§ 3.53 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased today to be presenting to your Lordships' House an Environment Bill which will make a major contribution to the Government's environment policy in a number of important areas. It is a substantial Bill, consisting of 105 clauses, arranged in four parts, and 20 schedules.
1376 Part I takes forward our long-standing commitment to establish the environment agency for England and Wales and the Scottish environment protection agency—SEPA.
In England and Wales, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution has successfully pioneered integrated pollution control for those industrial processes with the greatest potential to pollute. The National River Authority's effectiveness in regulating water quality has played an important part not only in changing attitudes but also in real progress on that front. The waste regulation authorities have taken on substantial new responsibilities over the past two years with the introduction of the duty of care, waste carrier registration and the new waste management licensing scheme. I am happy to pay tribute to the hard work and success of the staff of all those bodies. Their experience will be the new agency's greatest asset.
SEPA, too, will build on the past, although its starting point is different and its eventual scope will be narrower.
The present quality of Scotland's water environment is an eloquent testimony to the sterling work of the river purification boards. Local authorities in Scotland deserve credit for the way that they have striven to overcome the inherent difficulties of their joint responsibilities for waste regulation and waste disposal, and for the way that they have embraced the new systems of control for waste management and local air pollution.
HMIP and the river purification authorities are to be commended for the effective way they have risen to meet the challenge of implementing IPC. But that joint arrangement does not represent an optimal solution, and the creation of SEPA will remove the present dual responsibility. The two agencies will build on the achievements of those existing bodies and, by bringing the different regimes together, will be able to promote a more coherent and consistent approach to pollution control and enhanced environmental protection. The agencies will be good for the environment and good for business, providing an integrated and effective approach while reducing the number of regulators with whom business must deal.
Chapter I of Part I establishes the environment agency for England and Wales, and sets out its powers and duties. Chapter II does the same for the scottish environment protection agency.
In England and Wales, the agency's functions will be to implement integrated pollution control and to provide effective control of pollution into water and from waste. It will have further functions relating to water resources management, flood defence, fisheries, water recreation and navigation, to promote and enhance the water environment. In Scotland, SEPA will have pollution control functions concerning water, waste and air, as well as IPC.
Chapter III contains joint provisions affecting both agencies. In part, it defines the role of Ministers who will continue to take the lead in defining policy and in international negotiation and legislation, but informed and aided by the work of the agencies. It also covers general financial provisions.
1377 Noble Lords will recognise that many of the provisions in Part I are transposed from the existing bodies. But we believe that, by bringing together the different disciplines dealing with the individual media, the quality of environmental protection will be enhanced. That has certainly been the experience elsewhere.
In addition, the Bill contains a number of important new or amended provisions. First, the agencies will have a duty in relation to sustainable development. The new provisions put Minsters under a duty to issue guidance to each agency on its aims and objectives, including guidance on the contribution which the Minister considers it appropriate for the agency to make towards achieving sustainable development. Each agency is under a duty to have regard to that guidance in carrying out its functions. The terms of the guidance will be determined following consultation. They will build on the principles of sustainable development and on the proposed aims and objectives of the agencies, published in October.
On the conservation duty, we have listened carefully to concerns that the wording in the published draft represents a weakening. That was certainly not the intention. The clause in fact broadens the scope of the duty to include, for the first time, a requirement to take account of conservation in relation to IPC and waste functions. That should be welcomed by all those concerned with conservation.
Sustainable development involves reconciling the needs of protecting the environment, of conservation and of economic development. We have, therefore, also included a provision which will require the agencies to consider costs and benefits. But the duty does not affect the non-discretionary duties of the new agencies, and does not apply where it would be unreasonable.
We recognise the importance, in establishing the agencies, of ensuring that they are responsive to local needs, and the Bill provides for the establishment of regional committees in England and Wales. The flood defence and fisheries committees are broadly similar in terms of constitution and function to the current equivalent NRA committees. However, we are introducing new, more transparent, procedures for the establishment of the regional environment protection advisory committees to ensure that those with a significant interest in the work of the agency in their region are consulted over their membership.
In recognition of the distinct needs of Wales, the Bill specifies that in relation to each of the advisory committees the agency must ensure that there is one to cover a region which consists wholly or mainly of Wales. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will appoint a special advisory committee representing a range of interests across the Principality to advise him on issues relevant to the agency's functions there. In Scotland, SEPA will be under a duty to establish regional boards.
The Bill takes forward other aspects of government policy in which the agency will have a role. Part II deals with contaminated land and abandoned mines. The contaminated land provisions result from the Government's review of policy on contaminated land 1378 and liabilities. The proposed powers for local authorities and the agencies are based on the "suitable for use" approach, which requires action only to remove unacceptable risks to health or the environment in relation to the nature of individual sites and their actual or intended use. Statutory guidance will reinforce this point. We do not intend to increase the burden of regulation, nor to change substantially the existing pattern of regulatory liabilities. But we do intend to introduce a specific definition of contaminated land and targeted procedures for its regulation and control to replace the use of more general statutory nuisance powers. This will improve clarity and consistency.
In view of concerns about water pollution from abandoned mines, we propose to strengthen the powers which the agencies will have in this area. Under current law, there is a defence against prosecution, and an exemption from recovery of expenses, in cases where a polluting discharge is permitted to flow from an abandoned mine. For mines abandoned after 31st December 1999, the Bill removes the statutory protection, so that the agencies will be able to deal with these discharges in the same way as any others. The Bill also contains a definition of "abandonment" and a new requirement for mine operators to give the agencies at least six months' notice of their intention to abandon a mine.
Part III of the Bill fulfils our commitment to establish independent authorities for the 10 national parks. It also updates park purposes to enable the new authorities to take a more integrated approach to the management of their areas. The Bill introduces two new statutory duties: first, national parks authorities will be required, in pursing their purposes, to have regard to the economic and social well-being of their local communities; and, secondly, government departments and other public bodies will have to have regard to national park purposes in carrying out their functions in the parks. It is vital that we ensure that management of these national assets responds to the challenges of the next century and I believe that these provisions will provide for their future care and protection.
Part IV contains a variety of provisions. Some of these are measures to facilitate the effectiveness and smooth running of the agencies. While our general approach has been to transfer functions to the agencies without making major changes to the underlying legislative framework, which was relatively recently enacted, some rationalisations have seemed desirable. To take just one example, we have provided revised powers of entry for pollution control purposes for persons authorised by the agencies.
Other measures will contribute to our general environmental policy. These include: provisions requiring the drawing up of national waste strategies; a power to enable the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to operate the countryside stewardship scheme when it is transferred to his department from the Countryside Commission; clarification that the definition of "drainage" empowers the agency and other operating authorities to undertake water level management for conservation purposes; new powers for fisheries regulators and for Ministers to enable them to 1379 control fishing activity in order to protect the environment; and provisions to modernise the controls over statutory nuisance in Scotland.
Finally, there are two enabling provisions, in respect of producer responsibility for waste and of hedgerows, where noble Lords might appreciate some clarification. Our initiative on producer responsibility for waste helps to ensure that industry takes fuller account of the environmental consequences of its actions. In doing so, it gives industry a direct financial incentive to minimise waste and to create markets for recycled material. It also gives industry scope to develop cost-effective ways of achieving environmental objectives. Industry has shown that it is prepared to take up its responsibility and that it can deliver business-led schemes. But some companies might try to duck out. The packaging industry in particular has made it clear to us that the potential for "free-riding" is sufficient to undermine its commitment to increased packaging waste recovery. We therefore propose to provide the minimum legislative framework necessary to deter "free-riders", while preserving our underlying strategy of an industry-led approach. This will result in increased levels of re-use, recovery and recycling of waste.
Part IV also includes a general power to introduce in England and Wales a statutory scheme to protect important hedgerows. The detailed arrangements will be brought forward in regulations made jointly by my Secretary of State and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in respect of England, and the Secretary of State for Wales, in respect of Wales. Our aim is to introduce a scheme which is fair, reasonable and practical; and which minimises the burden both on those who are subject to these controls and those who administer them. We consider that these aims are best met through a notification scheme. Land managers would be required to give notice of their intention to remove hedgerows to the local planning authority who would have 28 days in which to refuse a proposal. If the land manager hears nothing within the 28 day period, the proposed work may go ahead.
We plan to limit the requirement to notify to rural hedges. The results of our surveys show that widespread removal in the countryside is not the problem it was, but significant numbers of rural hedges are still being removed. Newly planted hedges will be excluded so as not to discourage new planting. We regard it as essential that controls are focused only on the most important hedges; for example, the ancient parish boundary hedge for which no amount of replanting can substitute. We propose, therefore, that local planning authorities should be required to make their decisions in accordance with statutory criteria, prescribed in regulations. We have research in hand to develop and test workable criteria.
We propose that there should be a right of appeal against a local planning authority's refusal of a notice to my Secretary of State, in respect of England, and to the Secretary of State for Wales, in respect of Wales. We shall be consulting the public on these proposals before regulations are prepared, as well as listening to the concerns of noble Lords and Members in another place.
1380 This is a wide-ranging Bill, but with a common theme: all the measures will help protect and maintain the environment. It gives expression to this Government's commitment to sustainable development. The new agencies will be leaders in the field of environmental protection in this country. The Bill takes a number of other important steps to that end. It deserves to be welcomed and I commend it to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time —(Viscount Ullswater.)
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, for introducing the Bill to your Lordships with commendable clarity. As is customary, I have to declare an interest—;which I am afraid is becoming rather boringly familiar to your Lordships—as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. However, the views that I shall express are the views of my party rather than the views of CPRW.
Let me say at the outset that we welcome the Bill. Admittedly, it may well be in reality a series of Bills gathered together, as modern custom has it, into one rather indigestible compendium. It may also be, as I shall go on to argue, a Bill which could have achieved much more than it sets out to do. Nevertheless, after all the backtracking that we have seen—the failure to produce a paving Bill which was announced in the gracious Speech at the beginning of the last Session of Parliament, the gratuitous murder of the Hedgerows Bill in another place, the half-hearted support given to the Norrie Bill on national parks (which was a government Bill in all but name but again had its throat cut mercilessly in another place)—it comes as something of a welcome relief that the Government have at least brought forward a Bill and have had the honesty to do so openly in their own name rather than resorting to the rather dubious process of trying to meet their commitments by hand-outs to their supporters and then washing their hands of the consequences. Therefore, as I said, we welcome the Bill, or this series of Bills.
Before I address the measures put before us in detail I have two general comments to make. First, I emphasise that we do not believe that the Bill goes nearly far enough in many important respects. This seems to us to be a process of walking backwards on a beach before what is certainly a rising tide, the rising tide being public indignation about the state of our environment and its future. In other words, the approach that the Government have adopted is minimalist.
Our agenda is quite different. We believe not merely that we should take the minimum necessary steps but that we should regard the whole range of environmental policies as a great opportunity for this country. After all, in the past century we have built bridges, constructed railways, harbours, airports and palaces all round the world. We no longer do that. In the next century the way is open for us to develop and export the clean technologies of the future, the new equivalent, in the aftermath of the Cold War (to use the words of the prophet Isaiah) of beating swords into ploughshares and 1381 spears into pruning hooks. We must be positive in our approach, not negative. We must put the environment at the centre of our policies, not only for the protection of ourselves and of our children and our grandchildren, but because in doing so we shall be creating wealth for the future.
My second comment is this. It is no good pretending that environmental protection is without cost. That is absurd. But the cost that we have been conditioned to consider is the narrow definition of an expense to the profit and loss account rather than the cost to society as a whole. As far as I know, and I have certain experience of these matters, there is no system of accounting practice anywhere in the world that has even started to measure the environmental effects of economic activity in a way that can build those costs systematically into a profit and loss account. We are stuck with accounting concepts that are 100 years old and were developed before environmental diseconomies were ever thought of. It is that which makes the kind of cost/benefit analysis to which the noble Viscount referred and which is suggested in the Bill such nonsense. It is out of date. It is using the abacus in the age of the computer. We have to move on to systems of accounting that reflect reality, and if the City of London does not like it, that is tough on the City of London.
Let me now turn to the Bill itself. So far as concerns the environment agencies, my noble friend Lord Carmichael will deal with the Scottish agency when he speaks later. We shall, I should add, argue for a separate Welsh agency which, given the rather ruthless imposition of a new local government structure in Wales, seems to us to be necessary to reflect what the noble Viscount referred to as the distinct nature of Wales. Nevertheless, my comments on the English agency are of general application.
Of course we support the principle of an environment agency, but if we are to support it in detail there are many questions which the noble Viscount will have to answer. For instance, we accept the case for a national waste regulation strategy, but we are far from convinced that it can operate without a close connection, at least, with local authorities. How will it fit in with the related functions which will stay with local authorities, such as planning and environmental health, let alone the new responsibilities which the Bill seeks to lay on local authorities over contaminated land? Will we now, instead of complaining to our local authority, have to complain to Whitehall—presumably on some sort of cones hotline—when rubbish drifts into our front gardens? If that is the Government's intention, then they had better say so and we will argue it out.
The next difficulty is to know the precise remit of the agency. Nowhere do I find expression of the principle that the polluter pays. Indeed, the incorporation of the cost/benefit provisions in the Bill defy that principle to the point where it becomes the polluter pays only if he can afford it or does not have an accountant ingenious enough to fiddle the figures. That does not seem to me to be a sensible principle on which to base a policy.
1382 Furthermore, there is apparently to be no obligation on the agency to prevent or minimise the pollution of the environment, in spite of it having a duty to promote conservation. It seems, to say the least, an odd lapse, if lapse it is rather than deliberate intention.
Even if a general anti-pollution duty is laid on the agency, we still shall not be very much further on its remit. This, the noble Viscount said, will be set by ministerial guidance "from time to time", as the Bill has it. In other words, Parliament is being asked to pass enabling legislation setting up a quango with a general remit and allowing Ministers to tell it at some later stage what it is meant to be doing specifically and how it is meant to do it. Nobody can say that that is a satisfactory state of affairs. In fact, so unsatisfactory is it that I have to tell the noble Viscount that I do not see how we can take the Bill into Committee without sight of at least the initial guidance that Ministers propose to give the agency. Alternatively, if the Government have no clear idea of what guidance they will give, they ought to develop one pretty quickly. I therefore formally request the noble Viscount to place a copy of the initial guidance in the Library so that we can read it and have an informed debate on all aspects of the agencies that the Government propose.
Nor, I have to say to the noble Viscount, are we particularly happy with the scope of the proposed agency. We believe that there are other powers and functions that could with profit be transferred or given to the agency to give it a wider and stronger brief; and these we shall be setting out in Committee. But above all we shall seek to remove the conflict of interest that is built into the Bill itself. The agency's job is to fight pollution, to protect the environment and to promote sustainable development. It cannot do these things if it is constantly going to test their outcome against business costs. There are plenty of channels for business to use if it finds protecting the environment too burdensome; and if there are complaints they will be dealt with elsewhere. But they cannot be dealt with within the agency itself; the agency cannot be judge and jury in the matter in the way the Bill suggests.
Part II of the Bill, as the noble Viscount pointed out, deals with contaminated land and abandoned mines. Much of that is welcome, in particular the recognition by the Government that we need a framework within which local authorities can identify contaminated land, assess priorities for action and bring about remediation. Nevertheless, without a proper programme of site identification there will be no means of locating immediate threats to public health and the environment, and the Bill does not provide that. A database of historical land uses would seem to us to be the only way to proceed, although I would be the first to concede that it would not be easy or cheap to compile. On that I have to be quite clear.
There is a further difficulty with minewater control. The present exemption from pollution control, as the noble Viscount pointed out, will remain in force until the end of 1999. This would seem to us to be too long. It will mean that the prevention of pollution from many abandoned mines may well become a charge on public 1383 funds instead of being passed on to the new coal owners. I cannot believe that that is either the Government's intention or, indeed, a desirable outcome.
Part III of the Bill, dealing with national parks, is particularly welcome after all the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and, if I may say so in all modesty, myself, in chivvying the Government into action. But here again there are a few caveats. The Government, in their response to the recommendations of the Edwards panel report, quite clearly agreed to introduce legislation to refer expressly to quiet enjoyment. I cannot for the life of me understand why they have not honoured that commitment. National parks are experiencing serious problems with off-road sports such as motor-cyclng. In most cases those problems are outside the control of the associations or councils which govern those sports. Why not legislate for what is a perfectly reasonable objective and one which the Government themselves accept? Furthermore, we believe that national parks should be protected from major developments. We understand that the parks are living communities and should not just be preserved in aspic. Nevertheless, there is no sense in having a park at all if it is going to be developed into just another industrial estate.
Part IV of the Bill seems to be something of a rag-bag of measures put in as afterthoughts. But it poses something of a problem, as indeed do other parts of the Bill; and it is a problem that will no doubt be considered by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships' House in due course. I refer to the order-making powers conferred on Ministers—on hedgerows, for instance, to which the noble Viscount referred. I very much doubt whether your Lordships will be entirely happy with the extent of the Henry VIII provisions in the Bill and I look forward with considerable interest to the report of the committee, which I imagine will be available to us before we move on to the next stage.
I have one final point to make, again of a general nature. The Long Title of the Bill is, in my view, widely drawn—and I may say that my view is supported by advice that I have received. It probably had to be so drawn to allow the many disparate measures in front us to be included in one Bill. But that will allow us not just to react to the Government's agenda but to set our own. We should like to see a much wider-ranging Bill clearly aimed at the protection of the environment. This can be done in a number of ways which we shall explore when the Bill goes into Committee. On that note, I am therefore able to assure the Minister that we shall be not just a critical but a constructive Opposition, in keeping with our general verdict on the Bill which the Government have put before us today: not bad; a bit of a curate's egg; could have been worse; but could be a lot better. We shall do our best to make it so.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, we on these Benches believe that this is, on the whole, a Bill to be welcomed. We are grateful to the noble Viscount for explaining it so carefully and fully. I am particularly pleased to welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord 1384 Williams. On these Benches we had rather given up any thought that we might have an ecological overview from anyone in his party except possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, on the Back Benches. In both Houses of Parliament, we had rather given up hope that green inspiration would dominate the programme of the Labour Party. We are absolutely delighted that the party has now seen the error of its ways and is picking up a part of its tradition—once a very real part—which appeared to have been abandoned.
The Government are keen on measures which appear to simplify the answers to problems. That is not in itself bad although oversimplification tends to mean that some important parts of problems are overlooked. And there are dangers in the process itself. In the course of pulling things together governments are always tempted to accumulate too much power in the hands of Ministers, to give them too much unaccountable discretion, and to drop those parts which do not quite fit the tidying process down the interstices of their cobbling. In addition, there is a tendency to water down or qualify previous bold, or moderately bold, initiatives. In this specific case, I believe that Mr. Gummer personally wants all the right things, but he appears to be surrounded to a certain extent by those who have either had pasts or expect to have futures in the Treasury —with the attitudes that that appears to imply.
It is the duty of the Opposition parties to see that watering down does not occur. On these Benches, we shall be as vigilant as possible in this task. In the debate which we believe is going on, we are on the side of Mr. Gummer; and I never thought that I would make such a remark from these Benches. In particular, we shall have to take care that this stays an environmental protection Bill in spirit, even if the title has been slightly worryingly changed to leave out the word "protection". We must see that it does not become primarily an industry protection Bill.
I do not wish to be misunderstood about that. Of course, industry must be protected and a first glance at the Bill does not suggest that the Government have got it seriously wrong. But there should be no doubt about where the main emphasis must lie. We are living in a world where an unparalleled and previously unthinkable commitment to a sustainable economy was made by the nations of the world in Rio. This change of paradigm must have changed all our thinking. The result is not so much that we must now all be good little ecologists, whereas before we might have been big bad capitalists. It is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out, it will now pay us to be good because that is how the world is going to work from now on.
Things which would in the past have seemed harsh restrictions on industry will now be recognised as encouraging progress towards efficiency, frugality and good practice to the profit and pleasure of all. So the environment, in the widest sense of the term, comes first because it will be leading the way.
Within that framework, there are a number of different considerations which we shall bear in mind. One is the importance of devolution—not, in this case, devolution from Europe. MORI opinion polls have shown that the public trusts Europe on environmental 1385 matters more than it does this Government—probably not because it is particularly fond of Europe, but because it is even less fond of this Government. But there is a necessity for devolution upwards to Europe and devolution downwards to local government. The rule about devolution in ecological matters, as in civil rights matters—for the good reason that both can be matters of life and death—is that you have to make certain that the essentials are safeguarded as far up the chain as possible whereas methods of application and administration must be pushed as far down the chain as possible. As a result, central national government should have a fairly residual role, while the role of both local government and world and continental bloc government is expanded. Human nature being what it is, both Ministers and civil servants at the national level are likely to resist that.
For instance, in the national parks there is need for a strong national interest, if only because national money is concerned. But there is also a need for people who live in the parks to have as much control over their own lives as possible. In this part of the Bill, we almost certainly need the obligation to ensure that major development only takes place in the parks as a completely last resort and that there are powers to ensure—as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out—that noisy and intrusive recreations can be controlled, while making sure that local opinion is fully consulted within that framework. There is a case for the direct as opposed to the indirect election of local representatives on to the governing bodies of national parks. This is an issue we intend to explore.
We shall also be on the look-out for the unnecessary removal of environmental powers from the bodies which are being co-ordinated. The Bill may well be taking too many powers from the National Rivers Authority which has done a good job. It is not clear that the Bill is right in the balance it strikes between the new authority and local authorities in the field of waste disposal and recycling. I suspect that my noble friend Lady Hamwee, among others, will be speaking on that matter.
Another concern is that of too great a vagueness as to what is the ultimate object of some of the exercises. For instance, it is much to be welcomed that the Government are at last honouring their promises about the preservation of hedgerows. We welcome the explanation which the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, gave about how that will be done. We shall explore the matter further in the course of the Bill.
More centrally, Clause 4(1) would benefit from clearer statutory goals for the advancement of environmental protection and sustainable development. That might be better than the present reliance on what is necessarily transitory ministerial guidance.
This is a very wide Bill, indeed. Of the matters already in it, I expect that my noble friend Lord Ezra, with his immense expertise, will be taking a detailed interest in the provisions relating to coal mines, as well as other matters. When I mentioned coal mines to my noble friend, he said that he would have to do some homework on them. I suspect that he has forgotten more about coal mines than most people—certainly, anyone in this House—ever knew, with the exception of those 1386 who have spent their working lives at the bottom of one. He will take on that and various other subjects in which he has great interest and expertise.
There are other matters. For example, my noble friend Lord McNair will advocate the greater use of our inland waterway network. I am an enthusiastic supporter of his on that subject. In particular, there appears to be a lacuna in the Bill where there should be an obligation to promote navigation and recreation on our inland waterways.
While I am on the subject of water, there appears to be a small and maybe inadvertent hole in the Bill. It is that the main agency has control over water abstraction, but the Scottish agency does not. That hole could be damaging because control of abstraction can mean life or death to wildlife site protection. Perhaps the Minister in his reply will pay attention to that. There may be a very simple answer.
The fact that the long title of the Bill is so wide that the Government have been able to sweep in coal mines, hedges and national parks means that there is the possibility of other imports. Some of my colleagues and I will certainly be exploring the need for further largely agreed energy conservation measures. There is also need to extend the Trade Descriptions Act to cover environmental claims. My noble friend Lady Hamwee may well wish to see whether the Bill can provide a home for that.
The last principle I wish to air in our general approach to the Bill is the need to recognise the proper use of the carrot and the stick. The Government understand the approach perfectly well but they suffer from the fatal combination of not liking nasty sticks brandished at their friends while pleading their inability to afford juicy carrots for anyone.
If we are to improve our environment and move towards a sustainable economy—both are important and popular aims —we must get the balance right. And it is a question of balance. We do not want, on the one hand, to throw all the delinquents into gaol. But nor do we want—an accusation that is sometimes made—to throw money at the problem. It is the combination of the two in the right proportions that makes either extreme unnecessary. If you rely on sticks alone you practically have to beat someone to death to make things work. If you rely on carrots alone, it can bring the country to bankruptcy. In either case, it does not work.
The balance achieved by moderate means does work, particularly in a nation which, as we know from opinion polls and actual behaviour, is very aware at every social level of the need for environmental protection. It is that balance between carrots and sticks for which we on these Benches will strive. I hope that I have spelt out some of the ways in which we hope to co-operate in improving what we regard as basically a thoroughly welcome Bill.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Worcester
My Lords, I notice many names on the list of speakers. I shall be as quick as possible and keep my eye on the clock. I welcome unreservedly the broad principles of the Bill, and I am delighted that the Government have given it priority. 1387 The debates that we shall have on it will be time well spent given that the substance of the Bill is so important and the fact that this House has an excellent track record in improving environmental legislation. Many people regard this Chamber as the place where environmental proposals are likely to receive thorough, reflective and expert attention. Indeed this House is well blessed with veterans of environmental policy-making who not only have their hearts in the right place but their heads also.
Why should the Lords Spiritual be interested in such a Bill? Religion cannot be confined to special rituals in special places, nor to a narrow range of family and social issues. I reject such stereotypes. There has always been a strong strand of thought within the Judaeo-Christian tradition affirming the creation as an expression of the divine. Exclusive emphasis on individual salvation has never been typical of Christianity as a whole. In the parable of creation set out in Genesis we are told of each dimension of the creation being seen as very good. Biblically, people who were given special skills and power over the rest of creation were to use them with a sense of humility and reverence, and indeed with a sense of urgency. We have the statement from Harvard University that biological diversity in the world in which we live has been reduced to the equivalent of what it was 6,000 million years ago. We also hear that species which are shown to have taken geological eras to come to maturity can be destroyed within one generation. I am told that in the 1980s hedgerows were disappearing at a rate of 4,000 miles a year. Because we have chosen to invest in the motor car, an area the size of the county of Oxford disappears every year, so I am told, in the making of dual carriageways and motorways.
There is an urgency about the Bill. We have one habitat; it is shared with the other creatures of the world. I am told, for example, that a sow has more nerve-endings in its snout than are in the human hand. If we have a vice-regency under God, then, noblesse oblige, we must care for our habitat. It cannot be renewed. There is only one. We have to keep the two words "economy" and "ecology" together.
We may well ask in a society increasingly dominated by short-term consumer goals: where are the moral underpinnings of sustainability to come from? I would prefer it if, in the Bill, the phrase "environmentally sustainable" were used every time in relation to the goals set. Can that word be put in? Environmental responsibility involves a sense of responsibility and service to generations as yet unborn, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. Far be it from me to try to correct the son of a professor of divinity, but I thought that it was the prophet Micah who talked about "beating swords into ploughshares". I will check. I beg the noble Lord's pardon. We have to have self-restraint and reverence and respect for the rest of creation, for the balance of nature.
Such a stance involves moral choices based on a sense of purpose that is bigger than ourselves. So the apparently prosaic pages of this Bill, which the House will examine, as ever, painstakingly, take us into deep moral issues and belief systems which can enable human 1388 beings to act ethically for the long-term common good. We do not have a freehold on the universe in which we live, only a repairing lease.
Moreover, it is now clear that environmental issues cannot be separated from physical and mental health, nor from issues of poverty or the crisis of refugees overseas. We cannot treat the environment as a separate subject. It is bound up with many subjects. It is relevant to our common future and those other issues which threaten that future. Therefore, I hope that it will not be thought pretentious if I welcome the Bill not just as one who values clean water and fine hedgerows (which I do) and who loves national parks (which I do) but as a bishop.
Parliament does not often get such an important opportunity as this to help improve the country's stewardship of its natural resources. I know that the House will make the most of it. In that respect the Bill will have to be tightened up. It is pointed out to me by English Nature and by no less a body than the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, with which I work closely, that in Clause 7—which I have checked today—when it comes to matters of pollution, a very much weaker phrase is used. I should like the noble Viscount to tell me whether that has any significance. All through the Bill, the agencies are to have the "duty" of conserving nature. In Clause 7, in reference to the pollution of rivers, a weaker phrase is used; namely,to have regard to the desirability"of conserving nature. Can we have some explanation of that?
The new environmental agency will certainly cause upheaval and absorb much time, energy and indeed money, as has already been pointed out. We need to be satisfied that the new body really will be more than the sum of its parts, so that the net result is long term and comprehensive. It is good that each government department will have duties laid upon it. For it is possible, even with the best will in the world, for a government department to think that someone else is responsible rather than itself. We are all responsible.
The proposed clarification and strengthening of national park authorities is very good. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, is to be congratulated, as indeed is the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, on what they have achieved.
I also support the proposals for statutory protection of important hedgerows. But it is worth noting that far more hedgerows have been lost in recent years through lack of management than have been lost through outright destruction. They just disappear. Hence it is very important to try to make increased resources available to farmers and landowners for the management and upkeep of hedgerows, and indeed other key features which give the countryside its character and charm.
I welcome Clause 80 of the Bill, so long as it facilitates more positive payments to land managers for good environmental practice. That is much more sensible than paying them to grow unwanted surplus food or to set land aside.
1389 I conclude by hoping that your Lordships will strongly support the principles of the Bill and will also find plenty of ways, as has happened in the past, to tighten it up and strengthen it. Given our mature years, most of us are probably not thought of as "green". But let us see what we can do.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lord Ullswater and Her Majesty's Government for finding time in their parliamentary programme for this Bill and, in particular, Part III of the Bill which deals with national parks and is of special interest to me as a member of the Countryside Commission.
The 10 national parks were established by means of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. At that time few people foresaw the great changes that have since occurred in our way of life and the resulting pressures on rural land in general and the national parks in particular. The qualities of the parks—their beauty, relative wildness and the opportunities that they give for outdoor recreation and for finding peace and quiet—are at a premium in today's fast moving and crowded society. At present, they are visited by over 100 million people every year; and their qualities will become even more necessary if current development and leisure trends continue.
The National Parks Commission was expanded in 1968 to become the Countryside Commission of today. In 1989 the Countryside Commission set up the National Parks Review Panel, under the chairmanship of Professor Ron Edwards, and in 1991 it also published that panel's report called Fit for the future.It is from that report that many of the proposals relating to national parks in this Bill, which is the first comprehensive legislation on the subject for 45 years, are derived.
Particularly welcome is the establishment of new free-standing national park authorities within the local government framework. New authorities are needed to create a clearer focus for achieving park purposes. They need to be able to set their own agenda and have the freedom to decide how to use their limited resources most effectively. Of course, these proposals are based on those in the National Parks Bill, which was introduced in your Lordships' House in the last Session by my noble friend Lord Norrie and received widespread support.
One small but important addition is the proposal to make the current proportions of membership on park committees and boards—two thirds of the authorities' membership from local authorities with areas in the national park and one third nominated by the Secretary of State—a statutory requirement.
So much is good in the Bill that it may seem churlish of me if I express a certain amount of regret about the omission from it of two key recommendations from the Edwards Report. The first is the need for a statutory test for proposed major development. In the national parks the highest priority must be to safeguard the essential character of these nationally important areas. Major development, such as new roads, quarries and industrial 1390 installations, should take place only if it is shown to be in the national interest; if there is no alternative location outside the park; and, provided that those two criteria are met, if the highest standards of design are used. Those principles have been included in planning policy guidance issued by Her Majesty's Government and should be underlined by a statutory requirement through inclusion in the Bill. The second—in this I support the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel—is the need for the second purpose for national parks (in Clause 58(1) (b)) to refer explicitly to the parks as "tranquil places for quiet enjoyment". Those words are omitted from the present wording of that subsection.
Let me end by making a brief reference to the agri-environment clauses, Clauses 80 and 81. I apologise for that appalling example of environmental jargon. Those clauses herald the start of a new relationship between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment and its agencies in developing environmental schemes. In 1996 the successful countryside stewardship scheme, pioneered by the Countryside Commission, will be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. By that time, the ministry's agri-environment schemes will be spending £100 million a year on environmental and access benefits for the nation. The Countryside Commission, English Nature and English Heritage are the Government's specialist advisers on environment and countryside matters. It is important that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of the Environment and those three agencies should work together, perhaps through a steering group on the agri-environment programme. I should like to ask my noble friend what plans he has for achieving that.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel referred to the fact that there would be a contribution from this side of the House about the Scottish parts of the Bill. Perhaps I may say first to the Minister that we get a little annoyed when large and important parts of Scottish legislation are pushed into a Bill which is basically an English and Welsh Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel that it would have been far better had there been a Welsh Bill also: one for each of the countries. The laws and habits of the people are quite different and I believe that separate Bills would have been better.
I know that the Government like to get their business through as quickly as possible and are convinced that they have the perfect Bill. I should be very surprised if that were the case. It seems to me, from all the correspondence I have received from Scotland, that a very large number of amendments to the Bill will be proposed. Despite the care taken and the great ability of the draftsman, I predict that because of the nature of the Bill, and particularly because Scotland is included in this way, at the end of the day the Government will finish up with an enormous number of amendments as the Bill goes through this House and another place.
I am always amazed that when ordinary people start talking about Bills that have been skilfully drafted gaps are suddenly discovered in the provisions. The 1391 draftsman has to take the Bill back and redraft it in order to satisfy public opinion and what has become the opinion of the House.
There is a very long list of speakers. I do not intend to speak for very long but I must make one or two general comments. First, let me apologise to the House and say that I cannot be quite so enthusiastic about some parts of the Bill as some noble Lords who have spoken. I am particularly concerned that there is no indication of real public participation in the environmental debate. To my mind, it is extremely important that local authorities have some kind of meaningful representation on the bodies concerned.
My main reason for believing that it is so important is that when ordinary people have a comment to make or an objection to raise they find it very difficult to go to bodies like the Scottish environment protection agency or the English environment agency. They are too big and remote. We are discussing the big environmental difficulties—the noble Lord mentioned quarries and there may be a very large problem in Scotland—which are problems that everyone grasps. But what cause even more trouble to ordinary people are fairly local pollutions, which they must be able to report locally. They must be able to find out where they can report them. An example from my area which caused very great trouble was a glue-making factory, which is a very odious thing. It was a trifling matter, but one which caused great trouble and discomfort. Ordinary people would find it very difficult to go to any place as elevated as the Scottish environment protection agency to make a protest in such a case. At the other end of the scale, we have been speaking about the national parks. Many of us would like to have a national park in Loch Lomond, and I agree that that would require the involvement of a much bigger body.
Sometimes this House may appear a little remote and believe that an apparently perfect scheme can work. But I should like to emphasise that the average person finds it very difficult to go to an office and make a complaint. On the other hand, they feel that they have a right to go to their public representative, whether it is a councillor or Member of Parliament, and that their representative has an obligation to listen to them. The representative is the one person who can put them on the right lines or take up their case. Anyone who has been in local or national government and listened week after week to the people who come to the surgeries will know how important it is that they appear not only to be making local by-laws, but also to being the mouthpiece and earpiece of the ordinary citizens who have no powers or experience, even if they manage to summon up the courage to approach a large organisation. I suggest that in Scotland we shall end up with a super-quango rather than a genuine representative body which people will feel able to approach. Simple air pollution, whether from smoke or industrial processes, is just as unpleasant to the ordinary person as are the more elaborate forms of pollution.
We shall require a number of explanations from the Scottish point of view regarding the provisions in the Bill. These are perhaps Committee points but I can give 1392 the Minister a note of them now. In Scotland there is a lack of understanding as to why the borrowing powers of the English agency will range from £100 million to £160 million, while the borrowing powers of the Scottish agency will range from only £2 million to £10 million. Even allowing for the disproportion in the famous Goschen formula, that is something that requires an explanation. If the powers and responsibilities on each side of the Border are the same, that discrepancy needs a clear explanation.
A point raised by the Law Society of Scotland concerns the level of contribution the Scottish environmental protection agency will make to sustainable development. My question is: what is sustainable development? The right reverend Prelate called it "environmentally sustainable" development. Most of the speeches mentioned it, though I do not believe that anybody properly tied up the matter to say exactly what it is.
My last point is this. If we have a Scottish environmental protection agency it is important that members of the public should be able to inspect the records—even if it is necessary to pay for the privilege—and perhaps even attend some of the meetings of the board. Another respected lobby that was in touch with me—the Scottish Consumer Council—is concerned about the membership of the board. It is worried that if the board chairman and deputy chairman of the SEPA are appointed by the Secretary of State they will not have full public support. There is no doubt that if the Government appoint the quangos in Scotland in the same way as they appoint other quangos they will be highly unrepresentative. Many people believe that there should be nominations for membership of the agency so that people can see exactly what it consists of. I would prefer to have a strong representation of elected members on the board; not all, but a certain proportion. Ultimately, local accountability will be reduced with the establishment of the SEPA unless there are places for current local authority representatives, as they already have reserve places on the purification boards. That ensures, at least to some degree, local accountability and a place to which ordinary people will be able to make representation if they find that the environment is being defiled in any way.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Beaumont and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, I support the broad thrust of the Bill. It is going in the right direction and in our deliberations at succeeding stages I hope that the changes we propose will be changes that will strengthen it.
I was particularly pleased that, in his introductory remarks, the noble Viscount praised the work of the existing agencies. I have had a number of dealings of various sorts with them. In tackling what turned out to be extremely difficult and sometimes contradictory work, and the varying interests that they had to balance, they have done a pretty good job. It is satisfactory to know that the intention of the Government in introducing a single agency is to build on what has already been achieved rather than to start from scratch.
1393 The noble Viscount referred to the doubts raised in the first draft of the Bill regarding the possible weakening of the environmental duties to be put on the new agency. There has since been a substantial strengthening of the wording, largely, as we understand it, at the instance of the Secretary of State, for which we are all grateful. But we shall still need to examine carefully at Committee stage whether that goes far enough. For example, the principles laid down in the Water Resources Act 1991 go somewhat further even than the strengthened wording in the Bill. But that we shall examine.
I agree with the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, regarding the guidance referred to in Clause 4. Under that clause Ministers will have the right to give guidance to the agency with respect to,aims and objectives which they consider it appropriate for the Agency to pursue in the performance of its functions".That is very wide-ranging. It makes one feel a little apprehensive as to how the agency, with that threat of guidance over its head, can really do its work. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, made a reasonable request when he said that we would like some guidance on the guidance when we come to the Committee stage. Otherwise we must be in some doubt as to how it is to work.
I should like also to raise the question of what the organisation of the agency will be at regional and local level. Parts of the country vary in regard to their environmental priorities. For example, in London the waste problem is of particular interest due to the concentration of population; in other parts of the country it may be water pollution; elsewhere, where there is a concentration of industry, it may be air pollution. Will those differences of emphasis be reflected in the regional organisation as it will be set up? Furthermore, will the regional organisation be based on catchment areas, local government boundaries or some other boundaries? Those are important issues and will affect how the whole operation is to be handled on the ground. We are used to the existing agencies, their boundaries and relative importance in our areas. We need to know how that is to be dealt with when we move into the new arrangement.
My noble friend said that I would say something about abandoned mines, and indeed I shall, but it will be brief. I have only two points to raise. First, I am extremely pleased that the rather anomalous statutory exemption relating to the escape of minewater from abandoned mines will be withdrawn. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I am concerned that that will be delayed until 1999. I am not sure why the delay has been introduced. I would have hoped that the intention of the new mine owners would be to keep the mines in operation at least for that period of time and that the mines that would then be abandoned would be abandoned only in exceptional circumstances.
1394 The Government must therefore be concerned about the mines that have already been abandoned. That seems to come out of the wording in the remarks on the financial effects of the Bill on page xiii. The Bill states:For abandoned mines in the ownership of the Coal Authority there could be an increase in public expenditure, since the cost of any action taken … would fall on the Authority".Therefore, the Government have decided apparently to defer that until 1999. I do not believe that that is right. I believe that here we have a serious problem which should be dealt with sooner, even though it could involve some extra expenditure from the public purse.
Finally, I would like to turn to the question of waste. I need here to declare an interest. This is a subject in which I have accumulated some experience. I am chairman of a company called Sheffield Heat and Power which was set up under the initiative of the City of Sheffield to make use of the waste heat from the city incinerator. It has indeed been a model of its sort which many other cities have shown an interest in. I welcome the Government's intention to prepare a waste strategy covering the recovery and disposal of waste in England and Wales and for a similar strategy to be established in Scotland. I hope that these two strategies will run very closely together. It would be awkward if the English and Welsh strategies should diverge from the Scottish strategy, or vice versa.
The Government already support the concept of a waste hierarchy—that is to say, in the first instance there should be an attempt to reduce the amount of waste at source; to re-use as much waste as is produced; then to recycle; to recover heat and other valuable products from the waste and, finally, as a last resort, to landfill. But that hierarchy can be achieved only if there is a commitment to the integrated management of waste. I hope that this concept of integrated management will be very much borne in mind in working up that strategy. The proposal in the Budget to introduce a landfill tax is clearly desirable as a stimulus in the right direction, but it will be valid only if alternative means of disposal are promoted and developed.
For example, Germany has enormously overpromoted recycling and built up vast quantities of materials for recycling, in particular waste paper, which have not only exceeded the capability of the German market to deal with it but flooded other countries as well. Therefore, part of the integrated approach must be to have sufficient markets for recycleable material.
The integrated approach to waste management should include targets and timescales for moving waste up the hierarchy in such a way that all the different stages in the hierarchy are promoted in step with one another. There should he a sound and scientifically-based assessment of the waste technologies. In that connection I had the honour to open, on Monday 12th of this month, the waste incineration centre of Sheffield University, of which the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, is the Chancellor. Sheffield University is to be congratulated on this initiative. The director of the centre is Professor Swithenbank who has a world reputation in the scientific study of environmental issues. The centre will research the incineration of all types of waste and will particularly concentrate on the monitoring of flue gas 1395 emissions including the highly debatable question of dioxins which has been raised in a recent report from the United States. I believe that a scientific back-up of the waste strategy is an essential element in dealing with the whole issue. I hope that it will figure in the Government's strategy.
As part of the integrated approach to waste management there must be close co-ordination at regional and local level between the waste regulation authorities which will now pass to the new agency, the disposal authorities and the collection authorities. There is a good example of an integrated approach of that sort developed in the county of Hampshire where the county council responsible for regulation and disposal has co-ordinated its actions with the districts, which are responsible for collection. Perhaps that example can be used elsewhere.
In conclusion, I believe that the Government's intention to develop a national waste strategy is much to be welcomed. It needs to be based on the concept of integrated waste management. Particular regard will need to be had to the ways in which the different aspects of waste management can be brought together at regional and local level.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, in welcoming this important Bill I should begin by declaring an interest in my capacity as chairman of the National Trust, which has a considerable interest in the Bill.
The trust, as the major practitioner of conservation in this country and as a major landowner in, I believe, all the national parks, their effectiveness and that of the authorities is very important to us. They provide the framework in which we operate. Without them, and without the effective operation of their planning powers, our task—and it is a statutory task—would be a great deal more difficult.
Our principal interest in the Bill, therefore, lies in Part III, but I have a few observations on Part I and Part IV. As regards Part I, the idea of an environmental protection agency has been around for several years. I am, however, always rather nervous about proposals to merge organisations which appear to be working satisfactorily. The process of merger—the cost and disruption, the problems of different cultures and so on—can be quite damaging. Therefore, on the whole I am of the old-fashioned school which says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
But pollution in its various forms is no respecter of administrative boundaries and, moreover, as a subsidiary point, I suspect that we shall get a better response from industry from a one-stop shop approach. So I accept the proposed new agency as the right way forward. I would only ask—this has little to do with the legislation but picks up a point made just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—that in merging the NRA and the HMIP the particular strengths of each organisation are recognised and taken into account.
Concern has been voiced this afternoon regarding ministerial guidance—here I am referring to Clause IV—and specifically by one noble Lord about the 1396 exclusion of pollution control from the duty to further conservation and so forth; that is to say, Clause 7(1). Again, at Clause 7(2) the Bill appears to be weak on recreational duties. We would like to see a strengthening—that is to say, a requirement to further the provision of access rather than merely a duty to preserve existing access.
We welcome the requirement at Clause 9(3) for the Minister to consult before issuing a code of practice. But there are particular problems that arise over National Trust inalienable land. This is not a straightforward point and it is, of course, peculiar to us. Therefore, I would like to write to the Minister on this matter and also perhaps on some related points to do with the proposed advisory committees.
I had proposed to comment in some detail on Clause 37; namely, the requirement to carry out cost benefit exercises. But I believe that with such a long list of speakers I should move on. So I shall content myself with guarded support for that clause. It is guarded support because, while I strongly believe in the need to identify and compare costs and benefits and to whom they accrue, these exercises are in my experience pretty subjective and beg the question of what you do about values that are inherently unquantifiable in monetary terms. Here, I do not believe that I share the same hope as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that we shall ever find a satisfactory solution to that.
Turning to Part III and the National Parks part of the Bill, first, there are the proposals to set up national parks authorities. They are of course closely similar to the proposals put forward so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, last winter in his Private Member's Bill which were widely welcomed. They have been widely welcomed this afternoon and I do not propose to say anything further.
Therefore, I turn next to the proposed revision of national park purposes. We welcome the extension of the first purpose by the reference to,conservation and enhancement of natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage".So far, so good. But it is when we come to the second purpose that we run into difficulty. The Edwards Panel stressed "quiet enjoyment and understanding". That point has already been referred to by a number of noble Lords this afternoon. We have "enjoyment" and "understanding" in the Bill, but the word "quiet" is omitted. In our view, that is a serious omission and we should like to know why that word has been omitted. Is it for legal drafting reasons or does it represent a change of policy?
The Minister will be aware that as long ago as January 1992 in their response to the Edwards Report the Government welcomed,the proposed references to quiet enjoyment and understanding as having special relevance to National Parks".And only a few months ago the DoE in PPG 24 talked of the need to give special consideration to development which would,affect the quiet enjoyment of National Parks".I emphasise the word "quiet".
1397 I do not want to labour the point further except to make one personal observation. In stressing the need to include "quiet", we are not seeking to exclude or ban traditional pursuits or activities. We do not wish to ban, for example, grouse shooting from our parks. But we do want, again by way of example, to ban noisy speedboats from our lakes and to restrict the recreational use of all-terrain motorised vehicles.
Moving on, we welcome the inclusion of the so-called "Sandford principle" in Clause 59. I agree here with the observation of the Countryside Commission that in most instances where there is conflict between the two main purposes, they can usually be resolved by good planning and sensible management—and, one might add, by a dose of common sense. For that is our experience in the National Trust: much of the task of managing our open space properties—and many of them are in national parks—lies in dealing with balancing desirable but conflicting objectives.
This is perhaps an appropriate point to add my concern to that which has already been expressed by a number of noble Lords that the Bill does not contain proposals to test major development proposals in the national parks. I refer to the so-called "Silkin test". The Edwards Panel devoted a whole chapter and 10 specific recommendations to that issue. I do not think that I need say any more about that. It has been referred to already and I am sure that the Minister has taken those points on board.
It is argued by some, and in effect it was the point made by the Government in their response to Edwards, that there is sufficient protection from planning policy guidance notes and, in particular PPG7. But they do not have the force of legislation, nor do they cover all forms of development. They are general and do not cover the special needs of national parks. They depend very much on the whim of Ministers and there is nothing to ensure that they are applied consistently over time. In my view, that is probably the most serious weakness in what is otherwise a pretty good Bill.
By contrast, I can readily accept and, indeed, welcome the inclusion of the duty to have regard,to the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Parks",at Clause 59(1). But would it not be wise to buttress that duty by stating that it should be exercised in such a manner that it supported the essential character of a park?
That is all I wish to say at this stage on Part III of the Bill. I would like to make two brief comments on Part IV. I refer first to the measures to protect hedgerows. I note that those measures do not appear to cover stone walls, in particular dry stone walls which are such an important feature of many of our national parks.
I turn secondly to the proposed transfer of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme to MAFF in 1996. This scheme was one of the jewels in the crown of the Countryside Commission. One is sad to see this lusty infant being passed on to a new parent, but now that the scheme is up and running it is no doubt the proper thing to do. Clause 80 gives MAFF the necessary power to carry on the good work in that field and no doubt in related future fields. Clause 81 quite properly places a 1398 duty on MAFF to consult the relevant statutory agencies in respect of changes in legislation. After all, it is those agencies which have the experience and expertise. I note that the Countryside Commission has some regional concerns and would like to see a steering group to keep scheme objectives and performance under review. I have some sympathy for its view, given its outstanding record.
I have gone on quite long enough. I conclude by reiterating my support for this Bill and look forward to examining in more detail at later stages the points I have raised this afternoon.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as the chairman of the National Rivers Authority. I hope that I may be forgiven for a brief historical digression, the relevance of which will become clear in a moment. In June 1941 Germany attacked Russia and by the first week of July in that year the House of Commons had met for the first time in this Chamber. By December 1944 Britain was within five months of the end of the war with Germany. By April 1946 the Labour Government were struggling with the problems of the peace. What has that to do with this Bill? Only this: that in July 1991 the Prime Minister announced his intention to set up an environment agency. Today, in December 1994, we have got to the Second Reading of the Bill that is to carry out that intention. By April 1996, all being well in an uncertain world, the agency will be taking over its responsibilities. I suppose that among the more charitable conclusions that could be drawn from that comparison of historical events is that it is more difficult to set up an environment agency than to win a war or that this is an unusually well prepared piece of legislation.
However, as a result of the prolonged labours we have here the elements that could become good legislation, and I welcome the long-awaited Bill. The national parks section has the familiar appearance of an old friend. If parliamentary procedures did not make it so absurdly difficult for a Private Bill started in this place to pass into law, even when widely supported in both Houses, it would already be on the statute book thanks to the admirable efforts of my noble friend Lord Norrie. In one respect that section of the Bill has taken a turn for the worse because the words "quiet enjoyment" do not appear.
I understand that the Government are sympathetic to the view that adequate protection must be provided. I hope that they will shortly find a way to overcome any drafting difficulties that may remain. I hope that they will also look again at the question of major developments in national parks to ensure that they take place only when there is no reasonable alternative, while always remembering that the parks are places in which people need to work and earn a living.
During the debate on the gracious Speech, I pointed out that the clause of the Bill creating an environment agency for England and Wales was in practice establishing a partnership, and that we should concern ourselves not just with the functions and duties proposed for the agency but equally with the role of government, 1399 and particularly of the DoE. Similar considerations may equally be true of the Scottish parts of this Bill. I referred to some of the difficulties that the NRA has faced in the course of its marriage. But unlike many modern couples we have persisted through the inevitable difficulties that are encountered in any marriage and we are still together, reasonably happy after five and a half years.
The marriage of the environment agency and the DoE may be altogether more difficult because I have an unhappy suspicion that on this occasion the Government are attempting to write the word "obey" into the marriage service, although I fear that they will not couple that word with the phrase,with all my worldly goods I thee endow".The NRA has not been obliged to live with a bossy and prescriptive management statement, but that appears to be the coming fate of the agency. The environment agency is being nagged by its partner even before the nuptials are concluded.
More serious is the potential impact of Clause 4, the guidance clause, with its reference to "sustainable development" to which a number of noble Lords have already referred. Guidance from Ministers cannot provide an ideal and stable foundation for policy-making, for regulatory activities which may impact heavily on others or for a legal framework which the courts can interpret and enforce. Furthermore, "sustainable development" is one of those phrases that means different things to different people. To environmentalists, the words initially gave an emotional thrill, meaning progress and fulfilment. Then came that moment of disillusion. It is now clear that if the emphasis is placed upon the economic and development aspect of those words, they can become an obstacle to environmental action; and there is a real anxiety that Ministers have that interpretation in their minds more frequently than the other.
Industrialists, water plcs and others will quickly see that there are opportunities here to challenge the agency's decisions. It is imperative that the Government publish their guidance and lay it before Parliament, and that they should do so while the Bill is before Parliament. It will not do if the Government rely later upon telephone conversations between officials and the chief executive along the lines of, "You really must try to bring your chairman to heel", or "Ministers are really most upset". Nor will it do if the guidance is given by way of the expression of an opinion given in a letter that is argued subsequently to be confidential. All those are techniques with which those who run government agencies will be familiar. It is not always easy to resist that kind of pressure, but then there should be no need to resist the Government's guidance if the agency's own advice is first considered by Ministers and Ministers' judgment is given openly and placed on the public record. It is odd that nowhere in the Bill is there a requirement that the Government should consider the agency's advice.
That takes me directly to another matter about which I spoke during the debate on the gracious Speech; and that is the general duty (created by Clause 37) for the 1400 new agencies to have regard to costs and benefits in exercising their powers. I do not object to the clause, but where are the instruments that will enable the agencies to put that duty into effect? Yes, it is true that the provisions within the Water Act to establish statutory water quality objectives, which did provide a mechanism and which Ministers described as a cornerstone of that Act, are still there, but they have never been used. In any case, there is no sign that they are to be extended to the new environment agency's other functions, and it is therefore difficult to know what is in the mind of Ministers. Have they or their officials thought this through and devised a mechanism by which the new agency will carry out its functions, particularly its pollution control functions, without it carrying a high risk that its decisions will be challenged repeatedly to appeal or in the courts?
There are a good many questions that require answers. For example, how does the cost benefit duty relate to references to economic criteria in existing legislation, and, in particular, to the BATNEEC criteria used to secure the best practicable environmental option available?
There seems to be a view within the DoE that policy issues on environmental economics should be left to the department and that the agency should confine its activities to implementing that policy. I hope that the agency will not fall for that sucker punch. It is already clear that the NRA has done more than the DoE or HMIP in the development of standard methodologies for the application of cost benefit techniques. It is absolutely essential that the agency continues that work on environmental economics. There is a compelling reason why it should do so because, while in the department it may remain a largely academic exercise, in the agency it will be a crucial day-to-day requirement if it is to do its job without the risk of continual legal challenge.
Research and development must continue here in the economic field as in other areas of the agency's activities. In that context, I am puzzled by Clause 5(4),The Agency shall follow developments in technology and techniques for preventing or minimising",and so forth, "the effects of pollution". Well, yes! But does it need a subsection of a Bill to make it do anything so obvious? What does it mean? What are its implications for the exercise of the agency's functions?
Clause 5 as a whole is an odd clause. We are told that the agency shall compile information, and if,required by either of the Ministers to do so",shall carry out assessments and,prepare and send to that Minister a report".Well, I certainly hope that the agency will compile information. It would be strange if it failed to do so. I hope equally that it will carry out assessments and prepare reports, whether or not Ministers ask it to do so, and I trust that it will place those reports, whether prepared on its own initiative or at the request of Ministers, in the public arena. It may or may not be a comfort to know that whether the agency decides to do that or not, it is almost certain that the information will leak and be published by someone else in any event— 1401 probably in that excellent source of reliable information, the journal Ends, to which Ministers turn to discover what is going on in their departments and in the latest copy of which noble Lords will find a comprehensive and well-informed brief on the contaminated land section of the Bill.
There are a number of things in the Bill which I welcome greatly. It makes it clear that the agency can recover the costs of investigating pollution as well as clean-up costs; it brings Crown property partially into control; it introduces enforcement notices for water pollution risks; removes the tripartite sampling requirement and enables machine samples to be taken as evidence; it extends to environmental issues the agency's and the sea fisheries committees' by-law-making powers; and it introduces fixed penalties for fishery offences. All that is very welcome.
However, I am disappointed that, although the NRA also argued the case that the agency should be able to issue enforcement notices and prohibition notices and have injunctive powers to deal with threatened pollution, Schedule 18 provides for enforcement notices only. As a consequence, the harmonisation with existing HMIP and waste powers is only partial and incomplete. I am disappointed also that the water resources provisions asked for by the NRA, including the power to make drought orders on environmental grounds, do not appear.
As a former Secretary of State for Wales, and as the present chairman of the NRA, I regard the Opposition proposal that there should be a separate agency for Wales as wholly unhelpful. I am certain that it would guarantee that environmental protection would be much less effective and much more expensive.
There are three other important matters to which I wish to refer. First, although I welcome the fact that the Government have listened to the representations put forward about the inadequacies of the original draft conservation clause, we in the NRA still believe that Clause 7 is significantly weaker than the current legislation. At present the NRA has a duty to further conservation with regard to all its functions, including pollution control. The new clause omits pollution control and thus leaves the agency with weaker legislation than internal drainage boards and water service plcs which it will regulate. We believe that the duty as it is at present provided in the Water Act enables the NRA to do things to preserve water quality and protect SSSIs, for example, which would not otherwise be possible.
I am delighted that the Government have now put into legislation something to deal with the long-standing problem of contaminated land. However, there are some serious issues which do not appear to have been addressed, of which, from my point of view, by far the most important is that related to the funding and future ownership of what are often known as "orphan sites". It is all very well providing for situations where an owner can be identified and the owner has resources to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, there are a large number of sites where that is not the position. Either the owner is unknown—the parents are dead and gone—or 1402 the present owners, who may have inherited from long deceased forebears, so to speak, are impoverished and not in a position to do anything about the matter.
We are faced also with a system that appears to be bureaucratic and of Byzantine complexity. It seems likely that there will be long delays before treatment can be carried out.
I have one simple central question to put to my noble friend. Will the agency be able to obtain funds from the Government to carry out priority clean-ups if others cannot be found to do so? I suppose that that is a damn-fool question in the light of the statements about the Bill's financial and manpower effects that:The contaminated land provisions are not expected to lead to any additional expenditure falling on either the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund";that there is to be no effect on public service manpower levels; and that the legislation is not expected to increase existing costs or place additional burdens on business. I find it hard to see how effective action can be taken against that background.
Of course, what we could and should have had was a system of grants funded by the levy on landfill sites. No doubt that sensible route has been blocked by the Treasury's obsession with hypothecation.
I very much welcome Clause 55, which gives a definition of abandoned mines and creates new provisions to deal with them. I welcome in particular the requirement to give six months' notice of a proposed abandonment, including cessation of pumping. That will be of great help.
However, there is as yet no adequate provision to enable the agency to deal with the increasingly serious problem of pollution from mines that have already been abandoned. When notice is given, it appears that the agency will be able to do little that is effective because at that stage it will become entangled with local authorities and the extraordinarily complex and time-consuming arrangements for dealing with contaminated land under Clause 78.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I welcome the news that the defence against prosecution for pollution provided under the Water Resources Act 1991 will not apply to mines abandoned after 1999. But why 1999? Again, I suppose that I am asking a damn-fool question. By then privatisation will have been completed and by then any mines that are likely to close in the immediate future as existing supply contracts run out will probably have closed. I am pretty certain about what happened; someone in the DoE asked that the clause should take immediate effect, somebody in the DTI suggested the year 2005 and they settled in the middle! If the requirement is wrong and needs replacing, surely it needs to be replaced today and not in five years' time.
I find myself finishing as I began, with the extended timetable being pursued by the Government; and yet it worries me that the Government, taking so much time themselves, are now asking the newly created advisory committee, which as presently constituted is thin on relevant experience, to rush its fences and take early decisions about structures, locations and budgets while, most of the committee members will not have had time to acquire detailed knowledge of a very complex subject 1403 and when it is not likely that there will be a chief executive or senior management team in place before the summer of next year. If the shadow authority members are wise, their first show of independence from ministerial guidance will be by way of a refusal to be rushed or to commit themselves to the decisions that the full board and management team may later come to regret.
I hope that we pass this Bill but improve it a good deal before it leaves this House.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I join the chorus of welcome for the Bill generally, although I share some of the misgivings that have been expressed all around the House. I hope that in Committee we shall return to some of the issues relating to water resource management. Little has been said about that today, but there is a great deal to be cleared up.
There is a long list of speakers and therefore I shall concentrate on a few items with which I have a particular association and interest. Obviously, they relate to that part of the Bill dealing with the national parks. I am particularly pleased with the proposals for membership of the authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, drew attention to that. Schedule 7 makes it clear that a majority of members will be appointed by local authorities. I hope that that will address any residual anxieties about the new bodies being yet more quangos. They clearly fall into the local government sector.
I welcome too the proposal that the chairman and deputy chairman of each body will be elected from among all the members. The presence of the Secretary of State's appointees reflects the national importance of the parks. It is vital that those appointees have expertise in national park purposes and it is also important that, as far as is practicable, they have local knowledge. Above all else, I hope that the Government will give assurances that there will be transparency in the appointments system so that we can all feel confident that the appointees are of the highest calibre available to the Minister. That is most important because the new authorities must enjoy the confidence of the local people. I hope that the Secretary of State will bear that in mind.
Like my noble friend Lord Williams, and the noble Lords, Lord Denham, Lord Chorley and Lord Crickhowell, I am disappointed that the "quiet enjoyment" of the parks has not been spelt out in the purposes of the national parks. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, quoted the Edwards Report. On many occasions, the Government in their response to the report used the phrase "quiet enjoyment" and did not suggest that they had any difficulty with it. If they have changed their mind would they explain why? They used the phrase as recently as September of this year in PPG24, which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. What happened between September and December to make them drop the word "quiet"?
1404 If it is that in legal and drafting terms "quiet" is pregnant with meaning I am sure that the parliamentary draftsman is equal to the challenge of finding a phrase that will fulfil the longstanding intention that the parks are for quiet enjoyment.
I have received a briefing from the Association of National Parks. It suggests that the relevant subsection of the Bill should read:promoting opportunities for the public enjoyment and understanding of the special qualities including the tranquillity of those areas".That phraseology would do almost as well as "quiet", but I should prefer to return to the original wording.
These restated purposes will shape national park policies for many years to come. We have waited 40 years for this legislation and it is impossible to foretell now what forms of recreational activity will evolve during the life of the Act. Already, some forms of hi-tech sport cause problems and such sports are part of a rapidly developing industry. The Government need to be visionary about the kind of recreation that is appropriate in national parks. We know that most people value them as tranquil havens from urban pressures. I hope that the Government share that view and will ensure that it continues. The legislation must also be visionary in that respect and not shy away from the problem.
Clause 59 gives the new authorities a duty in pursuing the national park purposes to:have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities".That is a welcome clarification but it is not precisely what the review panel intended, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said. I hope that the Minister will spell out the Government's intentions.
The Edwards panel recommended that the "have regard to" duty should be fulfilled,only in such a way that the environmental quality of the parks is sustained and, where possible, enhanced".The panel was quite specific in recommending that the park authorities should not have prime responsibility in the socio-economic sphere, but should support others whose prime responsibility that was. It recognised that it would he wrong to duplicate the role of others such as the Rural Development Commission, the Welsh Development Agency or local authorities.
The intention of the Edwards panel, which we hope the Government share, was that the development in the parks should be sustainable and not damaging. The panel recognised that the vitality of the park communities is essential to the environmental health of the parks, the converse also being true.
The park authorities' prime duty is to pursue their purposes as laid down in legislation. I know that some members of the Countryside Commission feel that they should take on board the furtherance of the social and economic role but I think that that would be a mistake because the National Parks Authority should be in a position to measure objectively proposals put forward by those organisations whose duty it is to "foster" or "promote" socio-economic development and to make 1405 comments where necessary. I do not believe that it would be helpful to blur the respective areas of responsibility.
I welcome Clause 79 which enables the appropriate Ministers to make regulations to protect important hedgerows, although I should have preferred to see that referred to in primary legislation. I am concerned that there may be too long a delay before action is taken and it would be helpful if the Minister could give some idea of the timescale envisaged. He discussed how the production of the regulations would be approached, but he did not give us an idea of how long it is likely to take.
Perhaps I may make a suggestion. The production of the draft legislation in regard to the environmental agencies was extremely helpful. It enables people to see what was proposed and to make helpful suggestions. I suspect that that has taken a great deal of the heat out of what might have been long arguments. Therefore, I suggest that the same approach should be taken in relation to hedgerows. I hope that the draft regulations will be produced fairly swiftly so that people have an idea of what is in the Government's mind. That would be extremely helpful.
At the same time the Minister may remember that there are other landscape features which are worthy of protection such as stone walls, which I believe one or two noble Lords have mentioned, and some ponds, especially in national parks. The review panel recommended landscape conservation orders. For some reason, the Government have resisted that suggestion, which has been put before them for a number of years. Perhaps they have weakened a little on that and I suggest that the use of landscape conservation orders would be a very useful tool for that purpose.
Clause 80 gives MAFF powers to make grants for purposes conducive to conservation and we have heard that it will take on the countryside stewardship schemes. Would it be possible for national park authorities to act as agents for such schemes? They have considerable expertise in the areas connected with them and I suggest that in some national parks, where they already have a fairly active relationship with the local farming community, it may be a useful consideration for them to be given agency powers. I understand that it has worked very well in Snowdonia, for example, where the Tir Cymen—I hope that my Welsh friends will forgive my pronunciation—scheme has been very successful.
I have one final and quite different point to make in regard to packaging, in respect of which I must declare an interest. Recently I have been involved in a short study, with the packaging industry, of the minimisation of packaging, although it is not the packaging industry that has raised the point with me. I wish to deal with the issue of producer responsibility.
I am concerned that the present wording of Clause 76(5) enables the Secretary of State to impose a selective obligation on one part of the packaging chain since that would seem to contradict the view of the Producer Responsibility Group which indicated in its final report, published in November, that there should be duty of care placed on all participants in the chain. I should be grateful to have clarification of the 1406 Government's intentions in that respect and in particular in regard to the requirements which may be imposed on small businesses.
I seek information with regard to whether the Government intend to set thresholds and therefore exclude small companies. Also, what will be the scope of packaging on which obligations will be imposed and how will minimisation be measured? I understand that the noble Viscount may require time to answer those questions and I should be very happy if he would answer them in writing rather than at the Dispatch Box today.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, first, I must apologise to your Lordships' House because, due to a long-standing previous engagement, I shall be unable to be in my place when the Minister rises to wind up the Second Reading debate. Secondly, I feel that it would be right and proper to declare an interest as a landowner, because the Bill has a great deal to do with the land.
I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister for finding the time to introduce it in your Lordships' House. However, I have two small reservations about the measure. The first concerns its weight. In a simplistic way, its weight indicates a further extension of regulation, to which I shall return in a few moments.
My second reservation is in relation to the length of the Long Title. It may be described as a sort of hangover of paranoia from spending too long in the Whips Office, but it is a source of concern to anyone interested in the tidy completion of the Government's business. I hope that during our discussions of what is an excellent Bill' too much advantage will not be taken of the Long Title to extend the proposition which is before your Lordships today.
In the summer of this year, I had the honour to speak to your Lordships' House on the deregulation Bill. If there is one depressing aspect of the Bill before us today it is that there is a great deal of regulation within it. Noble Lords on all sides often indicate an interest in reducing regulation. However, I feel that on this occasion we are adding to it, albeit in a good cause.
There are occasions when one can see a Bill as a thoroughly good proposition which can only be added to. I believe that that is not necessarily the case. I do not intend to delay your Lordships for long this evening as there are many speakers. I intend to refer to one clause only; namely, Clause 79, which refers to hedgerows.
If one goes back to the Second World War—I should not wish to detain your Lordships by going back any further—the primary effects on hedgerows have been created by income tax, capital taxation, mechanisation, deficiency payments in the original case and now the common agricultural policy. Thus, the proposition that one small piece of legislation can rectify 45 years of history is somewhat doubtful.
I am very grateful to the Minister, as I am sure are all Members of your Lordships' House, for expanding upon the detail of Clause 79. The clause in the Bill as printed refers to "important hedgerows". The Minister referred to the principle that any property owner will 1407 have to notify his local authority of the removal of a hedgerow and wait 28 days for a decision. The truth is that on that criteria—the dreaded word so popular within government—every single hedgerow in England, by definition, will become important. I am sure that that is not the purpose of the Bill, nor is it a satisfactory way in which to conclude the intentions of the clause.
With any kind of regulation which one starts to extend beyond the principle of planning permission, the listing of buildings and living objects, I reach a Rubicon which I find difficult to cross in relation to living objects. I do not believe there is any way one can regulate the activity of hedges in the longer term and more importantly, the decisions that are taken about them by people who may have an interest only in the hedge and not the whole countryside. There is a broader picture which, lamentably, in my experience, is not often seen by experts.
Why do I doubt experts? It is arguable that if you leave school at the age of 15, as I did, you are taught at an early age to be careful about experts. This is an area, I believe, in which the Minister will see the advantage of not providing too much opportunity for discussion and, more importantly, division in the countryside.
I have no difficulty with the rest of the Bill, apart from one great desire. I believe that its extension would be to the detriment of the intention. The interest in what is an excellent Bill is to contain excellence. I believe that we must resist the ambition of amendments to create bureaucratic oppression.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, this is an important and wide-ranging Bill which we shall need to study with care. Although it has been introduced in this House, the other place has to some extent gazumped us by holding an inquiry of its Environment Committee last month, before the full text of the Bill was published, when it questioned the Secretary of State and the agencies affected. A record of that inquiry is now available. I propose to leave the Scottish agency to Scottish Peers and to confine my remarks to the agency that is to cover England and Wales.
I am not much of an enthusiast for mergers; indeed, I was against the proposed merger of English Nature and the Countryside Council and was glad that it was dropped. In this instance, I recognise that there are some advantages in putting together in one organisation the functions of the NRA, HMIP and the waste regulation authorities and giving industry a "one-stop shop". But there are two serious disadvantages. First, there will be—and, indeed, already is—massive upheaval and distraction of effort. When I was associated with the NRA I was struck by the huge amounts of committee time and the writing of papers on consideration of the merger. It is also very expensive and unsettling to the staff.
1408 The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said in the debate on the Address that,morale in the NRA has been dented",and that the organisation was "bewildered and uncertain". That, from the chairman of the NRA, is disturbing. It shows the damage that is done by the constant reorganisations to which the Government are addicted.
It is not easy to find people who can run very large organisations efficiently and economically. I see no merit in the view expressed by the Labour Party's policy commission on the environment in its document In Trust for Tomorrow that,the existing statutory nature and countryside agencies"—that is, in England and Wales, English Nature, the Countryside Council and the Countryside Council for Wales—could eventually be brought within the agency to integrate pollution control and conservation".That would make it hopelessly unwieldy.
But, as it is, the new agency will be a very large one. Large organisations have a tendency to create large bureaucracies and over-large head offices. When funds are tight, what tends to happen is that front-line troops at the sharp end tend to be cut but head office staffs remain intact. When I was in the United States I was struck by the fact that the Mars Corporation—an extremely successful confectionery company represented in many countries—managed without any large head office at all, the whole organisation being run from a small suburban house in Virginia. Large head offices are not necessarily indispensable.
At the Conservative Party Conference Mr. Gummer said:Britain will lead the world in its environmental protection methods but not in bureaucracy. No more overlapping jurisdiction, competing regulations or repeating official visits—a leaner, fitter, more together regulator".I am not sure that Mr. Gummer's implied criticism of the present organisations was justified. When I was associated with the NRA, I heard no complaints of overlapping jurisdiction or competing regulations. But I welcome the call for a minimum of bureaucracy. I hope that the new agency will keep its administrative structure and, above all, its head office as small as it possibly can and promote the teeth at the expense of the tail.
There are three other general comments that I should like to make about the proposed agency. First, I believe that it must at all times remember that it is an environmental agency. I am a little worried that the names of its shadow board so far announced appear, unless I am mistaken, to include only two who have significant environmental qualifications or experience—Mr. Nigel Haigh and Mr. Christopher Hampson. People with real knowledge of environmental matters seem thin on the ground, in striking contrast, for example, to the members of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I hope 1409 that future appointments to the board will put that right. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene. I give way.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I am much obliged. It is possible that the noble Lord has not heard that Professor Ron Edwards has now joined John Norris on the board. From his association, I am sure that the noble Lord would not like to give the impression that there was no one on the board who was particularly well qualified in environmental matters.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I am delighted to hear what the noble Lord says. I have the highest regard for Professor Ron Edwards. I am sure that he will greatly strengthen the new board.
My second point is that the agency must make it crystal clear in the first months or even weeks of its operation that it takes its enforcement duties very seriously and that it intends to deal firmly with polluters. The NRA did that when it successfully prosecuted Shell for polluting the Mersey. Moreover, to his lasting credit, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made it abundantly clear both then and later that, faced with the pollution of our rivers, the NRA was prepared to take tough action to put things right. Similarly, HMIP had to consider National Power's proposal to burn orimulsion in the power station at Pembroke. The inspectorate said that that could be done only if the station was upgraded to new plant standards, thus, for the time being at least, saving Wales from a damaging increase in acidification. The new agency must be equally robust. If it turns out that the agency shies away from confrontation and attempts to settle matters by cosy chairman-to-chairman confidential chats, it will very quickly be discredited. That would be a disaster.
The agency must establish itself as a centre of excellence, as Mr. Gummer has said he intends it to be. It needs to become the leading authority on all matters within its remit, building on the work of the admirable scientists that it will inherit from the NRA and HMIP. Its research needs to be of the highest quality and properly funded. In that area, it ought to lead and not follow.
The Government are to be congratulated on having put out a consultation paper in 1992 and on having published a draft of the main proposals in October; and also on having amended those proposals in the light of the criticism then made. Their readiness to listen to what was said was very welcome.
So far as the vexed question of conservation duties is concerned, I am one of the few who tend to think that the Government have now got it about right, although I know that English Nature and a number of NGOs are still concerned about it; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, told us that the NRA is also concerned.
Dr. Slater's evidence to the Environment Committee of another place on 23rd November is worth reading carefully. As a leading practitioner, he made it clear that having regard to conservation is a new and stronger duty for those dealing with pollution control.
1410 When your Lordships get down to detailed consideration of this very substantial Bill, I hope that the Government will be prepared to respond positively to constructive suggestions so that the Bill can be improved. There is still concern among voluntary agencies that the agency's aims and objectives are not firmly set out—giving the agency clear duties to improve environmental protection—and that the agency may, in the words of the Council for the Protection of Rural England,be weaker than the sum of its constituent parts".I share their worries about the vague and unspecified nature of ministerial guidance as currently defined in Clause 4. The nature of that guidance needs to be clarified. We need to know what will be the role of Parliament, what will the guidance say and who will be consulted about it. I think that it needs to he open and public. I am glad that Mr. Gummer gave the Environment Committee in another place an assurance on 30th November that the guidance would be public.
The latter is to include guidance on sustainable development. I have said before in this House that I do not care for that term, whatever its origins in the Brundtland Report and its now almost universal use as a catchphrase for a balance between development and protection of the environment. It actually means the opposite to what it is generally supposed to mean. "Sustainable" is an adjective which qualifies the noun "development". So a developer or polluter can reasonably claim that the phrase means the continuance of his developing or polluting operations, while the World Wildlife Fund argues that that phrase must mean environmental sustainability, not economic sustainability. The term gives rise to endless ambiguity and confusion. The chief executive of the NRA told the Environment Committee in in another place that there are problems with the understanding of sustainable development; indeed, there are. I do not like to see such a misleading term included in legislation; but, if it is, it should be rigorously defined and clarified on the face of the Bill.
We must, I think, consider very carefully what Clause 37 about costs and benefits really means. I share the reservations of my noble friend Lord Chorley about this. The Government will, I hope, spell out how precisely this will work, and we need to be reassured that it is not going to hamstring the work of the agency in carrying out its environmental protection work.
I welcome the establishment of independent authorities for national parks as recommended by the Edwards Review Panel and as was contained in the Bill promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, which we supported in this House. I regret, however, that the Edwards Panel's recommendation that the New Forest should be formally recognised as a national park is not being pursued and I share the views expressed by so many noble Lords that there should be something in the Bill following up the Edwards Panel's recommendations about resisting development pressures in national parks and about quiet enjoyment.
1411 I welcome the inclusion of powers to protect some hedgerows, and we must consider carefully what the Minister has told us today about how it is to be determined that some hedgerows are important and some are not. The Government's own countryside survey showed that some 2,200 miles of hedgerow in England and Wales were destroyed every year between 1990 and 1993, a further 14,000 miles a year being lost because of neglect. This amounts to a serious degradation of the countryside. I think this section of the Bill may well need strengthening.
Much of this Bill is welcome. It is valuable to have new powers and duties about contaminated land and pollution from abandoned mines, though it is clearly essential that the Bill should cover problems from abandoned mines which are already causing pollution, where pumping or other pollution control measures need to be continued, and mines which may be abandoned between now and 1999.
It is very important that the NRA's work on protecting rivers should be continued and strengthened. The key concept of integrated catchment management pioneered by the NRA needs to be written into the Bill.
I welcome Clause 6(2). It is essential that the agency should take active steps to maintain and in many cases restore adequate flows in our rivers. I am thinking particularly of some like the Upper Kennet and the Driffield Beck, but there are many more. Boreholes need to be moved from headwaters to near the mouths of rivers. Abstraction must be controlled and water resources generally managed so that our rivers and streams, and especially the headwaters, are not reduced to pathetic trickles. The Salmon and Trout Association is seriously concerned about the weakening of the statutory duty to advertise applications to discharge. In this instance deregulation has, I think, gone too far and this needs to be remedied.
Whatever regional arrangements the new agency makes it is in my view essential that the integrity of river catchments should be preserved. Under the NRA the Welsh region manages the whole of the Wye in England as well as in Wales, while the Severn Trent region manages the whole of the Severn, including the headwaters in Wales. These arrangements work well, give rise to no difficulty and should not be disturbed. To split the management of these two great river systems along the political boundary would be a disaster. I am very glad that Mr. Gummer told the Environment Committee of another place that,in environmental terms the crucial importance of the river catchment area is something one could not possibly understate".Finally, a word about fisheries, which are a particular interest of mine. I am concerned to see that the shadow board appears to include no one at all with particular knowledge of or interest in fisheries. The noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, whose dedication to fisheries is well known to your Lordships, was an original board member of the NRA and Mr. Dennis Mitchell represents MAFF and speaks up for fisheries. I perceive no equivalent appointments 1412 to the agency's shadow board. I hope that this can be remedied. I am concerned that fisheries may be neglected. Already they are suffering from lack of funds. In Wales the NRA now spends less than a tenth of what was spent a few years ago when Welsh Water was responsible and the NRA is now barely able to fulfil its statutory responsibility to maintain, let alone improve and develop, fisheries.
But fisheries are of great importance not least as the best environmental indicator. They go with clean rivers and there are great numbers of anglers in all parts of the country. Having been critical of head offices, may I say that the NRA's present fishery officers in their head office, Mr. David Jordan and Dr. Guy Mawle, are in my view doing an excellent job and I hope they will continue to do so in the new agency. I am glad that the fisheries advisory committees are to continue. They play a valuable part in keeping the managers in touch with fishery interests. Their composition should remain as it is, though I think they can, if need be, take on responsibility for advising on conservation, navigation and recreation.
I welcome Schedule 12 and Clause 86 about fixed penalties and I am particularly glad to see the inclusion of Clauses 84 and 85 on marine environmental matters. That is a real step forward. I think WWF is right to argue that Clauses 80 and 81 give too unfettered grant-making powers to the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries and that the Bill should require them, in making grants for conservation and countryside matters in Scotland and Wales, to consult Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales respectively. All in all we have here the framework of a major change in the way we control pollution and manage our countryside. Some changes are, I believe, required but these we can address at subsequent stages and if the Government will listen to constructive criticism we may end up with a valuable piece of legislation.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Hesketh, I apologise to the House, and in particular to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I, too, have a long-standing engagement this evening and therefore I will not be in my place when my noble friend replies to the debate.
I, like every noble Lord, broadly welcome the Bill. However, before I discuss national parks, which form the main thrust of my speech, perhaps I can address one or two other items on the way. Of course it is right to bring the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and waste regulation authorities together under one agency. I welcome that. But before simply dismissing the NRA, I wish to say that I shall rather miss it. It is an agency that has become synonymous with sound management and considerable achievement. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for the expert way in which he has chaired that authority. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about environmental economics. I am sure that that is 1413 something that will be taken on board by the new agency. I think that his remarks need to be well heeded.
The only real difficulty I had with the National Rivers Authority was with regard to the licensing of commercial fisheries where I thought it a little slow in coming forward and particularly unhelpful; otherwise, I think it achieved a great deal. Many noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Williams, have referred to a duty to further conservation including pollution control. Like other noble Lords, I find it odd that that has been omitted as a duty of the new organisation. I ask my noble friend to give the matter due consideration.
Another omission from the Bill, as I see it, concerns Clause 7 on general environmental and recreational duties. I should have thought it sensible to include a duty first placed on countryside bodies in the 1968 Countryside Act, namely, to have,due regard to the needs of agriculture, forestry and the economic and social interests of rural areas".Again, I hope that my noble friend will give the suggestion serious consideration.
One of the keenest aspects of debate will be the question of what remains, or indeed is put, on the face of the Bill and what will come through in the form of ministerial guidance. I thoroughly welcome the principles of sustainability agreed at Rio, but the Government are, I believe, absolutely right not to have made them a statutory duty of the new agency. The definition of the word is far too unclear and, I am sure, would lead to considerable confusion. But having said that, like other noble Lords, I, too, ask the Government to produce proper consultation procedures on the guidance and to act as quickly as possible, preferably before the Bill goes much further.
I welcome Clause 80 and the new powers given to the Ministry of Agriculture enabling it to enter into environmental land management agreements with landowners who are not themselves farmers. That is long overdue. There has been a great deal of confusion and also frustration and missed opportunities. However, it would be helpful if the Bill were to make provision for joint agreements between landlords and tenants. Again, I ask my noble friend to consider that possibility.
Perhaps I may concentrate on the issue of national parks, a major part of the Bill. I give the government proposals a guarded welcome. Some noble Lords may recall that during the Second Reading debate on the Bill of my noble friend Lord Norrie I expressed considerable doubts about giving the national parks further powers because I had considerable doubts about what they had achieved. I suggested that there were other, more specialist, agencies which could well have coped with the national park responsibilities and done the job more effectively and efficiently. I do not propose to comment on that aspect. I recognise that reality prevails. I hope, however, that with their new powers and responsibilities the new national park authorities will take a more pragmatic view.
1414 I have lived in the Yorkshire Dales National Park for the best part of 25 years, and I declare an interest as a landowner. During that time I have seen different ideas and initiatives emerge from a whole range of agencies, many doing much the same thing. There have been some considerable successes. SSSI designations have gone a long way towards ensuring the maintenance of good quality habitats. The introduction of the ESA scheme, in so far as it went, has been partially successful.
However, I am still witnessing considerable habitat loss. I still see new dwellings going up which grate against the traditional. I also see agricultural buildings being erected in what I regard as totally unsuitable positions. I see an ever-increasing stream of visitors, too many of them showing scant regard for the tradition of the area, often through no fault of their own and arising from a lack of information. More than anything, I am witnessing the erosion of delicate landscape.
I do not suggest for one moment that the task is easy. We have to accommodate the interests of everyone. But of one thing I am absolutely certain. Now and in the future, if our parks are to survive as attractive working environments producing well-managed and productive habitats for wildlife, great care will be required.
I welcome the obligation on the national park authorities to have regard to the economic and social well-being of those living in the parks. In fact, I moved an amendment to that effect during the passage of my noble friend's Bill. Therefore, I am glad to see that that has been included, particularly in view of the fact that park authorities now have additional powers in relation to planning and the ability to produce structure plans.
Whether the power goes far enough or whether the park authorities should have a duty to promote the economic and social well-being of the inhabitants of the parks—a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol—can be debated at a later stage. I believe that they should have that additional power. The noble Baroness said that there are other agencies to promote social well-being. But there are also other agencies to promote conservation and enjoyment of the parks by the public. I am looking for a three-legged stool, something which will be fair and even. I question whether we are going far enough. However, again, that is an issue which we can discuss in Committee.
I am particularly pleased to see an adherence in the Bill to the Sandford principle—a clear and unequivocal commitment to the fact that when conflicts of interest arise, wildlife, natural beauty and heritage come first. That is a most important part of the Bill, and I hope that the Government will not compromise on it in any way.
Finally, I refer to the composition of the park committees. We discussed the matter at length during the passage of my noble friend's Bill. I believe that we all accepted in relation to the two-thirds local majority on the national parks committees that one of the greatest problems is that many of those people do not live and work in the park. Clearly, that is a 1415 problem that we shall have to address carefully during the further stages of the Bill. I appreciate that local authorities with land in the parks will be entitled to appoint members to the national park committees. I welcome that. I ask the Minister for confirmation that the Government will issue guidance strongly recommending that local authority members appointed to national park committees will, where possible, represent wards within the parks. Again, that is a matter of detail for the Committee stage, but I believe that there is a case for local representation from parish councils. I know that that is a matter on which my noble friend Lord Derwent feels strongly.
I appreciate that there is a strong body of opinion which feels that the national parks would better serve their purpose as free-standing authorities. We shall have to see. The real question is: what is their purpose? In an article which appeared in my local newspaper, from which I have quoted in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions—the Darlington & Stockton Times—Mr. Chris Bonington said recently:Support for farmers, village post offices and local cultural traditions are aspects of the work of national park authorities which are vital".I believe that to be absolutely true. We must not have national park authorities which are seen to be promoting outside interests at the expense of the traditions and the well-being of those who work and live in our national parks.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I join in the general welcome for the Bill. It is wise to introduce it in this House where there is so much knowledge and expertise. However, like others, I do not find the Bill totally satisfactory. It was wise to produce a draft Bill, as advocated by the Hansard Report, discussed yesterday, and good that some attention was paid to comments on it, although not enough. The aims and objectives of the agency are not sufficiently clear and should be set out on the face of the Bill to ensure that it has a clear remit to protect and enhance the environment. The NRA has benefited enormously from having clear objectives set out in statute. Clause 4 should be strengthened to define primary objectives, including reference to the promotion of environmental sustainability, the use of a precautionary principle and the application of the principle that the polluter pays. I shall support amendments to introduce clear statutory aims for the new agency.
I mentioned the advantages the NRA has gained from having clear objectives set out in statute. I should like to congratulate it and its chairman on what they have achieved and their robust stand. I should like to say how much I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, today.
I wish to refer specifically to one area omitted from the Bill: the process of integrated catchment management being implemented by the NRA. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred to that issue. ICM ensures that a holistic view is taken of all factors 1416 influencing the water environment. Water quality and quantity and land management are intrinsically linked. Many fear that the new agencies will abandon that approach rather than building into it consideration of waste disposal and air pollution.
Perhaps I may illustrate the NRA's achievements together with those of the Wildlife Trust by reference to the Anglian region. The Blackborne, Thet and Little Ouse catchments are centred on the Brecks in Suffolk with their confluence upstream of Thetford. The rivers and their catchments have suffered excessive drainage and dredging in the past. Such mismanagement has resulted in the catchment environment being unable to cope with droughts or floods and unable to sustain a healthy pastoral system in places. That has caused problems for wildlife due to wetlands being drained and low river flows, flooding in Thetford, and farmers being unable to have their meadows grazed in places as the water is too low for stock to drink.
The Breckland River Restoration Project, involving the NRA and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, started in 1989. Its objectives were to alleviate flooding, particularly in Thetford; to raise water levels and increase river flows; and to maximise conservation benefit. Work has already begun and involves reinstating riffle-pool sequences and recreating old meanders. That will effectively make the river longer and the valley wetter and will slow down the pulses of surface water hitting Thetford during times of flood.
Other regions can show similar successes. But without ICM as a core duty, a widely admired programme could be jeopardised. The future health of our water environment and the wildlife and people dependent on it will be put at risk. Can we have some commitment on that aspect from the Minister?
I hope that we can do something about Clause 79 and hedgerows, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, said. I support my noble friend Lady Nicol. I was glad that she mentioned dry stone walls as well as hedgerows. They were mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and I believe by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.
Much has been said about national parks. I join in the general acclaim but add my voice to those many who regret the vagueness of the recreational purpose stated in Clause 58(1) (b). The provision should be strengthened to make it clear that parks are designated for quiet enjoyment and that the problems and nuisance caused by noisy and motorised sports will be addressed. There should be protection from major development. All such development should be subject to rigorous public examination and allowed only in very exceptional circumstances.
Planning policy guidance is too weak and does not cover all developments such as energy and road projects and, very importantly, quarrying. I am particularly fearful of using the parks for military purposes which can all too easily result in road building and denial of access to the public. I wrote to the Secretary of State about my concern that the 1417 second purpose in the Edwards review did not appear in the Bill. I received an answer. Perhaps I may quote one part of it. He stated:While we have not made specific reference in the second purpose to the words recommended by the Edwards Panel, I believe that we have reflected the Edwards' concept that the public's enjoyment of the Parks should be derived from their special qualities, rather than simply maximising the number of visitors and their activities. Promoting the understanding of the Parks should increase people's enjoyment of them and their commitment to their protection".I do not believe that that is a wholly satisfactory reply but perhaps we can work on the issue in the course of the Committee stage.
I am very interested in Part II, and contaminated land. However, as I know my noble friend Lady Hilton will speak on the subject—I am in agreement with what she will say—I shall not take up the time of the House except to say this. I regret the repeal of Section 143 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which requires registers of contaminated land to be kept. That is despite the fact that in 1991 the Government stated that those registers were,essential when there is concern over threats to public health and the environment".In fact, I learned only today that that section has never been implemented.
There has been criticism of Clause 37. Several noble Lords have mentioned it. Proper attention must be paid to costs and benefits. However, one point worth emphasising is that prevention is better than cure when it comes to keeping the environment in reasonable condition. Although environmentally friendly policies and practices are often portrayed as costly to firms, they are a good deal cheaper than the costs of removing environmental damage. I emphasise the classic point that the firm which damages the environment may he saving money for itself while adding to the costs of other firms. A chemical firm which pollutes a water supply, harming other firms which need clean water, is as good an example as any. Thus, although it is right to support that section of the Bill which refers to comparing costs and benefit, it ought to be amended to recognise that the sufferers and beneficiaries may not be the same people. Decisions on that should not be taken by the agency according to who shouts loudest but must be based on an objective assessment of gains and losses.
A second consideration is the time span. It is said that firms in the private sector take too short a view. That may be debatable. But what must be agreed is that the Government need to take a long view and should not allow the existing generation to be myopic and ignore its successors. The right reverend Prelate referred to that point. It is akin to what I have just said. If we pollute the environment, our children and grandchildren will bear the costs of putting things right. Sometimes we may have little choice. But where we can we should recognise the future consequences of our actions. Equally, environmental reclamation, say, of land, may yield a return in the long run. But for once we should not rely on the dictum, "In the long run we are all dead". The Government have a responsibility to look further ahead than we would 1418 look individually as customers, consumers and businessmen. I hope that the Government will accept that responsibility.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I welcome Part III of the Environment Bill, which concerns the future well-being of national parks. It is spot on in parts, but less so in others.
National parks are among the most beautiful and popular areas of the countryside in England and Wales. We all know that legislation which gives them security and adequate levels of protection will be popular and welcome. The widely respected Edwards panel report has contributed to the measures in the Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Denham, I base my comments today on the panel's recommendations, which I believe must be addressed in order to make the national parks fit for the future. I agree with him, and indeed with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and seemingly many other noble Lords in this Chamber, that there are two important omissions from the Edwards recommendations: a major development test and clarity on quiet enjoyment. My hope is that those issues can be addressed, as the Government are so close to achieving the right package.
However, first, I congratulate the Government on the clauses which set up new, freestanding authorities for all national parks. That was the key recommendation of the national parks review panel. It was the objective of my Private Member's Bill and I am now delighted to see it forming the major part of this section of the Bill.
On the first of the omissions, the legislation must include this test for assessing major development in national parks. Those special areas deserve the "highest status of landscape protection"—which indeed the Government have promised. In their response to the panel's report in 1992, the Government said that there was no need to wait for legislative opportunity and they introduced a test under Planning Policy Guidance Note 7. Of course, we must recognise that guidance does not carry the weight of primary legislation, and, now that there is a legislative opportunity, the test must surely be included.
This test should contain two simple criteria: that the development proposed must meet a national need and that there must be no alternative available. This will establish the correct procedures for the benefit of the national park authorities and the planning inspectors and also for the benefit of developers, to enable them to make an early decision on viable options as part of the environmental assessment process.
I, like other noble Lords, am concerned also that the legislation should fulfil the Government's avowed intention to revise the national park purposes to refer 1419 expressly to quiet enjoyment and understanding. The Dower report, which created the framework for today's national parks, stated in 1945:Those who come to National Parks should be such as wish to enjoy and cherish the beauty and quietude of unspoilt country and to take their recreation, active or passive, in ways that do not impair the beauty or quietude, nor spoil the enjoyment of them by others".This is as relevant today as it was then. Given the increase in intrusive, noisy activities in recent years, the Government have agreed that it is necessary to capture this more precisely in legislation.
The landscapes of our national parks vary from moorland to lakes and coasts, but they are all unified by some overriding values that society places upon them. These include the fact that they are large, open and beautiful tracts of country and the fact that they afford opportunities for enjoyment, for peace and for spiritual renewal—something to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester alluded.
I would argue that the wrong kind of enjoyment undermines the natural beauty and removes the opportunity for enjoyment by the vast majority of people who visit the parks. As the Edwards report made clear, it is not simply a question of intrusive activities conflicting with conservation, but also that those same activities are in conflict with quiet enjoyment, which is the purpose for which many millions visit the parks.
It is my understanding that the Government are keen to implement their long-standing intention to legislate for quiet enjoyment and there can be no disputing that this is the chance to do so. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, indicated, the drafting seems to lack courage on that point. Perhaps I may suggest that a quick glance at Roget's Thesaurus might produce an appropriate word or phrase, if "quiet" is not appropriate. As decibels alone are not the issue, we could start with the words "peaceful" or "tranquil".
I now turn to Clause 59 of the Bill, which places duties on various bodies in relation to national parks. The first duty of the new national park authorities will be to "have regard to" the social and economic welfare of the park communities. I very warmly welcome the wording "have regard to". This clarification was promised by the Government during the passage of my Bill and, although welcome, is not as precise as the National Parks Review Panel recommended.
Economic activities in the parks should be environmentally sustainable. The clause dealing with this should make it clear that the job of the national park authorities is to support other agencies who have prime responsibility for the social and economic well-being of the parks. These efforts must ensure that the needs of the park communities are met in ways that sustain or enhance the environmental qualities of the parks. This is vital if we are to achieve the objectives of sustainable development and, if you cannot make a start on sustainable development in the parks, where can it be achieved?
1420 This clause also gives a duty to public bodies to "have regard to" the national park purposes when their activities affect the parks. The public bodies category is a most welcome and broad net. However, the duty on them is not the same as the "duty to further", which is what the Government had indicated, and it should be strengthened in line with the recommendations of the Edwards panel.
Clause 59 also states that,if it appears that there is a conflict",between the two national park statutory purposes of conservation and recreation, public bodies shall attach "greater weight" to the conservation purpose. This seems rather woolly and not quite what the Sandford committee intended. I propose that "greater weight" should only be given to conservation where there is evidence that the promotion of public enjoyment is in conflict with the conservation purpose.
One final point: this Bill is an opportunity to make provision for the new national park authorities to take full responsibility for the rights of way—a responsibility that currently resides with the county highway authorities. It is a straightforward objective and was recommended by the Sandford committee and the Edwards panel.
In conclusion, Part III of the Bill is well on the way to making the national parks fit for the future. It will take only a new clause and some fine tuning to make it the package we have been awaiting for many years. The Government have the opportunity of achieving through this legislation great respect in relation to the future of the national parks and I welcome the opportunity to help them achieve that.
I have concentrated very much on national parks but I should like to mention briefly two other causes which are close to my heart. The first is the environment agency's duty in Clause 7 of the Bill to further conservation. My noble friend Lord Renton and I worked very hard to persuade the Government to include it in the Water Bill 1989. I am delighted that, before this Bill's First Reading, the Secretary of State moved to reinstate at least part of that duty. But I hope the Bill will not leave this House without the "duty to further" conservation applying across the full range of the agency's business.
The second cause is my interest in the responsibilities of government departments and public agencies to promote environmental protection. I have argued the need for such duties in numerous Bills since 1989, with some success. Here at last is the general Environment Bill for which we have been waiting. I believe that it provides the opportunity for a general environmental duty to be placed on all departments and public bodies. This will do more to advance the cause of environmental integration than almost anything else and I think that this House will look favourably on such a suggestion.
1421 I am spurred on in all the issues I have raised today by the many people who let me know how deeply they care about the countryside. Both present and future generations will judge us by our ability to get this Bill right.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
My Lords, first I apologise to the House for not being able to stay for the conclusion of the debate. I particularly ask my noble friend to forgive me for not being here when he sums up at the end.
I welcome the Bill and have listened with great attention to those noble Lords who have emphasised the quality of the environment and of all the activities which impinge upon our daily lives. That is clearly of the utmost importance and I am delighted that so many noble Lords have referred to it. They have also referred in great detail to how the environment works within our rural areas. Most of the emphasis has been upon environmental activities within rural areas, but I feel that I should remind everyone that the environment is just as important for those who live not in rural but in urban areas. There is clearly a duty on agencies and everyone else in the country to ensure that for those people in our major cities and towns, and even small towns, the quality and standard of their lives is such that it reduces the pressure on rural areas and solves some of the problems at the same time.
I particularly refer to the importance, as I see it, of maintaining the right economic and social attitudes to the development of environmental regulations. I agree strongly with those noble Lords who emphasised the need for very high quality standards in pollution control, in the quality of the water that we drink, the air we breathe and the countryside we walk in. However, in order to achieve all those essentials, a high level of economic development is necessary. I refer to the comment by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, that economic development is as important as environmental protection. It is important that the role of the agency should create that proper balance.
We talk about cost-benefit analysis and cost-benefits. They are an important aspect of the Bill. We all should have them in mind when we carry out legislation that will have an impact on the environment and all matters relating to it. We must also bear in mind the impact that it might have on someone's job, someone's business or someone's opportunities. They might not be needed now, but they may need to be available in the future.
I hope that noble Lords will consider that issue very carefully in Committee so that we do not do anything to weaken the existing provisions for cost benefit. Perhaps we may even look at ways to make it even more clear and definite so that when looking at various issues, as the agency will have the great responsibility to do, it should bear in mind its impact.
We talk about the future and about sustainable development, but the real issue is that noble Lords, and the rest of the country, know little about what 1422 the future will unfold for us. It is important that we do not lay down rigidities which will make it more difficult, as future actions evolve, for the right approaches, use of technology, development of businesses and attitudes of people to develop in the direction that is needed at any particular time. I hope that in those respects we shall think very carefully about the importance of the cost benefit aspects and, in moving forward, of the economic and social impact upon the people who are affected by all this legislation.
I should like to refer briefly to the question of waste. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra spelt out to us in some detail the various aspects of waste and how it has to be dealt with in the future. We have to be aware of one or two problems. If we are not very careful this Bill could give rise to implications as to how we handle waste without knowing how the investment will come about. Reference has been made on a number of occasions to the German situation. Germany passed legislation which put a stop to the traditional methods of dealing with waste but did not bring in any specifications for an alternative. As a result, waste built up to such a degree that the whole waste market was completely ruined in Germany, in the rest of Europe and in the UK. It is therefore very important to understand the implications of reducing the methods of dealing with waste. There must be a system that produces alternative methods.
I am also particularly aware that if we are to encourage incineration, waste dealing and the re-cycling of waste, people must understand that planning permission must he given for such sites to be built. I can see already that as people are forced to look for alternative methods of waste disposal and endeavour to deal with the problem their progress is stopped. We had an example in Liverpool very recently. The Liverpool City Hospital had no alternative but to try to improve its method of waste disposal but planning permission was not available. The hospital now has a serious crisis on its hands as to how disposal will be dealt with.
I have another point on the subject of waste. I hope that energy-from-waste will be included in the targets for the use and disposal of waste. Quite clearly, energy-from-waste is a very important economic method of handling waste problems. I believe strongly that energy-from-waste should be incorporated in the Bill.
I turn to one other aspect of the Bill; namely, hedgerows. My noble friend Lord Hesketh dealt with that matter extremely well. I support my noble friend's point that it would be a very serious and unnecessary consequence of this legislation to find that farmers are confronted with all sorts of unnecessary rules and regulations that give power to people to tramp all over their land and hold up decision-making on the running of the farm. Although it is one thing to say that we want to be able to protect certain hedges, it is quite another to use it as an excuse for creating unnecessary regulation and turning everybody into little criminals.
1423 In conclusion, one of the follow-ons from this Bill will be the White Paper on the rural areas, which is now a matter of co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment—which is, in itself, very welcome. I hope, however, that it will be understood—and I believe that that follows from many of the comments made by noble Lords during this debate—that it is also important for all departments of government to be aware of the changes and pressures that will be brought about in our rural areas as a result of this legislation, legislation from Europe, the changing political situation, a changing agricultural economy, and the global economy in which we must work. I hope that all departments will be made aware of these pressures and the influence of the White Paper. That includes the Departments of Transport, Education, Health, and Defence—which, as has already been mentioned, have a big impact on our rural communities.
I welcome this Bill. I hope that it will go through. It will make life an awful lot easier for business. The "one-stop shop" approach was mentioned. We hope it will enable these decisions to be dealt with much more quickly. But we must be aware of the dangers of turning legislation into another way of producing controls and regulations which are entirely unnecessary.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lytton
My Lords, I, too, welcome this Bill very warmly. Before I go any further, as on a number of previous occasions, I make a number of declarations of interest—as a farmer, a landowner, a chartered surveyor, a member of the Country Landowners' Association, and a member of the National Farmers' Union. I think that those are probably enough direct ones to start off with.
In Part I, I particularly welcome what I see as a much more integrated approach to the way in which the new agencies will take on the role that was previously dealt with by a number of other authorities. I also welcome, as have other noble Lords, the impressive recognition of the value of cost benefits. I should merely like to say on that matter that, if we are thinking in terms of best available technology not entailing excessive cost, then some measure of costs and benefits is essential. I believe that systems of accounting are being developed which will enable reliable financial and other weighting to be built into these decisions. We may not be there yet, but including this provision on the face of the Bill will lend major impetus towards bringing that to fruition.
In Part II, I should like to refer to Clause 54 regarding contamination. There is a problem here, in that there is an assumption in the Bill that there is always someone to blame; that there is always a long-stop person who appears to be, or can be deemed to be, the person responsible. That is a woolly formulation of words. At the end of the day a bankrupt polluter is still somebody who is a burden on society: it cannot be any other way. So the long-stop default route to landowner's (or for that 1424 matter any other property owner's) liability and these imprecise words are, I believe, inappropriate. They are certainly inappropriate as general principles of liability deriving from the polluter-pays principle, whereby we have to identify the polluter. Similarly, making an economic scapegoat out of an individual for matters which in times gone by were at least partly a collective responsibility is wrong as a general principle. I have to say that I do not think it would work in practice. That is enough about Part II.
In Part III, I must declare a particular interest, in that my main farming operation is within a national park. I should just like to refer to Clauses 58 and 59. I can, as a chartered surveyor, shed some light on what is meant by "quiet enjoyment", which has a long and cherished pedigree in the area of landlord and tenant law. Unless the terminology of landlord and tenant law is amended, I fear that it is not capable of being applied in this particular context, because it infers the freedom to enjoy that which has been let or demised for whatever purpose under a legal grant.
There is a further problem in applying the concept to national parks. There is the matter of how it is defined: to whom, and by whom is the concept of "quiet enjoyment" measured? Is my pheasant shoot something which is a quiet enjoyment; and is the chap who opens up the throttle on his motor-cycle on the A.39 through the middle of the farm and can be heard for many miles taking part in something that might be called quiet enjoyment? There are real problems of definition, and they need to be sorted before that can be included in a Bill of this nature.
I should like some assurance from the Minister that the intentions behind the words "purposes, powers, functions and duties" as they refer to national parks will he operated in an integrated manner with the economic and social needs of rural areas. I stress the term "rural areas", which is in fact what Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968 states. By that, I do not mean that the social and economic interests should be superior to the other functions and duties of national parks but that they should be an intrinsic factor worked in with them.
Beyond that, it is a crucial concept in the area of essential co-partnership in land management, about which I have spoken before to your Lordships. There has to be a common identity of purpose between those living and working in national parks, those who represent public authorities and the public at large. It is also intrinsic to the voluntary principle which was so successfully pioneered by the Countryside Commission under its Countryside Stewardship scheme. Regulation practically never secures good and positive forward management.
The Minister referred to "national assets" in national parks. That is true; but much land in national parks also happens to be in private ownership. It is that proprietorship which so often is able to deliver the speedy and effective hands-on decision-making which no amount of committees or consultations can ever replace. That should be borne in mind. I have spoken in this House before about the length of time that it takes 1425 to get simple decisions through the consultation process. That cannot endure. There must be a slicker, tidier and more efficient operation.
With regard to Part IV, I shall dwell on Clause 79, relating to hedges. I agree with a number of other noble Lords that the provisions are deficient in failing to spell out how the matter will be dealt with in practice. I dare say that some might refer to it as a Henry VIII clause. I shall leave that for the lawyers in your Lordships' House to discuss. But there is an essential minimum that needs to be added to primary legislation in this area to bring it into line with such matters as tree preservation orders, sites of special scientific interest, Section 3 designations under the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act, listing of historic buildings and scheduling of ancient monuments. I dare say that some noble Lords will rise and say that not all of those are in primary legislation, but I believe that most of them are.
Furthermore, what about the management of hedges? We talk about preserving and maintaining things but, if we do not have positive management, as I said before, it will be very difficult to see how they will survive in practice. It must be said that many hedges are a costly anachronism in certain modern farming systems. The noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, rightly made that point.
In view of the number of speakers, I shall end there. I have written to the Minister and look forward to his reply in due course on my more detailed points. I welcome the Bill very warmly. It represents an important step forward and should receive the widest possible support.
§ 7.4 p.m.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, it has been said that environmental legislation has the capacity to offend virtually everyone. However, that observation was not inspired by the United Kingdom but by experience on the other side of the Atlantic, where a long abundance of environmental legislation was assessed by its own regulator as having been for too long reactive, disaster-led and, in the sum of its parts, unco-ordinated in focus and impact.
But on this side of the Atlantic—as I hope this Bill proves—I believe that we are fast becoming wise to the type of framework that can best deliver environmental protection. The policy on which legislation is based must, first and foremost, be integrated both between the different elements of the environment and across the different uses made of that environment. It must be driven not by sentiment but by continuing analysis and risk assessment. Thus, it must also remain flexible and be able to absorb new priorities as they evolve. It must recognise both the polluter-pays principle and that the focus of environmental concerns is no longer confined to a small number of large polluters but is increasingly preoccupied with a large number of small polluters, not least ourselves. It must aim for any costs imposed to be both commensurate with the benefits derived and equitable in their distribution. It must seek the participation, motivation and betterment of those who are affected and seek to protect the interests of those who will he affected. Policy must be, in one word, sustainable.
1426 The Bill, ably introduced by my noble friend the Minister, acknowledges the importance of those emerging realities. It is certainly not, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, suggested, out of date, although I should hate to cross swords with such a noted historian as the noble Lord. But in his opening remarks he said something else of interest coming from a historian: I heard that we were building airports in this country in the last century and I should be fascinated to know where. Perhaps he will tell me later.
What is undoubtedly out of date is dismissing the concept of cost benefit analysis and the cost benefit clauses as being factory charters or development charters. Clause 37 especially has been very carefully and strategically worded. I am as sensitive as anyone to the dangers of cost benefit analysis being badly applied. But the wording in Clause 37 has been carefully hammered into place. It insists on reasonableness in its application and that cost benefit analysis does not take precedence over the agencies' statutory obligations. Cost benefit analysis is part of good management, whatever the business one is in. It seeks to deliver best value from limited resources and by doing so increases opportunities. Therefore, it is possible to derive either the same benefits from fewer resources or more benefits from the same amount of resources.
In taking on those new realities, the Bill gains considerably in depth. Its substantial breadth is undoubted, given the different policy areas that its many parts cover. Is it indigestible, as was suggested? I doubt it. All these areas have been hammered into place with some kind of perspective.
Conscious of the long list of speakers and the expertise that has already been applied to many of these areas, I shall concentrate on some of those parts of the Bill which I believe bring a sense of depth to environmental management. At the heart of the Bill, in Part I, are many of the core elements. Integrated pollution control is vital. It is a concept in which we are world leaders. I have said before to noble Lords, but it bears repeating, that contrary to the normal flow of environmental legislation, we are currently exporting the policy of IPC to the European Union. We are also providing advice on it to Washington D.C.
Clauses 4 and 29 are a bold and perceptive recognition of the realities of sustainable development, in that they specify sustainable development as an objective but do not seek to prescribe the exact means by which it will be delivered. Avoiding detail has been seen variously this afternoon as an attempt to avoid scrutiny or as evidence of either a hidden agenda or some kind of ministerial fondness for unaccountable discretion. But in this instance, such reactions ignore an important truth. The pursuit of sustainable practices, which rightly underpins the Bill, is a pursuit which must be prepared and able to resolve dilemmas and uncertainties along the way.
There is an understanding of some issues. But fundamental difficulties remain and ever-improving research and analysis are causing a number of earlier assumptions to be substantially reassessed. When one considers by how much our grasp of environmental issues has grown in the two and a half years since Rio, 1427 one realises by how much today's sum of knowledge might have evolved by this time next year or by April 1996. We are on a learning curve which is both steep and fast.
Therefore, setting prescriptions in stone is, in this instance, foolish. It could also be costly and counter-productive, as it shown by those European directives in which the prescription of detail has preceded science and analysis. A determination to deliver sustainable development, with flexibility as to how it is done, is a strength. That point was well made by my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton. However, it leaves a challenge for Ministers in the exercise of that discretion. No doubt there will be an expectation of wisdom.
Sustainable development seeks, through reconciliation and flexibility, some sort of harmonious balance between economic, environmental and social criteria. I therefore speculate as to whether it should not also be specified as a deliberate objective in Part III of the Bill, which deals with national parks. Its obvious resting place may be in Clause 59—a point made by my noble friend Lord Nome—which rather more loosely seeks a balance between the different interests. As a concept, sustainable development is deliberate in its aims of reconciliation, equity and long-term vision. As a frame of reference, it may provide a substantive device for the integration, protection and encouragement of local community interests within national park purposes.
The Government and the DoE in particular have shown a substantial commitment to involving and motivating those who will be affected by policy in consultation on the setting of that policy. In the waste management industry, collaboration and dialogue proved useful tools in the delivery of effective and efficient initiatives and in sharing the responsibilities for so doing. I recently chaired a seminar held by the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, where operators, regulators, environmentalists, waste producers and government officials debated the national waste strategy. Therefore the clauses in Part IV that refer to that area and to producer responsibility are welcome. The agency is given a key role in the development of strategy. It will not only advise on policy, but will also collect statistics and other information. That is essential if we are to ensure that those policies are based on sound facts.
In doing that, the agency will seek information from and provide information to local planning authorities. After all, the strategy and the local plans are closely linked. But what of the people who will actually have to provide the treatment plants, build the incinerators and develop the landfill sites? Their involvement is left to the discretion of the Secretary of State. The Bill ought to provide for the involvement of the waste management industry on the same terms as it does for the planning authorities; its involvement is no less crucial to the success of the strategy and I hope that the Minister will agree.
I will finish by returning to integration of a different sort and in its widest sense. In different ways, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and my noble friends Lords 1428 Crickhowell and Lord Norrie touched on this. Clause 35 enables the agency to provide advice or assistance in respect of any matter in which they have skill or experience, to arrange research and to make the results known. The delivery of such advice and analysis should not be shirked; in the interests of sustainable development it should be exploited to the fullest.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell made the point that the relevant Ministers must listen to and read what the agency produces in the way of reports and advice before policy or guidance is issued, whether they want to or not. But, more crucially, the recipients of agency advice must stretch beyond the relevant Ministers. All Ministers should be potential targets. The expertise and aims of the agencies and their proximity to government could enable them to provoke a more penetrating strategic environmental assessment of all policies—even of Treasury policies, as noted by both the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont and my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I also echo the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont in guessing that there are times when the Department of the Environment itself may need some bolstering and support in its interdepartmental battles.
Outside central government, at local government level, the post-Rio slogan—"Think globally, act locally"—is increasingly difficult advice to follow. The creation of environmental benefits at national level often involves imposing environmental impacts at local level. I believe that the agencies are well placed to provide direction and advice on such difficult and strategic decisions. I look forward to the constructive debate that will run for many days in the later stages of the Bill. I wish the Bill well and I wish the formulation of the two agencies well also.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I rise once again to speak up for all those who live on, work on or derive pleasure from our waterways, both man-made and natural. In doing so I must declare an interest in that I am the vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Inland Waterways.
My prime concerns about the Bill are in Part I. I refer to Clause 2(1) (a) (vi) and (vii) which transfer the functions of the NRA Water Resources Act 1991, Sections 2(1) (c) and 2(2) (c), to the new agency and Clause 6(1) (c) which re-enacts the NRA's duty to promote the use of all inland and coastal waters and associated land for recreational purposes. That has implications which could have strong adverse effects on the waterway leisure industry and all waterway users, including people who fish and walk along the canals and riverbanks of this country.
Inland waterways in England and Wales are administered by many navigational authorities, of which two are dominant. British Waterways is the biggest in terms of navigable mileage (2,000 miles of canal and river navigation) and is not affected by the Bill. The NRA is the next largest, with 500 miles of river navigation, with a significant mileage in East Anglia. The jewel in the crown is the non-tidal length of the Thames. Within the NRA navigation and recreational use are a relatively small part of its duties, which relate 1429 especially to water quality and pollution control. Of the remaining authorities, only the Broads Authority is of significant size. British Waterways, the National Rivers Authority and the Broads have been co-operating increasingly of late and it is thought that the other small authorities need to look to the big three for guidance and support. There is at present no single centre of excellence and expertise in the field of navigation.
The navigational responsibilities of the NRA were inherited from the previous water authorities. In 1989 the House of Commons Environment Select Committee recommended a review of the navigation functions of the NRA and of British Waterways,with a view to creating a single authority for those navigations currently operated by British Waterways and the, then, Water Authorities".While that remit was accepted by government, it has been overtaken by subsequent events and the current proposal is that the whole of the NRA, including its responsibility for navigation and recreational use, should pass to the new agency. A consultation letter about the review was published in 1991 and the Department of the Environment indicated that a new round of consultations is about to begin. That will provide a chance to consider the options for management of navigation more closely.
While the navigation and amenity functions of the NRA are respected by the industry and the users, it is perceived that they receive relatively low priority within the overall organisation. It is felt that in an even bigger agency navigation and recreational use will receive even less priority for policy and spending. That will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the independent service providers and end-users in the inland waterways leisure industry.
Waterways, their management and promotion, do not sit easily within a body whose principal function is the regulation of pollution control and land drainage. Navigation could well act as a distraction from their core tasks and inhibit the development of sound policy for their recreational use. There has been a perceived conflict of interest between conservation and navigation, but that has been much exaggerated. Waterway restorers were among the first active conservationists; a dried-up or disused navigation is of little wildlife or amenity value. With changes in working patterns, the interests of leisure users are becoming ever more important.
There have been studies in restoration and use of derelict canals which have shown the positive economic and ecological benefits for the local communities that flow from such projects. In addition, there are many as yet unquantified community environmental and amenity benefits from the maintenance of viable navigations. Our waterways need informed and vigorous public promotion. They stand as a tribute to the history of our maritime nation and should be conserved and enhanced as a key asset in our national heritage.
The present haphazard management and operation of our waterways has been a historical accident. While government have been preoccupied with other issues, no clear policy has emerged for waterways recreation. The National Rivers Authority has been preoccupied with its more pressing regulatory functions. It is of prime importance to note that the NRA and in future the 1430 environment agency have no statutory duty to maintain the waterways. Navigation and waterway recreation were given a very low priority, resulting in continued neglect and underdevelopment. Since their financial base is uncertain, the future of this valuable heritage is in jeopardy. The House of Commons Environment Committee has on two occasions, in 1989 and 1991, suggested that the NRA/environment agency was not the right home for navigation for this very reason.
The environment agency Bill is yet another opportunity missed by government to take stock of our waterways and to examine properly the best way forward. The government proposals have not addressed the fact that waterways, their management and promotion, do not sit easily within a body whose principal function is regulation of pollution control and land drainage. Navigation could well act as a distraction from the agency's core tasks and inhibit the development of sound policy for the recreational use of the waterways. Yet again navigation receives the lowest priority. The Government have again missed the opportunity of taking a radical look at the legislation and presenting a coherent and purposeful policy for securing the future of our waterways. Here we have a chance to pull the management of our water space together, embracing the interests not just of inland but also of coastal and estuarial waters.
There remains an inexplicable proliferation in the management and operation of our water space, with no co-ordinated policy or direction. Those concerned do not have the time to understand or influence the myriad demands of European Union directives. It is not enough simply to alter the committee structure of the proposed agency to allow interested parties to have their views taken into account. Even in this connection the Bill is inadequate because Clauses 11 to 13, which deal with advisory committees, make no provision for navigation and recreational interests.
What is needed is a dedicated waterways body which can bring together the many and often conflicting interests and promote a visionary, practical and constructive future for the benefit of all concerned. Let us promote a centre of excellence and expertise for navigation and waterway recreation. Here is the ideal opportunity to amalgamate the interests of inland estuary and coastal navigation for amenity leisure and tourism.
As I have already mentioned, a new round of consultation on navigation has been instigated by the Department of the Environment and is just about to begin. It seems a curious piece of timing. Those who are interested in the future of the waterways are seeking in the passage of the Bill an undertaking to consider and act upon the conclusions of the new round of the navigation review. If we miss this opportunity we shall be guilty by default, as the very special quality of our waterways is spoiled by negligence and lack of vision. While we are in a position to make changes, if we miss this opportunity we in this House will share the blame.
Finally, I should like to pick up on one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. He bemoaned the fact that, as far as he knew, no one had developed a method of analysing the environmental cost 1431 of policy options. I have great pleasure in informing him that such a method does exist. It has been developed over the past 17 years by Professor Malcolm Slesser and Dr. Jane King of the human ecology department at Edinburgh University. Professor Slesser originated the concept while he was head of systems analysis for the European Community in the late 1970s.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I understand that a system has been developed, but can the noble Lord tell me whether it has been accepted by the Accounting Standards Board, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales or for Scotland?
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord that, but I believe that he will get more information as I continue with what I have to say. I have already arranged for the noble Lord to receive information which he will be able to pass on to bodies which he believes should see it. The concept was further developed by Dr. Jane King while she was working in the Department of Population and Human Resources at UNESCO during the 1970s and 1980s.
The method is known as ECCO, which is "enhancement of capital creation options". It is a decision support tool which tests, and provides information on, the medium to long-term consequences of any technical option, any environmental objective or any policy which has physical resource implications, which is pretty well all of them. It produces a holistic cost function for any proposed option and can therefore be used to identify desirable courses of action and, conversely, to avoid undesirable options.
A UK model has recently been completed. Inter alia, it has been used to quantify various indicators for identifying sustainable development paths. I have already arranged for a set of documentation, as I said, to be sent to the noble Lord. If the Minister will write to me and let me know to whom to address further copies, I will arrange that, too. But in case he wonders why the Government are not already testing out ECCO, may I urge him to identify suitable recipients in addition to the one who may first spring to mind? Full information has already been sent to this particular adviser, but as it does not coincide with his own view, the information has progressed no further.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNair, will forgive me if I do not follow him down the route he has chosen to discuss. Mindful as I am of the hour, I hope that other noble Lords will forgive me if I do not follow them. There will be another opportunity because nearly everything that has been said and no doubt will be said later will give rise to further discussion as the Bill progresses.
I am mindful of the hour. I am equally aware that this is the last night of term. There are those outside the Chamber who help us and for whom the last night of term is special. Therefore, rather than delay, perhaps I may get straight on with what I have to say without being diverted by others.
1432 Notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, said as regards Scotland and what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, touched on when speaking about the special needs of Wales, I am sorry that we do not have one single agency. I accept that in dealing with people the laws are slightly different as regards Scotland but pollution and the environment are no great respecters of national or political boundaries. It would be ludicrous, would it not, if waste matters were to be exported to or imported from Scotland where perhaps the different regimes would be perceived to be commercially or environmentally more advantageous for the disposer?
I do not believe that it will be done today but perhaps in the future the Minister will explain in greater depth how the Scottish agency and that which will obtain in the rest of Great Britain will have common standards. I believe most noble Lords know but it is proper for me to declare that I have an interest in the waste management industry, particularly in that arm called the disposal of waste.
When my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in July 1991 that it was the intention of the Government to establish the environment agency one would have expected the industry to be consulted. Sadly, during the lengthy gestation and planning period leading up to the publication of the Bill, perhaps the largest single industry—the waste management industry, with a turnover of between £5 billion and £6 billion—did not have any representation.
On 23rd November in the debate on the loyal Address, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, expressed her disappointment at the fact that the agency's advisory committee did not include a scientist. Today other noble Lords have deplored the fact that the shadow board, which now comprises 11 of the 15 members, does not include an expert in this, that or another area. I am not special pleading. However, given that the waste disposal industry has such a high profile and given, I am sad to say, that the public's perception of it is—quite wrongly—not of the highest, it seems essential that the industry should have a place on the board of the agency which, under Parts II and IV, will dictate and direct the objectives to be achieved and, to some extent, the route by which those objectives should be reached.
I take as an example the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, implemented only in May this year, as they relate to the waste management licensing system. Only a few months on, strains are already showing, and they will have to be dealt with. A particular problem of which the Government are well aware is the concern felt about the fact that waste management companies have to demonstrate that they are able to meet unquantified financial obligations for an indefinite period into the future. In some cases, that date could be 50 or even 100 years away. The insurance market is not interested. So individual companies are required by the current regulatory authorities to put up, in some cases, as much as £1 million in cash—not in bonds or in promises but in hard cash—in order to meet undefined and unquantified problems.
1433 Through its trade association (the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors) to which my noble friend Lord Lindsay referred, the industry suggested to the Government that a fund should be administered by an independent body to be financed by levies across the entire industry, not just from members of the trade association. The fund could amount to in excess of £1 billion within a very few years. However, that suggestion did not find favour with the Government. I think they were afraid that they would have to provide an exemption for the company handling the fund, which would have to prove that it was a fit and proper body to be involved in the licensing activities of the industry. It may be that the new environment agency should have the power to form subsidiary companies, as local authorities can, whereby such a scheme could be put into place. Before we reach the next stage of our deliberations, I should like to hear the Government's thinking on that. I think that a number of noble Lords from all sides of the House believe that such a scheme is viable and that it would provide the protection and monitoring system that will be required by the agency.
Another area of concern which demands, and will later receive, explanation comes in Part II which deals with contaminated land. Notwithstanding the fact that there was a draft Bill—the Bill was published on 1st December—it was only in mid-November that Framework for Contaminated Land, the outcome of the Government's policy review, was published. That document contains a totally different definition of "contaminated land" from that contained in the Bill. We must understand what we are talking about because excessive emphasis has been placed on landfill. It has been determined that landfill will account for 25 per cent. of the land that society is to dedicate to disposal. Under the Bill, that is to be subjected to even more rigorous monitoring than now. But what about the remaining 75 per cent.—the old gas works, chemical works, sewage works, sludge sites and petroleum depots? Apparently, they are not to be subject to the same rigorous control. We shall have to look at that point.
Turning to those parts of the Bill dealing with remediation, it is extraordinary that new Section 78F(1) states:A person who appears to have caused or knowingly permitted any substance … or … knowingly permitted those substances to be in, on or under any other land to which they appear to have escaped",shall have a liability in respect of that. The waste regulation authorities could be the agency that gave the licence for such deposits. Those authorities could be part of that process. Are they to issue a remediation notice upon themselves and accept the costs that that will involve? Again, we shall have to look at that.
There are a number of other oddities in the Bill, but I conclude by saying that when it has passed through both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent I hope that there will be a clear sense and understanding of the direction in which we are going, how we are going to get there and how we shall protect ourselves from the European Environment Agency which came into being on 31st October this year and which could 1434 really upset us. Above all, I hope that the agency—and that the guidelines which the Secretary of State will issue—will content itself with setting out the objectives rather than setting down the manner in which those objectives are to be met. If the latter happens, it will stifle industry and innovation and we shall end up in the same mess as currently.
§ 7.37 p.m.
My Lords, for my part I wish to keep within the bounds of the national parks and I therefore begin by welcoming Part III of this Environment Bill which goes a considerable way to fulfilling the Government's commitments to the national parks. This is an opportunity to achieve in legislation some of the objectives for which those who care about national parks have been striving for many years. The Government's commitment to national parks is clear from this legislation, and all that is required is some fine-tuning and the addressing of two gaps in the Bill to put national parks on a firm footing for the future. So far, at least nine of your Lordships have spoken in this Second Reading debate about their concern that there should be quiet, tranquil and peaceful enjoyment of the national parks and about their worries about damaging developments within the existing 10 national parks. My noble friend Lord Peel mentioned care and diligence in attaining those criteria and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, showed concern for those criteria.
The Government's present-day intentions are founded in the vision of some of the fathers (and mothers) of the national parks' family which my noble friend Lord Norrie has already mentioned. In 1929 the Government set up an inquiry into the possibility of national parks in Britain and a national parks committee was set up under the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, my grandfather Dr. Addison. That was not silent on the two areas about which we must he most concerned today: the need to give the parks protection from intrusive activities and from damaging, major development.
In 1931 the report said that national parks should be established to improve recreational facilities for the public. It stated:There is no occasion for us to speak of the natural beauty of this Island. The happiest moments and recollections of millions, are bound up with her quiet places".I place emphasis on the word "quiet". That is what gives the national parks their special character which is so much valued, along with what the Addison Report called:an intimate charm, and an association of the land and its monuments with the life-history of the race, which is justly regarded as an invaluable national heritage".That special character is something all the national parks hold in common, however different the natural beauty of their landscapes.
The report went on to be even more helpful to today's government, in clarifying what was intended. On recreation it said that what was not meant by recreation in national parks was, 1435playing fields, organised amusements or motoring facilities".They were, and are, about,opportunities open to nature-lovers, walkers, climbers and camping parties to enjoy natural scenery and to spend their leisure in the open air".It is clear from that that it is not only where these inappropriate activities conflict with conservation that a problem arises but also where they conflict with appropriate and quiet recreation. That is why the legislation before us today must make clear what it is intended as appropriate recreation.
Of course the Addison Report could not have foreseen inflatable bananas dragged by motor boats across the lakes and waterways of the national parks or motorbike scrambles across open country, which cause noise as well as erosion. There is a place for such motorised activities, but it is not in the national parks which were always intended to be for a different kind of recreation and were clearly designated for quite different reasons. That must be made quite clear in legislation. The word "quiet" may cause problems, but some legislative solution must be found.
The Bill should also contain a test to ensure that the parks are not vulnerable to major and damaging development. In calling for a "systematic scheme" for conserving large areas of exceptional natural interest—today's national parks—the Addison Report said:these areas constitute an important national asset and the Nation cannot afford to take any risk that they will be destroyed, or subjected to disorderly development".The same ideas emerge over 60 years later in the Government's commitment to sustainable development, which incorporates the idea of "critical natural assets". Those include the national parks, which are not only important from the points of view of conservation of wildlife and flora and fauna but also as whole ecosystems which are able to be conserved on a large scale. Clearly the pressure was on those areas in the 1930s. How much more pressure from damaging development is being exerted today. A test in legislation which means that major development takes place in the parks only where a proven national need exists, and where there is no alternative, would address those concerns and implement the intention to afford the parks,the highest status of landscape protection".Finally, I am concerned about the legacy of old mineral permissions in national parks which would never be given consent today and which distort current planning decisions. Under Clause 63, the new national park authorities will be responsible for mineral planning and I shall wish to consider whether they can be assisted in their task by some provision for reviewing those old consents which fail to meet modern standards.
In conclusion, clearly it is desirable for the Government to seek the best possible package of legislation for national parks. The Bill is already on the way to achieving that with the changes I have outlined. Just like my grandfather and the founders of national parks who had great vision, we must neither be silent in 1436 our strivings to keep our national parks quiet, nor quiet in our efforts to keep our national parks free of damaging development.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, the debate has been fascinating. There have been some remarkable contributions, but there has been some repetition. I should like to dwell upon the legal framework we are setting up in the Bill and the political will that surrounds it. No one in their right minds would carp at discussing an Environment Bill. Instinctively we all welcome an Environment Bill, but we must ask the question: what will it do?
We need to try to learn from experience. The House is probably best suited to bringing the experience of history to our deliberations. I had not meant to speak about national parks, but so many noble Lords have spoken about them that I thought that I would throw in a couple of words. First, we should think about how and why they were set up. I suspect that part of the reason for them was that before they were set up most land was in private ownership and therefore not accessible to the public. National parks were a mechanism through which the public could enjoy the benefits which the landed classes had hitherto enjoyed.
The latest criticism of what goes on in national parks seems to hinge around the use of noisy motorbikes. I wonder how many of the younger Members of your Lordships' House grew up on estates or farms where they were able to racket around on a big old motorbike or in a car and get that out of their system. I wonder how many young people whose parents do not have large estates have that facility. We should perhaps think in terms of providing a facility for today's youth rather than think of stopping that activity in national parks. The Government do not even recognise that that may be their responsibility. If anything, it is the local authorities which might pick up that baton and run with it. A number of local authorities are studying the matter and wondering how they could provide such facilities.
I wish to talk about penalties, democracy, finance, and a technical point. On penalties, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, talked about carrots and sticks. He suggested prison as a stick. It is worth pondering on that. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel also talked about cost benefit analyses not providing the best mechanism to determine the way forward. It struck me that one of the experiences we have is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act which introduced, I believe for the first time, the possibility of employers and managers in industry going to gaol for transgressing the requirements of that Act.
In the mid-1970s I worked in industry. The effect of that Act was salutary on managers because they believed that if they did not do the right thing they would go to goal. Within that political climate the Act was successful but, unfortunately, in 1979 the climate changed. Managers realised that there had been no prosecutions and thought that the penalty would not be imposed. Furthermore, the political climate changed with the election of a Conservative Government. Almost overnight the shutters came down and the managers 1437 said, "It is our job to manage. We are no longer going to listen to trade union leaders and our workers. We shall make the decisions". That was most significant because previously there had been dialogue between trade union shop stewards and conveners and managers as to the best way forward, in particular as regards problems relating to health and safety. That is a model to consider in terms of pollution of the environment. I hope that in Committee we will consider the best way of implementing it.
I am in curious agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who was the only speaker to suggest that a single agency for the United Kingdom was preferable to a separate agency for Scotland. In addition to recognising that environmental pollution has no borders and must be treated with equitability at national and international levels, we must recognise that in some cases local solutions are most applicable to local problems.
The Greater Manchester Council tried to introduce developments to deal with waste disposal. It is notable that local authorities have been in the forefront of environmental affairs. I refer to the municipalisation of the water industry in the last century and the clean air Acts which were pioneered by the Greater Manchester Council in the 1940s and 1950s. They provided enormous benefits to our society. In the 1970s and early 1980s the Greater Manchester Council funded research into converting waste into oil. The basic research was successful and the next stage was to be a pilot project to discover whether the scheme could be upscaled. Unfortunately, the Government then abolished Greater Manchester Council and no more was heard of the scheme.
I give that example because the problems relating to waste disposal in Manchester were different from those in other parts of the country. South Yorkshire, for instance, had a greater number of holes in the ground and therefore waste disposal through landfill was comparatively cheap. Assets and liabilities should be able to be matched in local areas to meet local circumstances.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the problem of minewater pollution, which has been referred to in a number of debates. I was not familiar with the situation and wondered what was the problem with mines filling up with water and the water running out. It was not until I was provided with information by Councillor Hedley Salt, chairman of the Coalfield Communities Campaign and leader of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, that I realised what the problem was. The Coalfield Communities Campaign represents coalfield authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. I wish to quote from some technical information which I am sure your Lordships will find of great interest. The information reads:Coal and many other minerals have been mined for centuries in the UK. The water table formed a natural barrier to mining development and only by artificially lowering the water table, by pumping, could coal and other minerals continue to be accessible.As mines have been abandoned so associated pumping networks have closed down, with the result that the water table has 'rebounded' to its natural level, thus flooding the old mineworkings. Because of the geology of coalmining areas, rising water is likely 1438 to come into contact with pyrites which have been exposed to the air due to mining activities. The subsequent chemical reactions form sulphuric acid in the minewater. This acidity allows the water to carry high concentrations of iron, sulphate, aluminium and a range of heavy metals depending upon the geology and strata through which the water will rise.The water may continue to rise until it reaches the level of a water course such as a river. The highly acidic metal-laden water on running into the river may kill aquatic life for considerable distances. In addition the dilution of the acidity causes sulphates and metals to precipitate out of the water thereby coating the river bed in an orange-red blanket. As well as the devastating effect on wildlife, the polluted river may also become unsuitable for water abstraction and recreation.It is difficult to predict to what level the water table will rebound. This has led to speculation that some previously dry areas could become prone to flooding or waterlogging and that buildings and roads could become unstable. Foundations may also be attacked by the sulphate-rich water. Rising water may also displace dangerous mine gases, such as methane and carbon monoxide".That is fascinating information and I am not sure whether it was previously in your Lordships' domain. I was not aware of it. It will inform us in our deliberations in Committee when we deal with that aspect of the Bill.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of Northesk
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I am mindful of the hour. Therefore, in the interests of your Lordships and those who look after our needs, I shall be brief. First, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his most cogent elucidation of the Bill. Its establishment of the environment agency and the Scottish environment protection agency is probably long overdue, as implied earlier by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. The reality is that pollution and environmental damage infect to varying degrees almost all walks of life. Therefore, the Government's wish to put in place an integrated approach is to be applauded. Thus, like most, if not all, of your Lordships, I welcome the Bill.
That said, I should like to make three general observations. The first is that the issue of the environment and people's perceptions of it is akin to eating oysters or raw eggs. The first question that one must ask oneself is whether the food is digestible at all. There are those who simply cannot eat oysters or raw eggs either because the notion of so doing is offensive or because it makes them gag. There then exists the issue of individual taste. There are those who, on the basis that such foods do not taste of anything, are indifferent as to whether they eat them. Then there are those who, possibly for reasons unrelated to taste, just cannot get enough of them. Herein lies my initial disquiet with the Bill. There is consensus that greater efforts should be made towards protecting, sustaining and conserving the globe's environment and resources. At the same time, it must be recognised that there exist very many shades of opinion as to the methodology of doing so. That is particularly the case in the context of the wider countryside.
My second area of concern—and here I echo the anxiety of many noble Lords—is the absence in the Bill of any workable definitions of a whole raft of key terms. It may be that the Minister will assist me. Will the environment agency operate under the Brundtland 1439 definition of sustainable development? In formulating and considering the proposal, what definitions will the agency apply to conservation and environmental protection? Should not appropriate definitions of those key concepts be on the face of the Bill?
While I can fully understand a desire to be rather vague in that context in order to avoid placing the agency in a straitjacket against the background of greatly needed discipline, nevertheless, I feel that some guidance in that context is desirable. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating an agency that would be a synthesis of Dr. Dolittle's push-me-pull-you.
My third point pursues the train of thought of my noble friend Lord Hesketh. It is too easy for those in the wider world who seek to count themselves as conservationists in particular in so far as the discipline relates to the countryside to imagine that it is a precise science; that it is a subject composed entirely of black and white. The reality is that conservation is a matter of compromise, which premise, one must note, is at least in part reflected on the face of the Bill.
Lest we forget, our environment is almost entirely man-made and has evolved over the centuries wholly on the back of man's efforts to impose his will upon it. More than that, nature within that environment is red in tooth and claw. Therefore, that begs the question of what it is in fact we are seeking to conserve. The answer—and this should be fundamental to all thinking about conservation—is that we should seek to preserve the vitality and viability of our environment as a living, evolutionary mechanism. Evolutionary is the key word.
I believe sincerely that those matters are fundamental to the construction of the Bill. Today's debate indicates that there is consensus that the environment agency will represent a most welcome mechanism for addressing the problems of pollution and environmental protection. However, unless the precepts under which it operates are adequately and rationally explained and constituted—and that echoes the comments made by many noble Lords today—I fear that we run the risk of, at best, pulling its teeth before they have had a chance to bite and, at worst, strangling it at birth. Bluntly, it is too important a mechanism in this modern age to be subjected to such a fate.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. Perhaps in these days of aspersions I should say that it is a wholly unremunerated position.
My noble friend must be very pleased with the weight of welcome which the Bill has received. It is as great as the weight of the Bill itself. Indeed, it is another step in the long stage of progress which the Government, in the 15 years they have been in power, have taken in making improvements to the environment of this country. They started with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We have had a rather remarkable set of Secretaries of State for the Environment. If I were to pick out four of them, I should choose Mr. Michael Heseltine, Mr. Nicholas Ridley, Mr. Chris Patten and the present holder, Mr. John Gummer.
1440 But the improvements which the Government have made—I believe that we should look at this in a non-party spirit—follow in the tradition of the way in which we in this country have protected the environment. In particular, I think of the 1945–50 Labour Government who gave us a series of planning laws without which I do not believe our country would be anything like as beautiful as it is today. Indeed, I believe that it is one of the reasons why it is the envy of Europe.
§ Lord Marlesford
It may be useful, in view of the comments made by some of my noble friends about some aspects of the Bill, to consider how the measure and its proposals fit in with the mainstream of Tory philosophy. I believe that, in the tradition of Edmund Burke, where the role of the state is to hold the ring that means ensuring that those who, quite properly and certainly predictably, seek to maximise what they see as their own advantage do not at the same time exploit others and in particular do not exploit employees, consumers, investors or, in this case, the environment.
Some comments have been made about cost benefits. I recognise the difficulties in relation to cost-benefit analysis and the misleading results that that can lead to. In my view, it would have been desirable to have a more realistic cost-benefit analysis of some of the actions of the Health and Safety Executive, with which we are not directly concerned this evening, before they were imposed at great cost upon those affected.
On the other hand, the use of cost-benefit analysis for the sort of matters with which this Bill is concerned is rather more difficult if only because so many of the matters which concern people like myself are exceedingly difficult to attribute a monetary value to. Of course, it is all a matter of balancing rights. One of the rights that is most relevant to the part of the Bill which deals with the countryside is the property rights of those who own the countryside. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester reminded us that, however long our families may or may not have owned a piece of land, we are only life tenants. I believe that, in a literal as well as a moral sense, those of us who have the privilege to own or occupy land have a real stewardship obligation.
Therefore, in my opinion, that does not give us the right to do anything we wish with our own land if it changes it in a way which is seen to be against the public interest in terms of the nature of the land. We acquire land either by inheritance or gift, or we purchase it in a certain state, perhaps as forest, moorland or wetland or as grazing or arable land. We do not have an unfettered right to change it where it is against the public interest to do so. It is one of the core functions of Parliament to set the parameters in which social and economic activities can take place. Those can range widely; for example, from smoking restrictions in public places to the safety of nuclear power stations. The stewardship of the countryside comes into that.
The parameters are constantly shifting through demographic, social and economic change. It is for the political process to adapt a legal framework for that 1441 purpose. That is what the Bill does and, if I may say so, does courageously. In general, I do not believe that compensation should be paid for restrictions on change in landscape which are seen by Parliament to be against the public interest.
It is a long time since the taxpayer enriched the members of Brooks's Club by yielding to the threat that, unless compensated, they would tear down that venerable building—a threat which, of course, they never had the slightest intention of carrying out. However, it is not so long ago that, under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, farmers were paid not to plough up moorland or not to fell woodlands such as those in SSSIs.
However, we have advanced since then. The principle that the polluter should pay the cost of not polluting is, I believe, generally accepted. But that does not mean that grants of money should not be made to get people to maintain the countryside in the condition the public wishes to see it. The ESA system and other policies introduced under the stewardship scheme of the Countryside Commission have been highly successful.
Such interventions will change. There was a time, for a long while, when the prime purpose was seen to be preserving the countryside for food production. The White Paper, which was one of those papers and which had the clearest objective, entitled Food from our own Resources, was not replaced until long after it had actually been made obsolete by the effects of the common agricultural policy. More recently, in the words of Nicholas Ridley, which I believe still to be tremendously important and relevant, we have been urged,to preserve the countryside for its own sake".That was a very big step forward. The strategy needs developing. We are promised, or threatened with—I am not sure which phrase one should use—a rural White Paper some time next year. Indeed, it was referred to by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell in his interesting speech. I very much agree with my noble friend. I believe he said that that White Paper must deal with all government departments and not just MAFF and the DoE, even though they may have set it up. But more important still is the fact—it astonished me—that it is apparently proposed that the White Paper should only refer to England. I believe that it should refer to England, Scotland and Wales.
I wish now to look specifically at the Bill. I shall not take too long in doing so because so many points have already been made. Of course we all welcome what will be done to implement the Edwards Report on national parks. The "old Silkin test", as it was called, lasted very well; indeed, it lasted 40 years. It was at least clear. It has been succeeded by PPGs which are rather less inspiring and, very often, rather less clear. The Bill does not appear to have arrived at a clear alternative for the major development of—that rather unfortunate or inadequate phrase—"quiet enjoyment". Perhaps we should all turn our minds to finding a better phrase.
I am especially enthusiastic about the Government's courageous decision, opposed, one knows, in certain areas, to introduce Clause 79 with the protection for 1442 English hedges. The idea that 11,000 miles of English hedges disappeared each year between 1990 and 1993 is far more than a cold statistic. In about 1992, I shall never forget being in the small Suffolk parish of Benhall along with representatives of the county council, the Suffolk Preservation Society and the Countryside Commission in Cambridge begging the owners not to tear down a particularly ancient hedge. We watched in dismay as the hedge was bulldozed savagely in front of our eyes. That is the reality of the situation. It is something that I am so glad the Bill will begin to tackle. However, like others, I am rather unhappy that that appears to be the subject of secondary legislation. During the weeks that will elapse before the Bill leaves this House, I very much hope that we may persuade the Government to spell out more clearly how they intend to tackle the process in practice.
There are one or two other matters I should like to mention. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, pointed out, by fortunate design or mistake—I do not know which—the Long Title of the Bill appears to give scope for a number of other things to be done. I should like rapidly to mention one or two which I believe we should at least consider in the coming weeks. First, more is needed to be done to control the wind power in places where it would be unsuitable. It is very easy to say that it is a renewable and that it is marvellous; but, in practice, an awful lot of windy places, especially national parks, will be greatly damaged by the erection of wind turbines. When one bears in mind the fact that to produce only 10 per cent. of the total electricity requirement of this country one needs some 15,000 wind turbines of the biggest possible size in existence at present, I believe that the point is emphasised.
Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Northhourne, and I hope that we may be able in Committee to do something to preserve the countryside in particular from pollution by excessive light at night. The night sky is a precious asset. All too often —one of the main culprits is the Department of Transport —road lighting is often installed or switched on with pretty spurious justification.
Thirdly, we need to pay more attention to better management of water. Many of us have seen the effect of the emptying of rivers, the lowering of the water table in the countryside and trees dying from thirst. Again, that is a reality. Fourthly, waste management has been mentioned by many speakers. One aspect of waste management that I should like to see is a system which was originally introduced in the state of Oregon whereby non-biodegradeable containers sold to the public for things like Coca-Cola are made to be returnable. Of course, there is a cost involved, but it does at least mean that if such items are discarded by the affluent, the less affluent will pick them up. If one travels around Oregon and some other states, it will be seen that that has worked extremely well; it has been going on for a long time. Perhaps we could look at that system.
Finally, I should like to see something done about the design of garages in the countryside. They seem to have almost totally escaped the planning rules. They are extremely ugly and quite unjustifiably so. 1443 I believe that the Bill should receive enthusiastic support from all sides of the Houses of Parliament. There is a very happy precedent. I conclude by reading an extract from a letter to the editor of The Times dated 8th May 1929 which was just about three weeks before the 1929 election. The letter comes from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, as it was called in those days. It says:During the next few weeks we shall differ on so many problems of public importance, that we gladly take an opportunity of showing that on one subject we speak with a united- voice—namely, in advocating the preservation of our countryside in its rich personality and character.We do this with full consideration that the development which is requisite in many forms can, and should be directed with thoughtful and scrupulous attention to the charm of our land. Apart from the natural beauties of hill and plain, of cliff, river, and lake, much of this beauty is the direct result of bygone development and enterprise: and in these days when methods of planning and the appreciation of trees and landscape are more widely studied than ever before, we ought to be able so to effect necessary changes as to avoid injuring a precious heritage".The signatories of that letter are Stanley Baldwin, J. Ramsay MacDonald and David Lloyd George.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord Greenway
My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords who have given a general welcome to the Bill. I shall try to make my remarks as brief as possible due to the late hour and also because the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has already covered much of the ground that I intended to cover.
There is minimum mention of recreation and navigation in the Bill other than the transfer of duties incumbent on the NRA to the new environmental agency. It is fair to say that, on the whole, navigators—if I may refer to them as such—have been fairly complimentary about the management of their navigations by the NRA. However, they are concerned for the future in so far as the much wider brief for the new agency and the proposed new management structures are likely to make them more remote from the agency. Moreover, the existing duty to develop recreation and navigations could well be swamped by the natural increase in environmental and regulatory duties placed upon the agency.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned the proposed new review of navigation. I would have much preferred to say the imminent new review of navigation, because I believe that it was first promised to a Select Committee in another place some four years ago. I fear it is too much to expect that anything will be forthcoming before the Bill leaves this House. However, I wonder whether the Minister would confirm whether delegated powers would enable any suggestions that might be forthcoming from the review to be taken on board. At any rate the whole question of recreation and management needs further discussion at a later stage and I intend to return to this.
Another point that I shall seek to address in Committee will be the possibility of a facility to delegate the day-to-day management of navigation at some time in the future to a body other than the environment agency.
1444 I now turn briefly to national parks. The Bill redefines the duties of the national parks, which were enshrined in the 1949 Act, as,preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the park areas; and promoting their enjoyment by the public".Obviously conflicts do arise on this matter. In 1974 the National Park Policies Review Committee sat under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and reported that,Where the conflict between the two purposes, which has always been inherent, becomes acute, the first one must prevail".As we all know, this approach, which is generally known as the Sandford principle, has been accepted as a reasonable approach to the management of the national parks and equivalent areas. It is generally accepted by the recreational interests, as it becomes relevant only where there is an acute conflict; that is, one not capable of reasonably being reconciled.
The Bill before us today, in addressing areas of conflict between the two purposes, takes the Sandford principle several stages further than the Committee could ever have considered necessary or even desirable. Clause 59 of the Bill states:if it appears that there is a conflict between those purposes"—the authority—shall attach greater weight to",the first purpose. In other words, the Bill does not require the authority to seek to resolve conflict, however minor; it prompts the authority to rule in favour of the first purpose at the first allegation of any conflict. I believe that this may be an unintended distortion of the purposes for which the national parks exist, and I would urge that consideration be given to modifying the clause to require relevant authorities, first, to seek all reasonable means of reconciling conflict (as clearly intended by the Sandford Committee) before being required to judge in favour of the first purpose. I wish the Bill well and I very much look forward to further discussion on the points that I have raised.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Derwent
My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a landowner, all of whose land lies in the North Yorkshire National Park. However, the thrust of my remarks is made not from the point of view of a landowner but rather from the viewpoint of someone who lives in the park and therefore shares the concerns of all the inhabitants of the park.
May I first say that I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the Bill. I suspect that he will find himself at Committee stage under attack more or less in equal measure from all points of the compass. That suggests perhaps that in general the Government may have got the Bill about right. At the outset I should like to associate myself with the general warning given by my noble friend Lord Hesketh. I recognise that many of the issues that will be raised during the passage of the Bill are emotive and many represent views which are very sincerely held. But I hope that even the most passionate will recognise that nearly every clause of the Bill represents direct or indirect intervention by the state and 1445 Parliament to the detriment of the rights of the individual. In a perfect world the Bill would not be necessary; it is not a perfect world, so I agree that the Bill is necessary in the interests of society as a whole. I only remind noble Lords that every time that on their special subject they urge more control and regulation, they are at the same time curtailing the rights of individuals to live their lives or enjoy their property as they wish.
That said, at this late hour I intend to confine my remarks to Part III of the Bill dealing with national parks. We shall all have opportunities in Committee to raise many other points. I particularly welcome this part of the Bill which gives the parks a stable and secure base. A great deal of the groundwork was of course laid by the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and the Government have taken into account many of the points made by your Lordships during the passage of that Bill so we did not, I feel, waste our time.
At this stage I wish to focus on two main subjects in respect of which I believe this part of the Bill is deficient or could be improved. First, I shall discuss what I call the "democratic deficit" already referred to by my noble friend Lord Peel. I, like most noble Lords—great stress was put on this point by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol—welcome the provision that a national park authority should consist of two-thirds local authority members and one-third nominees of the Secretary of State because that ensures the local interest. But the democratic accountability of a local authority member of the park authority to the inhabitants of the park is very tenuous.
Most of the principal councils concerned in England—I do not speak for Wales here as I do not have the relevant knowledge—will have the bulk of their population living in big urban conurbations just outside the park. This means that most councillors will represent areas outside the park and will be interested in the concerns of their constituents, who are the urban neighbours of the park. Especially when political balance is taken into account—which it has to be under the Bill—it may well not be possible for councils to nominate to the park authority only councillors representing areas within the park. I understand that there is to be ministerial guidance that they should do so, but it may not be possible numerically. The inhabitants of the park will therefore risk having few champions on the park authorities and their interests may therefore not be defended.
I believe, however, that there are ways of at least mitigating the effects of this democratic deficit. First, there should perhaps be provision on the face of the Bill requiring each park authority to make a report, perhaps annually, to the principal councils in the area in which the park lies. This would give the opportunity for county and district councillors who represent divisions within the park but are not on the park authority to question the park authority and to register views on behalf of their constituents. I am not suggesting that they should be able to overrule the authority, but at least there would be an open debate. This, of course, is what happens at present in the national park committees. I know that in 1446 North Yorkshire the park committee every quarter has to give account of its stewardship to the full council and a real debate goes on.
Secondly, in England there must be a formal mechanism for consulting the parish councils. I was rapped over the knuckles by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for including Wales, where there are no parish councils, so I speak only of England.
Under Clause 59 of the Bill as drafted a duty is imposed on parish councils to have regard to national park purposes. That is very proper. But there seems to be no corresponding duty on the national park authority towards the concerns of parish councils. Yet the parish councils are the elected bodies most directly answerable to voters, all of whom live in the park. They are closest to the grass roots.
Your Lordships will recall that during the Report stage of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Nome the Government specifically undertook to issue detailed and formal ministerial guidance that the national parks should set up parish forums or similar arrangements to ensure continuing two-way consultation between the parks and parish councils. The Minister's assurance appears in column 268 of Hansard for 20th April.
I am glad to say that many national parks are already doing that without waiting for the guidance. In particular, I pay tribute to the park officer in North Yorkshire who has forged ahead with detailed arrangements. But I should welcome the reassurance of my noble friend the Minister that such guidance is still intended. This is a subject on which several of us will be pressing the Government at Committee stage, and I believe that it is important that that guidance should he quite detailed so as to ensure that the parishes are kept informed and have the opportunity to make their views known.
So much for the democratic deficit. My second theme is this. Your Lordships will be aware that there are a number of activities which have often in practice been delegated by councils to national park committees. I believe that we should take the opportunity afforded by this Bill to consider transferring some of those activities from local authorities to the park authorities once and for all.
Agency agreements between county and district councils and national parks are not entirely satisfactory as they leave a residual democratic responsibility with the delegating authority. After all, they are the people who have decided to delegate it. I believe that the main candidates for such transfer are the national park authorities, which should become responsible for maintaining public footpaths and bridleways in the parks. Possibly they should also take over responsibility for unmetalled and unclassified public roads so that they would be able, as they are not at present, to instigate traffic regulation orders where necessary to ensure proper enjoyment of the park by pedestrians and horse riders. Much of that could perhaps be achieved by amendment to Schedule 9 to the Bill which deals with footpaths but does not transfer the powers to which I have referred.
1447 I believe that there are a number of other areas where there need be no residual role for councils when the work is in a national park. I shall make some suggestions in that regard at Committee stage.
Finally, as an inhabitant of a park I particularly welcome the provisions of the Bill which have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities in the national parks. Some, but certainly not all, national parks have paid scant regard to the well-being of those who own property, live or work within a park. Under the Bill that will no longer be possible. I thank the Government for that.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I begin with a question which I thought that my noble friend Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove might have asked earlier this evening. I notice that in the Bill the environment agency for England and Wales is called the "environment agency" while the Scottish equivalent is called the "environment protection agency". I wonder whether that is a distinction without a difference, or, if there is a difference, what the difference might be. It may be that the question is answered within this very large Bill and I have missed it, but I wonder why there should be a difference.
My main purpose is to give notice of my intentions at Committee stage. We have spoken generally about the Bill and there is no need to add much to what has been said. I shall raise a matter under Clause 7 which I have raised on several occasions before, perhaps to the boredom of noble Lords.
Under Clause 7(1) (c) on page 8, the Bill refers to the agency having regard:to the desirability of protecting and conserving buildings, sites and objects of archaeological, architectural or historic interest".I have many times reminded the House, especially in relation to the waterways and other parts of the environment, that there are certain artefacts which require conservation and protection which are not of architectural interest but are of engineering interest. We are sometimes told that those are covered by the term "historic interest". That is also true of architecture. I have been told in the past that engineering is covered by archaeology because archaeology includes industrial archaeology. I do not think that it does. I think we should refer to engineering or industrial archaeology. I shall not dwell upon the point this evening but I shall certainly return to it at least once during the remaining stages of the Bill.
I should say in parenthesis that there is a precedent. I managed to insert such a provision into the British Waterways Act last year or the year before. That is a precedent which the Bill could follow. That particular piece of legislation was a Private rather than a Public Act. In addition to buildings we should include engineering structures, because the two are not the same thing. However, I shall not go into detail.
In Clause 7 it is stated that "'building' includes structure". That may be correct in common parlance, but in the technical world it is the other way about: 1448 structures include buildings. I shall not go on about that tonight, but perhaps your Lordships will hear from me later on that subject. I hope that the Government will be convinced on this occasion, in the same way as the British Waterways Board permitted itself to be convinced, without the Government's encouragement on that occasion.
While on the subject of waterways, I should like to support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, earlier when he spoke about the regulation of navigation. He is quite right. As I understand the situation, the regulation of navigation is conducted by a number of authorities, some of them quite small. The two main authorities are the NRA and the British Waterways Board. Waterways fall outside the Bill. I should like to see control of the waterways brought under one authority and not partly within the scope of the Bill and partly outside it. The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, would help in that direction.
Quite apart from the navigation interest, it would be much better if control of the substantial engineering heritage which is embodied in the waterways, canals and similar works were under one control and under a single Act of Parliament. Therefore I support the noble Lord, Lord McNair, in that respect.
One point struck me earlier in the debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester remarked that every year an area the size of Oxfordshire was given over to road works. I have heard that statistic before. Sometimes Cambridgeshire or Hampshire is referred to; it is always a county. I find it a little hard to believe. However, if it were true—it may be true—the road construction industry would not be in the pitiful condition in which it is at present and has been for the past few years. I query the statistic. I believe that it is mythological, although I would not expect mythology from the right reverend Prelate —or not often.
I am under the impression that in England and Wales—I omit Scotland for this purpose—the total area covered by all roadworks, including streets, culs de sac, car parks and motorways is about 2 per cent. We have two sets of statistics. They cannot both be right. However, I am quite sure that someone will write and tell me if I am wrong. I await that response with interest and even enthusiasm.
As many noble Lords will know, I am perhaps the least green of all the contributors to today's debate. I am a little embarrassed to present myself in public under this guise. However, I was greatly comforted by the cautionary words of the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, who seemed to me to have got the issue right with regard to balancing the environment and its protection against the economy. We are all aware of that. But the rhetoric regarding the environment lays that issue to one side; I thought that that argument should be brought in again.
I welcome the Bill. However, my position is rather closer to that of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel than to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, whose view of what he anticipates and hopes for in the future was a mite Utopian for me. If the provisions in the Bill were to move too far in the direction of the noble Lord's hopes, I might become extremely uneasy. 1449 I hope to be able to support most of the Bill and most of what my noble friend Lord Williams says at Committee stage.
I did not quite understand one of my noble friend's comments; no doubt it was my fault. I did not follow his reference to some form of accountancy. I wondered whether he was talking about an environmental version of what used to be called energy accountancy. Perhaps noble Lords will remember that concept. Let us take the obvious example of building a power station. One balanced the energy put into the materials for building against the energy taken out from the power station and came up with some conclusion. Perhaps my noble friend refers to something of that nature.
Several noble Lords have mentioned the pros and cons of cost benefit analysis. That is not the only system, however. I do not believe that environmental impact analysis was mentioned. Just as cost benefit analysis has strengths and weaknesses, environmental impact analysis has strengths and weaknesses. But with cost benefit plus environmental impact analyses one has something of value. Whether the proposal of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel is better than combining those two analyses, I do not know. No doubt that will he made clear at Committee stage. I do not need the answer to that question now.
I look forward to the Committee stage and to the Government agreeing with me regarding the very modest two or three words that I wish to add to the Bill.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Mills
My Lords, I have already declared my interest as an NRA employee, as well as highlighting a number of issues concerning the draft Bill, in my speech of 23rd November during the debate on the Address. In that speech I asked the Minister about the future environment agency's exact role in promoting sustainable development, and about precisely how cost benefit analyses will be applied to its activities. I also emphasised the need for adequate funding during the setting up of the new agency and for a number of further measures to be included within the Bill.
Although my noble friend Lord Howe was kind enough to answer some of my questions, there are a number of points to which I wish to return. First, I was reassured when my noble friend stated:The provisions as drafted require the agency to consider costs and benefits in the round, including environmental costs and benefits".—[Official Report, 23/11/94; col. 349.]The inclusion of environmental costs and benefits in cost benefit assessments is to be welcomed. However, I do not recall the Minister clarifying the extent to which cost benefit assessments will be applied to the new agency's activities. If such assessments had to be made on every, or even most, decisions it would result in extra efforts and, of course, extra costs. Those are costs which will erode the benefits. Can the Minister assure your Lordships that those provisions will apply only to major policy and investment decisions and, if so, the scale of activity which might be covered?
The second point to which I wish to return concerns ministerial guidance on sustainable development as set out in Clause 4 of the Bill. Unfortunately the Minister 1450 was not forthcoming as to the nature of such policy guidance and, along with many other noble Lords, I ask my noble friend when he can share with us what he considers sustainable development might mean for the agency.
There are, of course, other issues concerning what the Royal Society for Nature Conservation has described as,the supremacy of the undefined Ministerial Guidance in Clause 4".For example, will such guidance and directions be made public and will those be made after proper consultation? Without doubt, the NRA's policy of openness and of publicising widely what it proposes to do, and why, has won the general public's confidence and respect. Ministerial guidance and directions which fail to allow that openness and consultation to continue would, I feel, be a retrograde step.
Furthermore, I presume that guidance or directions from Ministers which directly affected the agency's activities would also be subject to cost benefit analysis. To me, that would seem logical and consistent with the provisions in Clause 37; but perhaps the Minister would be kind enough to clarify whether that would indeed be the case.
Lastly on that subject, I emphasise that a lack of guidance, directions and action from Government could have serious and detrimental effects on the environment agency's ability to operate.
Another question that I raised in my previous speech concerned the funding of the new agency and in particular start-up funding. I have to admit that I was less than convinced by the Minister's response when he stated that the transitional costs of setting up the new agency will be largely funded by offsetting efficiency savings. Is that realistic, given that the NRA is already planning to save £200 million and over 1,200 jobs between 1993 and 1997? Surely that leaves little scope for further efficiency savings.
The one-off sum of £5 million allocated by the Department of the Environment to set up the agency in 1995–96 can be compared with an expenditure of over £79 million needed to set up the NRA, which has taken five years. Furthermore, no financial allowance is being made for any of the agency's proposed new duties such as those relating to contaminated lands, abandoned mines or producer responsibility. The Government are giving the new agency new jobs, but no additional money to do them.
The merger of the NRA, HMIP and the waste regulation authorities will be complex and difficult, and the transitional costs to integrate accommodation, technologies and working practices should be adequately funded by government. Perhaps what is required is a "green dowry" as provided to the NRA when it was set up. Perhaps the Minister will consider that as an option. In addition, moneys to carry out the agency's new duties should also be made available. I believe that it is only after a reasonable period of settling down—say, one-and-a-half to two years—that any process of rationalisation and efficiency savings will become possible.
1451 Moving on, I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention a matter of crucial importance to the future structure and operation of the new environment agency and, potentially, to the contents of the Bill. This concerns whether the agency's regulatory and operational roles should be separated or integrated. The NRA maintains that the regulatory and operational elements of its work are not in conflict. Indeed, on the contrary, these are claimed to be mutually supportive and highly cost effective.
On the other hand, HMIP argues that splitting the two functions—regulation and operation—will be essential if the agency is to avoid conflicts of interest and accusations of self-policing. Furthermore, a separate regulatory arm would also help to provide an improved business focus and make it easier to recover costs. These are fundamentally different approaches which are understandable, given the different backgrounds of the two organisations. The decision on which approach to adopt is of great significance for the future success or otherwise of the new agency.
I believe, and I think the public believe that the NRA is an effective regulator and part of this success as a regulatory body can be attributed to the NRA's presence "on the river" —a presence which is often in pursuance of its operational activities to maintain, improve and develop, whether it be flood defences, fisheries, navigation, conservation or recreation.
In practice, the effectiveness of the NRA's combined regulatory and operational roles is nowhere better demonstrated than in dealing with emergencies. In cases such as a serious pollution incident, the regulatory role of finding the polluter and the operational role of preventing environmental damage are linked to great effect. Likewise the successful development and implementation of integrated river catchment management planning, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady David, is considered by many to be dependent on the NRA's intimate knowledge and involvement with both operational and regulatory matters.
I am not aware of there having been conflicts of interest or a lack of business focus due to this duality of function. But should this ever occur, any concerns could be addressed by much less drastic measures than the complete separation of regulatory and operational roles—for example, through audit and/or appeal procedures. Perhaps the simplest and most powerful argument of all is: why change a dynamic system of operation and regulation that has proved to work well over the last five years?
However, other things do need to be changed, such as the plethora of legislation to control discharges from complex industrial sites. This places an unnecessary burden on industry which has to deal with a number of regulators and it results in a number of different charging schemes. Within the Bill, this legislation remains separate, which will perpetuate the complexity and, of course, the burdens. Changes to the existing legislation, either by consolidation or by the provision of enabling clauses, would result in more streamlined procedures and charging schemes for both industry and 1452 the agency. Can the Minister give an undertaking that such changes will take place as soon as possible and preferably before the agency is set up?
Your Lordships will be aware that since the publishing of the draft Bill further provisions have been introduced into the legislation. Of particular significance are the measures relating to contaminated lands and abandoned mines, and any provisions to deal with these long-standing issues must be welcomed. However, as I have already indicated, I believe that additional resources will be required to deal with these problems.
Turning first to contaminated lands, new and complicated provisions have been developed to deal with these as well as wastefill sites, but lack of adequate funding may well prevent significant progress. Local authorities are expected to take the lead in this matter, but the effect of the new statutory framework on these bodies will apparently be cost neutral. Likewise, there will be no extra calls on central government funds. For the private sector, there is comfort in hearing that the legislation is:not expected to increase existing costs or place additional burdens on business".Given the present financial stringencies which local authorities face, I would ask your Lordships to consider how seriously these bodies will be able to treat their new contaminated land duties. Likewise, the new environment agency has no budgetary provision to support its powers to clean up contaminated sites. In cases where a remediation notice has been issued, but not complied with, the agency may carry out the works itself and recover its costs with interest.
Problems arise when the owner cannot be identified, as in the case of the so-called "orphan sites", described by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. These are not provided for within this Bill and I support my noble friend's plea to the Minister to make some provision which would allow the new agency to obtain funds from the government to carry out priority clean ups, if others cannot be found to do so. Even a relatively small annual sum would, over a period of time, start to address the backlog of problems.
The other new provision I should like to talk about briefly concerns abandoned mines. Clause 55 creates new powers to deal with abandoned mines, but not until after 1999. The Government have been quite clear as to why this time limit is to be applied. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill states that,there could be some adverse effect on proceeds to the Government. Accordingly, the removal of the statutory protections is being timed to reduce any possible effect".This clearly refers to coal privatisation, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has already pointed out. While the Government appear to be justified in taking this course of action, others would disagree. For example, the ENDS report editorial of November 1994, states:A more cynical approach and one more at odds with the concept of sustainable development would be hard to imagine".My concern—and, as I recall, that of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and the noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Moran—and, indeed, my question to the Minister is: what will happen to mines abandoned before 1999 and to existing mines which are already causing 1453 pollution? This is a serious problem affecting at least 400 to 500 kilometres of our watercourses. There are a number of other issues I could discuss but I, too, am aware of the hour and they are probably best left to the Committee stage.
I should therefore like to finish with a personal observation. Having now worked for the National Rivers Authority for five years, I can appreciate fully the complexity of its organisation and the work it carries out. The environment agency will, I am sure, be even more complex and challenging to manage. It will need a clarity of purpose and sufficient resources to tackle the difficult tasks that lie ahead. I am confident that your Lordships will help to ensure that when the Bill leaves this House it will provide the new environment agency for England and Wales with the best possible start.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, those of us who speak at this stage in a debate customarily say that there is little left to be said. I thought to myself this morning that I would welcome that and the relative cohesion in the approach to the Bill from all sides of the House. I think perhaps I was a little over-confident in my ability to say something interesting and different about the points that have already been made. However, I wish that we were not debating it at this time today. I know that all your Lordships are particularly sorry to have caused such confusion in the arrangements of those who make the affairs of the House run so smoothly.
I say to the Government, as I have said on a previous occasion, that I should like to continue the encouragement to them in this process and I welcome the consultation that took place on the draft of the Bill. It is the right way to approach legislation on which we should all come together and it provides a means, I hope, of getting the best Bill. My welcome to the Bill that we have is—like that of other noble Lords—in some sense measured. I welcome many of its provisions but not all of them. I welcome some of the balance that it encompasses. This is a subject where balance is above all important. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that—like the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—Utopia does feature in my "balance".
With regard to the environment agencies, my noble friend Lord Ezra referred to the regional aspects. I share his concern about the regional dimension. I hope that the structure reflects coterminosity with local authorities. Relationships with local authorities will be very important. I join others who have commented on the lack of a separate agency for Wales—noting, however, the points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. The Minister in opening recognised the distinct needs of Wales, but they include the need for more than a separate advisory committee. I have been advised that perhaps I should not comment on my gratitude to those from Wales who are able to brief us in English as well as in Welsh.
I find the question of the accountability of the agencies quite difficult. I am not sure whether to regard the new agency as an arm of government; as a policeman carrying out identified policies and helping to develop those policies, but not itself being a 1454 law-maker; or whether we should be going down the road of indirectly democratically accountable appointees—which is a contradiction in terms—as representatives. The greater the input of democracy from other parts of the political sectors, perhaps the more we obscure the Government's responsibility for this area. I find this a very difficult issue and I look forward to debating the criteria for the structure of the agency and for those who will take part in its various component parts.
The agency's directives are also immensely important. I share the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about the term "sustainable development". It is now being used in a way that is quite difficult and is being moved away from its original definition. To me the environment agency is about sustainability, and development is a separate function: it is largely a planning function, although I would accept that the agency should contribute to underpinning the planning framework.
I am not, I hope, a complete Luddite. I would not say that protection means no development. I believe—and this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel—that new technologies have a very big role to play in protecting our environment. There must be protection, and protection in the role of champion of the environment is what the agency should primarily he about. It should not have to reconcile its objectives and targets.
I welcome the discussion about costs and benefits. I was interested that the CBI, which makes many points that one would want it to make on behalf of the business sector, also identifies obligations on business as well as obligations on government. I think that we shall have an important debate on the wider costs to society as well as the costs to individual businesses.
We shall also talk about the "polluter pays" principle. That is another principle that I find quite difficult. It can be interpreted as meaning that if one can pay, then one can pollute. It should not come anywhere near to that interpretation. The whole area of payment is a difficult one. To turn for a moment to the waste regulation activities, I know that the London local authorities have a real concern that in making waste regulation funding dependent on revenue from the industries the agency will seek to regulate, we shall have a body that will he vulnerable to control by the polluters themselves. In other words, they will become the paymasters in a sense.
I find the Bill a little confusing on the question of what are the duties and what are the powers of the new agency. Perhaps we can undertake to clarify it a little in that respect.
I was, however, pleased to see a word in the Bill that one rarely sees in legislation; namely "must". On so many occasions we see that the Secretary of State "may", and Opposition Members say that it should read, "the Secretary of State shall". In Schedule 11, which deals with objectives for the national waste strategy, the strategy "must" contain particular objectives. As I say, that is a rare term, but it may be that we can build on this precedent. I am sure that some noble Lords will make an attempt to do so.
1455 Some very high obligations are included in that schedule and in other parts of the Bill: for instance, "ensuring" that there is no danger from certain activities. We know over what a long time-frame environmental damage can make itself felt. I look forward to discussing the level of obligation that we shall seek to impose; and also—again coming back to the question of balance—what cost one should expect to see incurred. That same schedule, Schedule 11, says that cost should not be excessive in this particular context.
Clause 37 refers to taking account of costs unless it is unreasonable to do so. We shall need to see where the weight of the argument goes. The right reverend Prelate referred to recognising the responsibility that is upon all government departments. He may have detected the hand of one department, the Treasury, in weakening some duties and reducing them from being a duty to something that is merely desirable. My noble friend Lord Beaumont muttered to me that it was the Treasury that altered the word at the draft stage.
The areas of responsibility for the agency need to be more extensive. In particular I refer to the question of air pollution. Air quality is as important as water quality. The noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, referred to the quality of the urban environment. Air quality is important outside our cities, but it is increasingly becoming an issue within our cities. There was reference to the fact that how its quality is monitored and how the standards are set is an area of work that is done in conjunction with environmental health officers. That is an area that has to be developed.
There also needs to be work in conjunction with the local authorities, with planners and environmental health officers, in the area of waste. I am concerned that these proposals may lead to further fragmentation in the way in which the waste stream is dealt with. One starts in domestic terms with the householder. Local authorities, as the waste collection agencies, need to work out how they can best collect and whether they can afford—because it is a costly business—to arrange for separate collections of separate materials. If they are further removed from the agencies which deal with the later stages of the process, it will become more difficult to provide cohesive policies.
My noble friend Lord Ezra referred to integrated management. At this stage I shall mention merely one current matter which alerts me a little to the Government's approach; namely, their current draft of waste management licensing with regard to scrap metal. I understand that the Government had stated their intention to bring scrap metal sites within the scope of waste management licensing, insisting on appropriate training and financial resources for licensees. But, possibly as a result of heavy lobbying, the draft regulations on which a consultation is just closing show that much of the industry will be exempt from waste management licensing.
With regard to waste, it seems to me that the Bill deals with increasing the re-use, recovery and recycling of materials. But there is a preliminary issue, to which other noble Lords have referred; namely, the reduction of materials in the first place. The whole issue of 1456 packaging is ripe for regulation. If the Bill does not already allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide for the reduction in the use of materials as well as re-use, it is a matter to which we should give some attention.
We should use the Bill as an opportunity to debate the operation of the market in recycled goods and ensure that individuals are able to make informed choices. But a good deal of the information that is available is extremely confusing and in some cases misleading. We must all be aware of the green claims that are made in conjunction with a number of products that are now on the market. The London Borough of Sutton has identified quite a lot. They range from:This washing-up liquid is formulated and made with care for the environment"—whatever that means—to:This paper container is made of wood—a re-usable, natural resource"—well, yes, it is; but if it is a carton which contains liquid, it will have wax on the inside and not be re-usable —and:socks which are 'ozone friendly' because they 'help prevent foot odour which is probably a major cause of the destruction of the ozone layer"'.I feel that there may be scope within the Bill, notwithstanding the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, about using the Long Title, to look at how labelling is approached in this context.
I must say a few words too about waste regulation authorities, including the London Waste Regulation Authority. As I have already indicated, this is a part of the Bill which I do not welcome. The LWRA is relatively new and so far as I can see it has been doing a good job. At the time when the strategic government of our capital city was abolished, it was recognised that there was a need for a strategic function in the area of waste regulation. As I said, the LWRA has been doing a good job and either the Government do not recognise that or they do recognise that it has been doing a good job and want to take it over. It is a part, albeit indirectly, of our democratic local government in London in that its members are currently members of local authorities. So there is an accountability, albeit not a direct one. I should be sad to lose that. I should also be concerned about the transfer of staff from that and other agencies—that is an area to which we shall return—and indeed the transfer of assets. In the case of waste authorities, it is inevitable that those assets will leave local hands and go to central government. But there we are.
Contaminated land is a vital area because, among other things, it bedevils good planning. Registration is not sufficient. Attention must be paid to a strategy both for preventing contamination in the future and cleaning up contamination that has already been caused. Otherwise the argument will always be, "We cannot build here. We have to go on to a greenfield site". I am sure that those connected with the Department of the Environment in whatever context will be well aware of this, having to deal with a building which is built on a gasworks site and which needs major attention.
1457 My noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley spoke on national parks and I shall not spend long on that subject other than to comment that, given the problems with the term "quiet enjoyment"—which I well understand since it has a clear meaning within landlord and tenant law—the term "tranquil" was used by at least three noble Lords, and I hope that the Government bring forward an amendment using some such terminology to recognise what is a clear call for this area of enjoyment.
I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in being interested to see beforehand what the Government propose with regard to hedgerows. We shall be able to have a much more informed and useful debate against real draft regulations rather than anticipation, though I must confess that I am a "townie" in regard to that matter and perhaps a little Utopian about hedgerows as well as about other things.
Ending where I began, I can say that tomorrow we shall be thanking those who ensure the smooth running of this place and perhaps the best way that I can wish them "Happy Christmas" is to stop talking.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I apologise to those members of the House whose pleasure this evening we are interrupting by talking so long. I shall try not to prolong the proceedings too far. This has been a long and interesting debate and the Bill was welcomed on all sides of the House. Moreover, we are grateful to the Secretary of State for the improvements to the Bill after its initial publication in draft form and we hope that that will be a precedent for future Bills. However, as my noble friend Lord Williams said at the beginning of the debate, we believe that the Bill can be further strengthened and, indeed, could have gone much further in its aim to protect the environment.
I take Part I, the agencies, to begin with. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, Clause 4 should explicitly state that the over-arching purpose of the agencies is to protect the environment. The aims and objectives of the National Rivers Authority were given statutory form, as my noble friends Lord Williams and Lady David said. We believe that that should apply also to the environment agencies and that they should not simply depend upon ministerial guidance which we have not yet seen and of which we have no precise knowledge at present.
Several noble Lords were concerned about that point. Indeed, it is essential that the agencies should become, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, centres of excellence in the protection of the environment. If their statutory purpose was laid down in the Bill, it would enable them to have a high public profile and they would then be able to provide a clear focus for the nation's environmental concerns so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, pointed out in his powerful and entertaining speech, appropriate advice could be tendered to Ministers as a matter of duty and with considerable weight behind it.
As my noble friend Lord Carmichael said, there should be more opportunities for local people to become involved with and to be represented on the agencies. We 1458 welcome the transparency that will be provided by an annual plan and by the promise of the Secretary of State on 30th November in another place that his guidance to the agency will be public. But at present that does not assist us as we do not know what the guidance will contain.
As several noble Lords suggested, it would greatly assist the passage of the Bill at Committee stage in this House if the Secretary of State's draft guidance were available to us. We might then spend rather less time arguing over specific powers and duties to be included on the face of the Bill. We believe that the agencies should have additional powers to provide an integrated strategy for the control and management of pollution. They should include, for example, additional powers to monitor pesticide use, to register common land and to protect SSSIs. We regret, as several noble Lords said, that the agencies' pollution control functions are excluded from their duty to further conservation and enhance national beauty. The much weaker requirement that the agencies should merely have regard to conservation and beauty is, in our view, insufficient and we shall attempt to strengthen that aspect of the Bill at Committee stage.
In relation to the control of air pollution, as with the management of waste, it is appropriate that the strategy and standards should be set centrally. But regional and local co-ordination will be absolutely essential. In relation to the Scottish agency, I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, in asking the Minister to explain why the word "protection" is in the title of the Scottish agency but, curiously, is omitted from that of the English agency. I hope that he will be able to explain that anomaly. If it is appropriate to have a national strategy for the control of air pollution in Scotland, it is essential that the urbanised local authorities which are currently responsible are involved in the implementation of that strategy. We shall he urging that at Committee stage.
A major concern in relation to both the English and the Scottish agencies which was voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and several other noble Lords, is the ambiguity and vagueness of the term "sustainable development". It is important to have due regard to the economic costs of environmental measures, but in the expression "sustainable development", as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has pointed out, the emphasis is inevitably on the noun rather than on the qualifying adjective. In Clauses 4, 7 and 29 of the Bill it would be far better if the agency were required to balance conservation against development so that the contradictions and tensions between the two objectives were at least made explicit.
Part II of the Bill deals with contaminated land. We welcome the provisions for dealing with that part of the Bill, so far as they go, but they are far too limited. As my noble friend Lady David said, we regret the repeal of the provisions for registers of contaminated land contained in previous legislation, but understand of course the problems of prohibitive costs for local authorities in establishing which land is polluted. The provisions as laid out in the Bill merely become 1459 operative if contamination has actually occurred and only if that contamination affects controlled waters or damages property. There is no provision for the protection of uncontrolled waters such as ponds, which are rapidly disappearing from our landscape. There is no provision for dealing with "brownfield" sites which could be used to regenerate our inner cities but which at present we are unable to use. Therefore there is ever-growing pressure on greenfield sites in our fields and countryside.
I believe that all parties are coming to realise that it is essential that we regenerate our cities and make them places which people want to live in and which have facilities, housing, jobs and so on in city centres. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, have said, the polluter-pays principle often cannot apply to old, industrial inner city sites which have been covered with factories: they are so-called "orphan sites" where there is no polluter who can be charged for cleaning up the pollution of many generations.
Therefore, we propose not only that there should be strict liability for future contamination, but also that, in relation to these particular sites, local authorities should establish a database of historical land use which will at least begin to establish which sites may be polluted. In collaboration with the environment agency and industry, strategies should be devised which can prioritise their use so that the contaminated land within local authority areas can be regenerated. As the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, has said, that may require some Government funds to assist the agency. But there might also be other fiscal measures which could be used, such as setting the capital costs of reclamation against corporation tax, which might encourage the business world to get involved. That would prevent covering even more vast areas of our town centres with car parks and often rather blighted green areas.
As has been said by many noble Lords, including in particular the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, minewater pollution is totally inadequately dealt with in the Bill. The fact that mine operations are going to be exempt and will continue their exemption from liability until 1999, means that there are five years in which to get rid of the mines without any responsibility for dealing with consequent flooding and pollution. Quite clearly, that is wholly inadequate.
The Bill also fails to address the problem of long-abandoned mines where pollution is already occurring and mines which will be abandoned during the next five years. As the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, has said, additional funds will be required to help local authorities if these problems are to be addressed.
Part III of the Bill dealing with national parks has been addressed by many noble Lords, and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who dealt eloquently with that section. Other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Williams, the noble Lords, Lord Denham and Lord Beaumont, my noble friend Lady Nicol and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, have also dealt with the main deficiencies in this particular part of the Bill; namely, protecting national parks from major 1460 development and also the desire that noisy recreation shall be controlled; that the purpose of parks should be made more explicit; and that they are for quiet enjoyment, which the Government may be able to convert into tranquil enjoyment and write that into the Bill.
Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and my noble friend Lady Nicol have said, while it is the duty of parks authorities to have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities, as the Edwards report recommended, that needs to be linked to environmental protection. It is essential that the national parks contain living communities with jobs and houses, but they should not jeopardise the nature of the parks themselves.
The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said that there might be a democratic deficit in the setting up of the parks authorities in that the inhabitants of the parks may not be sufficiently represented by their local councillors. I am sure that account can be taken of that point in the drafting of the Bill.
Part IV deals with the national waste strategy and other miscellaneous provisions. We broadly welcome the development of a national strategy for dealing with waste, but in our view, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that will be effective only if implemented in partnership with the local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said, it is regrettable that the waste management industry was not consulted about that part of the Bill.
We welcome the enabling powers in Clauses 76 to 79. We hope that Clauses 76 to 78 will bring forward secondary legislation for dealing with waste, and we hope that Clause 79 will deal with hedgerows. It would be extremely valuable if the draft regulations could be provided for us by the time we reach Committee stage or at the very least that we could be given some sort of timetable to tell us that the regulations will be introduced at least within the lifetime of this Parliament. We hope that their introduction will not be deferred, as has happened in the past with secondary legislation, until eventually it is repealed, as happened to the regulations governing the registers of polluted land.
We welcome the recognition of the importance of hedgerows. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, pointed out, the problem is urgent because 1,100 miles of hedgerow are currently being lost each year. We hope that the regulations on hedgerows will be before us soon. I am grateful to the Minister for his further exposition of the intended provisions which perhaps suggests that those regulations are already in draft form. We would also welcome a clear definition of what an "important" hedgerow is. To many people, any hedgerow is important in that it is a visible part of the landscape. The fact that parts of our agricultural land are being turned into vast prairies without any features shows the importance, visually at least, of our hedgerows.
As my noble friend Lady Nicol said, in some parts of the country other landscape features are equally important. In the north, stone walls play very much the same role as hedgerows do in the South. They are important landscape features. My noble friend also 1461 mentioned stone barns. I should like to mention the importance of ponds as wildlife reserves of perhaps equal importance to hedgerows.
In summary, our particular concern is that the Bill is only half complete. References to ministerial guidance and to regulations appear throughout the Bill, but neither the guidance nor the regulations are available for us to scrutinise. In particular, we believe that the primary purpose of the agency, which is to protect the environment, should appear on the face of the Bill. We also believe that when we discuss the Bill in Committee we should have before us the regulations relating to the landscape features that I have just described such as hedgerows, stone walls and ponds.
The Secretary of State has said on a number of occasions that our generation of legislators should not cheat successive generations. He has frequently talked about "our" grandchildren who, in my case, are notional. Succeeding generations are obviously extremely important and we have an obligation to preserve our natural inheritance for them.
I am particularly concerned that government spending on the environment is set to decline over the next four years by £40 million, which is a 13 per cent. reduction over those four years. I hope that the setting up of the combined new agency is more than just a cost-cutting exercise.
Various noble Lords have raised doubts about the attempt to apply cost benefit analysis to any scheme or strategy dealing with the environment. It is extremely important to remember that costs are generally short-term and, therefore, highly visible whereas environmental benefits tend to be long-term and can therefore be easily ignored.
Moreover, my slight experience of cost benefit analysis is that it is not the objective, mathematical formula that it sounds. It is often based on subjective values, opinions, attitudes and so forth. Apart from the difficulty, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, of attributing monetary values to environmental matters, the choice of what aspects should be taken into account are often entirely a matter of personal prejudice. That is why it is important that the environment agency provides a strong counterweight to the short-termism of economic development and the pursuit of quick profits for shareholders.
We live in a world which is becoming increasingly bleak, increasingly polluted and denuded of species. If we are to preserve our varied and beautiful countryside, provide habitats for our native species and ensure sustainable development, we have to give the environment agencies a statutory and primary duty to protect the environment. We are, as the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Beaumont, and the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Worcester, said, merely life tenants of our land, and we owe it to future generations to hand it on in good condition.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I have listened with interest to the speeches of noble Lords, and to their views on the measures proposed in the Environment Bill. I am delighted that the Bill has provoked so much 1462 interest and has been the occasion of such a broad and well-informed debate. I am pleased that many—indeed most—noble Lords have welcomed the Bill, which promises to do much for the protection of the environment, but I have noted too the concerns that have been voiced, not only on the agency provisions, but on the other measures that we propose to take forward. It is another step in the long stage of progress, as my noble friend Lord Marlesford said. I shall deal in my summing up with as many as possible of the points raised. Some, however, I shall need to consider further and, where it seems appropriate, I shall write later.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, started by questioning the new agency's remit and said that the Bill contained no obligation on the agency to prevent or minimise pollution of the environment. Clause 5(1) reads as follows:The Agency's pollution control powers shall be exercisable for the purpose of preventing or minimising, or remedying or mitigating the effects of, pollution of the environment".I believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who quoted the words of my Secretary of State, that it will be a centre of excellence. I hope that noble Lords will welcome that provision.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister at this early stage, and I shall try not to do so again. Does he recognise that the application of that clause is under ministerial guidance? The agency may use its powers in whatever direction Ministers tell them; that is, none at all.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I am sure that we shall reach the guidance the Ministers may give to the agency at a later date. I want to make certain that noble Lords understand the agency's remit. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, indicated that it did not have a remit. I am telling the House that it has.
I have listened to your Lordships' views on the agencies. Many expressed concerns about the role of Ministers in issuing guidance to the agencies, especially on the guidance on aims and objectives to be issued under Clause 4.
I hope that most noble Lords, and particularly my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Lindsay, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, will welcome the inclusion for the first time in English law of a duty in relation to sustainable development. The need for sustainable development has become a cornerstone of international commitments to improving protection of the environment and one in which the UK has taken a leading role. The environment agency will have an important role in taking forward the Government's strategy. But it is important to recognise that the agency's essential role is as a pollution protection and water management body. It is not appropriate for it to have to decide what sustainable development means. Central policy decisions are a matter for government.
I must say to the noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Ezra, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and my noble friend Lord Mills that the proposed aims and objectives of the agency were included in the draft management statement which was published on 13th 1463 October by my right honourable friend. It identified an overall aim for the environment agency; that it should help to promote sustainable development through high quality, integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement. It set six main objectives consistent with that aim. Ministerial guidance to the agency under Clause 4 will build on these principles, aims and objectives.
Although I used the Brundtland definition of sustainable development in the Queen's Speech debate, I must tell my noble friend Lord Northesk that I do not see the need to write it into the statute. However, I understand your Lordships' desire to see the guidance. We aim to have an initial outline of its scope ready for the Committee stage in your Lordships' House. But the guidance cannot be rushed; we must get it right. We propose to consult widely and to take into account the views of the many organisations which will have views on the matter, in addition to listening to the views of noble Lords and Members of another place.
Sustainable development involves reconciling the needs of environmental protection, conservation and economic development. Regulators cannot be allowed to impose costs in the name of environmental protection without considering the environmental benefits that they will bring. This seems to me to be the normal good practice. The duty does not override the agency's other duties and obligations; it simply means that it cannot proceed as though costs and benefits are of no account.
The provisions as drafted in Clause 37 are a source of some anxiety for my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friends Lord Lindsay and Lord Mills. That clause requires the agency to consider costs and benefits in the round, including environmental costs and benefits. It is drafted so as not to restrict that consideration either to only specified sorts of cost and benefit or to costs and benefits falling only on specified classes of organisations or people.
Large amounts of work have been and continue to be done on the quantification of environmental costs and benefits. But I accept that not all costs and benefits can be quantified in financial terms. This is why the clause is not drafted so as to restrict consideration to those costs and benefits which can be quantified or to require the agencies to act only where they can demonstrate an excess of benefit over costs. The agencies must use their judgment and the clause is intended to enable them to do so.
My noble friends Lord Wade and Lord Marlesford were worried about the balance of costs and benefits for economic development. I have no reason to believe that a requirement to take account of costs and benefits is over restrictive or bureaucratic. It does not override the agency's other duties and obligations. It supplements BATNEEC (best available techniques not entailing excessive cost), applying to those areas of the agencies' work where it has a discretion and ensuring that the agencies cannot incur or cause others to incur costs unjustified by the environmental benefits. It does not 1464 bite where it would be unreasonable; for example, in cases of emergency where the agencies must be able to act immediately.
As regards the conservation duty, I repeat that it was never our intention to weaken the agencies' commitment to conservation. The existing NRA duty is not unqualified and must be adapted to the broader functions of the agency. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and to my noble friend Lord Nome that an overriding duty to further conservation in every case would be inconsistent with the effective discharge of the agencies' role in issuing environmental licences. The duty to have regard to conservation interests in their pollution control functions resolves this difficulty while introducing for the first time a requirement to take account of conservation in relation to integrated pollution control and waste functions. For all the other duties of the agency, there is a duty to further conservation, subject to the same qualifications as in the NRA current duty and necessarily subject also to the needs of sustainable development.
There will be an agency for England and Wales and a separate body for Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the setting up of an agency for Wales. We considered setting up a separate agency for Wales but we concluded that it was not the most effective means of proceeding.
The NRA and HMIP both operate across England and Wales and would have to be reorganised and split so as to ensure that they could continue to deliver their functions effectively in England and Wales. Waste authorities in Wales presently operate at district level and lack a national structure. The same legislation operates in both countries and there are considerable advantages in having the agency operate consistently across the border. Far from improving environmental protection, establishing a separate agency would be disruptive and likely to reduce effectiveness. I think we heard that from my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I am sure that he would agree with me that the NRA has operated no less effectively in Wales than in England. The separate advisory committee for Wales will ensure that the distinct needs of Wales are given full consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about regional organisation. The environment agency for England and Wales will have regional environment protection advisory committees appointed by schemes designed to ensure the widest range of interest. The points that noble Lords have made will be considered very carefully when the agencies' regional structures are determined. Touche Ross issued a report in June 1994 with options for the geographical and managerial structure and the advisory committees set up by my right honourable friend will consider that and obviously make proposals to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was concerned about the new agency in Scotland being out of touch with local communities. Again, SEPA will establish regional boards and the Secretary of State—obviously 1465 in that case the Secretary of State for Scotland—will issue guidance to ensure a significant level of local authority representation on the regional boards.
The noble Lord asked me about the difference in the borrowing limits of the agencies. He indicated that SEPA's borrowing limit would be from £2 million up to £5 million with an order, whereas the environment agency for England and Wales would have a higher borrowing limit. Apart from the pure difference in size, the Scottish agency will not have the flood defence function which accounts for most of the environment agency's borrowing.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, asked why there should be two different names for the two agencies. I do not believe that too much should be read into that, but it is meant to indicate that SEPA will have a narrower range of functions. It will be concerned mainly with pollution controls, as Scottish river purification boards do not have the wide range of water management functions of the NRA.
The question of contaminated land was raised by, among others, my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Provisions are based on the suitable-for-use approach which removes real environmental hazards without imposing unnecessary regulations or costs. Suitable-for-use is an environmentally sound principle. There is no point in paying to clean up land if it is not causing any harm. That implements the polluter pays principle but recognises that owners of land are also responsible for its condition if original polluters cannot be found.
Local authorities have already shown their expertise when dealing with contaminated land under the existing powers and in bringing forward derelict land grant projects. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked me what sort of values were to be placed on that. Currently, some £500 million is being spent per annum in the UK in dealing with the contamination of land. Of that, about £250 million is public sector money, and I believe that that is the right order of magnitude to deal with the legacy of past contamination.
I turn now to abandoned mines. I believe that the measures in the Bill on abandoned mines will enhance the agencies' ability to deal with pollution from those sources. It is sensible that mineowners should give notice to the agency of their intention to abandon a mine so that proper steps can be taken to prevent minewater pollution in future.
I believe that there may be some misunderstanding in the matter. Indeed, it was mentioned by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Mills, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. It is widely recognised that the present statutory position for permitting discharges from abandoned mines is no longer acceptable and should be repealed. I believe that all speakers agree with that principle. The person responsible will then be in the same position as any other polluter. The timing of the removal, for mines abandoned after the end of 1999, recognises that land values may take into account the benefit of the exemption and should be given a period for adjustment.
1466 Many noble Lords spoke at length about national parks, especially my noble friends Lord Denham and Lord Nome, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and others. Park purposes have been updated to reflect changes which could not have been foreseen when legislation was implemented over 45 years ago. For example, the influence of almost universal car ownership alone has had an unforeseen impact on parks. However, I am sure that that was certainly not considered by the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Addison. The revision of park purposes will enable national park authorities to take a more holistic and integrated approach to national park management.
While we have not made specific reference in the second purpose to the words recommended by the Edwards Panel, I believe that we have reflected the Edwards concept that the public enjoyment of the park should derive from their special qualities rather than simply maximising the number of visitors and their activities. I understand the wish to include reference to quiet enjoyment as recommended by the National Parks Review Panel. However, there are difficulties in using that term. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was the first to illustrate that fact in today's debate. It neither carries its specific legal meaning nor its common English usage. It is already subject to various interpretations. Our revision seeks to reflect the importance of promoting understanding and enjoyment among the public which is in harmony with the qualities of the park.
My noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway welcomed seeing the Sandford principle in the text of the Bill. It has been policy for many years—that is the so-called "Sandford principle"—that, where the two purposes of national parks are in irreconcilable conflict, the conservation purpose should prevail. That is now explicitly stated in the Bill. I believe that every effort should be made to reconcile them before the principle comes into effect.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Norrie that the new national park authorities should not assume the role of those agencies which are charged with the task of promoting economic development, although we expect them to work in co-operation with one another. It is our intention that the new authorities should reflect the duty with respect to the economic and social well-being of their local communities as they pursue park purposes.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, my noble friends Lord Norrie and Lord Marlesford, and others, were worried about the statutory tests on development in national parks. We are aware of calls for major developments to be subject to a statutory test, but we do not believe that primary legislation is an appropriate vehicle for dealing with such an issue.
Planning policy guidance notes set the framework for dealing with development proposals in the parks and elsewhere. The Government's objective is that major development should not take place in national parks save in exceptional circumstances. Because of the serious impact that major developments may have on the natural beauty of the parks, applications for such developments must be subject to the most rigorous 1467 examination. They should be demonstrated to be in the public interest and consideration of such applications should therefore normally include an assessment of the need for the development, the cost and the scope for developing elsewhere, and any detrimental effect on the environment and the landscape, and such other considerations which are given in Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 7 on the countryside and the rural economy.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, was concerned about the continuing military use of national parks. I daresay we may return to that matter in Committee. My noble friend Lord Derwent was concerned particularly with the membership of the national park authorities. While we cannot direct local authorities as to whom to appoint to national park authorities we intend to issue guidance strongly recommending that local authority members should he drawn from those who live in or represent wards in the park. Parish councils and community councils in Wales have an important role in ensuring that local views are heard and national park authorities should consider how best to take views. Some good examples are already in operation. National park authorities will be encouraged to set up local consultative groups drawing on the widest range of local interests where these do not already exist.
I shall deal with hedgerows. I can reassure my noble friend Lord Hesketh and the noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Beaumont, that we are a government of sensible regulation where, as in this case, there is a proven need. Our aim is to introduce a scheme which is fair, reasonable and practical and to minimise the burden both on those who are subject to these measures and those who are responsible for administering them. The detailed arrangements, as I think I said in my opening remarks, will be brought forward in regulations which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. This gives us 1468 flexibility to listen and to respond to the views expressed as the Bill progresses through Parliament and during separate public consultation. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that this is not a delaying tactic. We are committed to introducing measures to protect important hedgerows.
I should say a cautionary word to my noble friend Lord Marlesford. Our research shows that the rate of hedgerow removal has declined and is counter-balanced numerically, though not in terms of quality, by the gains from new planting. We have therefore made clear our intention to focus protection on the most important hedgerows; those of particular historic interest or that make a particularly valuable contribution to the wildlife or landscape of an area.
The noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Ezra, my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, I think, supported the concept of the national waste strategy. I am pleased for the support that has been given for a national waste strategy. We are drawing up a strategy in advance of setting up the agency and expect to go out to consultation within the next few weeks. We will certainly be taking account of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on the waste hierarchy. The Government also recognise the need for close and effective liaison between the agency and local planning authorities. That is why, for instance, the Bill provides that the agency must consult local authorities before carrying out its national survey of waste arisings and facilities.
This has been a long debate which has covered a wide range of topics. I wish to thank noble Lords for their contributions. I am sure we shall return to many of the issues raised tonight when we discuss the Bill in more detail in Committee after the Recess.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before ten o'clock.