy to prevent lawful consummation. The fact is that, though the existing statutes may apply, the very fact that marriage has taken place and that the two organisations are brought together to act as a single family substantially changes the position and gives a degree of flexibility and opportunity that did not previously exist. Indeed, I believe I can see some advantages in the council being allowed to proceed under the terms achieved in the Bill before there is a further review, because that will give it an opportunity to go down the road it wishes to pursue with a great deal of flexibility and then to influence any further legislation which may be brought forward.
I just do not see that the organisation will be greatly constrained at present. I believe that we are taking a major step forward with this Bill. I had intended to rest content—indeed, in practice I shall have to—with the continuation of the use of the word "resorting" in paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 29. I thought that I could accept it simply because of its quaintness, to use my noble friend's words, and because it had no other adverse consequences. I am bound to say that the way in which my noble friend spoke to the amendment caused me a moment of anxiety because she appeared to imply that there is a difference in treatment between those who resort to the countryside, and who apparently come to it from outside, and those who live in the countryside and enjoy its amenities. That was the implication of what she said although I do not for one moment believe that it can be true.
I live in a beautiful valley in a national park. Facilities are provided which I believe I can share and enjoy just as much as anyone who visits the area from outside. My noble friend was in a sense alarming me unnecessarily. The words she used created a distinction that does not exist. It is because I believe that the distinction does, not exist and that we are concerned only with a rather quaint phrase that I am happy not to pursue the matter further.
In conclusion, I express again my gratitude to my noble friend for the way in which she has approached this matter. I do not believe that the fears expressed opposite are justified. The government amendment is a significant step forward and on that basis I am happy to support it.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I did not intervene in the debate on Report, and those who remember the length of the debate on the amendment will understand why. I merely intervene now to say that at school I was taught précis and comprehension. It seems to me that my noble friend's amendment is a prime example of the virtues of précis in order to achieve comprehensibility.
What my noble friend has done, without losing a single thought in the Bill, is to cut 50 words out of the Government amendment. She has done that by 1303 removing the ambiguous phrase "resorting to" and the quite unnecessary words "thereof' and "thereby". The government amendment is drafted as though it were a Victorian legal manual or a very imperceptive children's book, Eric, or Little by Little, or Eyes and No Eyes. Certainly that kind of wording has no place in a 1990 Bill and I hope that the Government will accept my noble friend's amendment, which loses nothing of the sense of the government amendment.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I think I should point out that there is much more in this matter than meets the eye. Although it was a simple policy decision that we should establish the Countryside Council for Wales on the breaking up of the NCC, in order to dovetail it with previous legislation—that is, the national parks Act of 1949 and the Countryside Act 1968—it was a very complicated matter.
At first, I thought the draftsmen were making heavy weather of it. However, with the help of my noble friend Lady Blatch, my mind was drawn, as hers had been, to some of the legal implications. I then realised that it was not so simple after all, and that it had to be done properly. Therefore, I for one support the government amendment to Clause 130 and I welcome the amendments to Schedule 8. They overcome what was agreed among all of us except, at first, the Front Bench, until my noble friend Lady Blatch so splendidly came to our rescue and said that she would reconsider the matter.
This problem was first referred to by my noble friend Lord Swinton, who cannot be here today but who has asked me to associate him with our thanks to my noble friend Lady Blatch for the vast amount of trouble that she has taken to get the matter right. The point is that having the word "particularly" before the reference to national parks and areas of outstanding beauty seemed to be leaving the rest of the beautiful countryside of Wales unregarded.
It is rarely that I disagree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell but I have to say to him that there is, I hope, no longer an emphasis at all. I see that he is nodding his head, I think in agreement. The truth is that all the countryside of Wales is now free to benefit equally from the activities of the Countryside Council for Wales. Of course the council has to consider the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty but it is equally able to consider other areas, too. Therefore, by deleting the words "and particularly" and introducing the words "both" and "and elsewhere" my noble friend Lady Blatch seems to have got it right. We are grateful to her.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I was present during the discussions on the Government's amendment and on the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady White at Report stage. I did not speak in the debate because at that stage I was not unduly worried by the Government's amendment. I agree that in general it is desirable that there should be consistency in terminology. I was also impressed by the fact that Section 62 of the Wales Act 1978 contained wording almost identical with that contained in the Government's amendment.
1304 In listening to the debate and to the Minister's response I found it worrying that the Government seem to be acknowledging that the wording which is now being used in their amendment no longer reflects the changes in circumstances and policy since the early legislation of 1949 and 1978. That seems to be a very difficult position to defend. If the Government insist on perpetuating in this legislation terminology which they acknowledge to be out of date, the only possible government defence is that they have no possibility of introducing the necessary amendments to the earlier legislation because of a very tight timetable. That is further evidence that this legislation has been rushed.
As the Welsh body will not be an agent of an English one and will operate exclusively in Wales and as there will be no shared responsibility with an English body, can the Government say how the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend will lead to difficulties?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, perhaps I may take the last point first. My understanding of the legal point is that the functions of the Welsh and English councils must be identical because they are intertwined in legislation reaching back to 1949. It was that hint that I gave. Should there be a review of functions all that has taken place in this debate will form part of the information to be made available to any review. The policy point is that the Government believe that in Wales there will be advantage simply through having a single organisation exercising these two sets of functions.
I should like to link in the point made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. We do not share the view that the new bodies will be inhibited from innovation by the statute. There are many examples of innovation carried out by the Countryside Commission even under its present powers. I take the marriage point that in putting two of these bodies together they will spawn innovation and interest within their powers. Therefore, I am not pessimistic about it. In anticipation of the noble Baroness doing what she has said she will do, namely, not press her amendment, I say a very hearty thank-you to her and to all noble Lords who have counselled and recounselled me over the past few days on this amendment. I believe that we have reached a good British compromise on it.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords. We have reached a stage in this legislation where we cannot carry on the argument indefinitely. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that I cannot see the flexibility when we are told that an essential feature of reorganisation of the new country agencies is that they should perform exactly the same functions as at present. I can see possible legal difficulties. We had a warning last week from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, about a judicial review. That is likely to occur from time to time. If one steps outside something dreadful might happen.
I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for emphasising the worry of many of us 1305 as to the real character of this combination in Wales and what it will prove to be. I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is with us because he is to be the head of one of the two bodies in England. He has family connections in the Principality. He will have no doubt heard that we have our differences between England and Wales. It is unfortunate that we have not managed in this legislation to deal more thoroughly with the matters in hand. Had the noble Baroness been in office some months ago I have no doubt that we could have had a more fruitful experience than at these late stages. As matters stand, it is only sensible to ask leave of the House to withdraw my amendment.
§ [Amendment No. 30, as an amendment to Amendment No. 29, by leave, withdrawn.]
§ On question, Amendment No. 29 agreed to. Clause 133 [Special functions of Councils]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 137, line 27, at end insert:
("(cc) the establishment of common standards throughout Great Britain for the designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and the monitoring of the implementation of those standards and of the operation of criteria for such designations").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I moved amendments about the establishment of common standards for sites of special scientific interest at Report stage I was rebuked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, for not going far enough. I hope that he will feel that these Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 tidy up the position at this stage of the Bill and also reflect the justifiable concerns of the committee which the noble and gallant Lord chaired so effectively. I can make the point very simply because we do not want to go over the ground at great length again.
§ The establishment of SSSIs on a common basis throughout the whole of Britain is a matter of national importance. I was trying to remember when I had heard noble Lords from Scotland complaining in this Chamber about the excess of SSSIs in Scotland. I say consciously in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that I fear the effect on SSSIs of the fragmentation of the role of the Nature Conservancy Council. It will result in different and lower standards in one part of the nation compared with another.
§ As the Carver Committee emphasised, it has been made very clear that in order to have an effective network of SSSIs in the nation as a whole there must be common standards for their establishment and for the monitoring of them to see that they are kept up. It is not as if SSSIs, once established, are somehow sacrosanct. A very large number are privately owned and even those that are not suffer substantial damage. We dc not need to go over that ground again because it has been covered fully in your Lordships' House on many occasions. Monitoring the preservation of SSSIs as well as establishing them on a common basis is essential if the SSSI concept is to survive. That concept of conservation is one of the most valuable and innovative in our country. I strongly recommend these amendments which, as I have said, go some way, 1306 though not fully, to completing the Government's acceptance of the Carver Committee recommendations. I beg to move.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I support this amendment very strongly. I tried to introduce it at Committee and Report stages. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for helping me to try again. The Government must surely agree that it is essential that there should be established common standards for the designation of SSSIs throughout Great Britain and that those standards are the same in England, Scotland and Wales. Perhaps Northern Ireland is slightly different.
They must also surely agree that it is very important that some body should see that those standards, having been established and agreed, are being implemented in the same way. I cannot understand what other body should be capable of doing that. As is stated in the Bill, it should be a special function of the councils which may be discharged only through the joint committee. When we discussed this and similar subjects at Report stage the noble Baroness repeatedly said that there was a basic disagreement between us and the Government, and that we were trying to turn the joint committee into an executive body. She also said that it was the function of the joint committee to give advice. Neither of those is in fact the case.
If this amendment were inserted in the place where it is sought to insert it, the Bill would give the councils —not the joint committee—a special function, just as it gives them in the Bill now the establishment of common standards throughout Great Britain for monitoring nature conservation and for research into nature conservation; and it gives them as a special function the commissioning or support. So the function of the joint committee is not just one of advice.
I ask the Government, if they agree that it is necessary to do this and if it is not to be a special function of the councils through the joint committee: who is going to do it?
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, perhaps I may point out to my noble friend Lady Blatch that there are absolutely unarguable reasons why common standards should be applied globally to sites of special scientific and natural history, of wildlife or scenic importance. These principles and standards apply in Africa, the Antarctic and other parts of the world. It is therefore quite absurd to suggest that one can have in a very small island common standards which do not apply in parts of the small island. It makes absolutely no sense in terms of the subject.
If my noble friend resists the amendment it can only mean that the reasons behind it are political, bureaucratic, nationalistic or something of that kind, which should have no relation to the standards which are applied to sites of scientific interest. Therefore, I should like to support the amendment very strongly because it is rational and makes sense.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to extend the duties and powers of the 1307 JNCC. It will not be a surprise to anyone when I say that in the Government's view these amendments seek to bring about an unnecessary extension of the JNCC's powers.
In the Government's view the duties of the JNCC as set out in subsections (3) and (4)(a) and (b) of Clause 133, which was considerably refined and extended in Committee, are fully adequate to allow the JNCC to issue guidelines for the designation of sites of special scientific interest. Furthermore, clause 133(2)(d) gives the JNCC full scope to establish common standards for nature conservation, which will include SSSIs, and to analyse the resulting information. The NCC is satisfied that Clause 133 as already revised in the light of recommendations in the Carver Report will allow the JNCC to play that role.
But there is a clear distinction between the special functions conveyed on the councils by Clause 133 for them to exercise through the JNCC and the executive functions of designation and management, for which each council must bear full responsibility within its own country.
The JNCC will not sit like a big brother, bearing down upon the country councils; nor, looking at it another way, will it provide excuses for the councils to avoid or shirk their unequivocal duties as placed upon them by this Bill. Rather, the JNCC will provide the forum whereby the three councils, together with the independent chairman and the independent members, agree, as they are required to do by Clause 133(2)(d), common standards that take full account of Great Britain and international considerations, which each council will apply in its own country. But it is for each country council, under its own powers in Clause 132, to designate sites in accordance with those standards and to protect them in the light of those standards.
Therefore, it follows that the first two lines of Amendment No. 31 are unnecessary, and the second two lines, together with Amendment No. 32, run directly counter to the Government's often stated intentions for the respective roles of the JNCC and the three councils.
The latter parts of Amendment No. 31 and Amendment No. 32 strongly imply an executive function for the JNCC of inspecting SSSIs, issuing reports and generally supervising the notification process. As I have said, such duties would be entirely inconsistent with the intended relationship between the JNCC and the country councils. That relationship stems from the special functions conveyed on the councils to undertake through the JNCC. The councils have clear, unequivocal responsibilities for the advancement of nature conservation in their countries, and proper accountability for the exercise of those responsibilities now, directly through the relevant Secretary of State, to Parliament.
In those circumstances I hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am bound to say that in that response the Minister has pursued government obduracy almost to a theological point.
1308 We already have in Clause 133, in the definition of the special functions of councils—that is, those functions which are to be carried out by the JNCC—measures for the provision of advice and dissemination of knowledge, the establishment of common standards for the monitoring of nature conservation and for research into nature conservation and the analysis of the resulting information.
If we are to take the noble Lord's reply literally, all of those elements which are already part of the functions of the JNCC could be attacked in exactly the same way as he has attacked these two amendments. It could be said that the JNCC was performing functions. It is almost as if there were some sort of atavistic fear of the JNCC actually doing anything at all rather than sitting on the sidelines and smiling, frowning, waving or giving a thumbs down.
We are now in a really desperate state. We have reached the stage where the Government are totally devoid of sensible arguments. They are totally resistant even to the expert advice of such distinguished nature conservationists as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and the noble Lord, Lord Buxton. I do not think that this House should put up with that quality of response from the Government. It is necessary to take the opinion of the House.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 31) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 52; Not-Contents, 83.1309
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Carter, L.||McNair, L.|
|Carver, L. [Teller.]||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Monson, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|David, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Oram, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Peel, E.|
|Gallacher, L. [Teller.]||Phillips, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Rea, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hooson, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||White, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham. E.|
|Arran, E.||Blatch, B.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Boardman, L.|
|Astor, V.||Borthwick, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Bridgeman, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Brookeborough, V.|
|Belstead, L.||Brookes, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Carlisle of Bucklow, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Carnock, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Colwyn, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mountevans, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Munster, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Elton, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Flather, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Reay, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Renton, L.|
|Gray, L.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Haden-Guest, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Henley, L.||Strange, B.|
|Hives, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Holderness, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Huntly, M.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Ullswater, V.|
|Johnston of Rockport L.||Vinson, L,|
|Kimball L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 32 not moved.]
§ Clause 140 [Power to prohibit or restrict the importation, use, supply or storage of injurious substances or articles]:
The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 33:
Page 142, line 15, after ("and") insert ("the air within").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I should like to move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Elton, who spoke to it with Amendment No. 1 earlier this afternoon. I hope that it will be acceptable to the Government. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 143 [Public registers of land which may be contaminated]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 34:
Page 145, line 19, at beginning insert:
("() define contamination").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 35 to 38.
§ I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is not here because we had a useful debate on contaminated land at the Report stage to which he made some quite thought-provoking contributions. If he were here, he would be pleased to know that we have taken account of some of the points that he made in framing the amendments, which are substantially different from the amendments that we proposed on Report.1310
§ It was pointed out, with some justification, that there was a danger in the way that we had framed the original amendments that a register of contaminated land might have to be inspected in totality and that that could be an enormously time-consuming and not always worthwhile procedure. On the other hand, there was fairly widespread agreement that the Government's attitude towards it was as extreme the other way. They took the view that a register of contaminated land should simply be based on documentary research rather than on any element whatsoever of investigation.
§ In these amendments we seek to get the best of both worlds —to use documentary research where that is appropriate but to have physical investigation of the site when it is necessary. At the same time we take account of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that it should largely be the responsibility of the purchaser to pay for expensive investigations on contaminated land because any contamination that was found and the cost of investigating it would then be reflected in the purchase price.
§ However, in order to achieve that common sense result, as we see it, there must be a better definition of contamination. We therefore include in the provisions for the register of contaminated land in Amendment No. 34 the provision that there should be a definition of contamination. I hasten to add that we are not attempting to put such a definition on the face of the Bill.
§ Perhaps I may now deal with Amendments Nos. 35 and 38. The proposal here is that the Secretary of State should initially provide the funds to enable the local authority—which, after all, is maintaining the register and is therefore the obvious body to do this—to carry out the investigation of the contamination when it is necessary but the purchaser should reimburse the Secretary of State with the cost of such investigation. That means that the Secretary of State has the overall control of whether an investigation on site is necessary so that we do not have the position where all the sites would have to be investigated. It also means that the local authority, which maintains the register, has the responsibility—because clearly it has the technical expertise to carry out the investigation or to see that it is carried out—and that the purchaser pays and reimburses the Secretary of State for any costs incurred. In that way we achieve most of the safeguards which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, wanted.
§ Finally, in Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 we have provision that the Secretary of State should come forward with proposals about how the investigation and verification of contamination should be carried out. Again, that reflects the desire which we have in this modest, compromise group of amendments to make sure that the Secretary of State can ensure that there are not extravagant and unnecessary investigations but that they can take place when necessary. I beg to move.1311
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the effect of these amendments would be to enable the Secretary of State to create a statutory definition of contamination; they would require local authorities to carry out investigations of contamination on sites entered on registers of potentially contaminated land; and they would enable costs to be recovered from purchasers. No timescale is suggested for these investigations or cost recovery.
The Government's views on contaminated land were set out fully in our response to the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment which was published in July. Such amendments are neither necessary nor appropriate. We believe that contamination is not capable of precise definition and must therefore remain a general concept. It would certainly be premature to introduce such a definition until levels of background natural contamination are established and the whole question of appropriate criteria by which contamination can be judged have been established.
The registers proposed under the clause will provide the full history of the potentially contaminating uses of the land. Whether this gives cause for concern will depend on the nature of the possible contamination and the current or future use of the land. Provisions for dealing with sites which represent a risk to human health or the environment have been strengthened elsewhere in the Bill; for example, in Clause 61 under the provision for monitoring of closed landfills and in Clause 79 under "Statutory nuisances".
Other surveys should be carried out at an appropriate time; for example, when the land is to be sold or when a change of use is proposed the register should refer to these surveys. The cost of investigating all the land on the registers would be enormous. Taking a figure of £15,000 per hectare for investigations and considering the 40,000 hectares of derelict land in England identified in the 1988 Derelict Land Survey, the cost of investigating this area alone would be about £600 million. There might be 10 or a hundred times this area of land covered by the registers. There would also be the major problem in terms of finding the necessary personnel and equipment.
The amendments also ask the Government to lay down survey and analysis methods in regulations. Techniques in this area are constantly changing and their selection has to be based on site specific conditions such as soil types, combinations of contaminants and hydrogeology. Site investigations need to be carefully designed in terms of both information obtained and use of resources. There are already British Standards Institution publications covering site investigation and a number of guidance documents on the selection of investigation techniques. My department is also sponsoring research on the contaminants likely to be found at particular types of site. It is intended to publish the results of this research in the form of profiles of former uses, including information on the likely origin and nature 1312 of resulting contamination. That will greatly assist in the selection of appropriate survey techniques for the individual sites.
Finally, the recovery of investigation costs would present many difficulties. The "purchaser" would have to pay back the Secretary of State. But what if the land was not sold? What if the costs to be repaid made the land prohibitively expensive? Where land sold formed only part of a site surveyed for contamination there would be difficulties over the amount to be paid back and the balance outstanding. These problems would arise on thousands of sites across the country—a huge administrative burden. At present many investigations of potentially contaminated sites are funded through the derelict land grant scheme and the Government feel that this should continue to provide the main form of support for particular types of contaminated sites.
The power in these amendments would allow the local authority to deem there to be possible contamination on the site; it would give wide powers to the local authority to incur totally unlimited expenditure; and it would allow it to carry out that investigation and to levy the cost on the owner of the land—again without testing whether the work which was carried out was competitive or reasonable. It may be that at the end of the day contamination would not be found, but the bill would remain the liability of the owner. This power is simply not acceptable. However, the point, the objective and the concern behind the amendment are matters which we take seriously. We hope that the approach which we are making—certainly with the research into profiling—will at least in part reassure the noble Lord and encourage him not to press the amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am glad to hear what the Minister has just said in her closing remarks, although I am bound to say that I do not find it consistent with the Government's insistence that the register of contaminated land should be dealt with purely by what I believe are called "desk sources" rather than by providing a facility for investigation.
I hear what the noble Baroness says about the detailed drafting of the amendments and the cost which would be incurred if her understanding of the proposal were taken literally. However, I should remind her that all of these amendments fall within the context of an overriding provision that the Secretary of State "may by regulation" provide these safeguards. I should have thought, therefore, that the Secretary of State has the power in framing such regulations to ensure that the horrific consequences which she sees as a result of this proposal do not take place. I believe that this is a confession of failure on the part of the Government; they do not know how to tackle the issue of contaminated land. The provisions of the Bill are to some extent shying away from the problems. However, having said that, I accept that the amendments are flawed and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 34.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 35 to 38 not moved.]
§ Clause 149 [Dog registration]:1313
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 149, line 8, leave out from ("amounts") to end of line 9 and insert (", and subject to such exemptions, as they may determine or the Secretary of State may prescribe.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the reason we are tabling this amendment is that, since the Government kindly redrafted our original amendment dealing with dog registration, my noble friend Lord Balfour has drawn my attention to the fact that the fee should be set by the Secretary of State (Hansard, 17th October 1990 at col. 1016). After consultation with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and, indeed, the Association of District Councils, it was thought correct to table this amendment which would allow the final decision to be made by the Secretary of State after consultation. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, my noble friend's amend vent relates to making provision for exemptions from the registration or registration fee requirement as may be determined by local authorities or as the Secretary of State may prescribe in regulations. I am pleased to accept the amendment on behalf of the Government.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 162 [Short title, commencement and extent]:
§ [Amendment No. 40 not moved.]
§ Schedule 5 [Further Amendments of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 41 to 47 not moved.]
§ Schedule 8 [Amendment of Enactments relating to Countryside Matters]
Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 48:
Page 192, line 32, after ("England") insert ("for the purposes specified in subsection (2) below;").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 29. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 49 to 54:
Page 192, line 35, at end insert ("for the corresponding purposes specified in section 130(1A) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.").
Page 192, line 36, leave out from beginning to third ("the") in line 39 and insert:
("(2) The purposes for which the functions of the Commission are exercisable are—
Page 192, line 40, leave out ("and particularly") and insert ("both").
Page 192, line 43, at end insert ("and elsewhere").
Page 192, line 44, leave out from beginning to ("encouraging") in line 1 of page 193 and insert:
Page 194, line 47, leave out from ("(2)") to end of line 50 and insert ("—
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendments were spoken to with Amendments Nos. 29 and 30. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Schedule 15 [Consequential and Minor Amendments of Enactments]:
Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 55 to 59:
Page 224, line 24, leave out ("Sections 14 and 15") and insert ("Section 14").
Page 224, line 26, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(3)").
Page 224, line 28, leave out ("(2A)") and insert ("(3A)").
Page 224, line 30, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(3)").
Page 224, leave out lines 36 to 39.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 21. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. This was a good Bill when it came to your Lordships' House and after 90 hours of debate in this Chamber it is now an even better Bill.
The Bill is extremely wide-ranging and accordingly has demanded a great deal of your Lordships' time. Nevertheless, I believe that it has been time well spent. During our deliberations we have considered 1,266 amendments from all parts of the House and of those we agreed 471. Many more amendments were withdrawn or not moved, because accommodation of concerns and/or assurances were negotiated informally. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their time and indulgence on those issues.
The smooth passage afforded the Bill by your Lordships reflects the urgency we all feel about tackling the environmental problems that threaten our future. It is worth reminding your Lordships' House briefly of the significant features of this landmark in environmental legislation.
First, the Bill establishes an entirely new system of integrated pollution control which for the first time brings a cross-media approach to tackling the potentially most polluting industrial processes in this country. That puts into practice our firm belief that prevention is better than cure. With the introduction of IPC we can once and for all put to rest the myth that this country is dragging its feet on environmental protection. The fact is that we are in the forefront and it is this country that is taking the lead in introducing IPC to the rest of Europe; but the Bill is not just about IPC. It also brings a complete and much needed overhaul of our waste management system. That will lead to higher standards in the industry and greater public confidence that we as a nation are doing all that we can to minimise waste and maximise recycling.
The Bill includes important new measures to update our laws on statutory nuisance and the handling and disposal of radioactive substances. It brings forward tough new proposals to stamp out the offensive and completely unacceptable face of litter in our cities, towns and countryside. Part VI contains new controls to deal with the potential environmental effects of genetically modified organisms.
1315 It would be wrong of me not to acknowledge that the most contentious part of the Bill has been Part VII —the reorganisation of the Nature Conservancy Council; but, through the acceptance by the Government of the overwhelming majority of the recommendations contained in the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology under the skilful chairmanship of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, we now have the right structure for nature conservation in England, Scotland and Wales.
Before concluding my remarks I thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for his contribution to the Bill. In his usual characteristic way he has helped the House focus its attention on some of the more intricate provisions of the Bill and has added significantly to the high quality of the debate in this Chamber. I thank him for that, for his courtesy, and, on occasions, for his indulgence. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, and his noble friends are also owed a debt of thanks for their contributions.
Having acknowledged the contributions of noble Lords opposite it would be remiss of me not to mention the valuable support this Bench has received from my noble friends. Their contributions have on many occasions helped to clarify and improve the intentions of the Bill, and I offer my most sincere thanks to all my noble friends who have taken an active part in our deliberations on the Bill.
Perhaps I may be forgiven for mentioning some names but not all. I know that that is an invidious thing to do. My noble friend Lord Balfour has the beadiest eye I know. He keeps parliamentary counsel on their toes constantly. I thank him for pointing out the errors of our ways. I give my grateful thanks to my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Renton for their immensely wise counsel to me as a new member of the Front Bench. My noble friend Lord Stanley and I have had a major point of difference about dog registration. I respect enormously his position on that issue and I thank him for his co-operation in at least making his original amendment workable, if it survives, on the statute book. I thank my noble friends Lord Lucas, Lady Carnegy and others for their support.
I should like to offer my thanks to a number of my Front Bench colleagues without whom my task would have been made considerably more difficult. Noble Lords will recall that at the start of your Lordships' consideration of the Bill it was my noble friend Lord Hesketh who so ably introduced it and steered it through its Second Reading and Committee stages. Despite his heavy workload in his new department, I am indebted to him for his continuing support and encouragement.
The Bill ranges across Great Britain. I have discovered a saying in the department. When one is dealing with a Scottish amendment one is "kilting" the Bill. We have kilted the Bill with the help of my noble friends Lord Sanderson and Lord Strathclyde, who passed through my department at the speed of lightning, and Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne. I am grateful to them. To be even-handed and unequivocal, 1316 dare I say to those Welsh colleagues in the Chamber that we have "leeked" the Bill? I have done that with the help of my noble friends Lord Swinton and Lord Renton and the noble Baroness, Lady White, and others. I am grateful to them because that is an important part of the Bill. I shall continue the pun and say finally that we have also "farmed" the Bill for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I had the help of my noble friend Lady Trumpington, who dispatched her part of the Bill with a speed that made me extremely envious.
I also thank my noble friend Lord Arran for his support. We burned much midnight oil. He managed to say "genetically modified organisms' with precision every time he pronounced the words. I am grateful to him for his enormous support. My special thanks go to my noble friend Lord Reay. He volunteered to stay with me on the Bill. He added that duty to his other duties in his new departments. I am especially grateful to him for the way he has stuck with me throughout the passage of the Bill. My final thanks go to my noble friend Lord Astor, who is a new addition to the Bench. Although he has not taken part directly in the Bill, he has attended briefings and has learnt a great deal about it. I thank him for providing moral support in the background. I have had tense moments during the passage of the Bill. I thank all noble Lords for their indulgence.
As I said at the outset of my remarks, the Bill has always been a good Bill and is now an even better one to send back to the other place. Taken with our White Paper on the environment, published in September, the Bill lays the foundations for pollution control into the next century and beyond. It offers something for everyone: tighter government controls over major potential polluters and greater responsibility on individual citizens to ensure that we all play a part in building a cleaner, greener Britain for the future. It is with unreserved enthusiasm that I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Blatch.)
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, perhaps I may begin with the courtesies which have been so ably expressed by the Minister already. To start with her, she has had the extraordinarily difficult task of taking over a complex Bill at Report and Third Reading stages although she was fully occupied on government business when the Bill was in Committee. She could hardly have been expected to take an active part or active interest in it. However, she has done brilliantly, I must tell the House. Not only has she mastered her brief but she has shown the House that she cares about the issues. She has demonstrated great flexibility in listening to and understanding the points made by noble Lords from all sides of the House, even if she has sometimes gone back to the department and found there was nothing she could justifiably do.
The noble Baroness deserves the sincere congratulations of all noble Lords on what she has done for the Bill. As she made clear, a large government team has 1317 dealt with the Bill. It started with the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, and I have enjoyed confronting him across this table on many occasions. He lived up to his reputation in dealing with the Bill. The noble Baroness has been ably supported by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and I could not even start to list all the others who have been involved. Despite quite fierce disagreements, there has been no time when we lost sight of the courtesies, and I am grateful for that.
I am enormously grateful to my noble friends who have taken part, mainly from the Back Benches. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton muzzled himself by becoming Chief Whip in the middle of our proceedings, therefore he was unable to take any further part. I am indebted to my noble friends Lord Dean and Lord Clinton-Davis, who came to help me on the Front Bench later on. I am enormously grateful to those on my Back Benches who understand far more about the issues than I. Perhaps I may single out my noble friends Lady White, Lady David and Lady Nicol as well as others who took part. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, played a significant part in dealing with CFCs and I am grateful to him.
I think it is fair to say that we worked closely with the Liberal Democrats. We have seen eye to eye on virtually everything we have done and the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Ross, Lord Addington, Lord Ezra and Lord Tordoff, have been welcome.
The Bill has attracted many expert contributions from all sides of the House. It would not be too surprising if I picked out from the Government Benches the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. I have embarrassed him on more than one occasion on other Bills b' singling out his contribution, but he is a true Conservative independent. He makes a significant contribution to everything to which he puts his mind. He certainly made such a contribution to this Bill with his amendments on dog registration. It would be right to say that the Commons would be ill advised if they were to overturn his amendments. The idea of dog registration and the recognition of the need for it are widespread in this country. Most people want to see a dog registration system; we now have such a system in the Bill and one that will work. We understand that it has the support of large numbers of members of the Government. It may simply be the obstinacy of the Prime Minister that presents any obstacle to it. I hope that that is not the case. If so, I hope that wisdom will prevail and that those provisions will return to the House unscathed next week.
The other major amendment which may not be welcome to the Government is that which we put in at Report stage about the environmental principles to be followed by firms and generally. These principles, which have been adopted by ethical investors in the United States, are called the Valdez principles. In my view they form a valuable opening set of principles on which all environmental legislation in the coming years will have to be based. It would be a tragedy if they were dropped from the Bill. They do not harm the Government's intentions but contribute to focusing 1318 the mind of everyone concerned with environmental protection. I hope that they will receive the support of another place.
The Minister described the Bill as being an unequivocally good Bill. Although we are glad to see it pass, our position is one of modified rapture. That is not so much for what the Bill does but for the opportunities that have been missed. We have had —I will not quite describe it as the benefit of the Government White Paper—as the Bill has been going through. The White Paper is a grave disappointment, not only because it fails to tackle the wider issues of energy and transport as well as those which are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, but because there are no finite proposals for legislation and it is clear that there will now be no effective further environmental protection legislation in the lifetime of this Government.
I pledge to the House that the Labour Government which will be elected within about the next 18 months will return to these matters with a keen sense of purpose and of the obligations placed on all of us to protect the environment, not just in our locality, not just in the nation but in the world.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, for the most part the Bill is greatly to be welcomed. When it was first introduced I described it as a bit of a ragbag but it is a major piece of environmental legislation. I too congratulate the noble Baroness and her colleagues, the noble Lords, Lord Reay and Lord Arran, and her predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, on the way in which they have piloted the Bill through the House in its many stages.
I apologise profusely to the noble Baroness. I was told from the Labour Front Bench that a long speech was coming so I went to see my friends who had come to dinner. However, I was only halfway up the stairs when the noble Baroness had already started her speech. I apologise that I was absent for the first few minutes of it. Her appointment to the Front Bench as principal environment spokesman in this House is greatly to be welcomed from these Benches, and long may she stay there.
I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I find him erudite in everything he says. He deals with the Bill from an Opposition point of view in a thorough and constructive way. I do not believe that I could ever do it as well as he does.
Changes have been made to the Bill and concessions given, even to me. It is fair to claim that the Bill is an improvement on its state when it first came into this House. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, on his dog registration clauses. Like others who have spoken before me, I hope that they will remain in the Bill.
Of course, Part VII of the Bill is still a cause of much concern to me and to others outside the House. I believe that it was wrongly conceived in the first place despite the noble efforts, which I recognise—and I pay tribute to them—of the Secretary of State and his senior Minister, David Trippier, who is a friend of mine and who has been very helpful to me. I recognize 1319 all the steps they have taken to try to rectify what I considered were mistakes in the first instance. They have tried hard and we must now fervently hope that the legislation will work and the relationship between the various country agencies will proceed on a fully co-operative basis.
I still cannot believe it is right that SSSIs and nature reserves that are situated on country boundaries should be split in two. Nevertheless that was a matter that we were defeated on and we shall have to live with it. I believe that common sense will prevail in these matters. I accept that there are some sensible people in charge of the various agencies. I am sure that sensible people will also be appointed to the councils.
I wish to thank my noble friends Lord Ezra, Lord Addington, Lord Tordoff and Lord McNair for the parts they have played in the Bill. I also wish to thank the AMA for the enormous work that it has carried out in letting us have background notes. I also wish to thank the voluntary bodies which have played a part in the Bill. I have been mainly concerned with those voluntary bodies involved in nature conservation. They have played a major role. I also thank our own researcher Mark Williams.
The noble Baroness may be interested to know that I presented the prizes at my former school in Bedford on Saturday. I said on that occasion, "If I seem to be twitching a little, you might understand why". No one seemed to cotton on to that at the time. If I have twitched a little during this speech, perhaps noble Lords will understand why.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I do not propose to go over the Bill again. However, I wish to pay a personal tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. She was thrown in at the deep end and she swam very ably. Ministers in this House are always courteous but the noble Baroness has mastered the supreme courtesy in that she appears to take one's arguments seriously. Even better than that, she always produces what seems to be a sensible answer which shows that she has listened to the points that have been made. I commend her for that. I hope that she remains in her position for a long time.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, we on these Back Benches should pay tribute too. This is the most comprehensive Bill for the protection of the environment that has ever been presented to Parliament. It is a massive and complicated affair. My noble friend Lady Blatch came into it just before the Report stage when much work had already been done in both Houses. We were all amazed at the way she grasped all the complicated and delicate issues. We were amazed, too, at the patience she showed and at her thoroughness. All of us in different parts of the House were able to rejoice at the way she was able to meet our views. It seems to me that success on this Bill will depend not merely upon a few thousand officials of various kinds throughout the country and members of quangos and so on, but also upon the co-operation of the whole of the community including industry and, dare I say it, even agriculture.
1320 Co-operation will especially be needed from the great unthinking mass of people who scarcely know what an environment is. We have to help them by our example. Finally, the success of the Bill will also depend upon a matter which is not mentioned in it, and that is by our not becoming even more heavily populated. However, that is a matter for another occasion.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, the niceties have passed to and fro and I do not dissent from any of them. I offer my condolences to the noble Baroness who has been thrown in at the deep end here and who has conducted herself with intelligence, at times with wit, and always with great courtesy. However, we are dealing with a Bill. This is the time when we have the responsibility of expressing our opinions about the Bill.
On Second Reading I recall that my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey pointed out, in opening his case, that the Bill was almost certain to be the only environmental protection Bill to be initiated during this Parliament. That fact has not been challenged by the Government. That strongly suggests that no more legislation on this subject will be announced in the gracious Speech next week. If that is so, we shall be left for the next few years with this Bill as the only environmental protection Bill in existence. As my noble friend Lord McIntosh devastatingly pointed out in his opening address on Second Reading, the Bill does not meet the challenge which those of us in this country and abroad are faced with today.
I pay immense tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, for his winding-up speech on Second Reading. It was a perfect example of what a winding-up speech should be. His speech covered a whole host of points succinctly and directly. The noble Lord said in answer to my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton:I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will listen as the Bill goes through its various stages in this House".—[Official Report, 18/5/90; col. 578.]I am not sure whether the noble Baroness is entitled to reply. I hope that she or perhaps another member of the Government can reply. I want to know whether the Government have listened to the arguments that have been presented during the various stages of the Bill. What have the Government done to change the Bill according to the arguments evinced on both sides of the House? What do the Government consider they have done to change the Bill? What changes have arisen as a result of the arguments that have been put forward from this and other parts of the House?
The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, said at col. 579 of Hansard of 18th May in reply to my noble friend Lord McIntosh on the point that we should be moving a little faster:I believe that step by step is the best approach. The White Paper will be forthcoming".However, we do not have time for the step by step approach. We do not have time for evolution. We do not have time, in Tennyson's words, "to move from precedent to precedent". We are faced with a crisis and 1321 we are in the middle of a crisis. We are faced with a challenge. If this Bill which I described as a ragbag on Second Reading is the only measure we have to put forward as a lead from Britain, we are not meeting that challenge.
On virtually every point that we raised, whether it concerned energy or transport, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, said that we should wait for the White Paper. We now have the White Paper. The Government's policy can be summed up as the White Paper plus this Bill. Do the Government really believe, in view of the scientific evidence that has been produced over the past 12 months, that this Bill plus the White Paper will meet the challenge of that evidence? We shall have time to debate the White Paper later. All I can say is that every knowledgeable expert who has looked at the White Paper has shaken his head and said, "Poor Chris Patten. He has lost the battles''. In every crucial case the White Paper makes provision for a possibility, but when it comes to action it is strikingly barren.
I hope that next week some further legislation will be announced. However, when my noble friend Lord McIntosh stated that there would be no further legislation on this matter, the Government did not, to the best of my knowledge, challenge him. In that case we are left with this Bill plus the White Paper. When the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, replied to the questions put to him by my noble friend Lord McIntosh and others on Second Reading, when he was discussing the point I made about dumping in the North Sea, and when he was replying to my noble friend as regards limiting carbon dioxide emissions, all he could say was that the United Kingdom would consider such matters. That is a phrase which runs right through the White Paper.
There is to be a conference next week on climate change. We hope that the Government will sign the convention. My friends within the climatic sciences are looking very carefully to see whether it will be signed. However, there is nothing in the White Paper that gives an assurance that that is the policy of the Government.
When the White Paper and this Bill are put together it is clear that they represent the failure of the Government. It is a failure caused mainly by their philosophy of non-intervention. We have seen that the market forces of which the Government so proudly boast are precisely the forces which have produced the crisis we now face.
If the noble Baroness is to reply I ask her to tell the House Just where the Government have fulfilled the promise given by her noble friend Lord Sanderson at the end of the Second Reading debate to listen and to change the Bill in response to the arguments put forward from all sides of the House. If the Government are not prepared to listen and to recognise the crisis that is now on our doorstep then Britain is contracting out of the challenge that confronts mankind.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, my hostility to Part VII of the Bill is well known. I shall not go over that 1322 ground now because it is shortly to be passed, and one can only hope that it will work better than some of us think it will.
I should like to make one point about the staff of the Nature Conservancy Council. When the proposal for the Council to be split was first announced it was a terrible shock to the staff who had made their own plans for devolution to the regions. I believe that the staff have behaved extremely well. We know how hostile they were to the proposals. A ballot held last week showed that the majority of the staff in England, Scotland and Wales are still opposed to the proposals.
I join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Baroness for her masterly handling of the Bill, having taken it over at a late stage. However, she showed some misunderstanding on one point at Report stage when the position of the staff of the Nature Conservancy Council was raised. She appeared to consider that because they were offered job security and they would all have the same salary and the chance of a job in the new set-up, that was satisfactory. The staff all care very much about conservation and they are afraid that conservation will not be as good and as successful under the new regime as under the old.
As well as congratulating the noble Baroness on her handling of this very complex Bill I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord McIntosh, who has carried a great burden on the Front Bench. He has mastered the whole of this Bill with consummate skill. I admire and envy him very much for his ability to do so.
My Lords, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for me to go into detail as to how I believe that this Bill has changed substantially in its progress through this House. Suffice it to say that 471 amendments have been accepted and a good deal of negotiated accommodation has gone on behind the scenes. Those amendments have come from all parts of the House. Many of them were substantial and others minor.
I still believe that this is a good Bill. I profoundly disagree with the interpretation of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch. His criticism is that it is the only Bill. It is a substantial Bill and a major piece of environmental legislation. It will be implemented over the next two years, and to say that we are remiss for not having another piece of legislation to follow on in the next few weeks seems to me to be rather hypercritical. It is a good Bill and in my view it will make for a cleaner, greener Britain.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.